Hard News by Russell Brown

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Music Extra: "Is not a perfect pop song the closest thing to the goal?"

In its survey of media coverage around the All Whites' World Cup qualifier in Peru this week, RNZ Mediawatch found something notable: a thinkpiece about the underdogs that focuses not on football but on Flying Nun.

Francisco Blaha has kindly translated the column from the original Spanish and observes that it's "very typical from Latin American music writers, with a lot of name droppings and referencing cool books, plus giving the feeling that they really know their shit. Obviously the author has done his  research ... yet when you read this sentence: 'The Dunedin sound seems as if it has emerged from the marshy and Crocodile infected waters of New Zealand,' you realise he does not know shite about NZ!"

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The birth of rock in New Zealand

A review of the birth and rise of New Zealand rock in the late seventies.

By Percy Chávez Alzamora 

1982 is a year that we all remember now: it was the last time Peru played in a World Cup.

I remember the goal of Panadero Díaz and I remember Lato's bald head. And also that New Zealand was one before last in that tournament. "At least we are not New Zealand," my brother and I consoled.

I was nine years old and after the elimination I began to listen to music on my own, which means that I left the ballads that my parents put. Peru did not return to a World Cup and I stopped listening to Raphael and Camilo Sesto. Triumph and defeat always go hand in hand.

At the same time that the country was preparing to play the qualifiers of Spain 82, New Zealand began to forge what would later be called the Dunedin sound. El Negro La Rosa closed his eyes to score a goal in El Campín de Bogotá and, on the other side of the world, a group of young people from the University of Otago, in Dunedin, gathered in half-empty bars and venues, crowded basements, and stormed old warehouses.

With a battered tape recorder, guitars, old mics and spent batteries, they started that little-known musical movement. Were these college students interested in soccer? I do not know, but it is clear that their stuff was pop songs.

Chris Knox, Alec Bathgate, the Kilgour brothers, Robert Scott, Martin Phillipps and Graeme Downes are not names of the New Zealand football team of '82, but the guys who formed bands like The Enemy, Toy Love, Tall Dwarfs, The Clean, The Chills, The Bats, The Verlaines. They were all young, they were all friends and they all liked punk.

The bands shared the studio, drank and played in the same bars (mainly at The Pitz), lent their instruments, recorded on the same label (Flying Nun), in a kind of community that was not guided by ideals of love and peace, always deceitful and stereotyped, but by something more fleeting and, perhaps for that reason, with more grip in the memory: music.

A music that mixed youth with audacity and self-confidence, with the desire to live at all costs, with the musical referents, with the clothes they wore, with sensations and elements that only exist when you are young and unconscious, ignorant and happy.

Well come on doctor, won't you gimme a shot

I'm feeling cold boy, feeling hot

Doctor said no boy you gotta learn

First don't shoot up and then it's your turn

 ('Anything Could Happen', The Clean).

There is a story that Greg Milner tells in The Sound and Perfection about Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album. In the basement of his house, on a radio cassette, Springsteen composed and recorded the model of what Nebraska would be. He put the tape in his pants pocket and forgot about it. A few days later, sitting in a canoe in the middle of a swamp, the tape fell into the water. He found it and saw that the tape had apparently not been damaged. When he arrived at the recording studio, Springsteen had one thing in mind: the sound that came from that radio cassette player, stuck in his pants pocket for several days and passed through water, was the sound he wanted to have in Nebraska.

The Dunedin sound seems as if it has emerged from the marshy and Cocodrile [sic!] infected waters of New Zealand. A clearly dirty sound, recorded with an old six-track recorder, in which the margin of error is perhaps the definition of the sound itself. This lack of neatness in the recording was contrasted by the ferocity in the interpretation; for songs full of vertigo, in which the technique gave way to impetus, to dementia, to emotion, to passion, to freedom. The strength of the interpretation, before the tonality. They played in half-empty venues without knowing that years later their music would be an important influence for groups such as Yo la Tengo or Pavement.

