Hard News by Russell Brown


Announcing: IRL at The Golden Dawn

Hello! You know, it's waaay too long since we've done an event for you. Well, I've fixed that. On the afternoon of Saturday week, September 5, we're kicking off a new talk series called IRL at The Golden Dawn and it's going to be a lot of fun.

"We" in this case is me, 95bFM's nine-to-noon host Esther Macintyre, Matthew Crawley and his team at The Golden Dawn in Ponsonby – and Orcon, who are kindly making all this possible.

Esther helped me out with this year's Splore Talk and I'm a big fan of her radio show, so I was keen to work with her again.

The programme will kick off with Esther interviewing Mainard Larkin, aka Randa, who is one of the most intriguing figures in New Zealand popular culture.

Then I'll be chatting to Ali Ikram, the Campbell Live reporter who left his job with TV3 when that show got the chop and has now joined the ranks of media soldiers of fortune. You can be assured I'll get the, er, story.

Silver Scrolls finalist Anthonie Tonnon will then join us to play some of his smart, journalistic songs.

And finally, all of us, Anthonie included, will convene on a plenary panel to address important questions submitted by you, the live audience, on hand-crafted artisan pieces of paper, which Esther and I will draw from a hat. (NB: Serious questions and silly questions are both important. And the paper probably won't be artisan. As such.)

It's going to be a lot of fun, and there will be the excellent Golden Dawn food and drink to add to the merriment. Note that this is happening out in the Golden Dawn courtyard, which is mostly sheltered, but if the weather is too foul, we have a rain date set for the following Saturday. But hopefully not.

Note that, like the old Great Blend events, IRL is free to attend, but you'll need to RSVP here.

Capacity is limited, but I've held a few places for the unfortunate souls who can't use the internet at work and will release those this evening.


The Sky Trench

Back in June, I wrote a post about the consultation process with potential users of the most exciting part of the Nelson Street Cycle Route being delivered by the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport – the swoop of the disused motorway off-ramp that will run from Canada Street, under Karangahape Road to the top of Nelson Street.

Auckland Council's short online survey offered options on the look of the road surface, from “Distinctly New Zealand” to “Words/lyrics/storytelling” and I wasn't alone in feeling that NZTA and its partners should just keep it simple and let the skyway be what it is. My preferred option was "Don't fuck it up."

Well, construction of the route is well underway and Matt at Transportblog has posted the pictures. The news is that they've fucked it up. Royally, and in a way that no one who looked at the survey options could have anticipated.

The cycleway in the sky will be closed in with three-metre high walls.

Yes, the walls to be affixed to the big metal pillars will be some kind of transparent plastic, but from a shallow angle, they will be decidedly less transparent. They will not have a direct bearing on the usefulness of the route – but they will rob it of most of its environmental joy. That is, of one of the reasons we ride bicycles in the first place.

The obvious assumption is that the high walls have been ordered to stop people throwing objects off the bridge onto the motorway below (which they clearly will not) or to stop people jumping or falling off. But if it's the latter, why do none of the bridges over the motorway network (including the recently-upgraded Upper Queen Street shared-use bridge) have similarly monolithic walls? Why has the soon-to-be-installed access bridge to the same cycleway been spared the walls?

I had planned to get out and photograph some of those other bridges, but Matt has already done that, so feel free to consult his excellent post.

So why has this happened? I can only guess that it's some attempt at design coherence with the 2011 K Road overbridge redevelopment. That, too, needlessly blocks the public view. (It also features shelters that do not provide shelter, and was badly received by users when it opened.)

There's also the soundwall that runs along the Freeman's Bay side of the approach to the harbour bridge. But that separates walkers and riders from the noise and peril of five lanes of motorway traffic. It addresses an actual problem.

But this? I'm dumbfounded. Apparently Transportblog got wind of the plan a few months ago and tried to talk NZTA out of it – but the panels had already been ordered from Germany. That no one thought this overwhelming feature of the cycleway's design warranted being part of the consultation process just defies belief.


Friday Music: Play Versions

It is the price of a tidy kitchen that my family will sometimes have to put up with me playing my latest jam repeatedly while I dance around doing the tidying and stacking. It might be a new tune, or it might just be one I've discovered and fallen in love with.

This week's jam is the latter. I'm not sure how I didn't know sooner about Dusty Springfield's 'Who gets Your Love', the lead track on her 1973 album Cameo, a commercial flop which, in the words of its Wikipedia entry, "has since been re-evaluated by both fans and music critics alike and is now often cited as one of the highlights of Springfield's recording career".

