Hard News by Russell Brown


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.


Friday Music: Criminal Life

A decade ago, before the iTunes Music Store launched in New Zealand, senior employees of major record companies here spent a good part of their days infringing music copyright.

To be fair, so did we all. Since the 1990s, software programs had let us stick a CD in the optical drives of our computers and convert the files on it to MP3 and play them right there on those computers. After Apple rebadged SoundJam and called it iTunes in 2000, it became a positively mainstream thing to do. Before long, we could "burn" our own CDs, then we were carrying around the music on portable devices. It all happened in breach of the Copyright Act 1994.

With the odd exception (like the senior industry figure who informed me there was no need for digital playlists or CD-Rs because there were perfectly good carousel CD players available) most of the record company guys knew it was daft, but they were obliged to stick to the company line and insist that the fix would come with the hilarious DRM-crippled CDs that no sane person wanted.

The real fix was, of course, to change the law, which happened with the Copyright (New Technologies) Act 2008 – a measure which, as Wikileaks told us, was the subject of ongoing diplomatic pressure from the US Embassy.

That amendment to the law let you make one copy of a work for each type of device you own. But if you have the same music on, say, two different portable players, you're still breaching copyright. And if anyone else in your household wants a copy, only you as the owner may physically copy it for them; they can't do it themselves. I know, I know.

But it turns out we're still way further in the future than the United Kingdom, where the High Court has just ruled that copying music from your personal CD collection to iTunes violates British copyright law. That includes backing up that music with Time Machine or similar, or backing it up to the cloud. And, of course, grandpa, "burning" one of those CD thingies.

From Macworld:

“It is now unlawful to make private copies of copyright works you own, without permission from the copyright holder—this includes format shifting from one medium to another,” a UK IPO spokesperson told the site.

That is, to put it frankly, bananas.

At some point, Apple might have to go to court to defend iTunes, because it seems to very clearly violate the new law. Time Machine, Apple Music, andiTunes Match are also now illegal, because they make copies of your music files.

I'm pretty sure Macworld is mistaken with respect to iTunes Match and Apple Music. Don't make me wade through T&Cs – really, don't – but I'm fairly sure there will have been permission granted by rights owners in the applicable licensing agreements.

The really weird part of this is that the ruling is subsequent to a law change last year which finally made CD-ripping and cloud backups permissable. But a group of rights holders went to the High Court, which has now agreed that last year's law is, um, unlawful.


A further irony of the British ruling is that it comes as we're supposed to be moving on from local storage to the brave new world of music streaming. Whose progress is ... interesting.

Last week The Guardian reported that Apple Music has 11 million users – meaning that 11 million people (or households) have had a go during the three-month free trial period. No one has had to pay any money, of course, and there is no information on how Spotify has gone since Apple Music's launch.

Well, I can tell you how Spotify is going in New Zealand: gangbusters.

Thanks, apparently, to its partnership with Spark, Spotify uptake has grown strongly in recent weeks. This might be a mixed blessing – quite apart from its murky payouts, Spotify still has a sight whiff of the pyramid scheme about it. It would be a bummer if the dominant platform proved to be ultimately unsustainable.

But Apple doesn't deserve any better. I've resorted to turning off iCloud Music Library on both my iMac and iPhone – meaning I'm basically using Apple Music as radio – and only using Apple Music's persistent features on a third device, an iPad, which has never had a local music library. Ridiculous, I know.

I've apparently added a few things to My Music, although I'm damned if I know where they are. Even though I've disabled iCloud Music Library on my Mac, my whole desktop library still shows up on the iPad. I don't think I've been able to enable anything for offline play yet. But I've managed to save several Apple Music playlists, although I still can't save to a new playlist like my son can on his iPhone (what's that about?).

Maybe I'm doing something wrong – it's hard to know because there's so little documentation from Apple. Not-needing-a-manual is part of the Apple brand, but that only works if the user experience is so simple and intuitive that it just all happens naturally. And it really ain't.