Children of the Velvet and the punk

It was 1977 and punk was expanding strongly. It had been eight years since the first record of the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground was in the process of consolidating itself as a referential band among the musicians, making Brian Eno's statement about its first record come true: "it barely sold 30,000 copies, but each of those who bought it, formed a band. " In this context, Chris Knox, a guy with shaved hair, eyes of crazy and dishevelled, appears in the New Zealand music scene with The Enemy, a band that did not record any official record, but whose concerts in university bars were the trigger for the Dunedin sound. 

what the fuck can ya do when no one in your town can stand you?

how d'ya feel like a slug or a rock or a king?

 ("Crush", Tall Dwarfs)

The chaos and fury of The Enemy moved to Toy Love, where the contestatory attitude was mutating little by little towards melodic experimentation. The concerts were still chaotic like street fights, but the songs began to acquire an echo of the Byrds and the guitars of Television.

A year later, they would form Tall Dwarfs, a band that overturned all that irreverence in the musical exploration, setting aside the drums, and using any object they had at hand for percussion. The music of Chris Knox, which starts with a clear punk tendency in The Enemy, mutates four years later towards sound exploration in Tall Dwarfs. What started as chaos and noise and fury ends up appeased in frugality.

If some say that the punk was born in Peru with the Saicos, the indie was born with the Clean (1978). Formed by the brothers Hamish and David Kilgour, and Robert Scott, in 1981, the band released their first single, 'Tally Oh', a song that begins with an irrefutable keyboard sound, an invitation to dance and oblivion. Its first album contains five infallible tracks, influenced by the freedom and chaos of punk and psychedelia. Short songs, between two and three minutes mostly, songs to get courage, for sunny days and beers, addictive, fleeting, that make you want more and more ... What? I do not know, but it does not matter either. Songs that leave you feeling that everything will be fine, whatever happens, everything will be fine.

The first bands of Chris Knox (The Enemy, Toy Love, Tall Dwarfs) and The Clean marked the line of sound Dunedin. There were others that emerged from the path started by them, groups such as The Chills (perhaps the most recognized in the American and British scene), The Verlaines (with the shadow of Joy Division among their songs) or The Bats, heeled to simplicity and the melody, creating perfect pop songs.                                                         

What does it take to create high quality pop?  Bob Stanley wondered in Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!, his monumental book on pop.

Maybe we need to go back to football to answer that question. Because is not a perfect pop song the closest thing to the goal? It is precise, ephemeral and fleeting at the same time; It is idyllic; it is expressed in the outlandish scream; it needs an audience that identifies itself; invites to dance and euphoria; It is addictive and you always want more. And not having it generates frustration. Same as a football goal. 

Playlist intencionada para aproximarse al sonido Dunedin

“Tally Ho”, The Clean
“Nothing is gonna happen”, Tall Dwarfs
“For the love of Ash Grey”, The Verlaines
“My way”, The Bats
“Sheep”, Toy Love
“Stars”, The Clean
“I go wild”, The Bats
“Kaleidoskope world”, The Chills
“Beatknik”, The Clean
“Crush”, Tall Dwarfs
“Anything could happen”, The Clean
“Ache”, Chris Knox

 

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#OrconIRL: The runsheet and live stream

Kia ora koutou! Today is the final Orcon IRL event for the year and we'll be looking at 2017 – and forward at what's to come – from 4pm at Golden Dawn.

RSVPs are all full up, but drop me a line via the email link below and I'll see if  we can squeeze you in. If you can't be there, do watch us on the live stream. The focus this time is on short, snappy interviews, so as to include as many voices as possible. And don't forget the perfrmance from Julia Deans at 6pm!

Here's the stream:

4.30: WELCOME From RUSSELL BROWN and JOGAI BHATT, then MATTHEW DENTITH and TZE MING MOK on the year in Europe.

4.45: TINA PLUNKETT joins us to talk local issues.

4.55: BREAK

5.05: CHRIS FOWLIE on the year in cannabis and prospects for reform.

5.15: HARKANWAL SINGH on data, journalism and diversity.

5.25: BREAK

5.35: CHRIS BISHOP MP on winning Hutt South and facing up to life in Opposition.

5.45: WALLACE CHAPMAN reflects on Back Benches, life on Sunday mornings and living in Waterview.

6.00: JULIA DEANS plays songs from her forthcoming album.

