Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Laneway, electric arts and awesome soul edits

Just a quickie today, what with there being an election on and everything, but the big music news this week was the announcement of the Laneway 2018 lineup, which includes Bonobo, The War on Drugs, The Internet and Canadian funk fusionists BADBADNOTGOOOD.

Locally, there are well-deserved slots for Aldous Harding and Connan Mockasin and a return to the stage for the three gentlemen of Unitone Hi-Fi.

Looking strong, Laneway.


Mermaidens have a new video and it's an op-shop tupperware party ...


Gig of the week looks to me to be Cardboard and Computers Rmxd, a reprise of Weston Frizzell's multimedia art show featuring sound and vision from an impressive crew of creators, at Neck of the Woods tomorrow night.

Or, for another vibe altogether, the final show of of Reb Fountain's Little Arrows launch tour, tonight at the Tuning Fork. You could call it Americana, but it's really Lyttelton calling.



I think I mentioned the new Nu Blends edit compilation a couple of weeks ago – well, it's out this week, its an absolute feast of rubbed-up soul specials and it's a free download for anyone who signs up here to the Nu Blends mailing list.

The version of Bill Withers' 'Use Me' is worth your click all on its own. It's tight.

From the forthcoming album Funkadelic – Reworked by Detroiters, which sees contemporary Detroit musicians get in and get down with the holy tunes of their forefathers (thanks to @MaxVO2 on twitter for the heads-up):

Renegade Soundwave were part of my life-in-London soundtrack in the late 80s, so I was pleased to see this grooved-up edit of their hulking single 'Cocaine Sex' turn up. Free download:

And finally, a totally cosmic riff on Bon Iver's 'Holocene' by Australians Beat & Path (free download):



Labour's RNZ+ plan: largely coherent

Labour announced its media and film industry policy yesterday – and inevitably most of the attention has focused on the proposal to develop RNZ into a full-service public broadcaster, television included, provisionally called RNZ+.

Labour would achieve this by making explicit the distinction between public funding for broadcast-style content and a public broadcaster. RNZ's funding is currently delivered via NZ On Air, even though it is set separately by government. Under Labour, RNZ's funding would be assessed and delivered by a new, independent Public Media Funding Commission, which would oversee both the enhanced RNZ+ and NZ On Air.

This might not have been viable three years ago, but RNZ has been making radio with pictures (and text) for several years now, on minimal budgets – most notably in the case of Checkpoint. CEO Paul Thompson's strategy of expanding the broadcaster's content to multiple platforms is starting to look mature.

The counter-argument is, of course, that the public already owns a television broadcaster – wouldn't it make more sense to orient TVNZ towards public broadcasting goals rather than invent a new one?

I honestly don't think so. TVNZ has been staffed, constructed and managed as a commercial broadcaster which does some public-good activity. Reversing that balance would be more than a culture change – it would mean laying off staff who, through no fault of their own, were hired to do a different job.

I'm also dubious about the economics of, say, turning TV1 into a public broadcast channel and funding that out of the commercial income from TV2 and TVNZ's other revenue-earning businesses. The truth is that most of TVNZ's revenue currently goes into sustaining itself. It declared an annual profit of $1 million recently. Granted, that followed a $12m write-down on its Disney output deal, but even the underlying profit of $13m wouldn't got very far towards supporting a non-commercial channel. Especially after you subtract the forgone commercial revenue from TV1.

By contrast, extending the scope of RNZ, which is already heading in that direction, seems far less disruptive. And it's not as if it needs to own all its facilities. TVNZ already operates a facilities business – Media Take is made at TVNZ Studio 3, as is TV3's The Cafe. And it's a kilometre away from RNZ. There is no impediment there.

RNZ has also learned to produce multi-platform content on the smell of the proverbial oily rag. That seems important, given that Labour's transformation budget is pretty modest – $38m, which would be shared with NZ On Air and the Public Media Funding Commission's other activities, including funding for public-good journalism. It's hard to see RNZ+ producing top-tier scripted drama, at least for a few years.

If Labour does get a chance to implement this policy, it will need to be careful to avoid stepping on NZ On Air, which has already given form to a lot of serious change thinking with the New Zealand Media Fund and already supports journalism – notably in the form of Stuff Circuit. A demarcation dispute would be a poor start.

There's also the option of selling TVNZ and using the proceeds – and Labour's decision not to do so was criticised yesterday by The Spinoff's Duncan Greive. But that, too, is disruptive – and frankly, the market for major media companies ain't that healthy right now. Fairfax, NZME and Mediaworks have all readied themselves for trade sales that didn't come in recent years. Retaining a public ownership of TVNZ for the time being would also offer a degree of influence over the terms of a facilities relationship between the two broadcasters.

In the longer term? Well, TVNZ's land and buildings are valued at $118m. There's always that.

But I must object to this part of Duncan's column:

Lean too far toward online and it could create another TVNZ7 – the non-commercial channel launched in 2008 which had a lot of worthy but poorly-lit content that few watched (though all that did signed a petition afterwards).

As far as we could determine after unravelling the minister's maths, TVNZ 7 had a weekly cumulative audience of 600,000 at the time it was defunded by National – and that audience was growing. By comparison, Three states its reach as "1.19 million 25-54 year olds each week".

Those demographic numbers matter in another way. The task of commercial television is to deliver audiences in the demographics advertisers want to reach. It was people outside those demographics – largely older New Zealanders – who were disenfranchised when TVNZ 7 shut down. That's the argument for having a public broadcaster as well as funding public-good content on other platforms.

There's more in the Labour package, including a welcome revival of the PACE scheme and some fairly vague stuff about the film industry. Overall, I think it coheres in a way that previous attempts have not, and the latterday vitality and viability of RNZ is the key factor there. Labour and anyone else who thinks it's a good start will now have to wait and see whether a new goverment gets a chance to enact it.


Campaign 2017: Buy a journalist a drink today

Complaining about the news media at times of peak news is less a habit than an ingrained reflex for many of us. And sure, there have been things to complain about in coverage of this campaign. But in general the election media have been more attentive, more lively and more diverse in this campaign than any I can recall.

That's the case I made in the set-up video for this week's Media Take, which you can semi-exclusively preview here:

Part of the difference is undoubtedly the Jacinda effect. Two months ago, I was literally sitting around with the Orcon IRL crew wondering how on earth we were going to make this thing interesting. The surge behind the recently-minted Labour leader has not only provided the close race that seemed so unlikely, but generated scenes on the campaign trail that it's hard to think of a precedent for.

On tonight's show, Te Karere reporter Ripeka Timutimu, who followed Ardern along a string of campaign stops, frankly admits that it's very difficult not to get caught up in Jacindamania when it's happening around you.

New voices have also been a factor. Three years ago, The Spinoff was TV-themed millennial irony shop. This year, it's producing valuable work on a range of fronts. The old dogs in charge at Newsroom have provided quality commentary and broken stories on Bill English and his texts and Winston Peters and his superannuation that have played into the campaign narrative in influential ways.

You can feel the buzz in traditional media too. Who'd have thought that we'd be sharing video of Hilary Barry on Breakfast hammering Steven Joyce on fiscal matters? And the intensity with which mainstream journalists have followed the campaign – scooping their own bulletins with their mobile phones – is something new. Look at what the once-somnolent Fairfax community papers are doing with internet video too.

Along with Ripeka, we're joined by Māori Television's Election Aotearoa co-host Heta Gardiner, Breakfast and Newstalk ZB's Jack Tame, Spinoff Business Editor (and until recently editor of the Western Leader) Rebecca Stevenson, Radio Waatea news editor Adam Gifford – and Laura O'Connell Rapira, who's back (and better-funded) with the youth voter initiative Rock Enrol.

It's a good show and our guests are quite forthcoming. Have a look. And maybe consider buying a journalist a drink. We love that.

Thos week's Media Take can be viewed here on-demand. See also, the extended "open floor" korero with all the panelists together.


Friday Music: A genuine original

I sometimes have mixed feelings about leading these Friday posts with obituaries – it just seems to happen too often – but Celia Mancini's passing this week cannot go unremarked.

You may know Celia, or you may have seen or heard her with King Loser, the Axel Grinders and a number of other fine beat combos over the years. Or perhaps you recall her personal TV show, Slightly-Delic on Triangle TV in the late 90s.

I wasn't close friends with her, but I knew her a long time – since the 1980s, when this fearless kid called Celia Patel turned up on the scene. The same things that could make her maddening and difficult at times also made her brilliant company at others. She was a genuine original with a fertile mind, a penchant for trouble and a raging sense of style.

I feel glad that the last time I saw her was such a good time. Sandy Mill and I were DJing at Golden Dawn and none of our friends turned up – but Celia stuck around after playing in the band beforehand and hung out with us for hours. She was great company: funny, wise and full of words. It feels good that my last memory will be of dropping 'Get Into the Groove' and watching her show the kids how to dance.

One of my  favourite Celia stories was told to me by Matthew Crawley and also centres on Golden Dawn. King Loser were all set to play the bar – and she called off the gig because the bouncer offered her a glass of water! The nerve of the man!

Anyway, just to process the news, Stuart Page put together this tribute video.

Let's also throw in this 1998 clip from Slightly-Delic, with Celia and her band Mother Trucker playing her song 'Eric Estrada'.

And just for good measure, Cushla Dillon's video for King Loser's 'Comeback Special', in which Celia slays. A lot.

One consolation is is that Celia, no matter how chaotic her life was, was one of those people who kept everything. My friend Andrew Moore, who is well into his forthcoming King Loser documentary, You Cannot Kill What Does Not Live, posted this pic from from the big box of stuff Celia gave him ...


Chris Knox has a new batch of paintings for sale on his Tumblr. It went up on Wednesday and about two thirds of them are gone, but you might want to look at them anyway. I was lucky enough to see many of these works when I visited Chris, and they are very much his way of interpreting his experience since the stroke – after, that is, teaching himself to paint with his left hand. I was quite struck by how much one particular group of them reminded my of Smoke Signals, the gallery show that Askew One based on his own seizure.

Anyway, you can't have this one because we're picking it up tomorrow ...


There's a different flavour of rock 'n' roll art on show at Railway St Studios in New Market. New Zealand Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson has a show there at the moment and it includes depictions of Nick Cave, Leoard Cohen, David Bowie and, my favourite, this one.


The Others Way went off on K Road last Friday night – and again demonstrated that it's a festival unlike any other. It's like one big, long party, and the demographic must surely be more than four decades wide. I missed a lot of the stuff that other people raved about (this is inevitable) and still saw a bunch of performances I really loved.

The gloriously retro Arthur Ahbez and band at the Thirsty Dog (new album imminent), Don McGlashan stepping up to sing 'Not to Take Sides' with Sneaky Feelings, Hex getting a boogie-rock direction on, the party vibe of Disasteradio at Whammy, Lawrence Arabia in tremendous form – and deep into the night, Micronism, who did not disappoint.

Arthur Ahbez

Daily Keno


Lawrence Arabia



Wondergarden is back at Silo Park on New Year's Eve and the lineup is pretty spectacular: UMO, Nadia Reid, Swidt, Leisure and more.

Wellington's Lord Echo gets to stand in on a Bandcamp Weekly and stacks it with local tunes.

Stinky Jim and Joost Langveld – aka Unitone Hi-Fi – have established a Soundcloud page to showcase their discography on Bandcamp. And it includes this free download:

Robert Scott has done a Songwriters Choice for Audioculture and it's an interesting selection.



I've been exploring the considerable online presence of the Rotterdam-based DJ-producer Ronny Hammond and I believe I've found a new favourite. There are tracks like this slinky groover (free DL, just click through and hit the button marked "Magic Button"):

And this new funky mixtape (free DL):

And an older one, more on the fuzzy disco tip. Equally cool - and also a free download (just click that little down arrow).

A bangin' edit of Laneway 2018 headliner Anderson.Paak (free DL):

There's also this, from an incredible new three-hour compilation of edits – everything from Fela Kuti to Bobby Womack – from the Canadian label Speakeasy, which is free on Bandcamp.

A gorgeous techno remix of The Juan McLean's 'The Brighter the Light'...

Which comes from this very cool free La.Ga.Sta. compilation on Bandcamp. (Also includes a Dimitri from Paris rework of a Salsoul Orchestra oldie and an intriguing Marine Girls(!) edit.)


And that really is enough for your weekend kitchen-dancing requirements, I believe. See you next week when I'm not half-dead with a cold.


Drugs and human rights

Had the leaders of the National Party contented themselves with simply promising more resources for police along with a long-overdue boost of $40 million for drug dependence services (including a very welcome 1500 new inpatient beds), their announcement today would have been quite admirable. But that, you'd have to guess, would not have suited their electoral purpose.

So instead, we had this:

In an extraordinary press conference following the announcement at the Higher Ground drug rehabilitation centre in West Auckland, Bennett said some gang members had "fewer" human rights than others and Prime Minister Bill English said it was good that New Zealand lacked a written constitution as it gave governments flexibility.

Police would be able to search the houses and cars of known gang members with a previous serious violent conviction at any time with no warrant under the new law, which Bennett admitted presented a human rights issue.

"It probably does breach the rights of some of those criminals but they have to have had a serious violent offence behind them already and a firearm charge and on the basis of that we are going ahead with it," Bennett said.

Asked point blank whether she believed criminals had human rights, Bennett replied "some have fewer human rights than others when they are creating a string of victims behind them."

It's a deep irony that these words were spoken at Higher Ground, a facility which exists to help its clients believe that they are human beings, with rights and responsibilities like all of us – a place where people who have gone lower than low participate in their own rehabilitation.

And it's ironic too, that a party seeking elected power would push in the opposite direction to the rest of the democratic world. As disappointing as the outcome document from last year's United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs was, one of the big wins in the document and the process that forged it was its call for member states to bring drug enforcement activities in line with human rights obligations:

Promote and implement effective criminal justice responses to drug-related crimes to bring perpetrators to justice that ensure legal guarantees and due process safeguards pertaining to criminal justice proceedings, including practical measures to uphold the prohibition of arbitrary arrest and detention and of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and to eliminate impunity, in accordance with relevant and applicable international law and taking into account United Nations standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice, and ensure timely access to legal aid and the right to a fair trial.

New Zealand signed up to this document. The National Party now proposes that we renege on that commitment by moving to deny human rights to certain people. In doing so, it would move us in the direction of Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody purge is literally based on dehumanising drug users. It's hardly police death squads, but it is a tiny step in that direction.

Yes, there are bad people in gangs, and some of them have been convicted of dealing or manufacturing controlled drugs. Some of them may have continued to do so and it's the job of the police to bring them to justice. But if they have served their sentences it is a breach of our Bill of Rights to indefinitely subject them to arbitrary searches.

Bennett's tidy demarcation of drug dealers and users into merciless baddies on one hand and victims on the other is also not reflected in the real world, but it appears it will be reflected in her role in charge of the government's new methamphetamine strategy. From the Herald's report on her appointment to that role last month:

The Bay's Te Tuinga Whanau Support Service executive director Tommy Wilson said the current system of criminalising people needed to change.

"[We don't need] task forces of police coming in," he said. "The secret is to reconnect them."

Mr Wilson said there were common factors between those in the region who had fallen on hard times.

"I've found the same set of circumstances and solutions with both homelessness and P users, and that is that they're disconnected people.

"Connection to your marae, your sporting group, your church. Put the resources into those organisations, and you'll get a change and answers.

In other words, the most effective solution to drug problems is making people feel more like citizens, not less.

The package announced today also includes a proposed new charge of "wilful contamination", which represents a doubling-down on the "meth contamination" boondoggle and represents another way of criminalising people with drug problems. It's hard to take seriously as a public health measure from a government that refuses to mandate that rentals meet basic health standards in other respects.

And there will be another thing we haven't seen before: drug dogs as a commonplace at domestic airports and ferry terminals. This is unlikely to seriously hamper the meth trade – the most likely travellers to be caught will be those carrying a little weed. For the rest of us it'll feel just a bit more onerous to travel.

Still, at least we know where Paula Bennett and her party stand. And in being "flexible" about human rights, it's not with the rest of the United Nations community.