Hard News by Russell Brown


The uncooling of the inner West

Over the past couple of weeks, the Herald's new data blog has been looking at population change data revealed by the 2013 Census. It's been a nice, open process culminating the Wellington firm Dumpark's creation of an interactive showing population increases and decreases around the country, from 2001 to 2013.

There's a general flow towards the cities and away from the regions, with a few striking features. None more so than the population shift out of the east of post-earthquake Christchurch -- which is, fittingly, the red zone on this map detail (a blue dot is one resident increase, a red dot a decrease):

But the part that caught my eye in the original iteration of the exercise, by economist Aaron Schiff, was closer to home. Where I live, in fact.

I moved to Auckland in 1983, and for most of that time, Auckland's inner Western suburbs have been a young place. Even as the Pasifika families of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn were gentrified out, the inner west remained a place where young families could buy in and set up. When I returned from London in 1991, I met a generation of kids who'd grown up in those suburbs, walking distance from the city.

Those days are really over.

The all-ages map shows a huge intenstification in the CBD and a general increase around it, but the population is static around the Ponsonby ridge, and has decreased in Herne Bay and St Mary's Bay (as flats and low-rise apartments have given way to luxury harbourside pads).

But the real money is the 25-34 "young adult" map. You see the same CBD intensification  -- and a very evident emptying-out in the inner suburbs.

Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Point Chevalier: these are no longer places where people can easily buy in and start young families  -- but also, it appears, places where young adults are less likely to live full stop. A whole set of cultural assumptions about about these places -- diverse, bohemian, liberal -- seem likely to have gone with the young adult population. As we long feared, we're going to turn into fucking Parnell.

When I lived in the Auckland CBD in the mid-80s, it was quite an unusual thing to do. My friends and I literally broke the law when we converted a warehouse in Fort Street and lived there. Now, there are tens of thousands of apartments -- not all salubrious, but generally relatively affordable, close to work and study.

That makes the transition to home ownership and starting families particularly abrupt. Central Auckland, so cheap and accommodating for the baby-boomers, is prohibitive for their children. Houses don't fall much below $500,000 (which, let's be clear, means saving $100,000 for a 20% deposit) until the commute to the city nears an hour.

The obvious solution is not, as Act's David Seymour believes, to "create more Epsom" in Auckland distant hinterlands -- where they would palpably not be Epsom, or Ponsonby, Herne Bay or Mt Eden -- but to enable more people to live near their jobs, near to the city's life and cultural infrastructure. To not, as Seymour and his wealthy voters would do, raise the drawbridge and protect the people already in the castle.

There are limits here too. I felt obliged to object to a Housing New Zealand Unitary Plan submission seeking to spot-rezone its properties in our narrow little (17 properties) Point Chev cul de sac from "mixed housing suburban" to "mixed housing urban", a zoning intended for the fringes of town centres and main roads. It seemed an abuse of the process.

It wasn't the greater height limit: I'd have been fine with the 10 metres in the draft Unitary Plan, which was scaremongered out by Bernard Orsman and others, and I'm realistic about Housing NZ redeveloping to add dwellings in our street. But the prospect of Housing NZ aggregating its sections to escape any density limits in such a small street was just too daunting.

Anyway, we've been over this territory before and I'm sure there are other interesting insights in these interactives. Feel free to share your thoughts.


TVNZ: Emptied out

To those who visit TVNZ, as I do every week to record our TV show for another channel, the place has the feel of an abandoned building. The journalists toil on the ground floor at the west end, but nearly everyone else -- sales, programming, senior management -- has been gone for months.

The atrium is inaccessible and the Victoria Street foyer is walled off, leaving a narrow corridor to the studios, the media centre and the lifts. On the upside, it's never been easier to get a car park in the basement.

It's not quite how it feels, of course. The upper floors will eventually be repopulated on completion of the "transformation opportunity" triggered by the $10.6m sale of the adjoining building to SkyCity for its conference centre extension (which was brokered, in the first instance, without notice to the broadcaster's own board). Already, part of the plastic covering has been removed to expose refurbished glass cladding, as shiny as the day the it opened.

But for now, the state of the place is as a good a metaphor as any for what's happening to the state broadcaster. It is emptying out. Some of the many people who once constituted its institutional knowledge do come back to work, but not as employees.

It's all part of a strategy to move away from production (with the exception of news and current affars) and become a "publisher" of content -- and, as CEO Kevin Kenrick put it recently, to "exit non-core assets." One of the less visible symptoms is the running down of TVNZ's facilities business, which will see the decommissioning of its Wellington outside broadcast truck, the one that brings you Back Benches.

This is the context for last week's announcement that TVNZ will no longer produce most of its Maori and Pasifika programmng. Waka HuiaMaraeFresh and Tagata Pasifika will all be outsourced to independent producers. Only the news programme Te Karere will remain.

