Hard News by Russell Brown

11

Friday Music: They even taxed the turntables

Unless you happened to be a Young Nat – and frankly, a few of them were probably wavering – to be young in late 70s and early 80s New Zealand was to be set against Prime Minister Rob Muldoon. It wasn't just the Springbok Tour, the mad economy and the SIS, it was cultural too. And a key cultural factor was the punitive 40% sales tax on recorded music.

Ironically, as Peter McLennan points out in his fascinating new Audioculture story on the tax, it wasn't Muldoon's doing. Although he defended it with a peculiar contempt, the 40% sales tax was the work of the preceding Labour government, which reasoned that records, even if they were pressed here, were imports, because the royalty component largely went offshore.

It was Labour, too, which axed the tax. It was cut from 40% to 20% in Roger Douglas's first Budget.

But Peter also highlights something I'd forgotten, or possibly never knew in the first place: they even taxed the turntables. And the tape decks, to the princely tune of 56%!

Also fresh on Audioculture:

Twin articles on Bruce Russell, from the Xpressway angle and the Dead C dimenson.

Keith Newman on the legndary Doug Jerebine.

And The Plague. No, not the Blam Blam Blam progenitors from Auckland, but the Rotorua outfit that featured future National Business Review publisher Barry Colman on drums.

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If you didn't catch this week's New Zealand Music Month special of Media Take, featuring Dawn Raid's Brotha D, Mark (MC Slave) Williams, Jan Hellriegel, NZ On Air Music's Sarah Crowe, Maisey Rika and Tiki Taane's sister and manager Ninakaye Taane-Tinorau ... it's here to watch.

Maisey is playing with a great lineup of Maori musicians as part of Waiata Toru & Whatonight and tomorrow night at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau.

Before the show, I asked Jan why she wasn't on Bandcamp (I'm allaregic to buying 256k files at the iTunes Store). Turns out – she is! Her newish single, 'For the Love of Glory', is there:

But the really nice new remix of the song by Ash Grey is still only for sale on iTunes. C'mon Jan!

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At TheAudience, the first single from the fairly mysterious Encouragement is quite a thing:

Electronic atmosphereics from Wellington's Groeni:

And a nice, restrained house track out of Auckland ...

Free download for that here.

Chelsea Jade is back to guest with Boycrush on this sweet track from his new EP, Girls on Top, which was released this week and is on Bandcamp here.

Some blazed, blazing rock from the post-Checks band Racing:

The mighty Adrian Sherwood versioning a version on 'Space Oddity':

And, finally, one especially for John Campbell today. Rip it up and start again, John ...

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The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:

theaudience

66

Campbell Live: A Disturbance in the Force

Around 7.30pm this evening, there will be a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices have suddenly cried out in terror and been suddenly silenced. Well, okay, perhaps that's overstating the case. No actual inhabited world will be destroyed. But I'm sure there will be a few tears in the living room as well as the studio.

So how did we get to this? Why will so many people be upset about the demise of a television programme that at, at times, too few people have watched? Well ...

1. We all remembered Campbell Live was there. The guillotine proved to be pretty effective marketing.

2. Campbell Live got back on on form. The guillotine again. First to make their case for survival and then just because they believed in what they were doing and knew they had only a litle time left to do it, the Campbell Live team has made some great television in the past two months. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who watched last night's show and thought "They're taking this off air?"

3. Journalism in general. The original news that Campbell was facing the chop sent a ripple of shock through the local news trade. It catalysed a sense of general anxiety about the trajectory of New Zealand media. We started joking nervously about our poor career choices and wondering quietly if we might be next – or what we might be asked to do next.

4. Hosking. It's as if the host of Seven Sharp resolved to play his part by becoming the AntiCampbell. Doubtless to the chagrin of many of his colleagues, Mike Hosking's inane editorialising peaked this week in this incredible 48-second Mike's View entitled I want to see news about how happy we all are. He dismissively rattles off a list of things he doesn't want to hear about – "Too often the news is all about who's not happy, who's got ripped off,  who feels hard done by, what's not fair, what's not right, who's protesting, who's complaining, who's bitching, who's been forgotten about" – that's essentially the checklist an old-fashioned chief reporter might give a young cadet on day one. News doesn't mean what Mike thinks it means. But neither does he understand happiness. We're not happy because everything is perfect. We manage to be happy even though it isn't. That's the miracle of it. But anyway, welcome to the future of editorial, on every platform.