6.20: Everybody's back for the PANEL, until we close at 7pm.

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Friday Music: Deep cuts from Aotearoa

If you like a bit of funk and disco – and more especially, if you're a DJ  – the reality is that you won't find many local classics to fill your crates. That's not to say there's no gold to be had, but you'd be searching pretty hard for a copy of, say, the self-titled debut album by Tokoroa funk kings Collision. There are currently 56 names on the Discogs "want" list for that baby.

Some of the most sought-after tracks are disco takes from people remembered chiefly as pop artists, or funk excursions by rock bands. Record nerds speak in hushed tones of this or that break on an album track. But no one has ever pulled it all together – until now.

John Baker and Alan Perrott have done the job with Heed the Call: Soul, Funk, and Disco From Aotearoa 1973-1983, a wonderful 2LP set out on December 1.

The record opens with something suitably and spectacularly scarce: the 12" mix of Dalvanius and the Fascinations' slinky 'Voodoo Lady', hitherto available only on a promo 12" pressed up by Dalvanius's Australian label, Infinity.

That's followed by the righteous Commodores-style funk of Collision's 'You Can Dance' and probably my favourite track of the lot, Mark Williams' 'Disco Queen', where Collision are the backing band. 

Williams' other 70s dancefloor classic, 'House for Sale' – possibly the only soul-disco tune that namechecks home appliances – is here too, and it's hard not to wonder what such a gifted artist might have achieved in a different environment.

Before he departed for Australia, Williams' two NZ number one singles, ‘Yesterday Was Just The Beginning of My Life’ and ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ were just good pop covers, crafted with EMI's in-house producer Alan Galbraith. Other artists here (Tina Cross, the Yandall Sisters) worked in a light-entertainment-oriented industry, Ticket and Larry Morris (whose grooving 'Who Do We Think We're Fooling?' is a highlight) were rock artists, Prince Tui Teka (here with 'Heed the Call', an unusual ballad with a remarkably loud and upfront breakbeat from the drummer) was from the showband tradition. For nearly everyone here, their funky stuff wasn't what they were best-known for, or was tucked away as album tracks.

Although foreign disco hits frequently made (and even topped) the New Zealand charts, there wasn't really a sense that such music could be made locally, nor many of the kind of clubs that would play it. I sometimes wonder if the presence of Heatwave's Eric Johns – the in-house engineer at Tandem Studios in Christchurch for several years in the late 70s and early 80s and a very sweet man – was something of a missed opportunity.

One track here was a bona fide hit: Golden Harvest's brilliant 'I Need Your Love':

But even they were a group of multiple musical identities and this disco-pop tune was quite a different business from their wilder, more intense club shows.

One other thing bears noting: this is largely Māori and Pasifika music, made even though it may not have suited the music business as it was then.  That makes this compilation even more of a cultural achievement. I'll certainly be buying a copy myself.

You can pre-order Heed the Call on either double vinyl or CD from Flying Out or Southbound. Best not muck about if it's the vinyl you're after: there are only 1000 copies worldwide and only 300 allocated for New Zealand.

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I dont know how it came over on TV, but last night's Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards were memorable and impressive in the room. Nearly every show since the awards moved to to Spark (formerly Vector) Arena has basically lost the back of the room by halfway through the evening, but that didn't happen last night. The show was tight, the performances were well-curated and even the jokes weren't bad. Well done, everyone.

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Neil Finn has generously donated a guitar to the New Zealand Music Foundation and proceeds from its auction on Trade Me will be used to help the charity’s work with projects that use music in healthcare and with at-risk and vulnerable people and support its work providing emergency assistance and counselling to music people experiencing illness, distress and hardship.

It's quite a notable instrument: a Maton EBG 808 acoustic electric custom-made for Neil in 2004. It's the guitar he played in his tribute to Paul Hester at the 2005 Aria Awards and has also been used by Tim, Elroy and Liam Finn in the studio and in concert. It was built by Andy Allen, who now runs Maton's "custom shop", but predates the shop itself. Basically, this is a really interesting guitar with a nice story attached to it.