Not everything about this is necessarily bad. John Bishara, the CEO of Te Mangai Paho, which funds the Maori shows, has gone on record as saying it will improve transparency in the way funding is used. Once things settle out, it may empower independent producers, particularly those outside Auckland.

The problem is more about what it does to TVNZ, the broadcaster we own. It's a clear statement that Maori and Pasifika no longer have a place at the core of the enterprise. There will be 30 fewer brown faces in the building, in the Polynesian capital of the world. Much will rest on the commssioner of Maori programmes, Kath Graham (Ngati Koroki Kahukura). As the Maori screen production group notes,  you certainly would not want to bet on the present level of service being retained.

On a purely financial level, it's working. TVNZ's annual profit is up 25% to $18 million (which is still vastly short of Sky TV's profit, up 21% to $165 million). The path to profit seems smoother under a chief executive who has never really let slip any affection for television itself.

Speculation that this is all part of TVNZ being prepared for sale isn't actually the point. The thing is that we will reach the stage -- if we're not there already -- of asking why we do actually bother owning the thing.


UPDATE: Last night's Media Take is now available for viewing on-demand.

On Media Take tonight at 10.05pm on Maori Television, my co-host Toi Iti conducts a lively discussion on the outsourcing news with Maori Party MP Marama Fox and Richard Pamatatau, the programme leader at AUT's Graduate Diploma in Pacific Journalism.

Later in the show, I talk to three young journalism graduates about the realities of training for an industry where both employment and pay a shrinking.

And we finish up with a look at several projects aimed at envisaging a new future for a rebuilding Christchurch, including Roger Dennis's Sensing City and Gerard Smyth's six-part second series of Christchurch from the Streets.


Friday Music: An accompanied korero

I'm chairing the LATE at the Museum event next month, under the title The Age of Slacktivism. We've picked a strong lineup -- Nicky Hager, Matthew Hooton, Marianne Elliot, Laura O'Connell Rapira -- and it should be a rousing hour's talk. But allow me to announce what comes after ...

I had been talking with AUT's Richard Pamatatau and he told me about seeing Moana Maniapoto give a striking speech at a seminar in South Auckland; a vivid korero, punctuated with waiata. Having heard Moana's new album, Rima, produced with Paddy Free, I could see how that could be taken a step further.

So I pitched Moana and Paddy on the idea of an accompanied korero, with Moana singing and speaking and Paddy providing electronic accompaniment. (I actually liked the sound of "accompanied whaikorero", but that's a bolder cultural statement than it's my place to make.) And, musical adventurers that they are, they went for it immediately.

What goes down on the night will be based to some extent in Rima, but I don't think it'll be quite like anything either of them have done before. It'll be what they make it.

It's on Monday November 10. You can book here.


This time next week, I'll be in Wellington with (hopefully) not too much of a hangover after attending the Apra Silver Scroll Awards. One of the highlights of the awards promises to be the tribute to this year's Hall of Fame inductee, composer and electronic music pioneer Douglas Lilburn.

This 1970 clip of Lilburn "demonstrating the sounds produced for a modern dance performance that include the electronic reconstitution of the sounds of the extinct huia bird" is wonderful. In this part of his career he was our BBC Radiophonic Workshop, in a way:

Want more? There's Radio New Zealand's prodigious 10-part Lilburn documentary, The Landscape of a New Zealand Composer.

Staying with heritage, the final tranche of Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand online  was launched this week. It's 'Creative and Intellectual Life' and the entry on popular music has been written by -- who else would you even ask? -- Chris Bourke.

And on Audioculture, Andrew Schmidt has Part 1 of a series telling the story of New Zealand music's ultimate post-punk cult hero, Bill Direen. There is plenty in it that has never been told before.


I had some quality listening time last Friday afternoon with Bunnies on Ponies' new album Heat Death of the Universe, so I'm pleased to see that bandleader Samuel Flynn Scott has posted another track from the album, 'Destination Newtown Park Flats' on Soundcloud:

It's about that core human activity, scoring weed, Sam says:

This one makes all sorts of references to the places people could buy pot in Wellington in the 1990s. Like the Black Power head quarters on what was Kensington St. Wellington High Students used to go there at lunchtime and sometimes there would be teachers lurking outside trying to catch you. Of course, half the teachers at WHS actually smoked weed and would let the older kids get away with it with a knowing shrug.

I also reference this ladyShe delivered to recording studios, film sets, large media outlets… if anyone ever wanted to know how far reaching weed use in the capital is you couldn’t ask a better source. She was the ‘safe option’. Bands didn’t mind her popping in. She was unthreatening and reliable. I find her story quite sad really. She was probably the front for some nasty people, but the people who used her services loved her. 