So it's understandable that that we aren't necessarily in the mood to be reassured about the fresh upheavals announced yesterday at Fairfax. But it's not all bleak. Because this excellent thing appeared this week. A New Hope is among us ...

139

The epitome of reason

Last week, Matthew Hooton trailered his forthcoming column in the June issue of Metro as being addressed towards the likes of me. The column, published this week, turns out to be part of a fairly large body of commentary comparing the general elections last year in New Zealand and this month in the United Kingdom.

Hooton declares that while the Labour parties in both countries have embarked on the modern Labour tradition of a bout of agonised self-examination, "in reality, UK Labour's story since 2005 is nothing compared with New Zealand Labour's train wreck in the same period."

He then lays out an arrangement of electoral apples and oranges to prove his case that were New Zealand Labour's unending formal review of the last election result (nine months?) to be "brutally honest" it would "conclude the party has little future under its current name and structure."

Labour, as an expression of the trade union movement, is dying along with the union movement itself, Hooton argues. And then this:

Six years ago, Chris Trotter invented the term "Waitakere Man" to describe Labour's ex-voters: a West Auckand computer programmer, say, and his wife, who own a house in Sunnyvale, enjoy tax deducting business expenses and good annual house-rice inflation, and use both to fund annual Pacific Island breaks with their young kids. They plan to employ a minimum-wage school-leaver on a 90-day trial to help out with the business. "Waitakere Man" is a cliche, but cliches only envolve because they're true.

Hooton's "Waitakere Man" is himself an invention. Trotter's "Waitakere Man" was actually a different rooster altogether:

The voter escorting National to its First Term Ball turned out to be the sort of bloke who spends Saturday afternoon knocking-back a few beers on the deck he’d built himself, and Saturday evening watching footy with his mates on the massive flat-screen plasma-TV he’s still paying-off.

His missus works part-time to help out with the mortgage, and to keep their school-age offspring in cell-phones and computer games.

National’s partner – let’s call him Waitakere Man – has a trade certificate that earns him much more than most university degrees. He’s nothing but contempt for "smart-arse intellectual bastards spouting politically-correct bullshit". What he owns, he’s earned – and means to keep.

"The best thing we could do for this country, apart from ditching that bitch in Wellington and making John Key prime-minister," he’d inform his drinking-buddies in the lead-up to the 2008 election "would be to police the liberals – and liberate the police."

Waitakere Man values highly those parts of the welfare state that he and his family use – like the public education and health systems – but has no time at all for "welfare bludgers".

"Get those lazy buggers off the benefit", he’s constantly telling his wife, "and the government would be able to give us a really decent tax-cut."

He was also a bit racist and would, Trotter surmised, be outraged by Labour's selection of Carmel Sepuloni as its 2011 Waitakere candidate: completely the wrong candidate to put up against Paula Bennett and indicative of Labour's disarray As it happened, Sepuloni beat Bennett on the night in Waitakere and lost only on a judicial recount, by nine votes. She went on to win Kelston in last year's general election and that electorate was one of the few in Auckland where (as Hooton notes) Labour won the party vote.

The family of Hooton's "Waitakere Man", the one who's good with computers, hears only that Labour "wants to cut their home's value ... or tax it". Actually, the polls indicate that a majority of Aucklanders do think there's a problem with housing, and a capital gains tax was more popular than Labour was in the months leading up to last year's election. (Moreover, Treasury and the Reserve Bank agree with them.) This year, John Key's government has introduced watered-down versions of both a CGT and Labour's KiwiBuild housing policy, and both seem to have only buttressed its commanding poll standing.

If it's not policy, then what's the problem? The problem is easy to enunciate and devilishly hard to to fix. Labour, in New Zealand and Britain, lost because too few voters saw it as a viable party of government. In both countries, that perception was fostered with carefully-constructed negative campaigns, from the same strategists, aimed at making a change of government look risky, and emphasising what there was to be lost. We were "on the cusp of something special" said John Key. Britain was "on the brink of something special," said David Cameron. No one wants to be the chump who throws it away.