It's a sad breakup song that bursts into a storming soul chorus orchestrated by her writer-producers, Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who wrote a string of minor hits and also-rans through the 60s and 70s (including for New Zealand crooners Craig Scott and Dean Waretini) and produced Glen Campbell's 'Rhinestone Cowboy'. I'm not sure they did anything better than this:

If I didn't know Dusty's original, I had been playing another version, by Jamaican singer Ken Boothe, since I rediscovered it on a Trojan Records compilation LP I bought in the 1980s. Boothe's version is tense and haunting:

The third version of any note is the one by Margie Joseph, which was sampled/remixed last year by dance producers Vanilla. I haven't embedded those because they don't come near the versions that fall in the respective sweet spots of the two legendary singers above.

Hey, you know what? I don't have any great meditations on the state of music this week, so maybe we can just share some favourite versions. If you want to play, just find your jam on YouTube and paste in the URL (just the URL, not any embed code) into the comments window below. It'll auto-embed when you save your comment.

I'll start with another tune I've played out a few times: the unlikely and gorgeous cover of James Blake's 'The Wilhelm Scream' recorded by Australian outfit The Bamboos. It really does work:


I've mentioned before that I am a member of the Digital Media Trust, which oversees Audioculture and the long-running screen heritage site NZ On Screen. And almost since the whole project began seven years ago, I have been politely asking after the music video for Sharon O'Neill's 'Asian Paradise'.

It has been a long and difficult road, because Sharon's former record company long ago lost the video master and no one else seemed to have one. It eventually transpired that the ABC in Australia had a copy and earlier this year NZ On Screen paid a transfer fee to get a copy back for New Zealand.

And this week, the video was posted. I am sure that all of you who were male teenagers in 1980 will share my ... feelings about this:

Also fresh on NZ On Screen this week: a long-forgotten (by me, anyway) Radio With Pictures recording of John Cale's brilliant 1983 show at The Gluepot, with Tall Dwarfs in support. A bootleg tape from the mixing desk of this show has been traded amongst Cale fans for years (I had one and pretty much wore it out), so to have the video available after all this time is a very special thing.

On Audioculture: how the music came back to New Plymouth (includes Peter Jefferies and Amanda Palmer) and Andrew Schmidt's profile of the most influential musical figure to emerge from the Hutt Valley, Chris Parry – who played on The Fourymula's before stepping away from the drumkit to sign The Jam, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure, and, later, to launch the game-changing London music station Xfm.


I went down to the launch of Randa's new video for 'Lifeguard' on K Road this week. It's the latest in a series of collaborations with with Candlelit Pictures, directed this time by Thunderlips. And I think I am on safe ground in saying that the response of the crowd was "Wow, that was amazing! And a little bit creepy ... "

Also new this week, Princess Chelsea's 'We Were Meant 2 B', which uses clips from the 1980s coming-of-age film Against the Odds, on whose soundtrack it features. As someone points out in the comments, it has the odd, but not unpleasant, feel of watching a late 80s video:


Elsewhere, Godfrey de Grut analyses UMO's 'Multi-Love' in NZ Musician magazine.

Russell Baillie chats to Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne in light of the exciting new that the Lips, Disclosure, Kurt Vile and a bunch of others will be playing the inaugural McLaren Valley Music and Arts Festival next January. I'm going.

If you missed Julia Parnell's excellent Dragon documentary, it's on Sky Go.

New at Te Ara, Ewan Lincoln's A History of Aotearoa in seven musical instruments.

And more good video from the Radio NZ Music team: at home with Fazerdaze:



Currently sitting pretty at the top f the 95bFM Alternative Top 10, Soccer Practise's sleek 'Windfall':

I have a lot of time for Lizzie Marvelly as a person, but I think that like many who've done it, she has struggled to make the move from a light classical career to cool pop music. I think she might have got there now, with this smoochy P Money-produced R&B tune from the soundtrack of Stan Walker's forthcoming film Born to Dance:

Thanks to Disasteradio for the heads-up on the new album of chiptuney electronic fun from Mark McGuire as The Road Chief, previewed here by The Hype Machine:

There aren't many tracks that are as safe a bet on the dancefloor as 'No Diggity'. And this housey remix is quite the banger. Free download:

And finally, RocknRolla Soundsystem are back with a new mixtape. I need hardly explain to you what a good time this dirty grab bag of funk, soul and breaks represents. Free download:



Radio Punks: So many stories

Here's the thing about student radio: everyone has their own story. Even people who never set foot in a studio remember that time Mikey pulled off some momentary madness, John Campbell said "stiffy", or Silke played their track. Given that inevitability, Paul Casserly did a remarkable job of rendering the culture into a TV hour's worth of Radio Punks: The Student Radio Story on Prime last night.

