College senior Sof Sears has founded Hot Knife, a new digital music magazine.
Sears described the magazine, which is sponsored by the Kelly Writers House, as a “literary journal with a focus on music.” They sought inspiration for Hot Knife from writer Hanif Abdurraqib, using his writing as a model for the magazine’s content.
“[Abdurraqib] meshes music criticism, creative nonfiction, and poetry in a way that’s really beautiful and difficult to find,” Sears said. “Hot Knife emerged out of my desire to find more work that follows this style.”
College first year and Hot Knife Managing Editor Mia McElhatton said that Abdurraqib’s style allows the writer to express a personal connection to the music in a way that is not possible in traditional music criticism.
“The style is much more about the author’s own relationship with the music and the powerful force that music can have in our lives in comparison to just a simple critique,” McElhatton said.
Sears also cited their desire to push the limits of the music and artists who are included in mainstream music journalism, expressing frustration with popular music publications like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork — who they said often disproportionately cover straight, white artists.
“I wanted to get out of that white, 'dudebro' mentality of writing about music because I think it’s often very reductive,” Sears said.
Sears pitched the idea for Hot Knife to the Kelly Writers House staff in the spring of 2022, and it was approved soon after.
Sears emphasized how much the KWH staff supported them through the process, explaining that “[the staff] were so invested in helping me with the process in whatever way they could.”
The magazine released its first digital content in October. Currently, the staff consists of five people who edit, advertise, and release the magazine’s content. Submissions are accepted from students at both Penn and other universities.
The magazine’s content is released irregularly. Sears emphasized that they are not seeking to maximize content production, instead focusing on submissions that align with their vision.
“If you want a straightforward concert review, you can go to Pitchfork,” Sears said. “What’s most important to me is that each piece we produce is thoughtful and interesting.”
College first year and Contributing Editor Eve Rosenblum, who is in the process of starting to write concert coverage for Hot Knife, said that she has been excited by the opportunity to try a form of journalism that does not have strict rules.
“It’s so exciting to have complete creative liberty,” Rosenblum said. “I think it also speaks to the experience of music as well. It’s so unique to the individual, so I think it makes sense to write about it in a way that expresses that individuality.”
To aid in producing content, Sears has been working to develop mutually beneficial relationships with local bands and feminist public relations groups who provide their services free of charge to indie artists. They’re also hoping that the magazine will host at least one event per semester to feature queer student musicians and local bands.
Sears emphasized that above all, Hot Knife is their “passion project.”
“If the underclassmen involved with the magazine want to continue it next year, I think they absolutely should,” Sears said. “But I feel freed to not have a strong sense of urgency or stress. I just want to publish the widest array of different perspectives that I can while I’m here.”