Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Wireless Summer

It's a pleasure of the summer schedule at Radio New Zealand National that Music 101 is running a full five hours each Saturday, from noon till 5pm -- and is filling the time with some notable content. The first extended show last Saturday was a cracker and tomorrow's lineup looks just as good.

Most notably, there's Yadana Saw's four-part A History of Student Radio. You can listen here to Part 1, which features comments and memories from John Campbell, Mark Cubey, Andrew Dickens and many more on the fledgling days of the student stations. Part 2 airs at 2.10pm and by the looks of things, it will feature a bit of chat from me about Hard News.

I'm also on the show earlier on, talking to Melody Thomas about the changing realities of the way we consume music, following Derek Thompson, senior editor at The Atlantic, on the themes covered in his feature story The Shazam Effect.

Before that there's Far-fetch with Sam Scott of The Phoenix Foundation and Bunnies on Ponies. The format dictates that every week Sam "is given an obscure genre and a week to return with relevant musical examples and stirring stories." This week, he tackles Bhangra.

Still earlier in the day -- and with rather less craft on display than those nicely-produced radio features -- I'm standing in for Peter Urlich, 9-11am on 95bFM. I'm just going to play some good music and talk occasionally. In keeping with the Nice 'n' Urlich vibe, there will be some sweet, sweet house music.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a summer mixtape, this two parter put together by Cousin Cole (ironically, in a place where it is not summer at all) is tickling up my ears something lovely. Soul, American roots, African pop, all sorts. Downloadable too.

So ... how were those New Year music festivals?


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The Sky is the limit

Let's start here: there is a good case for New Zealand to have a high-end convention centre with a large exhibition space, and central Auckland would be the only sensible place in the country to put it. Done right, it would attract inbound travel dollars and provide beneficial infrastructure.

But such convention centres are expensive to build and operating costs are such that it can be difficult to make a purely commercial return on the investment. So it's reasonable to consider a public investment in this kind of infrastructure.

What isn't reasonable, or responsible, is to subvert a conventional tendering process in favour of some deal-of-the-century hatched over dinner by the Prime Minister and his senior officials. To trade off legislation intended to protect the vulnerable as a form of corporate welfare. To offer up the assets of a Crown-owned company without even notifying its board. And eventually to falsely claim that a highly critical report by the office of the auditor-general has "totally vindicated" you.

All this becomes especially unreasonable and irresponsible when it transpires that the taxpayer is now in the hole for as much as $130 million on the project. The upshot being that we will end up making a substantial public investment after all, but without the benefits, protections or stakeholder rights that would have been established in a conventionally transparent negotiation process. The taxpayer is effectively over a barrel to a gambling company.

The polite word for ministers and officials who contrive such a situation is "muppets".


Friday Music: So much music I can't even

Here's the thing about all these best-albums-of 2014 lists -- I haven't even heard most of them. And I'm pretty sure that best-of-the-year lists never used to be 40 or 50 albums long, as they commonly are now. Perhaps that's as good an indication of where recorded music's at now: an industry that's supposed to be mortally unwell is delivering more worthwhile music than anyone can possibly keep up with.

I mean, here's NPR Music's top 50.

And The Guardian's Top 40, plus it's readers' Top 10 and an entire page of background top page. Most notably, the paper's Top 10 country albums list has just been pubished, and it includes Dynamite by New Zealand's own Tami Nielson, which is quite something.

And Pitchfork's Top 50.

It's kind of intimidating. Still, those lists do make for handy guides for stoking Spotify for the summer. (I'm going to make more of an effort with Spotify, I really am -- but it can't just be me who finds the user interface extremely unappealing.)

And here's another thing: you'll be able to see a remarkable number of the artists whose records appear across all of those lists -- St Vincent, Royal Blood, FKA Twigs, Flying Lotus, Future Islands -- at Laneway in Auckland next month. Furthermore, if you're in Auckland tonight, there are still tickets to see the band that topped many critics's lists, The War on Drugs, play at The Powerstation.

Anyway, I'm thinking the world doesn't really need another numbered list from me, so I'm gonna just move ahead.

