Hard News by Russell Brown


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.


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



When the fast track seems a good track

What do the Waterview Connection, the presumably doomed Basin Reserve flyover and Auckland Transport's decision last week  to pull the plug on the weird flyover plan for Reeves Road, Pakuranga, have in common? Answer: they're all good outcomes of the government's legislative move to fast-track the regulatory process on certain major projects.

In the case of Waterview, the Environmental Protection Agency board of inquiry deputised by the government (after the lurching to-and-fro described in yesterday's post) is widely acknowledged as having done an excellent job of listening to and upholding the interests of residents. This brilliant minute and direction of the board to NZTA, which was trying to wriggle out of its mitigation obligations, illustrates the inqury's no-nonsense approach.

In the case of the Basin, of course, a similar EPA board of inquiry listened to the evidence of submitters and actually declined consent for the project to proceed. The idea that what NZTA wants, it will eventually get turned out to be incorrect.

But what of Reeves Road, which was not a project of "national significance" and has not been subject to a board of inquiry? Well, that's really interesting. As Matt has pointed out on Transportblog, Auckland Transport specifically referenced the Basin Reserve decision in its announcement that the Reeves Road flyover project was being cancelled. To quote:

The recent decision on the Basin Reserve flyover in Wellington shows the challenges of consenting a flyover that has impacts on an urban area and the potential for long delays.

With the flyover off its books, Auckland Transport will now bring forward public transport improvements, including dedicated bus lanes, as part of the Auckland Manukau Transport Initiative (AMETI). Matt concludes by noting that the decision adds considerable momentum to a shift in AMETI from its origin as "a road fest designed to try and replicate as much of the Eastern Motorway proposal as possible. Over the years it’s slowly morphed into almost exclusively a PT project, which is what was needed."

I'm not well-informed on the fortunes of other EPA boards of inquiry (Transmission Gully, for instance) but I'd be interested in your thoughts on those. For now, it seems fair to say that the two inquiries noted above not, as had been justifiably feared, deprived the public of a voice. And the Wellington decision actually drove what seems like an important philosphical shift in Auckland.

I said as much in my recent Twitter conversation with Steven Joyce. I might have added that I'm surprised the government hasn't made more of it in plugging its second round of RMA reforms. It would be a shame if that's because the government doesn't entirely like the results of its own reform. Because those results are worth talking about.


Masters of Reality

It's a week since the Prime Minister's statement, the annual opening act of Parliamentary politics, when the leader traditionally sets out the governing party's plan for the year.

This year, the statement was prefaced with a look at the government's new messaging strategy on Opposition leader Andrew Little. Having presumably despaired of finding anything significant that Little has done wrong, the Prime Ministerial comms team has settled on declaring that he has done nothing and is, in the words of the execrable pun my taxes paid someone to write, "Andrew Do-Little". (Expect the more suck-up ministers to to start including that into their speeches, the way they dutifully prefixed David Cunliffe's name with "tricky".)

Key expanded on his theme by marvelling at how little Labour (the Opposition) had lately achieved compared to his government (the government). His first example, remarkably, was the progress on the Waterview tunnel project. Which was odd, because John Key's government did nearly everything it could to avoid building the project we see taking shape now.

In 2009, Steven Joyce even declared the tunnel cancelled in favour of a cheaper surface road:

A planned five kilometre long tunnel under Auckland's Mount Albert electorate has been cancelled by the Government, which says it is too expensive and will instead build on the surface.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the Waterview Tunnel would have cost $2.77 billion while a surface road will cost up to $1.4 billion ...

What emerged after Joyce's announcement was a new clutch of options from NZTA, all involving more road and less tunnel, and more and cheaper cut-and-over tunnelling (the surface option was never going to be entirely on the surface, if only for the need to cross railway lines). Part of the previous tunnel route would instead be an open trench and NZTA was even considering building a new motorway interchange on New North Road, right on top of a residential area.  That was still enough to stitch up poor Melissa Lee, who, as National's candidate in the Mt Albert by-election, had been loyally promoting what would have been an even more ruinous surface road.

