Hard News by Russell Brown


Music: To renew, you first need history

Before I came to stay in Peckham, I had heard tell of its burgeoning gentrification, but to wander the streets of this South London borough and see it in action is something else.

The terraces of the street where I'm staying are progressively popping their tops as the owners do their loft conversions. Abandoned shops in nearby roads are being refitted to to sell cakes, artisan giftware, gelato, clothes and sleek city bicyles. And yet, even as the hipsters move in, the clamouring artery of Peckham Rye, Rye Lane, remains crowded with the stores of another generation, selling hot peppers, thawing chicken pieces, patties and the flash, shiny suits in which West Indian men still dress to impress. 

And there are record shops. Yam Records, down a narrow arcade. Rye Wax, through a courtyard and down into a basement, at the back of a spacious cafe. Puzzle Organico, a brilliant-smelling health food store with music down the back. And soon there will be Hop, Burns & Black, the new shop my hosts Jen Ferguson and Glenn Williams are opening to sell craft beer, hot sauces and vinyl records.

They all sell vinyl records; new, short-run house and techno records in some places, but much more so the London sounds of the past few decades, on sale second-hand for a quid or three. As I shuttled around yesterday, I had to keep saying to myself, "excess baggage", because there is simply so much that takes my fancy. Old house twelves that maybe reached New Zealand by the handful, and reggae sevens, the town's musical lifeblood, that never got there at all.

And then, a short ride away on the number 12 bus, there was Camberwell's Rat Records, which churns through old record collections at what seems to be a remarkable rate: its freshly-arrived bin ran to a hundred or more platters. And then I noticed, up on the wall, this:

"Do you see this often?" I asked the man behind the counter, as I paid for a couple of twelves and a mint-condition Studio One double album (five quid!).

"Not a lot," he said.

I said I'd rather like it, but it seemed a bit scratched. Let's put it on and see how it sounds, he said. It actually sounded a little scuffed, but not bad.

"It's a reggae 7" from the 1970s," he observed. "That's how it's going to sound."

I thought of my budget.

"How much change did I just give you?" the man said. "Twelve quid? Just give me that back."

I did, and I'm so pleased. Sidney, George and Jackie are better known as The Pioneers, the group that made the ska classic 'Long Shot Kick the Bucket', but in the 1970s, they cut a handful of sides under their alternative name that are, frankly, wonderful. The A-side of this one is their cover of the Temptations' 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone' and the flip is the brilliant collie-weed anthem 'Feeling High'.

I played it that evening at Lucky Sevens, the Thursday open-decks night at The Gowlett, the pub around the corner, along with a fistful of other old sevens Jen let me raid from a recent stash she'd scored in Bethnall Green on a tip from our mutual friend Mike Hodgson.

Gee, it was fun. People danced and sang along, and then, madly, a couple of the locals and I discovered that there was a whole skip full of vinyl on the street around the other side of the pub. Some good classical records, some terrible MOR, a Bob Seger album and a very clean copy of Neil Diamond's Hot August Night.

Jen loaded up with as much as she could carry -- good for the shop, she explained, but also a right laugh. She staggered home with us (under the load of the beer we'd supped as much as the vinyl she was carrying, to be fair) and we had a duty-free Lagavullin and played a few of our finds. I Facetimed the family back home in Auckland and had to explain why Phil bloody Collins was playing in the background. But gee, isn't Bob Seger's 'Against the Wind' a bloody good song?

I'll have to try and restrain myself and not buy much more vinyl. It's heavy. But it makes me think of the times my friend Duncan Campbell would and visit us in London and turn up each day, excited, with old reggae records he'd have to lug back home to Auckland. In a way, it's the same thing that makes the new gentrification work. To have renewal, to have a secondary market in space, place and culture -- you need the history first.

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Garbage in, garbage out

Dr Jarrod Gilbert has a pretty blunt response today to the revelation that the government's pre-election crackdown on gangs was predicated on data so wildly wrong that it's hard to imagine how it happened.