Yes, Christmas is next week, but did you know that yesterday was Keith Richards' birthday? Here he is, cranking out 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' with the Stones in 1972:

And did you know that today is the birthday of Samuel Flynn Scott of The Phoenix Foundation? And that they're playing tonight and tomorrow at Moon in Wellington? Well, if you didn't you're too late, because both nights have sold out. But here they are playing 'Black Mould' for last year's New Zealand Herald Sundae Session:

And it gets even better. They've posted a trippy Christmas carol for you to download.

In Auckland, of course, you can still get your tickets for the Flying Nun/Flying Out Christmas Party at the King's Arms tomorrow night. I'm aiming to get there some time in what is turning out to be a busy social evening.


I'm hearing all kinds of good things about the SJD album due in the new year, including people who know what they're talking about saying it's the best thing Sean's ever done. For now there's a video for the first track from it, 'I Wanna Be Foolish':


Of retrospective interest ...

John Dix's great history of The Gluepot for Audioculture (ignore the date -- it went live on the site last weekend), which is rich with photographs.

NZ On Screen has just posted the long-unseen NZBC documentary on the 1970 Redwood festival in Auckland, which is remembered chiefly for the hostile reception accorded to the unfortunate headliner, Robin Gibb.

The New York Times reports that classic hip-hop is taking over the radio dial. I can relate.

And Dangerous Minds has rounded up some clips from the really very good late 80s BBC music show SnubTV, which was co-hosted by my former editor at Rough Trade's The Catalogue magazine. They include this interview with Mark E. Smith of The Fall and a video for 'Bill Is Dead':

Finally, I was sad to hear this morning of the death of former Dance Exponents and Starlings guitarist Chris Sheehan, who had been living with cancer for several years. I used to see quite a lot of Chris back in the day and he was a lovely man -- and, of course, quite a guitar player. Here he is with his old band ...



The Reflex has released his second album of from-the-original-stems edits, which you can buy whole or separately here on Bandcamp and listen to here:

A wicked Funk Hunk edit, at 102bpm:

And considerably-changed up at 122bpm!

And ... actually, that's it. I'm going to ride my bike in the sun. Over to you lot, who I've loved having around every Friday (or occasionally another day) this year. Remember, if you want to embed a YouTube clip in your comment, just paste in the URL and we do the rest. Thanks hugely to this blog's sponsor, The Audience. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday Music will be around over summer. And if you're interested, I'll be filling in on the Saturday 9-11am show on 95bFM, January 3 and 7. I'm rather looking forward to that.

And now, a Christmas shopping message from The Saints ...


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



We're in this together

A couple of months ago, the excellent Katharine Viner, deputy editor of The Guardian and editor of Guardian Australia, gave a speech called The rise of the reader: journalism in the age of the open web. It voiced many of the things that have become apparent to me in the 20-odd years that I've been using the internet and the only marginally shorter time that I've been publishing internet content.

Viner's first point is this:

The web has changed the way we organise information in a very clear way: from the boundaried, solid format of books and newspapers to something liquid and free-flowing, with limitless possibilities.

A newspaper is complete. It is finished, sure of itself, certain. By contrast, digital news is constantly updated, improved upon, changed, moved, developed, an ongoing conversation and collaboration. It is living, evolving, limitless, relentless.

This idea of a fixed and limited version of the truth applied particularly to the New Zealand in which I grew up, because -- just as there were two kinds of beer and two brands of refrigerator -- there simply weren't very many versions of the truth to be had.

The colonial cacophony in media had long consolidated. Governments of either stripe had their used ownership of all broadcasting to control the discussion. For all that we revere Michael Joseph Savage, it is worth recalling that he not only nationalised all radio, he personally vetted the news radio put to air. For decades, it was forbidden to discuss politics or religion on the radio and for longer, to broadcast individual opinion.

Deregulation and re-privatisation did not, of course, necessarily fix things. In 2014, we have access to many brands of refrigerator but most of us get our radio from one of two large media companies. State radio, once a monolith, now seems like a blessed alternative.

Much more revolutionary, for me, anyway, was the discovery, on getting online in late 1992, of a group of people who knew things and were skillful and prolific in communicating what they knew. These were ideal attributes of journalism, but these people were not journalists. I found this exciting, but other journalists seemed to find it threatening, and some still do.

Viner notes that some commentators see these apparently new lines of communication as, rather, "a return to the oral cultures of much earlier eras". However you read it, it changes things. As Viner says:

Digital is not about putting up your story on the web. It's about a fundamental redrawing of journalists' relationship with our audience, how we think about our readers, our perception of our role in society, our status.

