Hard News by Russell Brown


Big Night Outage

Our electricity supply returned about 2.30pm yesterday, ending an outage that began around 9pm during Tuesday night's storm in Auckland. I was grateful: our official resolution time was 6pm and I was prepared to be disappointed given the huge number of outages our lines company, Vector, was addressing. Households only a few minutes away from our place in Point Chevalier did endure another cold, dark night without power last night.

We had been prepared, to an extent, when the lights went out. I'd taken note of severe weather warnings earlier in the day and it was becoming clear that something big was going on outdoors. Friends in Muriwai, exposed on the west coast, were anxiously swapping notes about when and whether it might be time to get out. Happily, the newest, most robust and weathertight part of our house in the city was facing the weather. But I hadn't thought about the prospect of us losing power until I saw this this tweet from Cate Owen turned up in my feed (ignore the incorrect-as-usual Twitter timestamp):

I let everyone in the house know and by the time the lights did go go out about 20 minutes later, we had the candles and torches ready on the kitchen table We'd all charged our devices for as long as we could, but with a fully-charged power pack and an even bigger battery sitting in the porch on my e-bike, our USB-chargeable things were actually the least of our worries.

What's notable here is that the first direct warning that our power might well go out soon came from Cate, an individual (albeit one who works in comms), rather than any of the official services. Vector and Auckland Civil Defence had sent early-evening tweets reiterating severe weather warnings, but neither of them were anywhere to be seen online as the shit started to hit the fan.

Cate's tweet contained a screenshot from the Vector app, which I quickly downloaded. I'm used to using the outages map on Vector's website (our inner-city suburb is no stranger to infrastructure failures and, unlike Watercare Services, Vector is pretty good at communicating the location and likely duration of outages), but it made sense to get the app on my phone, right? Like everyone else in Auckland, I discovered that it was working barely if at all. Screenshots other people posted didn't even show our outage.

Over the next hour, multiple people tweeted about seeing flashes of light from arcing lines and – according to one tweet – multiple transformers in Mt Eden blowing up at once. Someone else said they'd seen the whole North Shore go dark at once. But there was no official word about that – even the Herald's live reporting seemed very light on urgency and detail. The nearest was this tweet from Weatherwarch's Philip Duncan, who was active through the night.

What I understand is that the ferocity of the storm and how quickly damage occured did take everyone by surprise. It may also have been the case that, in a summer of highly localised weather events, the impact was much worse in some places than others and that was hard to track.

At Vector, the app soon got overloaded as many thousands of users connected both to check outages and file reports of their own. When that didn't work, they turned en masse to Vector's call centre. The people who were nominally part of the after-hours Twitter team are part of the call centre, so they got caught up in that deluge.

Eventually, this slightly defensive message was tweeted out:

It wasn't really enough. Given the load problems being suffered by both the app and the call centre as around 200,000 homes and businesses (that's getting near half the homes and businesses in Auckland!) lost power, a steady flow of warnings, information and reassurances over social media channels where load isn't an issue would surely have been appropriate. And social media channels are, of course, two-way, which seems relevant when the reporting feature of the app was overwhelmed.

Auckland Civil Defence was worse, tweeting only once, very late in the piece and then later getting defensive, as its director John Dragicevich blathered about people's "common sense" but acknowledged some (shudder) "learnings" from the torrid night.

Dragicevich may have been as personally unsurprised as he says, but the appearance was that his organisation was caught unawares. Perhaps, like the rest of us, it may have had a touch of hazard fatigue. We get a lot of warnings, which is entirely appropriate, but there's a psychological tendency not to pay too much heed when many of them don't come to much.

Rather than posting a warning in advance then clocking off, the professional communicators at key organisations should be prepared to scramble when the shit clearly is hitting the fan. We've learned that in Christchurch and I thought official social media accounts did reasonably well during Wellington's tsunami scare in 2016.

In Auckland, the intensity of the storm clearly did come as a surprise, but the task for these organisations – especially as global weirding becomes the new normal for weather – is to make sure they can scale up very quickly from low-level business-as-usual.

My sense is that that conversation is already underway at Vector at least – and the work done in the past 30-odd hours by Vector's lines teams has been extraordinary. There are a lot of workers not seeing their own families so that households like ours have heat and light.

Anyway, we went to bed in the dark on Tuesday night. And when we woke it became clear to me that our own prep hadn't been all it could have. The relatively warm northwesterly winds of the storm had swung around to the southwest and we facing the coldest day of the year in a cold house. A cup of tea might have been nice, but I never did get around to buying one of those butane rings for emergencies. ("We can always boil water on the barbecue," I had thought to myself. Not yesterday morning in the rain we couldn't.) Happily, there was hot water still in the cylinder for a shower.

Something else became apparent: the mobile networks that had worked fine the night before were slow and flakey the morning after, sometimes stopping altogether. Was that a consquence of load in a powerless smartphone-owning suburb, depleted cellsite batteries, both?

As it turned out, there was a warm cafe only a kilometre away – the outage had not hit the whole suburb – and the bacon and eggs tasted great. I spent the rest of the day getting my hair cut in a powered-up part of Grey Lynn, then being taken to Prego for lunch (where the short ribs were a warming delight). I took pictures like this (a big gum tree near Countdown in Richmond Road had fallen, taking lines with it) along the way:

After lunch, I popped in to Bunnings for emergency firewood and a butane ring – the latter were sold out after a morning rush from powerless Grey Lynners.

As I said, I have friends nearby who may only get power back later today – and my west coast buddies won't light up till tomorrow. It seems evident that the longer-term fix for resilience will be the undergrounding of more lines (yes, Christchurch friends, your underground services broke in the earthquakes, but our doomsday risk is a volcanic eruption, which would also be unkind to overhead lines). But until then, yep, I reckon I'm going to reassess our emergency prep. And get one of those gas rings.


We should stop being surprised about racism

Fourteen years ago last month, Bic Runga flew into a storm. Down near the bottom of a glowing profile headed Is this the next Norah Jones? in Northern Ireland's Belfast Telegraph, these lines appeared:

She says her childhood was tough and racism was a constant feature.

"Relationships can be really bad between Maoris and others," she says. "The Australian situation is probably better known abroad, but unfortunately New Zealand can be a racist place too."

As luck would have it, she landed back in Auckland the day after the profile was published, to the Herald headline NZ a racist place, Bic Runga tells Irish paper. And this opening paragraph:

Christchurch singing sensation Bic Runga, who left New Zealand to further her career in Paris last year, has labelled her homeland racist.

The musician, who is half Maori and half Chinese, was quoted in the Belfast Telegraph as saying "relationships can be really bad between Maoris and others".

No welcome home, no congratulations on rave reviews on both sides of the Irish border; just a "please explain". She issued a press release the following day in which she assured the country:

"No country is without racism, I grew up with it, that was my experience. It has not made me bitter or ashamed.

"New Zealand is a beautiful and unique place. I love my country and I am proud to represent it internationally."

She declined to be interviewed by the Herald, but did come on the 95bFM Wire show I was hosting and was clearly a bit rattled by events. And understandably so. She was entitled to talk about her experience without the implication that she was somehow selling out the country.

As I wrote at the time, we should hardly be surprised that a Maori-Chinese kid growing up  in Hornby in the 1970s would experience racism. And on contemporary Māori-Pakeha relations? Don Brash had delivered his Orewa speech that same summer, for goodness sake.

The parallels a decade and half later with this week's Taika Waititi furore are quite striking. I actually included the link to his joint interview with UMO's Ruban Neilson in Dazed and Confused in last week's music post, excerpting a part I thought cast some light on the themes of Ruban's new album. I didn't make anything of Taika and Ruban exchanging notes on growing up brown, because why would I? It wasn't my experience – that's the point.

And yet, here we are again, in a predictable set-piece furore. I guess it's good that we have the discussion again, and that there is some counter-argument (although leaving Stuff comments open rather takes the shine off  that). But we really need to accept that our creative stars are not paid ambassadors and that they are as entitled as any of us to share their views and, even more so, their experiences.

We should stop ripping quotes out of context (I mean, in the part where Taika calls Aucklanders "very patronising" he's ragging on an Aucklander – what's more Kiwi than that?). And we really need to stop professing shock when well-known people observe, off the back of their own experience, that racism remains a blight in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Friday Music: A Turning Point for Tono

I took the northwestern cycleway to the first of Anthonie Tonnon's season of shows with a full band last night. It marks something of a turning point:  nine of the dozen songs played were new – including one, a synth instrumental called 'Entertainment', that might be on the album after the forthcoming one.

There are some kinks to be ironed out, but it was nice both to hear a new set and to hear the songs (including the older ones) with a band filling them out. Lot 23 is both an excellent and unusual venue. The house PA, built for opera (and recently hired out for Moodymann's Auckland show), is incredibly precise and I actually had a great time just sitting enjoying the playlist between sets (listening party, anyone?). But the room is set up as a production studio, and has the odd effect of hushing everyone between songs.

If you're going along to the second show tonight, I'd recommend getting there early – to snaffle a seat (sitting on concrete floors is for the young folk) and to catch Sandy Mill and Dianne Swann playing as a duo in support. I reckon there's a lot of potential in that setup.

Meanwhile, Tono was on fire.

He's touring a lot of places this month, both with the band and solo. Check and see whether your town's on the list.


The new UMO album, Sex and Food, is out today. I can't really tell what most of the songs are about (well, okay, 'American Guilt' is clear enough) but it sees Ruban Neilson take the supple funk of the last album in a dirtier, darker messier direction. It's a funky rock record and it's cool.

Ruban and Taika Waititi got interviewed together (over Skype) by Dazed and Confused, and I think this quote provides a good steer to the themese of the record.

When I’m writing, I feel like I just look round and see what’s going on and then write about what I find interesting. It might come across that I’m saying dark things, but with a New Zealand sense of humour the default is to go dark, (though) it might not seem that way to me. I’m not trying to make any judgment, I just want to write about the feeling of wandering around, looking at what’s going on in the world and making little statements about it without real opinions. I’m actually kinda sick of opinions now; we’ve been bombarded with them for a couple of years now and it’s sort of worthless, eh?

And there's a tour to look forward to:


American indie Dais Records is re-releasing the recorded work of Straford's finest Nocturnal Projections on April 27. There's a video preview with a lot of heartwarming old photographs in it ...

There's a pre-order page on Bandcamp, but only for the digital version of the album.

On release day, Graeme Jefferies plays solo at The Wine Cellar.


Garth Cartwright's years-in-the-making book Going For A Song: A Chronicle of the UK Record Shop seems to be getting a good reception. The Quietus has an extract about The Cartel and Probe Records. I'll have to get the e-book, not least because I had a chat to Garth for the book about my experiences both working in and visiting British record shops.


Aaaaand some new local videos ....

Boycrush brings in the New Zealand Dance company for 'Demi-pointes':

And old-fashioned on-tour clip for Carb on Carb's 'Nicole's Expres':

And High Hoops gets slinky and poolside for 'Body':




The Unitec project: Something new, with a rolling start

Nothing we weren't already doing, said Opposition leader Simon Bridges this morning in response to yesterday's announcement by Housing minister Phil Twyford that, in the first iniative under Labour's Kiwibuild policy, between 3000 and 4000 homes will be built on what is currently the sprawling campus of Unitec, which sits between the inner-city suburbs of Mt Albert, Waterview and Point Chevalier.

This much is true: as of last month, the tertiary institution had begun talking to private developers who might eventually buy the land it was freeing up by consolidating to the south end of the campus. What we know as of yesterday is that the government itself has bought the land and plans to develop it with a mix of public, affordable and open-market housing. It is nonsensical for Bridges and his colleagues to claim that Labour's plan is what the former government was already up to.

What is also true is that Labour does get a rolling start out of this deal. Unitec's plans for the land emerged through a big, complex set of submissions to the Auckland Unitary Plan process in 2014, which were formalised in the Plan as The Wairaka Precinct, in which the commissioners set out policies and expectations for development. Since then, Unitec has formed the Wairaka Land Company to conduct its property activities, but was yet to produce a confirmed master plan for the project.

But, via the Unitary Plan, it already has planning permission for 3000 dwellings – and has already produced this subdivision map, which has now been picked up and provided on MBIE's Kiwibuild "progress page", in lieu of the government's own masterplan.

So the scoffing from Bridges, his Housing spokesperson Judith Collins, Act leader David Seymour and their loyal friend Mike Hosking as to the impossibility of fitting so many homes on the site seems quite confused. That actually happened on the last government's watch. (The misunderstanding is perhaps understandable in light of the history of the project, which has hitherto seen central government take only the most passive part in any of it.)

Of course, in making the project its own, the new government is also embracing all its problems and challenges. Roads, schools and services will all have to be provided to this new town on the city fringe – and Labour will also be dealing with a well-organised residents' association that knows the detail.

This summary of the project, compiled for the Mt Albert Residents Association by town planner Craig Magee, is what you need to read. It effectively collects all of MARA's reporting on the project. MARA seems likely to play an important role as a constructive critic.

If it all goes to plan, the population of the area will increase by about 10,000 over the next five to 10 years – in a faster and more structured way than it would have had Unitec continued with its proposal to sell land piecemeal to commercial developers.

That's a good thing. The area is on a planned frequent bus route (although Carrington Road will need to be widened) and a key cycle route, and it sits between an existing heavy rail station at Mt Albert and a proposed light rail stop at the Point Chevalier town centre.

So there's a much to commend this venture as the test case for Kiwibuild. Now Phil Twyford and his government have to get on and build it. And, having watched the biggest urban transport project in New Zealand history come to fruitition on the edge of Unitec's land in Waterview, those of us in the surrounding suburbs will be watching a different, even more ambitious, plan take shape. Auckland is changing.


Friday Music: Golden Dawn is closing. Start your own fucking band.

Last Friday night I was in a happy place. I'd witnessed an intense, exultant performance by Orchestra of Spheres and now I was not so much dancing as having a spiritual experience with some classic Loft disco records.

The big chap in a tea-cosy hat having a a boogie nearby also seemed to be enjoying himself. It was only later I realised he was American jazz visionary Kamasi Washington, who'd come down with his band after playing a sold-out show at the Powerstation.

It turned out that one of Kamasi's drummers (he has two) had asked a fan where they might go and relax after the show, and was told that their best chance of good music was a place called Golden Dawn, in Ponsonby. It was their happy place, too.

Golden Dawn – or to give it its formal title, The Golden Dawn Tavern of Power – is closing down, seven years after it opened as a two-year pop-up. Tomorrow is its last night on earth.

Where will we send black jazz visionaries for a dance now? And more to the   point, where are we going to go? To say that this Ponsonby oasis will leave a cultural gap ain't the half of it. But, as Matthew Crawley and Nick Harrison tell Henry Oliver over at The Spinoff today, they're tired and they need a rest.

This checks out. Although the bar has been fortunate to have sympathetic owner-investors, its real secret sauce came straight from the hearts of the people who ran it night-by-night. And you can't pour your soul into something like this forever.

While the GD's two-worlds arrangement – guitars indoors and grooves in the yard – might be hard to replicate in another building, I think the thing that's portable, should anyone else care to try, is the sense of event. Want your bar to be better? Treat it like it's special. Book weird artists and treat them well. Put interesting drinks on the bar. Act like you care, be eclectic and have good taste, even at the risk of the news media depicting you as a snob.

And if no one's doing that for you as a punter, demand more from your bars. Ask if the local could put on better DJs, or organise something yourself. Start your own fucking band, basically.

The bar has been speeding towards oblivion this year by putting on a show every night for the last three months. And happily, all of that has been captured by a team led by sound engineer Bob Frisbee, on video and in 5.1 surround sound. You can help them complete There's No Sign On The Door: The Tavern Of Power Concert Movie by chipping in a little to their Boosted campaign. If you're ever had a great night at the bar, consider sending a dollar their way.

I've had quite a few great nights at Golden Dawn since I was directed there seven years ago by New Zealand's current Prime Minister. And I'm proud to have been part of the art by presenting all our Orcon IRL events there, and doing occasional DJ gigs, both with and without my turntable buddy Sandy Mill. We're part of quite a tribe – the likes of Tiny Ruins and Anthonie Tonnon have both played there and worked the bar.

I'm not sure if I'll make Saturday's closing party. Last night – with Voom and Shaft playing inside and Stinky Jim, Cian and Geezer Guy in the yard – was jam-packed and there was a slightly manic air about it all. Maybe I'll swing by on Saturday afternoon (it's open from midday for the paying of respects). Or maybe I'm kidding myself and I'l try and squeeze in for one more lash at it.

However it ends up, I'd like to thank Matthew, Nick and everyone else, for being good people. We need more good people. Now, start your own fucking band.


 In other news, I was delighted to accept the invitation to present this year's Taite Music Prize classic record: which is the Headless Chickens' debut, Stunt Clown.

It's 30 years this year since Stunt Clown was released. It still sounds good – and surprisingly fresh, perhaps because it's the sound of a group reaching for new things. This is the quote I have the organisers this week:

From the strange field samples that open ‘Expecting to Fly’ on in, Stunt Clown is the sound of a band not just waiting for change but imposing change on itself. Made in fraught circumstances – who would have thought winning $60,000 to make a record would be such a pain? – it radically expanded the Chickens’ palette. It plays now as the bridge between the band’s experimental origins and later pop success, but it stands on its own as an ambitious, strikingly varied work. Literally no one in New Zealand was making music like this at the time – they had to invent it. The Taite judges got it right when they chose this album to honour.

I'm looking forward to the ceremony on April 17. Meanwhile, here's a previously-unpublished picture of the band from the amazing Brian Murphy archive.


 A number of times in the past few years I've directed you to tunes by the British DJ Nicolas Laugier, aka The Reflex, whose special thing is edits – or rather "re-visions" of classic (and more recently, contemporary) tunes from the original multi-track stems. He often finds something completely new amid the tracks that were buried in the original mix, as is the case with his take on Stevie Wonder's 'Living for the City':

Well, the good news is, he's playing here for the first time next month:

If you can't make to Auckland or it's just past your bedtime (I feel you), he has a whole bunch of stuff on Bandcamp, including this bundle of 45 free edits to download.


New dates for the Anthonie Tonnon full band tour, which launches in Auckland on April 5.

And also, because he's a thinker as well as a dreamer, Tono's advice on How to get to Auckland Airport for $4.80.

Congrats to Indira Force and Mille Lovelock of Astro Children, the two New Zealand representatives at the 2018 Red Bull Music Academy. It's in Berlin this year.

And finally, an interesting – and sympathetic – look at the relatively poor crowds for Lorde's current US tour. She's actually not alone in struggling to fill arenas at the moment, as Laura Snapes points out:

Lorde isn’t the only major pop artist who has struggled to fill arenas in the US recently. Arcade Fire, Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding have all played to less-than sold-out rooms; Jay-Z’s 4:44 tour was his highest grossing solo tour, but had low ticket sales, while forthcoming tours by Smashing Pumpkins and Taylor Swift are reportedly not the sellouts that had been expected. Inflated ticket prices could be one cause, and, to a limited degree, blocks snapped up by secondary ticketing sites that didn’t manage to offload their haul. Maybe the trend also says something about the difficulty of persuading a relatively passive, streaming-inclined audience to invest in an artist.

I agree with Snapes that the top of the pop charts probably doesn't represent Lorde's destiny as an artist. When you look at the upper reaches of Spotify, it's actally kind of a horrorshow, and Melodrama, a critical favourite and an award-winner, has not found a place there. But selling 6000 tickets on a tour date only looks like a failure when you're trying to fill an 18,000-seat arena. She has plenty ahead of her.