Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: The Godfather of House Music

I got a little weepy on Tuesday. No, not for the departing  Geoff Robinson, much as I appreciate his fine service these past 40 years, but for Frankie Knuckles, who died suddenly at the age of 59 later that day. Although he's hardly a household name, people who felt it, felt it hard.

Twitter was flooded with tributes and even The Economist published a tribute to "the man most commonly credited as the godfather of house music". So exactly what is all the fuss about this Knuckles guy?

Some context: In 1979, in Chicago, 70,000 drunk dudes cheered as thousands of disco records (which effectively meant any records by black people) were blown up with explosives at a baseball stadium. The white folks got so out of hand that riot police had to clear the field. This is the environment in which Frankie was playing evolving forms of that marginalised music to equally marginalised communities -- black, gay or, like Frankie, both. The actual same city.

The term "house music" itself was coined by a local record store as shorthand for the music Frankie Knuckles was playing -- sometimes rearranged on reel-to-reel tape, or beefed up with an early drum machine -- at the Chicago club where he was the keynote DJ: The Warehouse.

The Warehouse didn't actually play house music, for the very good reason that it hadn't been invented yet. Proto-house music, harder and less musical, was the next step on at Ron Hardy's Music Box club, where Frankie also played. 

So what did it sound like at The Warehouse? Red Bull Music Academy put together a YouTube playlist based on the Warehouse Top 50 compiled by Bill Brewster with Frank Broughton for their book Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. The tracklisting is here. It's brilliant. I'd go and dance at a club playing these tunes -- Chaka Khan, Roy Ayers, Gwen Guthrie -- any time.

A few years later, that music, now fully evolved into something new -- house music and in particular the heavy loops of acid house --  leapt the Atlantic and thence became a dominant force in popular music. These days, EDM fills American stadiums -- and two years ago the Chicago White Sox held their first annual House Music Night at the stadium where the disco records were destroyed in 1979. As Brewster notes in his concise obit for The Guardian, Frankie liked to refer to house music as "disco's revenge".

Frankie's passing terminates a great pop-cultural arc. But it also takes a chunk out of my own youth. I first heard Chicago house music in London in  1986 and two years later, house music, as the saying goes, changed my life. 

Among the records I bought then and still own is Frankie's 1987 production of an unusual track by a teenager called Jamie Principle that had been kicking around Chicago clubs on tapes for several years by the time it was released:

I still play 'Your Love'. It's beautiful and primitive and one of my favourite records. But it was a 1989 classic that most clearly set him apart from all the chancers with samplers. 'Tears' had what became the trademark Frankie Knuckles sound, with its soft, pulsing bassline and floating piano:

Unlike his founding contemporaries, Hardy and Larry Levan, Frankie didn't destroy himself with drugs. Diabetes eventually got him, but he was always a working DJ and was playing a gig at Ministry of Sound in London only last week. You can download the set he played late last year at London's Boiler Room:

Happily, you can also download the mix of Frankie's own music created and posted in tribute this week by Dimitri from Paris:

You can hear his more recent work on his Soundcloud page (I'm going to buy that Candi Staton track) and most of his many remixes are on YouTube -- often, like this one, originally the spacious b-side of the 12":

But for me, none of them demonstrates his artistry better than his beautiful interpretation of Michael Jackson's 'Rock With You':

Thanks for the beautiful music, Frankie. Thanks for heaven on the dancefloor.


Feel free to post your own Frankie Knuckles  favourites in the comments for this post (YouTube and Vimeo videos auto-embed here if you just paste in the URL of the clip). You may also enjoy this short British documentary about him, in two parts:

And when you have some time, watch all 141 minutes of Pump Up the Volume: The History of House Music, which has pretty much everyone in it:


I've just been pointed to this holyshitamazing short doco by Phil Ranstrom on the launch of the third of the triumvirate of Chicago house clubs, The Power Plant, in 1986. House, it is clear, was becoming the next big thing by that point. It includes a Frankie interview and a live performance by Steve Silk Hurley's JM Silk. Uploaded only this week (the day after Frankie died) and the nearest you'll get to actually being there ...


