Hard News by Russell Brown

33

Friday Music: The Wizards of Oz Rock

When I was young, we scorned Australian pub rock as everything our music wasn't. The deafening, unwavering four-on-the-floor of the bass guitar and drums, the guitars without finesse or shimmer, the squalling singer, the bogan tone.

While Hello Sailor blended soul, reggae and Reed, and the early Flying Nun bands tried to express what they were hearing in their Velvets, Love and Can records and lead breaks were considered to be in poor taste, Australia sent over The Angels, Rose Tattoo and Cold Chisel.

The music was unsubtle for cultural reasons. Or, more precisely, because it was a response to the environments in which it was performed: huge pubs and clubs full (or not full) of riotous punters, amphetamines and alcohol. It was an environment that chewed up and spat out Toy Love and most other bands who sought success on the other planet that lay across the Tasman.

The pub sound registered in various genres, from the rousing, tuneless protest rock of Midnight Oil to the comic country rock of the Johnnies. Even the Hoodoo Gurus, whose records paid tribute to classic pop, played their songs live as pub rock – you could see the Rickenbacker guitars on stage, but you really couldn't hear them over the drums.

The roots of that sound – and indeed of the identity of Australian popular music –  are brilliantly explored in Paul Clarke's new two-part documentary for the ABC, Blood + Thunder: The Sound of Alberts, which tells the story of how Ted Albert, the scion of a straightlaced Sydney music publisher, built an empire around two immigrant kids, George Young and Johannes Hendrikus Jacob van den Berg (aka Harry Vanda).

George and Harry were the nucleus of The Easybeats, who formed in the limbo of a migrant hostel and blasted out a string of Australian hit singles before decamping to London and making the classic 'Friday on My Mind', which was much less raw than their early records, before disintegrating.

As a production duo, and with the encouragement of Ted Albert, they guided George's younger brothers Malcolm and Angus to the AC/DC sound, which has barely changed in more than 40 years and remains the purest and most unshakeable expression of Australian rock.

Then they invented "Australian disco" for John Paul Young. They also moonlighted as Flash and the Pan and recorded a song called 'Walking in the Rain' – yes, the same 'Walking in the Rain' that Grace Jones made a hit. (You might also detect a strong similarity between Drake's 2015 hit 'Hotline Bling' and a later Flash and the Pan song 'Waiting for a Train'.)

Even if you don't have an affinity for some of the music, Clarke's work is fascinating. The archive footage from 1970s pub shows alone is worth the watch.

Like the recent documentary on The Saints and the Brisbane scene, it unfussily encompasses social history. Clarke seems at pains to make the point that the creative energy of the phenomenon came from two migrant waifs. Given that the Villawood Migrant Hostel, where George and Harry met, is now the infamous Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, you'd hope the point was heard.

Let's not go too hard here. While 'Friday on My Mind' tops the list of the Top 30 Australian songs pubished by Apra in 2001, AC/DC's 'It's a Long Way to the Top' is the only other Alberts production in the Top 10 (which also includes 'Don't Dream It's Over'). But Blood + Thunder's thesis that this is uniquely ours resonates.

There might be a similar story to be had here in, say, Stebbing Studios. But it's hard to imagine how such a film could currently be made for and about New Zealand in the absence of a proper public broadcasting service. And that may, in the end, be the point we should ponder.

Happily, both parts of Blood + Thunder are on YouTube already. I recommend them:

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It seems appropriate to remind you of what was happening in fringe Brisbane at the same time. If AC/DC set a hard rock template that a million bands took up, in 1976, a bunch of snotty kids helped invent punk rock with this timeless debut single:

Oh, and 'Walking in the Rain' by Vanda and Young as Flash and the Pan? It's actually not bad.

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There are a few gigs lined up for Auckland in the week to come. Tomorrow night at The Wine Cellar there's a very good lineup of electronic music from Boycrush, Introverted Dancefloor (aka Bevan Smith) and Will Slugger (aka Ryan McPhun).