David Fisher lays out the scale of the mistake in the Herald today:

The inaccurate figures had suggested the 4000 gang members in New Zealand were personally responsible for about 1500 serious violence and drug charges. New figures show this year gang members were actually responsible for 26 of the 649 serious drug charges laid. They were also responsible for 61 of 868 violence charges.

The difference between the sets of figures is the inaccurate figures which resulted in police excluding potentially 56,000 other people who might have been responsible for the crimes by attributing the actions solely to gang members. Police had failed to mention a wide group of gang prospects, general associates and family of gang members.

Gilbert has a right to be indigant, because he recognised at the time that the numbers could not be accurate, and wound up having a confrontation with Kiwiblog's David Farrar, who publicly defended them. He points out that the numbers, which formed the basis of the policy, have never been publicly corrected.

He also notes Keith Ng's post-election lament that journalists had not done enough to follow up stories raised by, in particular, Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics:

Last week Gordon Campbell articulated a rebuke to Ng, in part saying that if politicians just refuse to talk then there’s not a lot journalists can do. End of story.

David Fisher's work is proof this is not the case. He chipped away until the truth was revealed. It’s his second story on this issue. He first reported the erroneous data and uncovered collusion between the Minister’s office and Right Wing blogger David Farrar, who was then seeking to defend the inflated data. Now Fisher has gained Cabinet papers showing that the numbers have been retracted. All of which was revealed through Official Information Act Requests undertaken by him or by Josh Grainger, a University of Canterbury law student. Credit to the police, too, for providing the accurate data.

To me it is surprising that more journalists haven’t dug around like this in relation to the issues raised in Dirty Politics, after all there are names to be made. 

What I'm thinking is this: how often does this happen? How often is policy formulated and sold on bogus numbers, which are simply accepted? I had a modest experience with this after the then-Broadcasting minister Joanthan Coleman quoted nonsensical ratings figures to justify the government's decision to to shut down TVNZ 7.

My Media7 colleague Sam Mulgrew and I did get to the bottom of that one. It turned out that officials in Coleman's office, presumably looking for persuasively gloomy numbers, simply didn't understand the ratings figures they were trying to quote. Ironically, we had a hell of a job trying to get the Herald to stop using the bogus figures the minister's office had handed out. They were even quoted twice in editorials.

I'm sure the shiny, data-savvy New Zealand Herald of 2014 wouldn't have been as sweetly trusting of the minister. And I'd wager that there might well be a few more stories to be found in interrogating the data that governments and ministers offer to justify their actions.


The Boom Crash

If you need a metaphor for Auckland in 2014, try this. So many people clamoured this morning to search for their new property valuations that they brought down the entire Auckland Council website. We broke government.

To be fair, the 2014 valuations have been so extensively and enthusiastically trailered to us by the city's newspaper that it was no wonder that on the day they finally arrived, we went and had a look.

I got in before the rush and was able to get a valuation out before the whole show came crashing down.

"Darling," I called out from the office. "We're property millionaires."

Actually, that much had been obvious for a year or two. But it was still a weird sensation reading that the not-exactly-level and somewhat unkempt 632 square metres of dirt on which our ex-state house sits nearly doubled in value to $800,000 in the past three years. The house itself hasn't fared so well with the valuers -- the "value of improvements" on the land has actually fallen $30,000 to $230,000 -- which happens to be not much more than we borrowed from the bank four years ago to refurbish and extend the place so our boys could finally have their own bedrooms.

The ideal Auckland property investment strategy seems to be living in a shoebox and trying not to mess up the expensive dirt underneath it.

Overall, our cv has risen 39% in three years, meaning our rates will rise again next year, by about 5%. This is plainly nuts, and it's not even what the place would fetch on the market if we sold up, which we have no intention of doing. If the government directs Housing NZ to to flog off the five remaining state properties in the street, I guess our little cul de sac will go full millionaire alley. The days of the tinny house on the corner and the guy making homebake heroin over the road will seem a long, long way away by that point.