We are no longer the all-seeing all-knowing journalists, delivering words from on high for readers to take in, passively, save perhaps an occasional letter to the editor. Digital has wrecked those hierarchies almost overnight, creating a more levelled world, where responses can be instant, where some readers will almost certainly know more about a particular subject than the journalist, where the reader might be better placed to uncover a story. 

This has implications for both journalists and what NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen calls "the people formerly known as the audience". The former are, hopefully, learning to perceive an opportunity rather than a threat. And the latter are, hopefully, developing customs and cultures that do justice to the remarkable opportunities they now have. You only need to dip into media-Twitter on any day of the week to see that this is a work in progress.

My local heroes in all this are Matt and the others at TransportBlog, who have almost transcended advocacy. Because they work so hard, because they strategise and, most of all, because they they know their turf so well, they are effectively the authority in their area. Even people who disagree with them need to read TransportBlog. That's a remarkable achievement.

It's also more valuable than any amount of tub-thumping and armchair political generalising. The more so because it frequently addresses local government, a sector where, as Arthur Schenck noted recently, the bloggers are strong -- and mainstream media coverage is often (but certainly not always) really bloody awful.

Local government, like any government, needs to be held to account. But, especially in Auckland, where local boards have to make big decisions and wrestle with difficult issues, it's also different in kind to central goverment. Your local MP spends most of her or his year in Wellington. Your local board member is someone you'll pull up next to at the traffic lights.

Local goverment coverage is too important for the stupid gotchas and faulty stories that too often dominate the headlines, and for its agenda to be driven, as it is in Auckland, by the representatives who do least. There are so many official documents to be translated and so few who are fluent in officialese.

My goal for Public Address in the year to come is for us to play a more useful role in talking about local issues. In doing so, I would hope to take lessons from the people behind the brilliant Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster in Christchurch, who were forced by nature to envision their city.

And, in general, I think a good way forward for us will be through specialised subject blogs with multiple authors. Personal blogs are hard to maintain over time, even for those of us who can't help but write. I'm deeply proud of the way Access, our disability blog, has gone this year, and grateful to everyone involved -- especally Hilary Stace and Sacha Dylan, who know and bring so much.

Hilary and Sacha both hail from the ranks of The People Formerly Known As The Audience. The same is true of Emma Hart (literally the first commenter on Public Address System), David Haywood (who I first "met" when he got in touch to give me a telling-off about carbon sequestration) and Graeme Edgeler (I can't believe no one got to Edge before me).

You're a good crowd. And I will take some credit for that. Through my journalistic career, I have, without necessarily trying to do so, been good at drawing a crowd. There are literally people who read Hard News who listened to its original incarnation, as a weekly rant on 95bFM, in 1991.

If I say so myself, I throw a good a party. It's the only part of my life in which I can say I am truly organised. I make sure everyone has their chosen drink in their hands, that there's food to go round and that the music is choice. Running this place is not entirely unlike being a DJ: it helps to be able to read the crowd and drop the right tune.

But the party metaphor only takes you so far. Even here, we can take a tone with each other that would spoil a real-life party pretty quickly. And that's fine and inevitable. But everyone can help by not being a bore and being civil to the other guests, especially the strangers. Sometimes on Twitter, where people become so devoted to their damn arguments they forget themselves, all hope goes missing. But this here is my house and I'll say what goes on and who gets to be here. And because I will move to show someone the door, I rarely have to.

That can be taxing -- indeed, it's easily the most taxing thing about doing this. But it's my host responsibilty. Hateful speech and tendentious behaviour might have their place on the internet, which has a place for everything, but that place isn't here. Whether you're running a busy blog or an online newspaper comments forum, you do at some level own what you publish.

There are distractions now, most notably on Twitter, where the party never stops and there's always a punning game or an argument and frequently both. I'll try and redirect more of the Twitter energy back here next year, but you may also want to join the 22,000 or so people who follow me there.

There is also a day job to be done, although my working life now seems likely to be more a spacious and varied place, with less than half the year devoted to making weekly television. I'm good with that -- and I would like to thank the New Zealand Drug Foundation, whose magazine Matters of Substance is my favourite writing gig, for so generously allowing me to bring to Public Address the research and writing they pay me to do.