Such campaigns can only really be run from the government benches. They're one of the things that make being in Oppostion so painful. But they also need something on which to gain purchase. Both David Cunliffe and Ed Milliband did look pretty weird. And it's hard to campaign on competence when you make the kind of hash Labour made of Budget week this year.

Danyl Mclauchlan pursued this point in a recent post, declaring a "stark" difference between the respective parties' messaging in Opposition:

National attacked the competency of the government to govern. Overflowing hospitals! Gangs running the streets! Power crisis! While Labour constantly attacks the morality and character of the government. Broken promises! Key is blaming his new tax on a fruit-fly! National is kicking hard-working whanau!

Right. Who couldn't take advantage of Gerry Brownlee jamming his foot in his mouth every time he ventures onto Morning Report? Isn't the hopeless execution of Anne Tolley in any given portfolio just a great big free hit? Actually, Labour's press releases do show its MPs trying to hammer the government on competence.

The problem may be that it has all become too complex. This seems to very much be the case in National's attacks on the Auckland Council. Two weeks ago, as Todd Niall carefully pointed out, both Nick Smith and Simon Bridges used figures attack the council that were, through incompetence or simple cynicism, complete bullshit. The next day, John Key gave an account to a compliant Paul Henry of the government's problem with the council that was, on any factual assessment, utter nonsense. Worse, the goverment has revealed no coherent alternative at all on Auckland's infrastructure issues. But it would take me a long time to explain to you  and I'd probably bore you.

Ironically, for all its problems, Auckland Council has demonstrated a more appealing version of democracy than is ever available from central government. It feels more worthwhile to engage on local politics because it actually seems possible to make a case. The councillors operate across partisan lines; they are persuaded by evidence. For every hairline vote, there are two or three that approach consensus.

Hooton concludes with a blast at the "liberal elite":

Labour denies "Waitakere Man" exists. It's a party overwhelmed by Wellington and Pt Chev liberals: deep in denial, their contempt for voters growing, their belief undaunted that one more Nicky Hager book or ponytail tug and the "sheeple" will wake up and return home. More likely, the voters Labour derides are perfectly happy with the new place they've found. Labour doesn't know that yet.

Yeah, who was that guy who publicly declared that the last Nicky Hager book would end National's reign in government? Oh, right: Matthew Hooton.

The truth is, even if Dirty Politics and the ponytail weirdness aren't persuading a majority of the public away from John Key and his government, neither could properly be ignored. And I think it's a cert that even Key's colleagues sometimes privately cringe at his conduct.

It sometimes seems that Labour's foul destiny is to eternally operate as a blank sheet for everyone else to project onto. They should move to the centre! They should return to their left-wing roots! Be inclusive! Renounce identity politics! Dump the leader! Keep the leader! Be more cynical! Be more principled! Panic! Not panic! Anyone who has the emotional energy for constant kvetching about the Labour Party is doing better than I am.

In conclusion, a story. A few years ago I received an unsolicited email from an Opposition MP, after I'd praised a speech he'd given. He was morose. One party leader had departed in disarray and his replacement was, in the MP's contemptuous words, "another helicoptered-in candidate".  It sounded terrible. It was 2006 and the Opposition MP was Bill English.

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Apropos of nothing in particular, except perhaps untramelled liberal sentiment, I did an interview three weeks ago with Tourettes the poet and Louie Knuxx the rapper for their podcast series How not to be an asshole. We talked about media, politics, drugs, autism (from the 42-minute mark) and being a good citizen. It's really not a bad listen.

19

Friday Music: Out there in the world

Friday Music posts here don't generally have much to do with my day job helping make a media TV show, but next week's Media Take is an exception. We're putting together a New Zealand music month-themed programme and one of the things I want to look at is whether the "Lorde Effect" happened.

When Ella Yelich-O'Connor got on her way to pop stardom a couple of years ago, there was a feeling that her success might open the door for other New Zealand artists. Or, at least, that having "New Zealand" on your calling card might get your calls returned for a while. To an extent, I think it did.