A cluster of shows has emerged from the debris of Echo Festival. Jamie Xx plays the St James on Monday night and Kurt Vile and the Violators are in the same room on Tuesday – it's the only show with the full band on Kurt's mini-tour. Disclosure play the Logan Campbell Centre tonight and 2014 Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers squeeze into Casssette Nine on Monday. Mac de Marco plays the King's Arms on both Wednesday and Thursday.

But the one you've got no excuse for missing if you happen to be in the Auckland CBD is The Chills' free show as part of Summer in the Square in Aotea Square at 12.30pm on Monday. Huzzah!

PS: Further out, after going through some outrageous legal bullshit with the Thames Coromandel District Council, the Chronophonium collective has found a friendly local authority and is heading north to Lake Ngatu on February 6 and 7.

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RNZ has aired an adventurous, intriguing two-part feature called Aotearoa Futurism, in which Sophie Wilson and Dan Taipua explore whether Afro-futurism, an established frame for understanding the work of artists from Sun Ra to Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton and the Ultra-Magnetic MCs, also resonates in Maori and Pasifika music and art. The background is here and you can listen to (and download) the programmes here:

Part One (featuring Mara TK and Che Fu)

Part Two (featuring Lisa Reihana and Coco Solid)

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Tunes!

Tim "Jizmatron" Checkley has produced a cool collaboration between Coco Solid and Disasteradio:

And also posted an instrumental version:

Both of those are free downloads.

Princess Chelsea is also in a giving mood, having posted her spectral cover of 'I can't Help Falling in Love With You' for free download. This is quite lovely:

You want some anthemic groove? You could do no better than this edit of Candi Staton's version of the Doobie Brothers' 'Listen to the Music'. Another freebie by way of Christmas and seriously Ibiza:

Aaaaand ... to bring us back to the opening theme, Digital Visions has just popped out this downloadable edit of 'Love is in the Air'. Get some Aussie disco down ya, cobber.

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

25

Music: Lemmy

Eleven thousand four hundred and eighty days have passed since the night I met Lemmy in Napier. I think I'm on safe ground in supposing that I've had more sleeps since than he did.

Motorhead were on a 1984 regional tour of New Zealand conceived by the mainstream promoter Stewart McPherson. It was unusual for a band of Motorhead's stature to be playing this sort of tour – last night Palmerston North, tomorrow night  Rotorua – and not every house was full, but no one in the touring party seemed to mind. They drove between shows and marvelled at the scenery. It probably helped that McPherson had the impeccably cool Graeme Nesbitt running things on the road.

I had just turned 22 and had arrived in Napier by bus, dreaming dramatically to the sound of Bill Direen in my headphones and talking to a very friendly blond chap who was heading back home after his release from prison (I didn't ask).

On arrival, I paid a visit to a fresh-faced John Drinnan, then a cub reporter at the Napier Daily Telegraph, before heading to the Municipal Theatre, venue for that night's show. Graeme met me there and after an hour or two had passed, facilitated the arranged interview with Mr Kilmister.

Lemmy said what he said many times before and since: "We play rock 'n' roll." He expressed disdain for bands who wore spandex tights and teased their hair. He drank bourbon and coke. He was larger than life. And he mercilessly look the piss out of the serious young music journalist. I couldn't really object: he was fucking funny.

Outside, in the gloom, Napier was not looking like the art deco treasure chest in the tourist literature. There were some heavy dudes gathering on the streets and I thought it prudent coming back from dinner to remove my own leather jacket.

The gig itself was – spoiler alert! – really loud. But they rocked pretty fuckin' hard to a two-thirds full theatre. Graeme had given me a backstage pass, so I was able to confirm that they were also very loud from the side of stage. Dredging up this memory has made me say to myself: Seriously? I was side-stage with Motorhead?

Their onstage sound guy spotted me wearing earplugs, which I had bought specially and for the first time in my rock'n' roll life, and he, too, took the piss out of me.