It's always nice to have a backstory, isn't it?

Also moonlighting-from-the-band right now: Street Chant's Emily Littler in her solo guise as Emily Edrosa. 'Corner of the Party' is my favourite song from her eponymous EP, which is at name-your-price on Bandcamp. As this review on Weirdo Wasteland notes, the EP is quite varied and this tale of social alienation kind of has an Evan Dando-ish pop song kicking around inside it.

See also: Charlotte Ryan interviews Emily on Kiwi FM.

And finally, Emily is playing Golden Dawn tonight, with Ed Cake in support and Youmi Zuma DJing out in the yard. That's a pretty sweet evening right there.


The Vinyl Record Collectors Fair is back tomorrow at the Freemans Bay Community Centre, and fans of reggae and rhythm might want to pay especially close attention this time. DJ Stinky Jim sent me this photo of his lot for sale, which he says includes more than 300 reggae 7"s and hundreds of twelves and albums, all at very friendly prices. As if that weren't enough, set up next to him will be his partner in groove, Irene, with an trailerload of just-try-and-get-this-anywhere else Ninjatune wax.

Please try not to arrive before I do.


The Spark Lab Music Month event series in Auckland next month looks amazing for anyone interested in the current state of the music business. Martyn Pepperell has written up the highlights -- which include public discussions with a bunch of interesting people, from Scott McLachlan and Adam Holt to Simon Grigg and Serato founder AJ Bertenshaw. Entry is free to music events, but requires RSVP.



New Zealander Sammy Senior is on production for this wild and noisy slab of ghetto funk. What fun. (For some reason the embedded player's not showing the download button, but it's there if you click through.)

I somehow missed Rousseau when she had her run up the charts at TheAudience last month, but this is pretty cool and dramatic. A good song from yet another self-possessed solo artist, who self-describes as a "muso, writer, feminist, wannabe philosopher".

I freakin' love this edit from Leftside Wobble. There's a download link going on his Facebook page for a couple of days, from tomorrow:

Phil Collins' 'In the Air Tonight' is always a tricky one for discerning music fans. On one hand, it's fucking Phil Collins and ought thus to be destroyed with fire. On the other, it is an undeniably singular record. Nothing in pop before or after has sounded quite like it. It may help that DJ Karim has produced this prowling dub rework of the original. You can download it with no impairment to your credibility, probably.

Aaaand ... this week's Friday funk. Disco Tech doesn't usually make his edits available for download, but this pumping take on Bobby Patterson's 'I Got a Suspicion' is there for the getting this week.


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Media Take: The creeping politicisation of the OIA

Brent Edwards' story last week on official advice to ministers on child poverty was interesting not only for its substance, but its circumstance.

Edwards explained on Morning Report that he originally requested the first of the documents (some of them now nearly two years old) May last year.

It took a complaint to the Ombudsman's Office to force former Social Development Minister Paula Bennett to release the information - but even then she managed to delay the release:

" ... and even twice before the election I was contacted by the Ombudsman's office and told that the minister's office had … agreed to the release the information and asking if I had received it. Well I had not. And of course as you say child poverty was a campaign issue. But these reports were only finally sent to me well after the election."

This seems a clear and evident breach of the Official Information Act 1982, which requires such information to be released as soon as practically possible, and a decision to be made within a maximum of 20 days -- but carries no sanction for agencies that fail to comply.

On Morning Report the next day, the Prime Minister explained that the government deliberately flouts that law:

"Sometimes we wait the 20 days because, in the end, Government might take the view that's in our best interest to do that."

Things may actually be considerably worse than that in parts of the public sector. Shortly before the election, David Fisher reported this story for the Herald:

A former high-ranking Customs lawyer says he resigned from his job after allegedly being told to bury information that could embarrass the Government.

Curtis Gregorash said he was told by senior Customs executives to refuse Official Information Act and Privacy Act requests, which he believed was at the direction of former Customs Minister Maurice Williamson.

That has sparked a wide-ranging inquiry by an "appalled" Chief Ombudsman. But it seems it's just the tip of the iceberg of an increasingly politicised environment around the Official Information Act, one where it's the default to withold and delay. Check out the number of requests to Child, Youth and Family marked "long overdue" on FYI. Marvel at the correspondence around this still-unfulfilled request seeking details of the "coinciding requests" that supposedly prompted Cameron Slater's fast-track access to an SIS briefing.

Fisher gave a speech to around a hundred public officials in Wellington last week, in which he traced a change that he believes took hold in the last term of the Clark government and has created an environment dominated by media management, obstruction and political interference.

I'd post the whole thing if I could (and I reckon the Herald should, because it's great), but you can also see David Fisher discuss his conclusions, along with barrister and journalist Catriona MacLennan, on last night's MediaTake. Go have a look.