So, kids, you may be asking "what were you doing while all this was going on, grandapa"? Oh, you, know, hanging out in Vulcan Lane watching art ...

It must be 1984. That's me by the red door, all wrapped up, and that's Ian Dalziel next to me. The performer is Gill Civil, who is best known here for her work in Marie and the Atom, the most delicate and unusual of early Flying Nun acts. On this day, she pitched up oddly decorated in the lane, roped off a space and played a solo work on voice and banjo. I remember at the time thinking how bold it was. Perhaps that's why I look so terribly concerned in the picture.

I was delighted to reconnect with Gill this week via Twitter. She now lives in Canada's Sunshine Coast and, among other things, makes piano recordings for ballet classes. And, of course, yes, she has an arrangement of 'Royals':


A typically amusing James Milne press release heralds the news that Lawrence Arabia will be playing the three Lawrence Arabia albums in full across two night in Auckland and three nights in Wellington at the end of May. You can click through to buy season passes for each centre. I'm looking forward to this.

Also on the road next month, alt-country folkies Great North. They've released this lovely track from their forthcoming new album as a free download on Bandcamp:

And in the Sunday Star Times, Grant Smithies caught up with Flip Grater, who has just begun a national tour in support of the new album she recorded in Paris, Pigalle. It's an excellent read.


Tracks ...

Breaking: it's deep in the night, She's So Rad have returned from the disco, made a nice cup of tea/whisky/ketamine and got on the back-to-mine indie groove. It's warm:

At TheAudience, this twinkling little hip-hop instrumental from someone called pxlx. (Why all these short tracks suddenly? Should we blame Lontalius?)

There's more of this mischief going on at his Soundcloud.

Wellington DJ duo Eastern Bloc (it's not just a name -- one's Polish, the other Ukranian) are also in TheAudience's chart with this twitchy thing:

And wowzers. Bobby Busnach has posted an epic 17-minute remix of Donna Summer's 'Love to Love You Baby'. Bobby does his best work with Donna -- and that's the bassline from the O'Jays' 'For the Love of Money', amirite? Get the big fat WAV file before it hits the download limit:

Leftside Wobble dubs up a lesser-known version of 'Cry Me a River' to magical groove effect:

And finally, I might not know much about jazz, but I do like this jazz/funk/breaks mix:


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



Gower Speaks

On Monday and Tuesday this week I wrote posts analysing 3 News' and One News' respective reporting of their own political polls, conducted by Reid Research and Colmar Brunton respectively. In the second, I had some criticisms and a list of questions about the handling of a poll question about whether Cunliffe's use of a trust to channel donations was "worthy of a Prime Minister".

I prompted Gower for a response several times on Twitter: nothing. I got to the point of mocking his silence. But he called me this morning (his end was on speakerphone -- hi, Mark and Rachel!) and  it turns out he was offline because he'd had the day off for his birthday. I'd needled the man on his birthday! (He tried to deem the birthday part off-the-record after we'd been talking for half an hour, but what sort of journalist goes along with that?)

Anyway, it was a useful conversation in which TV3's political editor acknowledged my qualms about Monday night's story and eased most of them.

I had wanted to know exactly how the question was put to respondents. I now have the exact wording of the "worthy" question about Cunliffe, which is this:

David Cunliffe was found to be using a trust to conceal donations to his campaign for the Labour leadership. When the trust was identified, Cunliffe had to reveal the donors and pay back the money to those who wanted to remain anonymous. Do you think David Cunliffe's actions were worthy of a man who wants to be Prime Minister?

This is an appropriately-worded question. It doesn't beg a particular response. And it doesn't used the words "secret trust", which are common in 3 News's reporting of the Cunliffe, but, rightly in my view, not used by other media.