The most obvious example is Broods, who were there at the right place and right time to win themselves a major international record deal off the back of a single Joel Little-produced song. It helped, of course, that they had a few more songs in the bag and a manager who had learned his lessons.

Separately – but still enjoying some sort of halo effect – Janine Foster (aka Janine and the Mixtape) was working her way towards a deal with Atlantic Records in America. Again, there was a manager who had learned his lessons: Andy Murnane and his business partner Brotha D hit a point in 2007 where the company they'd built, Dawn Raid Entertainment, was in a mess and would have folded had they not been helped out of liquidation by South Pacific Pictures founder John Barnett.

Now, in their own right and as part of Frequency Media Group, they are both the hub of South Auckland soul and hip hop and New Zealand hip hop's bridge into America. Murnane in particular has developed key US media relationships – Billboard, MTV and others – that helped make Janine and her strange, serious R&B a proposition for Atlantic. After two years of working her brilliant Dark Mind EP, she released her first new EP with Atlantic this month:

My emphasis on management here is intentional. For decades, it was the missing piece of New Zealand music and it's beyond debate that Lorde's manager Scott Maclachlan played a key role in her extraordinary rise. Hence the chatter about Lorde and Maclachlan parting ways this month, which extended to this shitty piece of clickbait by Eamonn Forde in The Guardian, which was ably answered, in The Guardian, by Elle Hunt. I'd debate a couple of things Elle says, but she's essentially on the money.

There's a persistent myth around Lorde that she was manufactured by Maclahclan and her label, Universal Music. It's hard to think of a pop artist for whom that is less true. Forde gets it half right when he writes about the role of a good manager being the that of the person in the room who says "no". In Lorde's case, the grown-ups around her said "no" a lot – but they said it to the outsiders who wanted a piece of her. They gave her room to develop.  She's an 18 year-old savant now. She has a great publishing deal, a label that understands her and a powerful booking agency – and she's back in that tiny studio in Morningside making music with Joel. I really think she'll be okay.

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As I noted recently, Scott Maclachlan has a new teenage talent. Thomston has started on his round of festival sets and showcases in Europe. He seems to be taking being "the next Lorde" with good grace. If he has anything in common with Lorde apart from their age, it's that they approach their respective versions of pop from strange angles, and say oddly serious things with it. (You might also say the same thing of Janine.)

Thomston isn't the only one in Europe. Eighteen year-old Eddie Johnston characterised his current global round of meetings and shows with this emoji masterpiece:

And Princess Chelsea sold out this hall in Prague this week (pic by Ben Howe):

Headed that way before too long, presumably, are the Phoenix Foundation, whose new album Give Up Your Dreams, is out August 7 on the British-based Memphis Industries label. This week they dropped a cool new single, 'Mountain'.

You can have that right now if you pop over to their web HQ and pre-order the album.

Also on the wires this week, the first taste of a new album from Pikachunes:

Pikachunes is interviewed here by Noisey – and is one of the 7 Kiwi bands you need in your life named this week by the Austraian website hhhappy. When local publicists frequently despair of places to even pitch stories, the frequently enthusiastic coverage of New Zealand music outside the country is quite remarkable.

And that's very much the case right now for Ruban Neilson, aka Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Pitchfork's story on the story behind the new UMO album Multi-Love is utterly fascinating. NPR has been preview-streaming the album, as has The Guardian.

But you know what those guys aren't doing? They're not giving you the chance to win a copy of the Multi-Love album. Well, I am. Three copies, in fact. Just click the email link at the bottom of this post and mail me with "UMO" as the subject line. I'll draw the winners over the weekend to give everyone time to get in there.

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I really need to stop writing this blog post and get on with my day, but a couple of things to note ...

If you want to come along to the recording of that Media Take show, we'll need you at TVNZ (vctortia Street entrance at 5.30pm on Monday. Our guests will include Dawn Raid's Brotha D, Mark James Williams (aka MC Slave aka Loggy Logg), Jan Hellriegel, NZ On Air's Sarah Crowe and a panel of waiata Maori artists still being confirmed.

Tomorrow night in Auckland is like dance music Christmas. At Society & Nook in Exchange Lane the legendary (and I'm not using that word lightly) New York disco producer and DJ John Morales is playing a very intimate show. And 100 metres away in Vulcan the original house music vocalist Robert Owens is playing at Cassette – he also plays Bodega in Wellington tonight.

