Underground mag hits the Streets with a record label. Upstart ''VICE'' breaks into the music industry thanks to Atlantic

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Vice

A CD from a scrawny white Brit rapping about drugs, pubs, and getting laid? Sounds like a job for the ”VICE” squad. For seven years, ”VICE” magazine has farmed the fertile soil where punkish attitudes, gutter culture, and irreverent humor blend with edgy music and art. Now, the bratty visionaries behind the free monthly — which has featured oddball acts like Comet Gain, published cocaine reviews, and run articles written by retarded people — has launched VICE Records, an imprint of Atlantic, with the Streets’ ”Original Pirate Material.”

The Brooklyn-based mag’s three wiseass men — Shane Smith, Suroosh Alvi, and Gavin McInnes — discovered Mike ”the Streets” Skinner on a trip to the U.K., where ”Original Pirate Material” was released in March. ”We were blown away,” says Alvi. ”When we found out it didn’t have a home here, we had a discussion with Atlantic, and they offered us a label because they saw how passionate we were.” Says Smith: ”They were [also] really impressed by how dogged and ambitious and greedy we are.”

Skinner was happy to find like-minded mates across the pond. ”In the States, if it doesn’t sell immediately, they abandon it,” he says. ”We needed someone that was gonna keep sluggin’ while people got used to it. ‘VICE’ wanted to do it, and they know the market.”

They also know market conditions aren’t ideal, but they aren’t fazed. ”We see it as a good time,” says Alvi. ”I see how many good bands are being overlooked and s—-y bands are being released.” While VICE hasn’t signed any other acts, it recently held two showcases in New York, with avant-punks Panthers, rapper Gold Chains, disco duo Chromeo, and rockers the Stills, and may be near deals with each.

In fact, the ”VICE” guys are establishing an entertainment franchise. Next month, they’ll publish ”The VICE Guide to Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll” (HarperCollins Canada), a collection of magazine highlights. They just signed a contract with New Line to produce their film debut (Smith, who cowrote the script, describes it as ”intelligent action, with a ‘VICE’ twist”) and are negotiating with Warner Bros. for a three-picture deal. They’re also in discussions with HBO and Showtime for a comedy series to be exec-produced by ”Mr. Show”’s David Cross. Says Alvi: ”People can watch ’60 Minutes’ to get investigative journalism. They’ll come to us to get the really vacant s—.”

But with all its new corporate ties, does the magazine that has prided itself on being a voice of the streets worry about becoming the voice of Wall Street? ”All of a sudden, we’re becoming AOL Time Warner,” says Alvi. ”If you want to break out of the underground, you need to start working with larger companies. It’s a strategic alliance.”

Ad revenues have soared, but the trio still distributes only 135,000 copies of each issue to record and clothing stores. And rest assured, the obscene comics are here to stay, despite occasional opposition.

”We still get in trouble with advertisers,” says Alvi. ”But it gets harder and harder now because the stakes are higher. We also know that making concessions for short-term gains is gonna kill us in the long run. We’re better off sticking to our guns. It’s not like we want Skechers in the book anyway.”

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