Afterwards, the tour party adjourned to a lock-in bar where The Dance of the Flaming Arseholes was performed. This ritual had been mentioned earlier in the evening as a potential, and it turned out to consist of this: two members of the road crew were furnished with a pint each, then stood on one of the tables, lowered their trousers to their ankles and had a length of toilet paper inserted between their buttocks. At the word, the end of each length of toilet paper was set alight, and the players had that long to drain their pints, unclench their buttocks and avoid the burn. It was quite spectacular.

I don't know if they played this game every night, but it would be fair to say that Motorhead and their crew embraced life on the road. But also that Lemmy himself, even then older than many of those around him, was content to sit back and watch the others and have a laugh.

That turned out to be the first and last time I saw a Motorhead show. I met up with the tour again in Auckland, but a series of events on a somewhat Lemmyesque night out meant that I arrived for their second show at Mainstreet just as they had finished. It wasn't the only time that night I thought "well, this is bizarre".

But I'll always be glad I met Lemmy. One of the lessons from those early years interviewing people who made music was that charisma is real – just not universal. Some people tried too hard, some people had it. Lemmy had it.

A good deal of heavy metal music sounds pretentious and lame to me – there's nothing in it that I would aspire to – but I always loved Motorhead (and, to be fair, the parts of Hawkwind where Lemmy is front and centre). No Sleep Till Hammersmith , with Phil Taylor hammering away at his double kick-drum, might just be the best live abum ever.

Everyone with an interest knew that Lemmy's heath was not good. A couple of Motorhead shows had been cut short and the tour postponed because he'd taken ill. He already had an internal defibrillator and his legs didn't work very well. He'd long switched from Jack Daniels to vodka "for health reasons". But the sheer rapidity of his death – given a terminal cancer diagnosis on Boxing Day, carked a couple of days later at home, playing a pokie machine transported from his local pub – was quite remarkable.

But as Kim Kelly wrote for Noisey, it was still hard to accept:

Accepting that he would one day leave this mortal coil was as scary as acknowledging that my grandfather, with his strong back, big laugh and quick temper, will do the same. It just seemed impossible—until it wasn’t. We can never truly prepare ourselves for the loss of a hero, but unfortunately, it’s not something we have much say in. The past few years have eased us into the idea that Lemmy might possibly be mortal but still, no one ever really believed that the end could be near—until it was.

But it was. No one is immortal, although it's sometimes the most mortal who seem that way.

Cheers, Lemmy. Thanks for the rock 'n' roll.

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Lemmy always said he never settled down because the true love of his life lost hers to heroin when she was 19. He hated heroin. But he nonethless fronted up to declare (to the Welsh Assembly, at the invitation of an alarmed Conservative MP)  that the only sane response was to make heroin and other drugs legal and regulate them.

He was also in a video game. As James Rae Brown explains, he "voiced a character called The Kill Master, a man who could heal people by playing rock music on magical strings spun by giant metal spiders."

He was also interviewed by Dylan Taite. On their next visit here, in 1991:

Check out Phil Taylor's post-pee cameo at the end. Ha.

Lemmy: The Movie doesn't seem to be on YouTube, but the Live Fast Die Old documentary is:

And oh yeah – Hawkwind. It couldn't last. Some fucker's playing a flute!

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Meanwhile, the New Statesman on on Wilko Johnson – the rocker who was told he was dying, announced so frankly – and then didn't. And he's quite pissed off about the way it all happened.

And The Specials' drummer John Bradbury, who has died.

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I talked to Melody Thomas of RNZ Music 101 about the year in music and technology – which turned out to be a year in which the technology was settled and the business was in uproar:

And The Wireless wraps up the summer festival season.

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In another musical world, the New York Radio show Retro Grooves has posted a mix from the expat Aussie DJ Copycat and it's reworked vintage funk, hip hop and electro galore. Free download, click through for track listing:

Ahead of his January 17 Auckland show (click the ads on this site for details and tickets), John Morales has posted a groovy household chores mix that he claims will "get your cleaning done in half the time". Free download.