"The words 'secret trust' were not used in the question," Gower confirmed. "I used those in my report, but I'm an equal-opportunity secret trust guy. I called Key's Antoine's [dinner] secret. All politicians get furious equally on those. Key doesn't like admitting to golf games at the moment, so he's complaining about that. And my argument for that is that actually Cunliffe did keep it secret for four days and Key did keep his golf game secret. We would never have known about his golf game unless I found that picture in the Oravida office."

Crucially, the "worthy" question was asked after the Reid poll's regular series of perception questions, which always includes one on whether the subject is "more honest that most" politicians. (You can see the trends on those questions here on the Reid website.) So it couldn't have influenced the answering of the special question about Cunliffe.

I still think the reporting of the answers could have been better handled. Patrick was able to tell me that 54.6% of people who intended to vote Labour said no, his actions weren't worthy.

"They've already answered that they'll vote for Labour and who their preferred Prime Minister is. So it's about his actions at that point -- I don't think anyone is being asked to say he's unworthy of being Prime Minister. They're being asked whether it's a non-event or not. People did look at it and have a view on it and overwhelmingly they said it was not a good look."

I realise that time is tight in TV news, but including that information would have made the meaning of the answer clearer.

I'll also note this comment sent to me privately by a person who works in the research business:

Like you, I was incensed by the way TV3 reported on their David Cunliffe poll questions, albeit for slightly different reasons.  Specifically, they reported on the number who said that ‘more honest than most politicians’ applied to Key & Cunliffe.  What they didn’t tell us, however, was the number who said that that attribute did NOT apply, which matters because Key is still much better known than Cunliffe.  If Key was say 45% ‘applies’, 50% ‘does not apply’, 5% ‘unsure, that’s a very different meaning from if Key was at 45% ‘applies’, 30% ‘does not apply’ and 25% ‘unsure’.

The effect of the way that question was presented is that the lower profile politician, whoever it is, is always at a disadvantage.  It may have been that Cunliffe was 26% applies, 74% does not apply, or it may have been that he was 26% applies, 10% does not apply, 64% unsure, but we just don’t know.

This is why it would be good if the detailed responses were available on the polling firm's website. And that's an area where Reid could take a tip from Colmar Brunton, who have begun providing background data as soon as possible after the headine figures are reported each night (their social media game is pretty sharp too). That information could also go on the TV3 website, but I know how hard it is to get data up there in a specialised format -- and that the people who manage the website content already have a substantial workload

"I'd love to have it up there," said Gower. "Usually I'd have blogged on a lot of the stuff I've told you, because I like to give a bit more the next day in my blog.  We're working bloody hard on a lot of interesting ideas for things we do can with this information in the lead-up to the election, so watch this space."

There was, as Andrew Geddis noted in comments for yesterday post, also a question about Judith Collins and Oravida, and Patrick was happy to tell me there was also an Oravida question about John Key, and a fourth "policy question". Four is the contracted limit for "special" questions in each poll round. The unbroadcast questions are very likely to turn up in future reports.

Why was the Cunliffe question chosen over the others? Because, said Gower, the most interesting element of the poll was the "collapse" in Cunliffe's personal support.

"If it had been the other way around, if Key had gone down, I may well have gone with Oravida on Monday night. If there had been a drop that could be attributed to Oravida I would most likely have gone in with the Oravida question."

Interestingly, One's Colmar Brunton poll did show a drop for National and they did go with their Collins question.

And what of the the sketching out of a likely House on the basis of New Zealand First missing out by an essentially meaningless 0.1% of polled voting intentions?

"I stick 100% to what our figures tell us. I know that National's going down in the Colmar and we've got them going up, but there really is only one option in terms of that. Winston comes in at 4.9 and I instantly think, hey, he's good for 5% on election day.

"But you've got to stick with the information that you're given. And you've got to stick with it from month to month and pretend that there is nothing else out there, for the sanctity of that information.