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Here's an unexpected archive gem: Living Up to Their Name, a live Sneaky Feelings album recorded in 1987 at the Gluepot and pressed up on vinyl. It was sold at the band's recent tour shows and gets a wider release on Monday – unusually, only via this Discogs page.

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Oscar Davies-Kay of Rackets has a new project, Water, that's less intense and more melodic than his old band's work. It's pretty cool and the new album, Enjoy, is a free download on Bandcamp. They also have this nice video of K Road scenes for the track 'Country Calls':

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Tunes!

Something wild from Muzai Records: a cover of Technotronic's 'Pump Up the jam'. It's on Artery, the new album by Embedded Figures, aka Dunedinite Amber Skye:

I thought the official remix of Lorde's 'Homemade Dynamite' turned the original into the song it really wanted to be. And here's another cool take by the Dutch DJ Sem:

And an extended dancefloor edit of an old fave: Petko Turner takes on Beats International's 'Dub Be Good To Me' (free download):

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4

Powerstation II: It's complicated

My +1 came down sick shortly before Lorde's Powerstation show last night, which meant I was standing at the pickup desk at 8.30pm with a spare ticket to a hot gig.

"What should I do with it?" I asked the Powerstation's doorkeeper.

"Well, there are people out there without tickets ... " she pointed out.

I stepped back outside to look at who might be deserving, and she followed me out a second later and drew my attention to a folorn young man standing by the wall. I asked him if he needed a ticket, he nodded and I gave him the spare. He was so discombobulated with gratitude he tried to shake my hand and hug me at the same time and succeeded in doing neither very well.

It turned out he was French, here on a working holiday visa. He'd bought a ticket for the relocated Sunday show, misinterpreted the message and turned up last night only to discover his purchase had been refunded and his Sunday ticket was no good. He was disconsolate. And now, he was rescued.

A glance at social media suggests others weren't so lucky. I wrote a pretty forthright post on Sunday about the licensing issues that saw Sunday's all-ages show moved. But having talked at some length to both sides rather than relying on reports, my view has shifted somewhat.

The Powerstation did indeed have a boffo liquor licence with a variation that allowed it stage all-ages shows with a minimum of fuss. It ran those shows responsibly, providing proper separation between the area with bar access and the one without and covering all alcohol branding in the all-ages area. There was little trouble in the six years it had that licence.

But something odd happened in March last year, when the licence was renewed. The venue applied for a licence which designated the whole club as a "supervised" area under the Sale of Liquor Act 2012, which meant that people under 18 could be there, but only with a parent or guardian. I can't work out why that happened. Campbell is emphatic it's because that's what liquor licensing officials told him to do.

"I was doing licensed and all-ages shows on a semi-regular basis. And every time I did one, I applied for a special licence," he says. "They were getting fairly regular and starting to cost a bit of money, but that was just what was required if we wanted to put those shows together.

"There was then a suggestion that came from licensing that we then reapply to have the venue [designated] supervised so that we would not have to go through the process of applying for special licences every time we did an all-ages event."

Rob Abbott, the secretary of the district licensing commiteee, says he doesn't know why the Powerstation applied for this markedly less amenable licence. Abbott says the old licence condition didn't even require special licences – just a call to notify his office.

"He had to consult with me and I'd consult with the police. I'd have to say that no one ever approached me to invoke that in the three years I was there."

Abbot says Campbell "specifically asked for the whole premises to be given a supervised designation, which is completely different to what he had. When people ask for stuff, we don't question it, unless it's illegal or something."

And Campbell's claim that's what he told to do?

"I don't know. I can't say someone wouldn't have, but it wouldn't be the best advice – and my guys would know better than that."

Would he have been able to roll over the old licence if he'd asked?

"Probably, if he'd asked for it. It’s very strange, I've never seen that kind of condition, but yeah. There's been a change in the act, but it hasn't changed that much. If it was workable, we'd have just rolled over if he'd asked for it."

So since March 2016, all the Powerstation's all-ages/licensed shows have been in breach of its new licence – as the police discovered when they visited a show last month.