Speaking of pay, I'm delighted and grateful with the way the voluntary subscriptions idea has gone this year. Your small monthly donations don't add up to anything like a professional wage -- they total about $700 a month -- but they actually make a big difference. Thank you, everyone. And thanks also to CactusLab, the best and most generous developers anyone could hope to have. They're the part of this story that needs mentioning every time.

In a year when "the bloggers" and "the blogosphere" have been commonly deployed as synonyms for a certain awful enterprise, I think it's valuable to demonstrate that's not the case. You can be angry without hurting others, political without being pointlessly partisan. You can have a bit of fun. You can dance, if you want to.

Anyway, this will be my last substantial post here for the year (but Friday Music will still run tomorrow), so let me conclude by thanking everyone who's helped, including those of you who simply joined a discussion. If you've never done that, sign up and give it a go. Contribute.

Because we are, after all, in this together.


Word of the Year 2014: #dirtypolitics

A transient political scandal which has been dealt with, resolved and thoroughly moved-on-from with no hard feelings at all has somehow been named as the Public Address Word of the Year 2014.

"I honestly can't understand how this has happened," said a flabbergasted Public Address owner Russell Brown. "But #dirtypolitics won this year's reader vote by a country mile. I mean, Jason Ede and Phil de Joux have new jobs, Judith Collins has a newspaper column, David Farrar has returned to his familiar role of providing an internet platform for scary racists and bigots -- and confused, mendacious Taxpayers' Union press releases are being  pasted into newspaper stories again.

"Sure, you probably still wouldn't want to touch Carrick Graham with anything not double-wrapped in latex, but when Cameron Slater can walk free with no fear of left-wing death squads, I think we can fairly say the nightmare is over. And really, hasn't the Prime Minister wasted enough time attempting to explain himself?"

Those explanations have themselves drawn tribute from readers of Public Address, New Zealand's most brutally liberal blogsite. Two of John Key's contributions to the lexicon feature in the Word of the Year Top 10: the poignant, wistful "At the end of the day" was number two on the list and the playful, almost poetic "Not as Prime Minister" came in fifth.

"The seventh-ranked word, textual relations, was, of course, attributed to Mr Key," said an increasingly hysterical Brown, "but was actually made up by a journalist. Which I think you'll find is just bloody typical."

#dirtypolitics is, of course, the hashtag version of  Dirty Politics, the title of a book by screaming conspiracy theorist Nicky Hager, whose insistence on pursuing his rights has currently brought the entire New Zealand legal system to a halt. The aftermath of the book's publication also gave rise to Whaledump (third) and Rawshark (eighth).

"I can only suppose that a hacker has penetrated the special Google voting software," said a near-comatose Brown. "I've asked Pete George to investigate."

John Key was not the only government minister to capture the imagination of Public Address readers. Steven Joyce's "pretty legal" explanation of National's stance on intellectual property rights placed fourth in the vote and has now been adopted as the rallying cry of disenfranchised EZTV users.

The Top 10 was rounded out by swearwolves, a neologism from the controversial Wellington vampire documentary What We Do in the Shadows and ebola, a word.

"I think all of those associated with the other winners can now fairly describe themselves as 'better than ebola'," said a levitating Brown.

Further controversy was generated when it was announced that notorious Marxist intellectual Giovanni Tiso had won a Christmas hamper by being the first to nominate a version of Dirty Politics for the vote.

"How could Tiso possibly have known?" said a by-now liquefied Brown. "Unless ... Tiso is Rawshark. Yeah, I said it."

Another Public Address reader, James Keating, also won a hamper by having his name drawn from the list of Word of the Year voters.

"Yeah, I got nothing on that," said a vaporous, almost ethereal Brown. "But I can only encourage everyone who didn't win a delicious artisan hamper from Farro Fresh to go and check out the full list of delicious artisan hampers available online from Farro Fresh. And don't muck about, because it's nearly Christmas"

Brown also had a final statement for New Zealanders.

"Thanks for the beer," he said, before turning on his heel, walking into a lamppost and staggering away muttering something that sounded to bystanders like "Peak Cray"."



1. #dirtypolitics

2. "At the end of the day"

3. Whaledump

4. "Pretty legal"

5. "Not as Prime Minister"

6. Peak Cray

7. Textual relations

8. Rawshark

9. Swearwolves

10. Ebola