"All the questions that you have in your mind about those numbers, I have those questions too. But it's bloody good information. If we started introducing different things, it would just be a clusterfuck. So everyone else can have their fun with the poll of polls."

I was also critical of what I called 3 News' "lazy" habit of featuring John Key as commentary talent in their stories, sometimes to the extent of using the Prime Minister to explain the angle of the stories. Gower said they've also had complaints about the frequent use of Russel Norman in a similar context.

"It's something we always have to keep watching. We always have to go and get comment, you always want a counter-comment. And, for want of a better description, you get guys having free hits.

"It's one of the true weaknesses of television that in order to achieve balance you have a counter-soundbite. So we have to watch how much we use Key, we have to watch how much we use Norman or Cunliffe, we have to watch free hits full stop. [But] we also have to have the opposite person in there.

"Key is in the media more often and I'll quite often watch the news bulletin here and see that there's a story, not done by my guys, that has Key in it. And suddenly we have Key in four or five stories and I have to say, 'hey, we've got to get him out of one of these bloody things'.

"But he was the right guy for this story. It was a story about Cunliffe and he's Cunliffe's opposite and that's why I used him in that. I'm not saying that he's not in there too much, because as I told you, I'm actively trying to get the guy out of there sometimes."

Because we were talking specifically about the comments and questions in my own post (and I hadn't expected him to call) we didn't range beyind those. But Gower concluded with a commitment:

"I'm always happy to answer any questions about [the polls]. We just want to get out and talk to people about what we're doing. And that goes right through with all of my work. I'm making a really big effort in the next six months to communicate with people and talk to them about what we're doing.

 "As political editor, the role has changed for guys like me in the last three years. There is a lot more interest and commentary and people able to talk about what I'm doing. That's great, okay? Bring it on, I love it. Twitter, everything. What I want to do is make myself more open to people so that when they do have questions about what I'm doing, I'm talking to them about it. And that's the changing level of accountability that someone in my job has to have.

"I'm not just going to do my news stories, say my piece and go home to Petone and turn on the TV and watch Shortland Street. I'm in a highly visible role."

So I could write up the "3 News political editor in 'not watching Campbell Live shock'" story for our gossip column. But hey, it was the guy's birthday, right?


Poll Day 2: Queasy

I noted yesterday that it's incumbent on media organisations who commission political polls to construct news angles around them. It also doesn't hurt to a few extra bangs for your buck, which both One News and 3 News did last night, with follow-up stories based on subsidiary questions in their respective polls.

TVNZ, it turns, out, had asked respondents whether Justice minister Judith Collins should remain a Cabinet minister in light of "the Oravida conflict of interest allegations" (I presume that was roughly the wording of the question -- it's not published as far as I can see). Thirty nine per cent said "No", 37% said "Yes" and 24% didn't know. Probably the most interesting part of the response was that only 55% of National voters affirmed that she should stay.

Michael Parkin's story quoted Labour's Grant Robertson and the Prime Minister, and he reported that Collins herself, while declining to appear on camera, said she wanted to "get on and do the job". He concluded by noting that any damage sustained by Collins was not reflecting on her party's poll standing.

3 News, on the other hand, focused on Labour leader David Cunliffe and asked a very different kind of question (again, I'm having to infer this from the report because the actual wording is unpublished), in respect of his use of a trust to channel donations for his party leadership campaign: "Were David Cunliffe's actions worthy of a Prime Minister?"

What does that even mean? That people think he's not fit to be Prime Minister? That it was an unworthy action of someone who aspired to be Prime Minister one day? It's actually a hard question for even a Cunliffe supporter to answer "yes" to. As a bit of emotional framing it works well, as a research question it's bullshit.

Notably, a similar question was not put to the actual Prime Minister, John Key. Well, One News focused only on Judith Collins, didn't it? But this was a bit different.

Patrick Gower's story not only put no questions to the Prime Minister, it was a particularly inappropriate example of 3 News' journalists' lazy habit of of using John Key as a freelance political commentator. Inappropriate because the secondary angle of the story was the same poll's question as to whether John Key and David Cunliffe respectively were "more honest than the average politician."