I'd follow this guy and dump the whole thing if it wasn't for the fact that the curation elements of Apple Music are so great. My darling and I spent hours in a hotel room in Christchurch last weekend listening to "stations" seeded from single tracks I liked on Apple Music. It was brilliant. As I keep saying, the music part of Apple Music is tremendous. The technical part is dreadful.

I like to think that Steve Jobs is scowling from heaven.


This stuff is on my mind at the moment in part because I'm reading Stephen Witt's superb How Music Got Free, a compelling and sophisticated account of the rise of digital music. Witt follows the technical, commercial and cultural streams that converged on digital music. If you thought you knew the story of the MP3, you may find you didn't know the half of it till you read this book.

(Another good read, at blog post length: The Future of the Music Industry – A personal approach, by Jason Kemp, written in response to the same local streaming revenue crunch I wrote about recently.)


The highlight of my week has been 'Songs of the City', the LATE at Auckland Museum event I chaired on Tuesday evening. The event was captured on video by the museum itself and recorded by Radio New Zealand for play in its Smart Talk series. But I thought it might be useful to background some of the things we talked about.

Dave Dobbyn's personal account of the Queen Street riot – which I don't think I've ever heard him give before – will doubtless be part of the recordings. But for now you might care to revisit the anniversary story I wrote for Audioculture – and the amazing people's memories that followed.

The legendary figure who set Simon Grigg on his way to a music business career was Phil Warren, who is also profiled on Audioculture. The group Simon managed was, of course, the Suburban Reptiles. These are their adventures on tour. (Fun fact: the Reptiles' guitarist Trish Scott is the mother of Lorde's collaborator Joel Little.)

And, just published this week, the page on the all-female punk rockers the Idle Idols.

See also: Dave Dobbyn's first band, Th' Dudes, and their heroes, Hello Sailor, whose work has been given an additional resonance by its incorporation in Outrageous Fortune and Westside, the co-creattion of another panelist on Tuesday night, Rachel Lang. Rachel herself was manager of Six Volts, which is like having a BA in Advanced Wellingtonianism.

One important bit of cultural news we were able to share: the second series of Westside, curtently being written by Rachel and James Griffin, will be set entirely in 1981: which makes the forthcoming "Lost Scroll" award for that year extra-interesting.

And here's Phil Bell, aka DJ Sir Vere – who turns out to have been everywhere in the stories we talked about on stage, like some kind of hip hop Zelig – in 2006:

Phil's DJ set afterwards in the "nightclub" we made in the middle of the Taku Tāmaki - Auckland Stories exhibition really made my night. Partly because I wasn't sure whether that part was going to work (it did!) and partly because I  could stop concentrating and just have a dance.


Tunes ...

Here's one you didn't see coming: Electric Wire Hustle team up with Kimbra for a swish new single:

Which comes with a wicked piano-driven remix by  Rodi Kirk (aka DJ Scratch 22) and Aron Ottignon:

The Newmatics have a new album! Plenty of life in the old buggers yet on this evidence:

We haven't been to TheAudience lately and there's some good stuff there. Like this jazz trumpet rap thing from Eno x Dirty:

And this twinkly electronica from French Concession (click through for a download):

She has an interesting story, as revealed here by Martyn Pepperell.

From the new Jonathan Bree album, A Little Night Music, which is out next week:

Climate Change rip through the first track on their Is a Band EP, 'Hosking As A Verb':

And for a Radio New Zeaand session, The Phoenix Foundation reveal the bones of 'Mountain'. (Additional news: the album Sam and Luke have been producing for Dave Dobbyn is all done and mastered and will be out early next year.)

EDIT: Neil Finn has done his first remix ever, for The Phoenix Foundation's 'Give Up Your Dreams' – and it's ace. Free download!

And just to wake you the fuck up: The 13th Floor caught this visceral performance from Chris Knox with Rackets at the Basement as part of "The Experiment" this week:

That'll do!

EDIT: See also, Jess McAllen's gutsy profile of Chris for the Sunday Star Times.