The views of interest groups fell as might have been expected, but the New Zealand Herald's editorial response was notable. It said that the government "now runs the risk that the Waterview decision will damage the Government not just in the affected neighbourhood, but more generally. Motorways have divided many older Auckland communities, obliterating some. In most cases the damage was unavoidable; not this time."

Like its original surface-road preference, the government's cost-saving solutions didn't endure. By December 2009, NZTA, which must have been feeling like a political football, announced a reversion to continuous tunnels and a plan that looked much more like what had been on the cards under Labour than the solutions touted in May. Which is what is now being built.

After I had tweeted a comment on the ironies of the Prime Minister's claim, I received a reply from none other than Steve Joyce:

I replied:

The minister said:

What really happened was that the government initially touted a surface road, floated several half-pie solutions and wound up with something not so far from the original tunnel proposal. They backed down in the face of political risk.

All of this is a long way of getting to what happened yesterday around the controversial SkyCity convention centre proposal. Already, David Farrar is enthusing about how the government "held firm" and forced SkyCity to "back down" from its demand for a further cash subsidy (on top of the huge regulatory subsidies already granted) for the convention centre.

What actually happened is a little different. In December, after SkyCity made its bid for public money, Joyce proposed, outrageously, that Auckland ratepayers should provide it. After that idea went down very poorly, John Key warned that a failure to hand more money to SkyCity could result in "an eyesore" in the central city.

In the end, of course, the decision was made that there would be no cash subsidy (apart from the $34 million taxpayers will spend promoting the convention centre, which everyone seems to have forgotten about), and that SkyCity would simply deliver less for the value of the remarkable regulatory subsidies that were supposed to cover the construction of the convention centre. This is being sold as a win.

But SkyCity has already pocketed benefits that were not supposed to be part of the original deal. This section of David Fisher's special report last month on the unusual deal is particularly notable:

After two years hammering out the agreement, SkyCity and the Government have yet to agree a design.

The original timetable shows a final "detailed design" to be completed by July.

The documents the Herald obtained show SkyCity started making changes almost immediately after it secured land from TVNZ in September 2013.

The most significant was the placement of a 300-room hotel on the TVNZ land. SkyCity had said for years the land was needed for the convention centre.

It was one of two "major initial concerns" held by officials. It meant "none of the convention centre is actually built on ex-TVNZ land".

In a briefing document a month later, officials said the change in hotel location made use of land that was "more valuable" and the "value proposition needs to be adjusted".

They drafted "suggested draft terms of reference" for the convention centre "evaluation" but no new valuation was conducted.

So the government ordered TVNZ, a crown-owned company, to sell land to SkyCity – actually making the offer to SkyCity without consulting the TVNZ board. And now SkyCity is to use the land for a hotel that was not part of the original agreement. The land was probably substantially undervalued, so it's quite a steal for the casino. (It's worth noting that a similar thing happened around one of other sweeteners in the deal – the extension of SkyCity's licence. An independent valuation from Korda Mentha found that the licence extension was worth as much as $115 million. SkyCity got it for a value of $75 million.)

But we wouldn't be done without one last act of reality-warping from the Pirme Minister, speaking to Mike Hosking this morning:

Mr Key said there was nothing unusual in the controversial original deal in which the Government agreed to let SkyCity install more pokies and gambling tables in return for the company building the convention centre.

"Helen Clark did the same thing actually, Labour forget that. That's how we got the first convention centre," he said. SkyCity opened its first convention centre in Federal St in 2004, eight years after the casino opened in 1996.

This is a lie, one I covered when it was was first deployed by Farrar in 2013. It is true that SkyCity was granted an additional 230 pokies in 2001 (yes, the same number it got in the current deal, and I don't think that's a coincidence). But the claim that "Helen Clark did the same thing" is simply and demonstrably false.

In 2001 there were no private dinners with the Prime Minister, no preferential treatment for SkyCity, no critical report from the Auditor-General. And, most importantly, the government did not make the decision. That was done by the five-member Casino Control Authority – which was chaired at the time by soon-to-be MP Judith Collins.