Cunliffe lost out badly on that question, and Key got to be both the victor and the race commentator.

But I would like to know a few things (I asked some of these of Patrick Gower via Twitter last night but haven't had a reply yet):

- What were the actual words in which the Cunliffe question was put to respondents?

- Were respondents reminded of the Cunliffe trust story, and in what words? Or were they, alternatively, questioned on their actual knowledge of the story?

- Were the words "secret trust" used in the question? (It's notable that 3 News stands alone -- or perhaps alongside Kiwiblog -- in its consistent use of the phrase "secret trust" around this story. The Herald, Radio NZ, NBR and others have generally referred simply to "a trust"-- which is actually correct. The trust itself was was not a secret; the issue was that it enabled anonymous donations.)

- Was the "worthy" question about Cunliffe asked before or after the general honesty question about both Cunliffe and Key? (I really hope it was asked after, because asked before it really starts to look like push-polling.) Was it asked before any other questions about Cunliffe? 

It may be that Gower has a zinger about John Key for us tonight. If so, I hope it's better and more fairly framed than last night's story was. I respect the right of Gower and his colleagues to be robust, even provocative in their work. It's important that they can be and if I'm watching TV at 6pm it's usually them. But last night's effort left me feeling a bt queasy.


Republished: The CTV collapse and inquiry: my personal thoughts from being there

Author and researcher Jarrod Gilbert today published a moving, beautfully-written personal response to the findings of the inquiry into the findings of the Coronial inquiry into the deaths in the collapse of Christchurch's CTV Building. The inquiry included many criticisms of the performance of the Fire Service on the day, but concluded that the rescue effort did not contribute to the deaths of eight people trapped under the rubble.

The Fire Service has published a lengthy response to the findings -- but it has also forced Jarrod to take down his own account of his experience and personal, emotional reaction as a volunteer fireman, apparently on the basis that it was a breach of the service's media policy.

This seems silly and excessive to me. In no sense was Jarrod purporting to speak for the Fire Service and I don't think anyone could have thought so on reading his post. I think a guy who went through what those guys went through is entitled to process the experience.

I happened to still have open the tab with Jarrod's blog post on it, so just so an important personal account account is not lost -- because we need to keep all the stories, right? -- I copied the post and pasted it in below.


To hear criticism of the fire service response to the CTV collapse is difficult. I was part of that response.

I was at CTV late on the night of the quake. I was part of the first crew from Sumner. Our own district was smashed to bits and we had worked since just after 12:51pm with the injured, the dead, and the living. We would have days ahead of us but town needed help and so our chief released three volunteers at a time. We nervously drove in.

When we arrived I looked to report our crew to the Officer in Charge but nobody was obviously in that position. CTV, like much of the city, was a mess. Everything was unclear. We met a firefighter we knew who was looking for equipment and got it from our rig. We followed him and found ourselves as part of a large team, swarming like ants over the rubble.

The heat of the work in firefighting gear was terrible and the dust stuck to your sweat. The nagging smoke tugged at your lungs and every now and then overcame your eyes. We wore flimsy paper masks over our nose and mouth but many of us ripped them off. Looming above us was the elevator shaft. Each large aftershock made everybody pause. There couldn’t have been a single person who didn’t think of being crushed. 
After perhaps 20 minutes I pulled at some corrugated iron. It wouldn’t budge and so a guy next to me (I think he was a civilian) helped.

Underneath was a dusty form and although partially obscured it was unmistakably a body. I raised my hand in the air and yelled for a gurney. The message went down the line. We pulled the body out only to find another, further under. Again we pulled at the tin but this time I had to tug a little at her legs. The third body was even more difficult but all I recall, and will never forget, was that she had a coffee cup clasped in her hand. We lifted them up and sent them on a slow journey back to their families.