As narrator and 95bFM alumnus Jeremy Wells observed, there are a range of views on on exactly when the great era of student radio was (or is), but I think it's fair to say that it was in the 1990s. On one hand, the student stations had the stability of a guaranteed place on the dial, thanks to the Broadcasting Act 1989, and compulsory student union fees to underwrite their activities – and on the other, acres of space to play in a media environment which generally couldn't see past the end of its middle-market nose.

The latter was certainly in my head in 1991 when, not long back from London, I took up Graeme Hill's challenge to turn up the following Friday and provide some of the savvy news commentary I'd told him was lacking on 95bFM. The internet had not happened, niche wasn't a thing and no one else had anything to say to me and my friends.

I'm pretty sure I had the name "Hard News" from the first broadcast, which shared, slightly awkwardly, some of the madder moments from an interview I'd done with then-Labour leader Mike Moore. Hard News' opening salutation, "Good morning mediaphiles" soon became "Good Day Mediaphiles!", so it could be replayed on the Drive show. Eleven years later, I signed off and the weekly rave became this blog. Yup, still raving.

Along the way, Hard News led directly to me becoming the founding host of Radio New Zealand's Mediawatch. And the Public Address Great Blend events we ran became the impetus for a TV show called Media7. I had learned to talk on air and to interview for broadcast, and I never lost the love for just playing music on the radio (which I think I did for the first time on the old Radio B in 1983). I might never have been a student, but it was certainly an education.

There was a period of years when the B-Net Awards were more interesting, edgy and important than the New Zealand Music Awards. They were certainly more fun. But if there was a peak point in 95bFM's influence on the wider culture, it may have been around 1999, when I had just joined the bFM board and the station bought into the radio ratings survey for the first time in years – and, with Mikey Havoc at the peak of his powers on Breakfast, returned a resut that made the whole radio industry sit up and take notice. We on the board briefly fancied ourselves to be brand geniuses.

After that point, Channel Z and George FM began winning over listeners on its iwi radio frequency in Ponsonby. But perhaps more significantly in the long term, 1996 was also the year that the internet went mainstream in New Zealand, offering a place for every niche.

The memories are fond: from the mad parties to the Breakfasts on the bus. One of those bus trips was, happily, captured on video and provides some of the best archive footage in Radio Punks. In the brief part where you see me ranting in Takapuna while Marcus Lush holds my script, I'm telling Alan Gibbs to go fuck himself. I referred to that and another story that still makes me laugh in that sign-off broadcast:

My favourite Hard News story involves Doug Myers and Bill Ralston. People used to think I sounded a lot like Ralston on the radio – which I suppose I did at the time. So one night at some corporate do, Doug Myers rushed up to Ralston and exclaimed “You called me an arsehole!” Did I? Said Ralston. “Yes! On the radio!” Er, which radio? “That student radio!”

Yes, folks, it was me. I called Doug Myers an arsehole and I would cheerfully do so again. He had written a smug little essay about local government for the Herald, in which he declared that libraries were not a public good, and it didn’t benefit him if some poor sod read a book for free. Coming, as it did, from someone who had never wanted for anything, I found that not only foolish, but unspeakably arrogant.

I recall a similar response when Alan Gibbs made a speech to a conference on the family in which he advanced the neo-Victorian view that poor people’s problem wasn’t so much a lack of money as a lack of morals. He even went so far as to blame the contraceptive pill for this moral decline. But only for the poor, presumably. Rich people can handle contraception, right? I used some stronger words than “arsehole” in that case.

Amazingly, Gibbs repeated that same odious philosophy more recently in a Sunday morning interview with Wallace Chapman, and I am pleased I still have a platform from which to publicly affirm that he can still go fuck himself.

Ironically, Gibbs' daughter Debbi, a friend and a former station manager, played the key role in first extending Radio B's hours and then laying the groundwork for the station to go FM. She's one of thousands of people who have played their part in what happened.

Actually, what happens. It was pleasing that Radio Punks ended on a series of positive notes. Firstly, RDU coming back from what might have been earthquake oblivion and finding a new site for itself. And secondly, up at b, where the endlessly engaged and optimistic Silke Hartung is doing great things with Freak the Sheep, the New Zealand music show named and founded by my buddy Chris Esther in the 1980s. And where former teenage receptionist Hugh Sundae has come into the general manager's role with a sense of the station's legacy and an eye for its future. Good things are happening there.