And designed for lazing in the sun, a new Loop Recordings mixtape features Electric Wire Hustle, Latin Aotearoa, Spycc and others. Free download:

These should help put some groove in your New Year's Eve.

Me? DJing and having it large at a friend's party.

But if you're looking for options in Auckland, there's the Jafa Mafia party at the Edinburgh Castle, which will be full of reggae goodness. 

And Anthonie Tonnon has a free New Year's Eve show at George the Bar in Ponsonby. With lazars!

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

102

Incoming: Summer

Things will be a little quieter on Public Address over the next month or so. I'll still be around (if I don't answer the door I'll be out on the deck) but I thought it would be a good idea to make you a thread to report on where you'll be, where it's at and how it is for summer.

We'll be pretty much staying in Point Chev, keeping an eye on the tide, spotting tui and enjoying the gloriously empty roads, but I'm keen to hear from y'all wherever you are.

Feel free to post photos, too. You can do that by click the "Choose file" button under comment window and selecting a pic (note that this only works if you've already typed some text into the comment window). You can use the edit button to add up to three pics to every comment. Try and keep your images to about 1MB in size.

Enjoy!

Meanwhile, here's me after the first swim of the season down at the Chev on Monday. Bit windy, but the water's warm ...

59

Music: The year the second-greatest Christmas song beat the greatest to number one

So I read the news stories about Mariah Carey's 'All I Want for Christmas Is You' breaking streaming records and I thought what does that even sound like? So, dear reader, I added one more to the 155 million views of the song on YouTube and found out.

It actually starts really badly with some dreadful trilling and caterwauling – but then the chorus kicks in and it turns out to basically be a 60s girl group number with a beat straight from some kind of 70s glam pop like you'd hear on Top of the Pops, were it actually the 70s. It might have been better had Phil Spector actually produced it, but now I have listened to this very well-known song, I think it's okay, and not actually what I expected.

But it did get me thinking about a particular genre of Christmas song, and more particularly, this brilliant song from 1973:

Remarkably, 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day' was denied the Christmas No.1 spot in that year by Slade's 'Merry Christmas Everybody':

Personally, I'd switch them around. But I believe it cannot be denied that this was was golden era of Christmas songs.

If you've lived through Christmas in Britain, you'll know what an important cultural tradition the Christmas No.1 is – albeit one ruined in recent years by shitting awful cack from TV talent quests. The list stretching back to the birth of the charts in 1952 is actually quite interesting and includes both memorable hits and songs you'd love to forget.

In 2015, the winner of X Factor is well off the pace and the race has been between Justin Beiber and the NHS Choir. Frankly, Bieber doesn't need it and NHS staff could do with the morale boost. Bieber will probably be declared the winner in a few hours. I blame the Tories.

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For some proper Christmas morning goodness, let me commend to you Strut Records' Souful Christmas Special, a vinyl-only mix of yule tunes that does not suck. Thanks to Jen Ferguson for the heads-up.

VF Mix: Strut Records' Soulful Christmas Special by The Vinyl Factory on Mixcloud

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I'm pretty excited about my musical January, just quietly. Not least because it sees the return of the DJ I enjoyed more than any other in 2015. John Morales' mid-year gig at Society & Nook was just a lovely affair and there were folks even older than me (I know, I know) dancing to his beautiful disco.

Morales apparently didn't even see daylight that time – he arrived on the evening of the gig and was on the red-eye to Australia hours later – but this time will be very different. Murry Sweetpants has put together a lineup at Mantells, the indoor-outdoor function space that overlooks Westhaven marina.

Shipshape with John Morales, 3pm-11pm on Sunday January 17, will also feature Frank Booker, Murray Cammick and others. Tickets (earlybirds are still open) are available here, but guess what, groovers? I have a double pass to give away. Click the email icon at the bottom of this post and send me a message with "Morales" as the subject line. I'll draw it tomorrow and it can be someone's Christmas present.

Meanwhile, download this:

As noted in late-breaking news last week, the horrible collapse of Echo Festival has been rescued somewhat by other promoters picking up some of the headline acts – including Jamie Xx, who brings his In Colour tour to the St James on Monday, January 11.