I realise that there is another side to this: the sheer weight of requests, often themselves highly political, or near-vexatious, that suck up resources. But I still think we have real problems with a transparency law that once proudly led the world.


Friday Music: There have been many worse years

The New Zealand Music Awards finalists were announced last night and they're quite a varied and interesting bunch. Lorde's Pure Heroine  is eligible this time and you'd assume she and Joel Little will be up on stage more than once on the night, but there are some other good records there too: most notably Ladi 6's Automatic, her most mature and authoritative work to date.

Ladi's up against Lorde in all but one category -- best hip hop record -- and with all due respect to David Dallas and PNC, it'd be a shame if she didn't win at least that.

Elsewhere, the, erm, controversial @Peace are nominated for best group (I'm calling for an onstage collab with Sol3Mio) and Tiny Ruins is officially out of the "obscure" category with three nominations, including best album.

Supergroove are this year's Legacy Award recipients, which suggests a jolly evening all round. Shame I won't be there on November 20, but I have a beer-appreciation appointment in Europe and that's where I'll be.


@Peace also have a new video for 'Gravity' from their @Peace and the Plutonium Noise Symphony album out this week and man, they're getting old ...

Vice's Noisey section has an interview with Tom Scott about the making of the video.


In less cheery industry news, the bottom is falling out of the music retail business. US digital sales (iTunes, mostly) for the first nine months of 2014 are down significantly  on the same period last year (12.9% for singles and 11.5% for albums) and not one artist has cracked a million sales for the year. Vinyl sales are the only retail category on the rise, and also the smallest.

The streaming music era is fairly rushing up and it's not really clear how it's all going to work out. For now, streaming is only delivering good income to megastars and companies with large copyright portfolios.

In not-unrelated news, Iggy Pop spoke frankly in this year's John Peel lecture, not least on the matter of YouTube's dealings with indie labels and artists for its new subscription deals: 

Pop said: "YouTube's trying to put the squeeze on these people because it's just easier for a power nerd to negotiate with a couple of big labels who own the kind of music that people listen to when they're really not that into music. Which of course is most people.

"So they've got the numbers. But indies kinda have the guns. I've noticed that indies are showing strength at some of the established streaming services like Spotify and Rhapsody. People are choosing that music.

"It's also great that people are starting their own outlets like Pledgemusic, Bandcamp, Drip etc. As the commercial trade swings more into general showbiz, the indies will be the only place to go for new talent outside the Mickey Mouse Club.

"And so I think they were right to band together and sign the Fair Digital Deals Declaration. There are just so many ways to screw an artist that it's unbelievable."

That's going to be on BBC 4 on Sunday and I think I'll have to get a copy for purposes of criticism and review.


Of note on Audioculture this week: Gary Steel's look at the singular Rattle Records.

And at the other extreme of style, taste and, well pretty much everything, that Hogsnort Rupert retrospective you've been waiting to show your grandkids.

Andfinally, a profile of the fabulously obscure -- and fabulous -- 70s psych-funk outfit from Fiji, Mantis. They made one album and it sounded like this:

And they looked like this:

You may know longtime man-about-the-Auckland-club-scene Bharat Jamnadas. You may not know that he was Mantis's manager!


Jakob's long-awaited album Sines is officially out today, sorta. The vinyl version has been delayed until the end of November by global demand on pressing facilities. It's been there on iTunes for a few days, but the Bandcamp version is still stuck on pre-order. If there's any album you'd want in full spectrum format it's this one, so I think I'll either be waiting for Bandcamp or trying my luck a record shop.

If you're in the neighbourhood of Ponsonby, there is a Sines listening part at The Golden Dawn from 6pm-8pm, where should create an interesting vibe for after-work drinks.

Also in Auckland this evening: Margaret Gordon's documentary about Christchurch's long-running art project/Sabbath tribute band Into the Void screens at The Academy Cinema at 6.30pm and that's followed by an actual Into the Void gig at Wammy bar.

The Clap Clap Riot and Buzz Mollar show is at Meow in Wellington tonight and at the King's Arms in Auckland tomorrow.

And I'm picking a late night in Queenstown as @Peace begin their vinyl release tour tonight.


I noticed that The Checks posted something to their Facebook for the first time in ages this week. and then I noticed that Sven and Ed from The Checks are back playing with their new band Racing and they have this track on TheAudience. It's some absolutely shit-hot rock'n' roll:

She's So Rad have taken a track from Kimbra's 90s-inspired album and wound it back to the 80s.

Gorgeous minimal house from the London producer Dauwd. Thanks to Eddie Johnston for the tip. From an EP out in digital form next week:

Things still happening for Janine and the Mixtape. Her song 'Hold Me' is now out in a new version with a rap verse from Pusha T:

And finally for your weekend -- some up-on-the-downstroke funk for the download:


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