"And they came out and told me, this is great, it's exemplary, everything's fine," says Campbell. "He took a photo of our licence and that's when he discovered that the designation was supervised. And about three days later [on October 13] they called me in and said this is the problem we've got. Everything's cool at the venue, but this is the problem and we're going to have to try and work out how we do it.

 "And at that point I said, okay what do we have to do? What's the legal requirement? We were obviously assisted into this licence classification – can you help us? And at that point they actually were really helpful and did try and get a legal call from their people and said they'd let me know."

So he thought he was okay for a while?

"No, I can't really say that. But that was what was indicated."

"It would seem that he continued on operating as if he was under the old condition," says Abbott, "and it wasn't until the police paid a visit to one of these functions last month that they said hey you're not operating correctly – you've got a supervised designation. And that's when the question came up: well, how have you been operating, Peter?

"The police made it quite clear to him that he was operating outside the law. Lorde hadn't come up at that stage – they were just talking generally about his licence. He must have said at that stage, well, what can I do to change it and they said you put in a variation for it. And suddenly this Lorde thing comes out of nowhere."

I think had I been Campbell at the point of the meeting last month, with his three biggest shows of the year approaching, I'd have been acting with greater urgency to get it sorted out.

Abbott says he discussed a potential amendment with his staff, but then went on leave "and as it turns out, Peter didn't progress the matter any further."

"What I'm doing at the moment, I have a liquor licensing consultant who's been working on it, who's disgusted with them," says Campbell. "And the application has been prepared. It hasn't been submitted. Because first of all we'd discussed that I already had these licensed/all-ages shows going through under the current licence, which I need to get through, to which they nodded. It took a little bit of time to get out of them what was going to be required."

Abbott got back from leave on Thursday.

"And the first call I got was from his agent, who said 'is there anything we can do Rob - I know we can't get a special, it's way too late'. And we had a confab and both agreed and I spoke to Peter on Friday and said our advice was that there was nothing that could be done at that stage."

Not even a last-minute waiver for the deadline? There wasn't time even for that, says Abbott.

"And his agent said to me, he doesn't want to address [a permanent licence variation] until it comes up for renewal in 2019."

There's one further wrinkle: that supervised designation may make it harder to get approval for the rest of this summer's all-ages shows. It's complicated.

The council has also told me that Campbell could have applied last year to have his whole venue deemed undesignated (making it like Spark Arena and the Town Hall), but my understanding from other venue owners is that would likely have been knocked back by police.

And I am still mindful of what others have told me about the difficulty of dealing with with liquor licensing officials, and aware of one fairly egregious case that wound up in legal action.

But what's happened here is very strange, and I think Campbell relied rather too much on the assumption that he could continue to do what he was doing when prudence would have dictated a more proactive approach.

Anyway, it's happened and perhaps the Lorde effect has concentrated everyone's minds. Campbell says he still wants to keep running the place and has plans to invest to "future proof " the place – no small thing when it would be easy enough to sell a desirable site to a developer.

Anyway, Lorde played last night and showed why the decision to do three club shows rather than a single arena concert was such a great and generous call. People danced their asses off in a way that they wouldn't have in a big room. The music wasn't crazy loud, but at times the response from the crowd was so deafening that I put my fingers in my ears. It's a very long time since I've experienced an atmosphere like that.

It started like this:

And it did not stop. Whatever else went on these past few days, the singer got it right.

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#OrconIRL: That was 2017

Kia ora! We have one more Orcon IRL event for the year, and it's on Sunday, November 19, from 4-7pm at The Golden Dawn in Ponsonby.

Our guests include RNZ Sunday mornings host Wallace Chapman, who will talk about making radio and living in Waterview – and giving Back Benches the considered farewell it never got on TV.

There's also recently-departed New Zealand Herald data journalist Harkanwal Singh on data, people and the media; Norml president Chris Fowlie on prospects for the cannabis referendum; and our special European correspondents Tze Ming Mok (UK desk) and Matthew Dentith (Bucharest branch). Plus an exclusive live performance from Julia Deans!

I'm delighted to say that 95bFM's Jogai Bhatt will again be my co-host.

Update: Chris Bishop, the National Party MP for Hutt South, will also be joining us.

Entry is free but limited. Claim your RSVP without delay here.

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