If it's anything like his Glastonbury 2015 set, it'll be bliss:

And then, in a completely different vein, on January 28, Gillian Welch returns for her first show here in more than a decade, at the Civic in Auckland:

Now, just months after accepting a Lifetime Songwriting Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association in Nashville, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings bring their show back to New Zealand featuring a set that’s likely to include well-chosen covers by Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe, Ryan Adams and Woody Guthrie that fit perfectly alongside their own beautifully crafted songs.

And of course, a few days later, there's Laneway 2016, with Beach House, Grimes and another very welcome Echo refugee, Courtney Barnett. But I'll write that up in more detail in a later music post. Note that if you're coming to town for Laneway, Fat Freddy's Drop play Ascension Wine Estate in Matakana on the Saturday (Sunday's show at Cable Bay winery on Waiheke is already sold out).

A little further out, into March, you may wish to make a note that the creators of two of my favourite albums of the year, Anthonie Tonnon and Nadia Reid, are teaming up with Darren Hanlon for a "urban folk" tour which will stretch from Okarito to Auckland. The concept sounds great:

Three widely acclaimed songwriters from New Zealand and Australia will team up this coming March for an urban folk tour of New Zealand. The trio will play together and alone - flipping a coin to decide the set order. They will perform folk songs which have been written largely out of sight of pastoral scenes, and instead in bedrooms beside motorways, in old warehouses waiting for demolition, or in crowded restaurant kitchens between orders. They will also play some select versions of favourite urban folk touchstones, by writers such as Billy Bragg, The Magnetic Fields, or Courtney Barnett.

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Showing an impeccable disregard for conventional commercial wisdom, The Conjurors have released a new video for the title track of their EP, Hints. There's a tui and and for some reason the bass player vomits.

Matthew fails to explain what it's all about to Cheese on Toast.

With much greater dignity (well it wouldn't he hard, would it?) Jay Clarkson has debuted a nice new website for her music, including her latest album, Spur, which is on Zelle Records, a New Zealand music label running out of Austria.

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So this came up:

And its true! Fela's catalogue, in high-quality digital formats, there for $US9 an album (nb: but not actually for streaming). This would surely be a starter for Bandcamp's new buy-the-whole-catalogue-for-one-price feature.

This reminds me that there's a lot I don't know is there on Bandcamp. I use it fairly frequently, for the file quality and the better return to artists, but I almost never go in the front door and have a look around.

Does anybody else have some hot tips for back-catalogue on Bandcamp? Do share.

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And finally, this popped up in my Facebook feed today and it's just joyous.  Joe Strummer in 2002, singing 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais' with the help of a crowd that knows every word ...

Merry Christmas everyone!

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

36

Cheers

Mum arrives tomorrow to spend Christmas with us, as she has done since my sister died, and as she will do for as long as she's able. Things were a bit touch-and-go this year, but she swears her recently-repaired knee is up to it and won't be bringing her walker. We'll see how it goes.

At any rate, I think the trip to the airport will mark the end of serious work until Christmas, so the big story on global drug law I'd been hoping to get done this year will have to wait until 2016 for the attention it deserves. I think I need a reboot anyway, after signing off another big story – a 5000-worder for Metro on the future of a changing Karangahape Road – last Friday. That's in the summer issue out on Thursday. I hope you enjoy it, because I put a lot of work into it and, as I note in the story, K Road is still in some sense home to me.

It's been enjoyable returning to print feature-writing – and a real treat to be invited to write at such length – but doing 17 interviews for a story is no way to earn a living. Word rates have barely moved in 20 years and, like many of my journalistic colleagues, I'm wondering what else I might be able to do. Suggestions and commissions are welcome.

But early in the new year, there are another 15 episodes of Media Take scheduled on Maori Television and I'll be hosting another Listening Lounge set of talks and interviews at Splore. I'm very pleased to say that will involve the brilliant Sanho Tree, the former military historian who is director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington. The man is a thinker – and a wit.