We've been living here since 1998 and we love the Chev, but if we were that young family again, we'd have no show of buying a house here. I don't really see how we'd be in with a shot within a 15 or 20km radius. This can't go on, surely.


LATE: The Age of Slacktivism

Everyone is there for a reason at the LATE at the Auckland Museum session I'm fronting on Monday evening. The theme is The Age of#Slacktivism, which I'm effectively interpreting as "beyond slacktivism" -- that's why ActionStation cofounder and Amnesty International NZ board member Marianne Elliot, and the face of RockEnrol, Laura O'Connell Rapira, are on the panel. 

The fact that Nicky Hager and Matthew Hooton are also on the panel doesn't mean it will be Dirty Politics redux. There are things I'll ask them all about changing hearts and minds, and about bridging the gap between me-too hashtagging and whatever change you actually want.

Both before and after the panel discussion, there will be korero and waiata from Moana Maniapoto and Paddy Free, which I'm really looking forward to.

The schedule, details and links to buy your $20 ticket are here. See you on Monday, maybe.


Friday Music: Virtual Rockstar Accountant

All week, Matt Nippert and his new colleagues in the New Zealand Herald's investigative team have been dropping hints about Matt sweating over a spreadsheet. What corporate malfeasance was about to be laid bare in the cleansing sunlight of Nippert's forensic fu?

Turns out, it was Matt returning usefully to a story he's covered before: the numbers behind Lorde's success. At midnight, she turned 18 and thus became legally able to control estimated career earnings of $11 million.

Matt constructed an earnings model based on informed assumptions about her various contracts:

... taking into account fees typical in management, recording and publishing contracts and using publicly available sales and streaming information, suggests she is one of the highest-paid individuals in New Zealand. The bulk of earnings appears to come from the sale of 2.7 million copies of her album and a combined 17 million singles, including more than 10 million for Royals.

Several music industry figures reviewed the model and said, while acknowledging the specific details of Lorde's contract details were unknown, that the assumptions made were reasonable and the resulting numbers realistic.

Earnings of at least $11 million to date, with the prospect of significant and ongoing royalty payments from her songs being played on radio and used in films and commercials, are comparable with her winning Lotto's Powerball last year, and then guaranteeing a first division prize annually.

He joked to me that he was thinking of turning his exquisitely-crafted Excel doc into an "interactive rock star accountant" -- you put in the contract terms and it spits out net income. I reckon there's a video game in that.

Lorde's success is also Universal Music New Zealand's success. The company saw a 50% increase in revenue for FY13, driven largely by US sales of Pure Heroine and its singles. Licensing revenue rose from $3.7m to $12.1 million to give the company its best result since 2005.

Ironically, the birthday girl probably wasn't thinking about any of that as she turned 18 some hours ago. What she wrote on her Tumblr was all about this, the video for 'Yellow Flickr Beat' ("i wasn’t thinking too hard about story or a specific narrative, more a mood; a harsh, crackling heat"), which went live at midnight:


The other thing that happens today in the local music business is that for the first time, the official New Zealand singles charts will include audio streaming data alongside retail sales.

Recorded Music NZ has closely followed the practice adopted by the UK. Only on-demand audio-only streaming is counted (ie: not radio-like "passive" services such as Pandora). So far Spotify, Xbox Music and Google Play are providing data, with others to come.

The chart itself has effectively been a digital one for a while, and single downloads will still likely constitute about 80% of of chart performance. The "audio conversion rate" being quoted has 175 streams of a track equating to a single paid download.

Australia is about to launch a very similar system, leaving (as is so often the case) the US at an outlier. The Billboard charts use an unpublished metric that includes sales, radio performance and video and audio streams, including YouTube. There is also talk of throwing social media interaction into the magic formula, at which point your chart positions would start to look like quite an artificial construction.