The "student" stations in 2015 have varying relationships with the universities that spawned them, and face challenges and competitive pressures in an evolving media world. But what they do is still important. Whenever I talk to broadcasting students, I try and point out that the most influential people in student radio are the people who come in with something to say and can revel in the freedom to say it. That still matters.


And if you missed Radio Punks or want to enjoy it again, you can sign into to Sky Go and watch it on demand.

If you just need some more Radio Punks, there are also 13 minutes of out-takes, edited at a more leisurely pace and featuring Rick Breeze, Ross Clark and Gemma Gracewood, among others.

PS: Anyone who remembers Radio Active's Saturday night request show with Fiona Rae, sing out.


Baboom: it's serious

Baboom, the music service first trailered by Kim Dotcom in 2011 but now no longer associated with the controversial German, launched overnight. Its investors and management are in New Zealand. And it's really not bad.

The design of both Baboom's web and mobile apps (by an in-house team in Portugal) is simple and effective, and while it shares some visual elements with Apple Music (tiling, the ellipsis contextual menu), it's not going to to mess with either your head or your existing library.

Baboom's industry-first FLAC lossless streaming sounds really good to me – noticeably better than Apple Music in a side-by-side – although I'm experiencing a bit of buffering in starting (and even restarting) tracks. (You can set the streaming rate via the "HD" button in the player panel at the bottom of the screen in the desktop version – I couldn't fnd the equivalent in the mobile app . I thought even the non-FLAC HD option sounded good.)

But the most interesting thing about Baboom is the way it addresses some of the problems with the streaming market we've discussed here in recent weeks. Its "fair trade streaming" model works in a fundamentally different way to Spotify et al. If you're a subscriber (or "Premium" user), your $AUD10 monthly does not go into a general pot for redistribution, but is allocated directly at the top of the process – so if the only artist you stream in a month is The Phoenix Foundation, all your money goes to The Phoenix Foundation.

Its notable that Baboom has negotiated an agreement with APRA/AMCOS on the same principle. The artist back end also handles publishing arrangements well.

How much is in it for the artists? At the low end, nothing for streaming by Standard (ie: free) users, who are limited to a streamable collection of 100 tracks at any one time. Free users can add to their collections by buying tracks on the site or uploadng their own.

Baboom's commission depends on whether an artist is "Standard" or "Pro", with the latter requiring a monthly fee of $AUD10. Baboom takes a 30% commission from standard artists and a 10% commssion from Pro artists. The other deductions are a 5.1% transaction fee and 9% mechnical royalty (which may or may not go to the artist, depending on who controls the copyright). So from a $10 purchase, a standard artist will pocket $5.59 (or $6.49 if mechnical royalties are included) and a Pro artist $7.59 or $8.49. These are pretty good numbers.

The split for streaming is similar, although 9.5% of subscription income is split off into a "Premium Following Poll" – that is, the artists who are followed on the site by paying fans – and distributed pro rata from there (so you can direct money to your favourite artists simply by following them on the site).

Artists and their labels can elect not to make their works available for standard streaming, and choose a Preview option instead.

Payments are made at the end of each month for streaming and as soon as 24 hours after a purchase. Artists are paid via PayPal and so must have a PayPal account to receive payments.

Other benefits for Pro artists include some quite nice back-end analytics, adding to the air of transparency. There's also a facility for ticket sales.

Last night's launch is less a commercial launch than a call for content and realistically that will be content from independent artists (the major record companies are very unlikely to like the look of "fair trade streaming" for the time being), which makes Baboom much more like Bandcamp than Apple Music or Spotify. Like Bandcamp, Baboom offers music for sale in lossless format, but I think it could take a leaf from Bandcamp's book and add ALAC (Apple Lossless) as a format – I don't want to have to convert everything from FLAC just to play it in iTunes.

So what are these people? Baboom's Head of Content and Platform Mikee Tucker works out of the two-person office shared with his Loop Recordings label upstairs at Real Groovy Records in Auckland. Ninety per cent of Baboom shares are currently held by Mega investor Michael Sorenson, after an unsuccessful share offering on the Australian exchange last year. Baboom's CEO is Grant Edmundson and its CFO is music industry veteran Tony Smith.

Baboom is entering a brutally tough market and it will need to add catalogue to make its monthly subscription seem worthwhile to consumers. But its innovations warrant attention. Its job now is to convince the independent music sector – and maybe even the indie big beast Beggars Group – that its model is worth a trial.

For now, having Dotcom's name mentioned around the launch is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it's been good for press: Fortune, Music Week and Variety all have stories on the launch today. On the other, it will be keen to move on from the Dotcom association and make its case as a real contender. On the evidence of day one, it has made a good start on that.