Hard News by Russell Brown


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.


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.


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.


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.


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':



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):



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.


#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.



Lorde, the council and the Powerstation shambles

Two weeks ago, Unesco, the UN cultural agency, announced that it had approved a joint application by Auckland Council, Recorded Music NZ and Apra for Auckland to be named an international city of music, alongside the likes of Glasgow and Kingston Jamaica, as part of Unesco's Creative Cities Network.

As yet, Auckland's page on the Creative Cities Network website is "under construction" and features a photograph of Splore and not much else. But RMNZ's Mark Roach had this to say:

Changes like paying better attention to Auckland's grassroots venues, which were "the research and development labs" of any music eco-system, protecting and preserving Auckland's music heritage for future generations, improving Auckland's liveability and attraction through a thriving music scene, and celebrating its unique sounds and musicians, he said. 

The next move would be to formulate policies with council and creative sector stakeholders, and work out what outcomes and milestones needed to be achieved, he said.

I would suggest that Auckland Council could start by thinking very hard about what happened to Lorde's much-anticipated all-ages show at the Powerstation tonight.

On Friday, a press release from the tour promoter, Frontier, announced that the Sunday all-ages show, which sold out months ago, was being moved to a less appealing venue, the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna. (Much of the excitement about these shows has been that they're happening in a small, dedicated music venue – it's quite a gesture on the part of the artist.):

On Thursday night (9 Nov) Frontier and Eccles Entertainment were informed by the Powerstation that the Licensing Police had refused them permission to host any persons under the age of 18 at Lorde’s three sold out Auckland concerts. 

As the Sunday 12 November Lorde concert is an all ages show and can no longer take place at the Powerstation, the concert will now be relocated to Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna. Anyone with a ticket for the show on Sunday 12th November should go to the Bruce Mason centre for the show – your ticket will be valid for that show and you need take no further action other than turn up at the new venue.

My first thought was to wonder how on earth this had happened. The Powerstation has been running all-ages shows since the 1990s – with the bar open either upstairs or downstairs only (depending on the balance of sales), all alcohol branding in the all-ages area covered and two security staff checking ID at the bottom of the stairs – and has (or, more probably, had) several more scheduled for this summer. How could they have suddenly got it wrong for such an important show?

Well, it depends on who you believe.

Stuff had the first story up, quoting the council:

Auckland Council alcohol licensing manager Rob Abbott said the Powerstation had not applied to change its licence to allow under 18s in without their parents, therefore the issue should have come as no surprise.

Abbott said he received a call from the venue's manager on Thursday asking if they could change the  licence by Sunday, which Abbott said they could not. "There is no legal way to have it changed, certainly at that time. You have to go through a public consultation and a proper process to change licences."

In case anyone was in any doubt about whose stupid fault it was, Abbott added:

Abbott said the Powerstation's rules were not new, and its licence had been updated last year.

"This is the licence the Powerstation requested and it's what they got," he said.

But a quite different story emerged after RNZ got hold of the venue owner:

The license was checked as part of an inspection at an all-ages show at the Powerstation about 10 days ago, its owner Peter Campbell said.

He said days later he was told the variation to host under 18 shows never should have been issued and a special license for the Lorde show was not possible.

Mr Campbell said he would now have to look at future all-ages concerts held at the venue.

These are two conflicting accounts and can't both be true and complete. I think Peter Campbell's account is the true one, partly because, as I noted enough, the other one doesn't make any sense.

What it looks like is that the Powerstation had for years been operating in good faith under a licence that permitted a variation for all-ages shows. And then it was told, two working days out from its biggest shows of the year, that the licence was incorrect and under-18 year-olds who paid months ago for tickets would not be able to attend, even with their parents. That included any with tickets for the Monday and Tuesday shows, which were advertised with a "limited" all-ages area.

Yes, even with their parents, and even though they wouldn't get anywhere near a bar. As far as I can tell, under the terms of the Sale of Liquor Act 2012, and without the licence variation its owners believed they had, all of the Powerstation is a "restricted area" and no one under 18 can be there, even with parents. It would even remain so if all the bars closed.

Abbott implied that the Powerstation could have applied for a different licence last year. I don't think that's true either. The council's liquor licence application form offers only two options, "restricted" or "supervised". In the latter, which is basically meant for pub restaurants, minors are allowed, but still only with a parent in attendance.

There is another option: to seek to have part of the venue deemed "undesignated". The Powerstation would not have got that either. I was told by Rohan Evans, the owner of the Wine Cellar, that he had tried to have the music room there (a completely separate part of the venue, with no bar and a separate entrance if required) declared undesignated. He was told that the Police objected on principle to any such application and it would never be granted.

Was there a last-minute fix? There sure was. The Powerstation would have tried applying for a special licence under Section 138 of the Act. Those must be filed 20 working days before the event – but the council's own form says that deadline can be waived in some circumstances by the district liquor licensing committee. It cites a funeral as potential exception.

But perhaps, in the circumstances, a long-planned homecoming show for Auckland's most famous musical performer could also have been expedited. That would seem reasonable. Hell, double the security, add any number of caveats, but let Lorde play to her fans.

There's another reason that I'm inclined to believe Campbell's account over Abbott's. And that's that I've spoken to a number of venue owners and event promoters who describe Auckland's licensing officials as obstructive, arbitrary, capricious and difficult. (One former venue owner told me liquor licensing was "the worst council department I had to deal with"). I know of one event promoter who has successfully taken legal action over officials' conduct towards his business.

Some of this is very much down to the stricter provisions of the 2012 Act. But the council does have room to move within the Act, and the police, another roadblock, have ample discretion. I know that alcohol causes harm, but the Powerstation isn't a booze barn. It literally only opens when a concert is booked. It's a music venue.

And meanwhile, at big venues like Spark Arena or or the Auckland Town hall, under-18s can usually attend, even though there's no separation at all from the bars. They can also sit down at any of the city's hundreds of licensed cafes without anyone batting an eyelid. Parents can take toddlers and a picnic down to Silo Park, where there's a mobile bar selling beer and wine for the grown-ups. It's the "research and development labs" that seem to have the problem.

And that has consequences. If kids can't hear the music they love – music often made by their peers – there's a risk they'll be lost to live music altogether. And more particularly, to New Zealand music. They can get the rest of the world's pop culture easily enough on the radio and the internet.

After all, they're not coming to these places to get illicitly boozed – it would be much easier to do that at parties or in suburban parks – but to get culture. It's not good for the music and it certainly doesn't tally with that nice "City of Music" honour.

Under-age venues, which seek no liquor licence at all, at any time, could fill the gap. But, for better or worse, bar takings subsidise the cost of venue hire – they pay for the house PA, the rent and staff on the night. I'm not sure such a venue could survive without outside support. From the council, for instance.

The other options would be for the council and police to be more amenable to undesignated status for music spaces, or for variations in special licences to be made more available (even the council's special licence form still only offers "restricted" or "supervised" as options).

I've posted before about the wearying regulatory pressure on Auckland's small music venues. What happened this weekend is just another reason for anyone presenting music to not bother any more. If Auckland Council wants the city's Unesco status status to mean anything, it needs to fix what happened here.


How harm happens

During the election campaign, I was working on a feature looking at how New Zealand arrived at a synthetic cannabinoid crisis that had seemed to come out of nowhere – and what I was finding was making me angry.

The story is the cover feature of the new issue of the New Zealand Drug Foundation magazine, Matters of Substance, and you can read it here.

The harsh truth is that the crisis did not come out of nowhere. It was developing even before the 2014 amendment to the Psychoactive Substances Act took all synthetic cannabinoid products off retail shelves. And for a range of reasons, almost no one saw it happening or, in some cases, did not wish to see.

Former Associate Health minister Peter Dunne traced the story back to the previous general election campaign, in 2014, when the headlines were jammed with alarming reports about the consequences of legal sales of some synthetic cannabinoid products under the Psychoactive Substances Act. These products had been sold for years before, but a radical cut in the number of outlets had focused media attention on the stores that made the regulatory cut under the Act, and on the dependent users who were experiencing real problems.

The National government, says Dunne, simply wanted to get the issue out of the headines and raced to amend the Act to foreclose its interim regulatory period and ban all sales. After that, the government wasn't interested.

“There was a certain dishonesty there," Dunne told me.

Paula Bold-Wilson, who led a campaign to get synthetics off the shelves, saw the same thing:

“At the time we were campaigning, we were trying to raise awareness of how many people were still extremely sick afterwards and that actually the government had a responsibility to tidy up the mess of those who’d become addicted through those products being legal in our community. But they left the community to tidy up the mess really.”

I don't hold Dunne entirely blameless here. In 2015, working on a different story, I spoke to two ESR scientists who told me that not only were they still receiving synthetic cannabinoid samples from Police and Customs for testing, there were "significantly more" of them and most were new substances that had never been sold in stores.

Dunne continued to insist that his advice was that there was only a "comparatively small" market in synthetics, trading in products stockpiled from the old legal regime. I sensed that the scientists copped some heat for saying otherwise. But they were right.

And ESR was right again this year, when its Forensic Chemistry Manager Kevan Walsh dispelled a lot of damaging Police blather about adulterants and mystery ingredients and pointed out that its testing of Police samples had consistently revealed a particular chemical: AMB-FUBINACA.

This chemical has been associated with "zombie outbreaks" in several countries in the past two years – but in New Zealand, the dosing in black-market products is 10 to 30 times higher than elsewhere. That's why people have been dying. It's not fucking fly spray.

When I re-read the published story yesterday, ESR's role as an honest broker stood out all the more. Its advice came as Police and the Coroner's office were publishing information that was vague, incomplete, irrelevant – and sometimes simply wrong. Other parties who could have helped chose to say nothing – the Auckland DHB's communications office refused to let me speak to the emergency doctors who have been dealing with as many as 20 synnies patients a day.

The drug early-warning system (EWS) touted in news stories after the synnies crisis broke is a mirage. The various agencies and specialists who generate and act on drug market information don't talk to each other in any organised way. The Ministry of Health admits there is as yet no dedicated funding for an EWS.

And worse, we're in danger of knowing even less. Police funding for two long-running drug use surveys was cut off this year.

This shouldn't rely on Police budgets. We have a new government now, one which has consistently talked about drug use as a health issue, not a criminal one. Well, with more than 20 deaths and hundreds of emergency admissions in mere months, we have a public health crisis. Peter Dunne's drug policy delegation has passed to the new Minister of Health, David Clark. It's up to him to bring order and transparency to a system that does not do what we need.

The keynote of our National Drug Policy is the prevention of harm. As things stand, our systems do a poor job of that. And because of the welter of other interests in the field, sometimes the system makes the harm worse.  Drug stigma and the particularly marginalised nature of the people who use synthetics makes it worse again. We need to fix this, because it will all happen again if we don't.