What Labour did do was amend the Gambling Act to prevent such a thing happening again.

 Much like the Prime Minister's claim that his government had been "vindicated" by the Auditor-General (who was then obliged to tell a select committe this was not in fact the case), this is simply an invention.

Danyl McLachlan recently wrote a blog post about this phenomenon, titled Key and reality, which concluded:

The same thing is happening with the Sabin scandal. Key’s line is that Helen Clark didn’t stand down as Prime Minister during ‘painter-gate’, so why should Sabin have stood down as Chair of the Law and Order Select Committee while he was being investigated for assault? Of course, assault is a bit more serious than Clark signing a painting. But also, during ‘painter-gate’ and for many years subsequent National screamed that Clark should resign, and that she was our most corrupt Prime Minister ever. Key’s constant refrain that he’s only as bad as, or not much worse than the PM his party denounced as ‘quite simply the most corrupt in New Zealand history’ is a bad, nonsensical argument, and members of the ‘reality based community’ wonder aloud at how he can say such things and remain popular. But it works because the reality-based community is not the important audience, what’s important is that he gets to make it on infotainment shows where he enjoys good relationships with the hosts and there’s no balance or right of reply.

That's what they're betting on here.


Friday Music: Love Unknown Orchestra

It's been quite a week for Ruban Nielson. Firstly, a new Unknown Mortal Orchestra tune, the title track from a forthcoming album, has been rapturously received. Secondly, he has a hand in the new track from Wu Tang Clan founder GZA. I mean, what did you get out the door this week?

The new UMO single, 'Multi-Love', is wonderful. It takes UMO's mystery pop into the electronic realm. It's fluid and beguiling. It reminds me a bit of Hot Chip, and not only for the falsetto vocal:

You can buy that on iTunes, and read Stereogum's interview with Ruban.

Meanwhile, Pitchfork has the lowdown on the GZA single, a collaboration with Tom Morello, UMO and Hanni El Khatib, which is also pretty fine (and is a free download!):


When the great Frankie Knuckles passed away last year, DJs, producers and dance music fans alike expressed their debt to the man and his work. Now, in advance of the first anniversary of his death, March 31, several of Britain's most prominent beatmongers have made that debt material – and the result is is wonderful in more than one way.

Underworld, Junior Boys Own founders Pete Heller and Terry Farley, and the Mysterons have re-recorded 1987's 'Baby Wants to Ride', the second single Frankie wrote with Jamie Principle. Money raised from the sale of a limited-edition 12" and a digital download will go direct to the Frankie Knuckles Fund (part of the Elton John AIDS Foundation).

And furthermore, it's a banger:

You can go here to buy a four-track download or (while stocks last) the limited-edition 12". I liked it so much I bought both. Hey, it's for charity!


Back in the old days, when horseless carriages were a novelty and hardly anyone had tattoos, we used to write each other letters. Long, mad letters full of news, ironic abuse and typing errors (yes, typing – we weren't cave people!). And some of the letters I most enjoyed receiving were those from legendary Dunedin record store owner and sports columnist Roi Colbert, not least because these contained even more ironic abuse than was usual for the times.

It was fortunate for all of us that Roi's love for music and way with words outstripped his frankly diminutive physical stature. And those two gifts are with him still in a new Otago Daily Times column that addresses one of the enduring questions in New Zealand music: what exactly is Shayne Carter singing in 'She Speeds'?

Love the opening lines, Shayne,'' I wrote.

''And I quietly bound with the dawn, hey man, a number that is bounding beyond.''

After a lengthy silence during which I could almost smell his incredulity, he replied - ''And I quietly count with her gone, name any number and I'm counting beyond.''

Really? I quickly countered with ''Caress without a neigh''.

I had always loved that seamless slide into horse metaphor.

''Caress one night away,'' replied Shayne.

The occasion for the column – as if a man like Colbert needs one to write his tosh – is Southern Sinfonia presents: Tally Ho! Dunedin Sound Songs & Singers on February 28, where the likes of Shayne, Martin Phillipps, David Kilgour and Graeme Downes will share the Dunedin Town hall stage with the Sinfonia's performers.