We'll probaby squeeze in one or two more IRL events at Golden Dawn this summer, thanks to our sponsors at Orcon. That has been the best new thing of 2015 – especially in that it involves working with the talented Esther Macintyre from 95bFM.

It's been very gratifying watching bFM get up and reinvent itself under the management of Hugh Sundae this year, and to have been able to help out here and there. That place, too, is a kind of home.

As is, of course, this place. Sometimes that involves the responsibilities and  frustrations of family life – you're all, on some level, family – but it's also a remarkable and rewarding thing to have been part of for so long. It's 13 years since this website launched, and next year will mark a scarcely-credible 25 years since Hard News was born as a weekly radio rant on 95bFM. So yes, 2016 would appear to be an appropriate time to finally get that Hard News book done. Longtime listeners might be able to guess the likely title.

It's not easy to maintain a website like this for so long, and this year saw the amazing Alastair Thompson begin a new life after Scoop, which will carry on as a cooperative venture while Al and Wendy seek new adventures in Europe. This month, another longtimer, Regan Cunliffe, announced that Throng will be closing. These sites only stay airborne for as long as we can keep furiously pedalling. Today, Amplifier, New Zealand's first digital download store, announced that it is closing down.

But new things happen too. TransportBlog is literally changing the way we all think about about cities – if you haven't read Patrick Reynolds' 2015: Auckland's Watershed Year, you really should (and then maybe try and remember when a newspaper column gave you this much food for thought). At The Spinoff, Duncan Greive's purpose and ambition in publishing and finding a sustainable way to pay for journalism – in his case, signing direct sponsors as a way of getting around the utterly broken online advertising market – is a motivation for me.

It's been pleasing too to see shortform video shuck the dead hand of commercial TV. It seemed fitting that just as Campbell Live was bidding its sad farewell this year, Robbie Nicol and his friends began making the smart satirical commentary of White Man Behind a Desk. We're going to see much more of this as the connection between the internet and the television strengthens – and also increasing demands on the frozen-for-seven-years budget of NZ On Air. But Ben Uffindel of The Civilian got a little money this year to make everyone feel awkward on WatchMe, and The Wireless is stronger by the month. That's all good.

The degree of enterprise required to stay airborne in this new world really bears noting. I met Peter Haynes, producer of the gaming web series AFK at a party last week, and the stuff he does just to keep getting noticed is remarkable. Even when creatives do get NZ On Air digital funding – as the remarkable Roseanne Liang eventually did with Flat 3 and the new Friday Night Bites – that really just means they don't have to ask their friends to work for free.

Sometimes I look back 10 or 15 years and marvel at the way there used to be money. I sometimes wonder who, apart from property speculators, does do well in modern New Zealand, but that's a bit silly.

You'll notice we have had advertisers on Public Address recently. I think I've worked out a better way to sell it: which is to good people, over longer periods of time, for very little money and, if they don't have cash, some return in kind. There's still a ratecard of sorts, but it's utterly irrelevant. It's become more about community in that respect. It was nice to be able to put up Word of the Year prizes this month from Whisky Galore, Peoples Coffee and The Hemp Store, because they're good people. None more so that Dan Howard of The Audio Consultant, who came to us as a Public Address reader and wanted to be part of it. That man is a keeper.

But my most consistent income from Public Address is the voluntary subscriptions system that began last year – just a little money each month from people like you, because you want us to be here. People come and go from the system and I think we're down under $800 monthly again. But we're actually in credit with our web developers now, so I guess I should be thinking about a makeover in 2016. If you're feeling all Christmassy, the subs page is here.

But mostly folks, thanks for coming to Public Address and making it what  it is. Yes, there are occasional bust-ups, but there aren't any other independent sites in New Zealand with our kind of discussion community. I love the fact that we turn readers into writers – and sometimes writers of actual blog posts. And you know what? Our traffic's been really strong lately. And that, again, is down to you, so thanks as ever for coming to the party.

Cheers, everyone.