Anyway, here's this week's singles chart, which is worth a look if you haven't seen RMNZ's nifty interactive presentation of it before: you can mouse over each track to get preview audio, video and a link to buy. I haven't found the button that makes the music sound better though, bah humbug, etc, etc.


Something new of note: the Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth has a new album, Alone for the First Time, out this week. It's all dreamy beats  and covert pop. I like it. And of particular note is that track two is voiced by Wellington's Eddie Johnston, aka Lontalius, and it seems to be winning him quite a lot of attention. Here's the album on Spotify:


Some very ancient tapes of the Detroit Hemroids have started popping up on Souncloud and Facebook. The what, you say? They were a Christchurch pre-punk garage band assembled around 1975 by intriguing Englishman Olly Scott and including Nicky Carter (the Playthings), Paul Kean (Toy Love, The Bats), Jane Walker (Toy Love) and Mark Wilson (the Androidss). This is some historical shit here, people. They played a lot of covers, as was the custom of the day, and my favourite of the new uploads is this great, swinging take on the Stooges' 'I Need Somebody':

There's more here, in a Soundcloud account set up by Olly's friend Raz Illa. Olly died three years ago, and Raz now has custody of the tapes, which include very early Gordons recordings.

And also this, which is the original live recording of 'Sit Down Stand Up' which ended up on the Playthings' debut release, a 7" single. Completists and fanboys will thrill to the unmastered vibe and the additional five seconds of applause at the end, but more so to the knowledge that the version pressed to vinyl was inadvertently slightly sped up:

I believe Janine Saundercock, who sang and played guitar on that track, is now a wedding planer or somesuch. She should on some distant day die happy that she wrote the lines: "Loosen up your platinum breastplate, turn yourself down / Plug into my sizzling power-point / We'll wake this bloody town!"


Similarly intriguing, although of more recent vintage, is a Soundcloud account launched this week by FromTheCrate Records, which has been releasing vinyl records from within the orbit of the OpenSouls, She's So Rad and Jeremy Toy for more than a decade. There's a some great stuff there. They're not downloads, but a number of the tracks turn out to be available for a handy $2 each from the FromTheCrate Bandcamp, including this great dubwise take on OpenSouls' 'Turn It Up':

The Tornadoes' warm and sprightly afrobeat cut 'Huihui':

And this mint version of Dusty's 'The Look of Love' from Toy's recent jazz alter-ego Leonard Charles, which is a free download:


More tracks ...

Paddy Buckley has put me on to yet another good Australian DJ -- Dr Packer, who's in the mode of his countrymen Late Night Tuff Guy and Copycat. I like his acid dub job on Dennis Edwards' 'Don't Go Any Further', which you can buy here:

And this kind of obvious, but nicely-executed, mash-up of 'Good Times' and 'Rappers Delight':

And also this mix, uploaded yesterday, from a crate full of early (late 70s-early 80s) rap records, from back when a lot of it was people jamming over disco tracks. It's pretty sweet, and although the embed's not showing a download button, it's there if you click through:


This video for Seeep Dog & Wolf's 'Glare' was won its director Thunderlips and  producer Candelit Pictures the best music video award at the Show Me Shorts do in Auckland last night. That light is the sun, in a place 12 hours north of Adelaide called the Moon Plains.


 In the fairly fresh bin ...

Sexy-talking minimal funk from Auckland's Jellphonic, who seems to have something to do with She's So Rad (again). It's from an EP out on Modern Man Records, who offer no clue at all as to how a recording might be purchased:

On TheAudience, spacious bass beats 'n' soul from the Wellington-based Kakapo:

Moody soundscapes from Thirsty:

And a sweet little indie-pop song song from Wellington's Towers:

And with that, I'm off. By the time of next week's Friday Music I'll be in London. I'm not sure what I'll be posting, but I will try very hard to post something.


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by: