Hard News by Russell Brown


To defame and deflect

The first of a series of reports on New Zealand's role in the Five Eyes surveillance network has been published this morning across the news services of three co-operating media companies.

The principal reporter is Nicky Hager, whose book Secret Power first shed light on  New Zealand's part in the international spying network nearly 20 years ago. He has been working with documents from the trove held by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, supplied to him by Glenn Greenwald, whose news website The Intercept also reports the story today.

Hager reveals that from 2009, New Zealand worked with the US National Security Agency to move to "full take collection" of the communications of countries around the Pacific, including those with whom we are friendly.

The reporting adds substance to what's indicated in this 2008 slide, which has previously been released by Snowden and Greenwald:

As the slide shows, the local centre for X-Keyscore, the "spy Google" the NSA uses to search and analyse global communications data, is the GCSB base at Waihopai. What we haven't known until now is the extent of the data collection New Zealand does in the region and when it shifted to the level of mass surveillance.

On Stuff, Michael Field does a useful job of explaining why we might want to eavesdrop on our Pacific neighbours, and there will doubtless be a range of opinions on the propriety of what what we're doing for our American friends.

But for now, it's interesting to look at the official response. When he was questioned yesterday by journalists about the story to come, Prime Minister John Key took what now seems to be standard approach to impending journalism: to defame the journalist:

Having yesterday dismissed Hager's story in advance as a self-serving lie – and suggested that only someone who was not "a good, hard-working honest, New Zealander" could think otherwise – Key is now declining to comment on the published reports at all:

"The Government will not be responding to claims made from documents stolen by Edward Snowden," a spokeswoman for Key said.

"As we saw during the election campaign, misinformation was put before New Zealanders in an attempt to damage the Government.

"The Snowden documents were taken some time ago and many are old, out of date, and we can't discount that some of what is being put forward may even be fabricated.

We "can't discount" that the Prime Minister is a space alien either, but it doesn't seem very likely. Indeed, I don't believe any document released by Snowden has even been suspected of having been fabricated. To say so is simply to cynically deflect the story.

 I think we can expect a range of official contortions as this story unfolds over the next few days.


Friday (Thursday) Music: Musical Vocabulary

For various reasons, I missed a lot more than I caught of the music of Splore last weekend. But a lot of what I did hear, I had a great experience with. None more so than the revelation that was Roy Ayers and his band.

I expected a tight jazz-funk group: I didn't expect the musical vocabulary employed last Friday night. Ayers' broad influence on dance music was built in to the set, not least in the tunes that, with their honking keyboard motifs, felt like deep, dark house tracks.

There was unfussy musical quoting; in one change the rhythm section dropped into a little dub reggae flourish, then effortlessly moved on. I will grant you, I was in a very good mood at the time, but my god it was fine. There's a little of it in Sean O'Connor's video here:

Not everyone shared my degree of enthusiasm for Roy, but there were other acts for whom I did not share the enthusiasm of the crowd. I mean, really, what the hell are Cat Empire? "A Womad band," my friend Nat explained, when I asked this question before storming off to get some fucking house music at the Beach Hut.

I also did not dig The Correspondents, a kind of novelty rave duo who played twice and seem to have been one of the hits of the weekend. Too bloody zany for me, mate.

And then, on the other hand, there was Earl Gateshead, a mad, brilliant, chatty old white guy steeped in sound system culture. I caught his DJ Stage set, which I think was heavier on the dub and dancehall  than the one he'd played earlier on in the afternoon. It was a nourishing reggae dinner and a show, and it made me very happy to see and hear.

I missed SJD because I was running a three-hour talk session (which went very well, thanks for asking) and then A Hori Buzz, because I needed to go and hang around our campsite on my own after three hours' talking. But I did see the Phoenix Foundation.

It is sometimes said the Phoenix Foundation's fans are 10 years older than they are, and there certainly were women and men in their 50s for whom their square metre in front of the main stage was a very happy place. But there were also kids young enough to be their kids (and who might indeed have been their kids) loving it.

What really made it special was that they played a luxurious 90 minutes in the afternoon – enough time for them to premiere some new songs, to roll out both 'Damn the River' and '40 Years', and for the punters to migrate back and forth from the grassed dancefloor to the comfort of the hillside. I think the only time I've enjoyed that band more was when they played a Great Blend a long time ago.

Later on Saturday, Race Banyon continued his record of seeming different every time I've seen him, with a typically complex and adept club set, with a new emphasis on house music – again, at a full 90 minutes. This room to move seems to be a real virtue of music at Splore. It lets you stay with a full, satisfying show, or means even half a set is a nourishing snack.

And then there was Sunday, and Mr Scruff's epic five-hour set on the main stage, 11am-4pm. Before, I didn't really grasp the the idea of a five-hour set – what actually happens over five hours? – but it ended up making perfect sense as the soundtrack to a sunny day, from the subtle sounds of the first hour to the wild finale of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' 'Don't Leave Me This Way' (I think it was the Dimitri from Paris edit). And then he dropped 'Satellite of Love' and rolled back into the grooves. Because, by popular consent, five hours just wasn't long enough.


 It's not all music. There was poetry too, including Tourettes' brilliant 'John Key's Son is a DJ':

Which just happens to have been released this week. You can go and get it here on Bandcamp for a dollar or more.

And, before I stop bending your ears about Splore, one more video. Claudia Tarrant's excellent account of some girls at a festival:


Janine and the Mixtape covers Nirvana! It's from a covers album project put together by the Pigeons and Planes website and you can download the whole album for free from the site.

Meanwhle, Wellington's Dre Knox thoughtfully embellishes Janine's 'Hold Me':

More local cover action, as Wellington's Black City Lights take on the Stone Roses:

 Tel Aviv's Shai Vardi doesn't usually make his remixes downloadable on Soundcloud, but in the past couple of days he's posted a couple of good new versions on the DL. This stately wobbler (don't let the Fatboy Slim part put you off):

 And this lovely Everything But the Girl remix. Spot the Yello sample:

Another free DL: Hober Mallow reworks Thelma Houston's version of Don't Leave Me This Way':

Over at TheAudience, if you like Belle and Sebastian, you may well like Wellington's Towers:

And just what it says on the label from the prolific Terrorball:


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Haphazardly to war

Here's the thing: what is happening now in the parts of Iraq and Syria controlled by Islamic State (or Daesh, or whatever you choose to call it) does represent the kind of proximate crisis that had to be fabricated to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Even if Mosul does eventually subside into the grinding, banal, corrupt state of  affairs that persists in the IS "capital", Raqqa – where the foundations of law and education have dissolved and rape seems to have become a principal means of interaction for the forces controlling the population – it will still be awful. Comparisons with any recognised state – even the dreadful Saudis – seem facile in the circumstances.

And yet, after the Peshmerga retook towns in northern Iraq, most of the Sunni Arab residents fled for Mosul. They rightly feared reprisals. Shia militias associated with the Iraqi government (and, in turn, with Iran) seem even more vengeful. Meanwhile, IS has taken provocative steps to make enemies of the states of Jordan and Egypt, which have sworn revenge and are likely to be unfussy when they take it.

The potential for the New Zealand troops being dispatched to Iraq to train other soldiers – and the force protection that will accompany them – to be caught up in something in which we should want no part is evident.

This is, as Jon Stephenson's reporting has demonstrated over years, what happened in Afghanistan: our troops handed innocent people into the arms of torturers. We also know, most notably via Nicky Hager's Other People's Wars, that the promised boundaries on what roles our personnel would and would not take dissolved before boots even hit the ground.

And we know, beyond any doubt, that IS exists as a direct consequence of the actions of the US-led coalition after 2003 in Iraq. The movement grew in the occupier's brutal prisons. We made the monsters.

IS is different to al Qaeda. It is unique in that it relies on controlling populations and territory – without land and cities it has no caliphate – and at some point before too long regional ground forces will, with US air cover, attempt to retake Mosul.  That will presumably be an unthinkably bloody event.

What would our hundred-odd troops provide? Officially, training for an Iraqi army that has had no end of training. Realistically, we will be there as moral accompaniment for the Americans. We will present ourselves as another enemy for a group that goes to extraordinary and brutal lengths to cultivate enemies.

The New Zealand government's haphazard series of justifications for joining the war have come nowhere near the weight commensurate with what we're actually doing. Even this, in an interview with Kathryn Ryan, the Prime Minister could offer only as a prediction that the deployment was planned for two years. And what were we seeking to achieve? He said:

"Sunni, Shia and Kurds harmoniously sharing power and working together in Iraq."

Even if things go as well as they possibly could, that seems an unlikely outcome.


Sunday in the City

One morning the 1980s, a man walked into my bedroom and demanded to know what I was doing there. "Sleeping," I mumbled, which did not mollify him. He was from the Dingwall Trust and had just discovered that the rooms in Swanson Street that the trust had been renting out cheaply as workshops were in fact being occupied as residences by the likes of me.

It was like that back in the day. There were some apartments, but in general it was difficult bordering on illegal to live in Auckland's central business district. For whatever reason, I was mad keen on it. I shared a dodgy warehouse conversion in Fort Street – makeshift internal walls and all – with future members of the Headless Chickens. I had a truly mint office floor above Progressive Studios in Symonds Street, where there was enough room for indoor cricket, and bands to play our parties.

But things have changed. Those lovely old rooms in Swanson Street were demolished to make way for a vile duty-free store. And the Auckland CBD's population is now heading for 50,000 – up from only 1400 in 1991. It's a massive change in after-hours density.

So what's it like now? What are the joys and frustrations of inner-city life? That's the topic of what will be the first of a series of Sunday lunch talk events under the brand Sunday Sense at Society and Nook in Exchange Lane, 95 Queen Street.

I've been talking to the manager, Chris Barron about doing something for a few weeks and he noted that it was actually local residents who'd been most keen for him to try something like this. It seemed only right that the first Sunday Sense should be about them.

So, on Sunday, March 1, I'll be talking about inner-city life with:

- Journalist and resident of Metropolis, Fran O'Sullivan.

- DJ, author and longtime CBD-dweller Peter McLennan.

- John Macdonald of Splice, a group that aims to foster community and connection between inner-city residents.

Society and Nook will serve brunch from 11am on the day and we'll have our chat for about an hour from 1pm. In between times, Peter will DJ some of the sweet rocksteady sounds for which he is beloved on Base FM and down at Webstock. Society and Nook is a really nice place and we'd love to see you (and hear from you) on Sunday week.

So, that's:

Sunday Sense: Living for the City

Society and Nook

Exchange Lane, 95 Queen Street

11am-3pm, Sunday March 1.


Friday Music: Christchurch, Legacy of Strange

On Audioculture, a website about music where images have become the stars, one of my favourite sets is this collection of photographs taken in 1980 and 1981 by my friend Gordon Bartram. They're just a teenager's gig pics, fading like the memories themselves. But they're real, and they're a rare look at how it was in a scene where, for some reason, few pictures were taken.

I will be referring to these and quite a number of other Audioculture entries – Bill DireenThe Androidss, The Gordons, The Wastrels, The Axemen and many more – in a talk I'm doing for the Christchurch Art Gallery on March 11 at CIT's DL Theatre. It's called Legacy of Strange, and although the blurb I wrote refers mainly to Flying Nun, the talk itself will be more expansive.

I think one of the things that makes music from Christchurch intriguing  is its almost bipolar identity: the weird, bohemian fringe and the unapologetically mainstream. At the same time as The Pin Group and The Gordons were playing the Gladstone, the Dance Exponents were pulling huge crowds as the resident band at the Aranui Tavern.

In the 1980s, it's a story of music venues like The Gladstone and the creaking Oddfellows' Hall in Linwood. And of record shops: The EMI Shop north of Cathedral Square, where Roy Montgomery worked, and the Record Factory, managed by Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd. Out in the northwestern suburbs where I grew up, Tony Peake held court in his loft at the University Bookshop.

It's also the art. The first Flying Nun release, The Pin Group's 'Ambivalence', came in a sleeve screenprinted by a young Ronnie van Hout. Infamously, the print was black on black:

And then Ronnie did this for their next single.

A year or two later, Stuart Page was making the art of The Axemen, who at the time were pretty much an unruly art project themselves.

Interestingly, while The Narcs (the Feelers of their day) had records released outside New Zealand before that was a common thing, these days it's the most obscure of the city's music – Bill Direen's early singles; 25 Cents' celebrated cover of 'The Witch', the B-side of their one and only single  – which is now pored over and re-released for international collectors. It's a legacy of strange.

So, yeah, do come along on March 11. I think it'll be fun and it would be nice to see you. And if you care to chip in on the topic in the comments for this post, that would be marvellous too.


The news that Zane Lowe is leaving the BBC to move to LA and work for Apple's iTunes Radio is interesting for many reasons. And one of them is that it's evidence of Apple's previously-expressed desire to rely on tastemakers rather than algorithms in its future music services. And there is no hotter tastemaker in the world than former Auckland boy Zane Lowe.


Some Splore-related items.

Eddie Johnston talks to Vice's Thump website about his respective musical identities – Race Banyon and Lontalius – the scene he's part of and playing a festival where everyone else is a thirtysomething raver. He also put togther a great mixtape of New Zealand artists you may not have come across before:

Splore regular The Dastardly Bounder has posted a new free track ahead of this year's set. Some throbby nu funk action ...

And if you can't get to Splore and you're in agony about missing Mr Scruff's five-hour DJ set on Sunday, here's a thing. Click this link and claim yourself a download of his four-hour set last weekend in Perth. All four lovely hours of it.


On TheAudience, Shanghai Pilots, a Wellington indie band with a funny origin story and a bunch of tunes including this:

Finally, having been listening to the last RocknRolla Soundsystem mix CD (they kindly gave me a download) all summer, I'm delighted to note that because their new mix album is ready to go, they're giving the last one away to everyone for free. 45 tracks, 61 minutes, a whole bunch of vintages and genres and a ton of feelgood. They really should get themselves over here:

And that's it for this week. Don't call, I'm in Tapapakanga.


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