The bodies were recognisable, all three were young, female and Asian. There was a sign next to them saying ‘Change your contact details here’. I have sometimes thought about their final moments; what they were doing before they huddled together as the terror came. I don’t like to reminisce on the quakes and I avoid reading or watching things about them, but sometimes little questions like that pop into my brain. I hurry them back out again.

Another of those questions has stemmed from the criticism of the fire service. Did it contribute to people dying that day? After finding the bodies, I was given a delivery hose and fired a lot of water down the rubble. I was trying to put out the fires that we could not even see, way down below us. The whole thing was huge, dangerous and hard. Even now my thoughts aren’t clear.

In some parts there were firefighters, burrowing under the rubble. Deep into it. Pulling out the living. I believe six were extricated while I was there. I cannot begin to describe to you the bravery of the people who crawled into those spaces as the earth still rumbled and moved.

At some point toward midnight we were all pulled off the site to better coordinate efforts. I lay on the ground drinking water and I allowed the first signs of tiredness in. I had seen no media, heard no radio, I wondered if the rest of the city looked like this.

We returned to our home station where we had no power and no water to wash ourselves. Our job was only just beginning. The tiredness I felt at on February 22 would compound in coming days.

CTV was just part of one big effort, but it appears clear that we didn’t do everything right that night and it’s important we learn from it. But for me, I couldn’t have been prouder of each and every person I worked alongside then and in coming days: the firefighters, the police, the ambulance officers, the armed forces, and the civilians. I will never forget the effort, courage and selflessness. I will never forget that coffee cup and the person holding it.

And while I cannot speak for the Fire Service and have been careful not to talk about operational matters, I note the national commander has not apologised to victims’ families for the failings of the fire service that day. I have no such hesitation in saying sorry, unreservedly sorry, for what could have been done better. God knows, though, we gave it our best.

Jarrod Gilbert


A Big Thing

On brilliant autumn days like this one, with a tui chuckling in the trees and barely a whisper of traffic noise, it's very easy to forget that the earth is being ruptured and towers raised up only a couple of kilometres away. Here in Point Chevalier, we're at the the top end of a Road of National Significance -- the Waterview Connection.

The ground is being scoured out for the north end of the Waterview tunnel, which will curve under Great North Road and emerge in what was Alan Wood Reserve to connect State Highway 16 with SH20, the southwestern. (Strictly speaking, given the direction of drilling, it's the other way around.)

At the same time, the SH16 causeway just west of the new interchange is being raised and widened, meaning the accompanying cycleway will no longer be swamped by high tides and road run-off will finally be better captured. Given that I spend much of the summer either cycling or swimming at Point Chevalier's nearby beach, I'm all in favour of this. I also think the completion of SH20 is basically a good thing.

But although I'm close to the works, I'm not close enough for them to be a daily reality. At my end, a swathe of housing in Waterview has long gone, concrete podia have already risen to hoist future lanes in the air above SH16 and there's now a kink in Great North Road where the tunnel is to pass under and through Oakley Creek.

But at the south end, it's much, much bigger. Hundreds of households now look out over a vast site where soil is being passed out as Alice the digger digs. (I've posted a panorama in the first comment -- just click to enlarge it.) It's confronting. On the west side, some people literally have the works in their backyards. They seem to have been given quiet new asphalt road surfaces to ease the disruption.

On the east side, where there are many Housing New Zealand properties, there are no vistas and it feels even closer. Without wanting to overplay any comparison, it reminded me of parts of post-earthquake Christchurch. I imagine it's not so exciting when you can hear the work for most of the day and night.

This is a five and a half year project, and doesn't complete until early 2017. It's hard to even look forward to it being done when the schedule is that long, but it's an extraordinary project to watch. I had a ride to both ends of the connection last week, and took some pictures (not great, most of them -- I was playing with HDR in the iPhone's Camera app and the results were iffy). It's a thing. A big thing.

PS: Here's the latest official YouTube video, published today: