Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Some Year

On Tuesday of this week, Jackson Perry and I joined about a hundred other people at the King's Arms to watch Broods play their first live show. In one sense, that's nothing unusual. Plenty of bands have made their first foray onto the stage at the KA. In another sense, the show was not only unusual -- it was unprecedented.

Broods recently signed a very big international record deal off the back of their sole recorded song.  It was the song, the connection with Lorde's producer and collaborator Joel Little  -- and the fact that they came from New Zealand. (Happily, the private debut gig showed they have plenty more songs -- and that Georgia Nott can really sing. The public gets to hear them at Rhythm & Vines.) That's where New Zealand music finds itself at the end of this extraordinary year -- with the world listening.

And happily, there's something to hear. It's summed up quite nicely in the playlist Lorde did for us a couple of weeks ago. If you haven't explored that music yet, go and have a listen -- most of it's free for the download. All year, our sponsors, TheAudience, have been delivering even more of it. Duos, solo bedroom producers, teenagers making deep confident music, even as they work out who they really are. They're influenced by the pop music around them, but they're making something their own. I think there's a strong enough identity to this music that it's reasonable to see it as akin to the original flowering of the Flying Nun years.

The difference now is that this a mostly a virtual community. But it still really turns on things that happen in the real world -- Lorde meeting Joel Little -- and the real-world experience of key figures like Ashley Page, who introduced Little to Broods and now manages both of them. Not to mention the Notts' own expereince in the Rockquest-winning band that didn't quite get over the line, The Peasants. Everybody learns what works and what mistakes to avoid next time.

The shakeup of NZ On Air's music funding structure that delivered the Making Tracks scheme and pared back the stultifying influence of commercial music radio turns out to have been timely, which isn't to say it wouldn't benefit from some further evolution. The matching digital initiatives of TheAudience and Audioculture -- the new and the heritage -- have enriched the the environment.

On a personal level, it's been a pleasure to be involved in Simon Grigg's vision for Audioculture and to help make real its core idea that our popular music is woven into our shared history. The article I wrote on the 1984 Queen Street riot was an example that drew out so many stories. And there's much, more more to come.

It'll be interesting to see how all that has happened around this record looks in 20 years' time:

Yes, I know, I've written about Lorde, a lot. But I've listened to Pure Heroine more than any other album this year and I don't see how anyone who is interested in music could not find the whole phenomenon compelling. It's a record that has slightly shifted the axis of pop music.

I don't really claim to do "Best Of" lists -- it's just what I found and liked and there's far too much music now pretend to declare what's actually objectively the "best". But I liked these too ...

The Phoenix Foundation, Fandango: Rich, prodigious and fruitful. I don't think I've unwound the whole thing yet.

James Blake, Overgrown: Blake's arty inversion of soul music might sometimes seem a little too soothing, but it's beautiful and intriguing. And it was nice to discover that he can bring it to the live dancehall. He'll be unmissable at Laneway.

The Arcade Fire, Reflektor: James Murphy showed he had more to give after ending LCD Soundsyystem by helping the band deliver this sprawling, rapturous record, which calls  to mind Talking Heads, among other things. Far and away the thing I'm looking forward to most at the Big Day Out.

Mathew Bannister, Evolver: Because sometimes good things happen. Matthew's cover album of the Beatles' Revolver was crafted with love and is lovely.

Arthur Ahbez, Gold: Another labour of love, made solo at home on vintage analogue gear found on Trade Me. Just gloriously out of its time.

Janine and the Mixtape, Dark Mind EP: This record took me by surprise. I played it, played it again and then played it really loud. It's a remarkable solo expression of the soul and R&B music she comes from.

Ladi 6, Automatic: Quite different from the bouncy, beaty sound of the Berlin-produced The Liberation Of ..., this album taps into the new hip hop sound of Detroit. It's strong and soulful, seriously confident and confidently serious. Ladi has come of age with this record.

Trick Mammoth, Floristry: Just to show it's not all MPCs and Ableton, classic Dunedin indie pop, from Dunedin. Released today as an eight-dollar download on Bandcamp (and on vinyl). It's lovely, it really is. John Campbell, you need this record.


Some video ...

My favourite local music video of the year - Princess Chelsea's cover of Voom's 'We're So Lost'

Nothing warmed my heart more than the video of Chic at this year's Glastonbury festival. I'm so envious of John Baker for getting to dance on the actual stage ...

Of all the funny little videos I shot on my phone this year, this is the most murky and the most amazing. Playing solo as Lawrence Arabia at Golden Dawn in May, James Milne seemed to have finished a great set. Instead, he walked into the bar, sat down at the old piano and did this as the crowd gradually streamed in after him. It really was one of the most amazing moments I've experienced at a gig. (And kids, I've been to a lot of gigs.)

And finally, brand new: the fifth and final Orcon:Next video I made (with much help!) for the Herald website. The theme is music (hey, it's Friday) and it features Lorde's manager Scott Maclachlan, the smart and soulful Keegan Fepuleai and my old friend Shayne Carter, who talks about teaching himself to play piano for a forthcoming album, just to get out of his comfort zone:


It's tracks time! these are some of my favourite Soundcloud scores of the year. I've stuck with the ones still offering a free download, so there are a few faves missing. But there's more than enough to be going on with for y'all here ...

Sam Scott has been free and easy with his stems in a bid to get as many interesting remixes as possible out of Fandango. I think the She's So Rad one is my favourite.

This housed-up remix of Watercolours' 'Pazzida' didn't get the attention it deserves. It's a beauty.

As I said, a whole crowd of local DJ-producers showed up this year. I think High Hoops, who I first noticed on TheAudience, is one of the best of them. Some delicious disco here ...

The young Australian DJ Thomas Jack has posted a lot of good stuff this year. This is a great example:

This blissed-out cover version of 'I Feel Love' is fun to play as a DJ, then watch people gradually twig what it is.

A wicked remix of the Talking Heads classic ...

And then of course, there were the Lorde remixes and edits. This one from Cousin Cole finds the deep house track hiding inside 'Ribs':

It was a cool, adventurous move of Lorde to release a cover of the Replacements' 'Swingin' Party' as the flip of her second single, 'Tennis Court'. And then local producer The Basement Tapes did this beautiful thing with it.

This languid hip hop deconstruction of 'Team' ...

This cool rework of 'A World Alone' by Lost Empire ...

And, perhaps most of all, Jamaican DJ Busy Signal's amazing new track on the 'Royals' rhythm. It would be quite something if that stark, spare beat was to become the next hot dancehall rhythm.

Finally, here's the perfect thing for sunny summer days. Sixty groovy, surprising minutes of goodness from the Dutch DJ crew RocknRolla Soundsystem:

Enjoy yourselves, love music, dance, dance, dance.


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