And you know what? I have a double pass to John Morales to give away. Click the email link at the bottom of the post and put Morales in the subject line. I'll draw that this evening so you can be well-prepared.

Meanwhile here's Morales's simply magnificent dub of Candi Staton's 'Young Hearts Run Free', a record he actually helped mix back in the day. No longer a free download, but I suspect he'll drop it tomorrow night:

In a completely different vein, next Friday the 29th, Wellington's Eyegum Music Collective is staging another one of its house parties -- this one featuring Graeme Jefferies of This Kind of Punishment and Cake Kitchen fame.

And on that same day in the morning, 95bFM is staging a great-looking Breakfast Club show featuring Pikachunes and the best punk band in town, PCP Eagles, from 6am to 9am at Real Groovy Records.

And finally, as a reward for reading all the way down, here's a free download of a sweet-as house remix of Chelsea Jade covering Rihanna. You're welcome ...

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The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:

theaudience

101

Mediaworks: The only horizon they see

When it emerged last month that Campbell Live was facing the axe, I ventured that Mediaworks had become far more Julie Christie's company than it was John Campbell's. And I think that's the reality behind the news that Campbell Live is to be replaced and its eponymous host will be leaving the building.

The people who make Campbell Live could have done no more to prove the programme's fitness during the six weeks it was officially "under review".

In part because news of its demise gave the show the kind of presence in the public mind that had been denied to it by Mediaworks' refusal to do any marketing, audiences shot up. On 16 nights in those six weeks, Campbell Live was the top-rating show on the network. Strong stories – most notably the Gloriavale series – drove the national conversation. It actually probably helped that they knew they had nothing to lose.

But it's highly likely the decision had effectively been made before the review even began – and that  this simply isn't the kind of show Mediaworks wants to run every night at 7pm.

The kind view would be that although the threatened show delivered tremendous 5+ ratings, the people who watch it weren't sticking around for the fare Mediaworks was choosing to screen after it. Basically, it wasn't providing an ideal lead-in for the reality shows that are the core of TV3's programming strategy and they needed something that did, even at the cost of killing a programme that on many nights was the most popular thing it screened.

But I'm not sure if some of the people involved deserve any such kindness. There are politics of various kinds at play here. The atmosphere behind the scenes at TV3 was toxic well before the rest of us knew there was a problem. Julie Christie's actions in, as a Mediaworks board member, appointing herself to a new senior management position and then mouthing off to staff about Campbell's impending demise still seem astonishing.

Christie's conduct may have ensured John Campbell himself a decent settlement. And while he will be desperately sad to leave, he should go out grandly, take a well-earned rest and then come back with something new. There will not be a lack of demand for his talents, and he now has the scope to do something different, perhaps even something outside linear TV.

It will be difficult for his colleagues. TV3's new current affairs show – let's call it 3 Sharp – is supposed to be on air in six to eight weeks and the only way they'll do that is to retain Campbell Live staff, even recruit the new co-hosts from the existing payroll. They will all have very mixed feelings.

The current Mediaworks strategy does not look kindly on stubbornly independent programmes. The intention is to create a joined-up media company in which each arm serves the other. Already, its radio hosts are required to talk up the reality shows on the TV arm, on air and on the internet. Both will have to promote the interests of the company's new events and and touring partnership, MediaWorks Nine Live.

Already, the establishment of the new Mediaworks Foundation as a channel for any charitable or fundraising activitiy anywhere in the company has limited the scope for the kind of advocacy Campbell Live has long done. I'm told the policy ("sick and vulnerable children only") will even prevent something as humble as an unapproved Facebook share. I also wouldn't be terribly surprised if there was pressure for "client engagement"  to influence 3 Sharp's editorial decisions.

But the absolutely key thing to understand about Mediaworks' current state is that its board of directors and senior executives are focused on the "exit event" – a trade sale or an IPO – that will deliver them millions of dollars in bonus payments. The far side of that sale doesn't really exist for them, still less for Mediaworks' present owner, the "vulture fund" Oaktree Capital. That is the only horizon they will, or can, see.