Speaking of Dunedin, there's a new Flying Nun compilation of the brilliantly brattish The Stones on the way,  curated by Bruce Russell with design and illustrations by Alec Bathgate and Chris Knox, and liner notes from Shayne Carter. You can pre-order it and listen to a previously-unreleased track here.


Over at Dubdotdash, Peter Mac has news of a new video of Auckland in the 1970s, with a soundtrack by Scratch 22. Cool.

If you haven't seen the rundown of the talk content I'm producing at Splore next weekend, it's here.


How ya like this Zeitgeist, Kanye? A few hours ago, Cousin Cole posted a remix of of Beyonce's 'Partition' that is basically a mashup with Beck's 'Loser'. (I can't believe I had to explain this one to my darling. We play in different parts of the culture.)

Meanwhile, Chelsea Jade has posted an a capella (strictly, it's the vocal stem from what, I presume, is a full cover version) of Rihanna's 'You Da One', with an invitation to use and re-use:

In a wholly different vein, Christchurch's Devilish Swing and the Holy Rollers have this delightful 50s pastiche on TheAudience. It's a free download if you click the fan button on their profile:

See Hannah McGowan's profile of the band here.

And, finally, the first new tune from Pikachunes in a while. It's about love and communication ...


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



Talking @Splore

As I've noted here already, I'm curating and presenting a talk programme at this year's Splore festival, February 20-22. It's diverse and busy and I'm very happy with how it has come together. The programme will run on Saturday and Sunday from 10.30am at two different venues on the festival site.

(I talked about it with the excellent Esther Macintyre on 95bFM and I'm happy to say she liked it so much she signed on as stage manager.)

The two days have respective themes. The Listening Lounge on Saturday is basically news-you-can-use; and my starting point for Art & Soul on the Sunday was "secular church". In Art & Soul, I'll be talking to people not only about their work, but about the things around that work. For instance, Sam Scott from the Phoenix Foundation will muse on having a normal family life while being in a band, artist Marcus McShane and I will enthuse about creative cycling and Tourettes will talk about old Grey Lynn and living and working with a chronic illness.

If you're coming to Splore, do come by and visit. If you're thinking about coming to Splore, you still can!



SATURDAY at the Living Lounge

10.30 - 11.00 KNOW WHERE YOU STAND

Tapapakanga Regional Park, the home of Splore, is part of an area with a long and significant history. The multi-talented Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal will open The Listening Lounge. Charles’ family owns the farm immediately to the south of the Splore site and he will tell the stories of the land and its people (Ngati Paoa and Ngati Whanaunga) – and look forward to the future of a “new indigeneity” and the “deep identification” with the land that should be key all New Zealanders’ identity.


Splorers talk about their enterprises and making a better world in lightning Pecha Kucha format.

- Dave Watson, Greenshoot Pacific

- Ryan Everton, Globelet.com

- Sam Gribben, ex Serato, now various music-tech startups

- Patrick Reynolds, TransportBlog


What's the state of music? And where is mix culture at? Moderator Russell Brown, Serato co-founder Sam Gribben and Splore headliner Mr Scruff go looking for the love.


New Zealand's biggest city is emerging from decades of poor planning and low imagination. But as the city gets its head up, it's a good time to talk about what Auckland could be.

- Patrick Reynolds, TransportBlog

- Zoe Lenzie-Smith, Generation Zero

- Ross Liew, Cut Collective and Auckland Council public art advisory committee

- Amanda Wright, Greenshoot Pacific



SUNDAY at The Splace, far end of the beach by the lagoon, past The Beach House.

10.30 - 10.50  Samuel Flynn Scott, the Phoenix Foundation

10.50 - 11.20 Hilary Ord, secular celebrant

11.20 - 11.40 Marcus McShane, artist and cyclist

11.40 - 12.00 Eddie Johnston aka Race Banyon aka Lontalius, musician

12.00 - 12.20 Dominic "Tourettes" Hoey, poet and musician


There's a whole lot more on, of course, including Roy Ayers on Friday evening and a four-hour set by Mr Scruff on Sunday. Come along!