On this day five years ago, Audioculture, the "noisy library of New Zealand music", launched to the public. It really doesn't seem that long.
At the time, I was on the board of the NZ On Screen Trust, which was renamed the Digital Media Trust in recognition of its expanded responsibilities. The original vision for an archive came from Simon Grigg, who had nurtured it for least three years before that, and the idea evolved and took shape as we secured funding and moved towards making it a real thing.
But one thing never changed: the belief that our popular music is culture and that all the things around that culture are part of it too.
There were some early battles around the nature and style of articles on the site. Some of my board colleagues felt that a crisp, systematic encylopaedia was in order. After all, no one was going to read a 2000-word epic about a band that broke up 20 years ago, were they? Yeah, they totally were. And (I know, because I now see the numbers in an advisory capacity) they still are. Audioculture's time-spent-on-page in Google Analytics continues to be off the freakin' hook.
We learned a few things. One is that photographs are really important. Great pics – and so many of the early ones came from Murray Cammick – weren't just loved by people who used the site, they told stories that couldn't be told any other way. And they were our best marketing tool.
Over the five years Audioculture has surfaced important image collections that would not otherwise have come to light. Sara Leigh Lewis's wonderful images of the emerging Auckland punk scene tell a story not just of some weird kids in bands, but of the changing city itself (there's a second lot here, added in 2015).
Sara went on to a professional photographic career. My old mate Gordon Bartram didn't, but his images of the Christchurch music scene in the early 80s – just a kid who brought his snappy camera to gigs – are precious too. More recently, I was able to pass on an extraordinary trove of photographs from late 80s Auckland that Brian Murphy had taken.
In many cases, Simon just went to people's places with a scanner under his arm and stayed there while they opened trunks and boxes that hadn't been disturbed for years. The vast majority of the images he found and published would not otherwise have seen the light of day. His guess is that about 90% of the photographs on Audioculture had not been available on the internet before.
The other thing we learned was that what what we called "Scenes" – that is, articles that weren't artist profiles or label backgrounders – were generally the most popular reading on the site. The most-viewed article in five years (and it still turns up in the stats, month after month) is Michael Hollywood's journey through the Wellington nightclubs of the 1980s. I think people like those venue histories because they were there and part of the story. It's an illustration of the stake we all have in this culture that grew around us as we grew up.
Simon, having put his heart and soul into the project, stepped back in September last year, although he remains officially (and keenly) involved as Founding Editor. His place as content director has been taken by Chris Bourke, who brings both a depth of knowledge and the skills of a musical historian. He's aided in his work by Steven Shaw, Audioculture's site editor and secret weapon. I can't emphasise enough how important it's been having someone there with both editing skills and an affinity for the content that flows from being a musician himself.
Audioculture's relationship with the culture it covers has always been different to that of its marvellous sibling. The heritage film and TV material NZ On Screen presents overwhelmingly is the content on that site. By contrast, music is available everywhere these days and the heart of Audioculture is the pictures, the stories, the memories around it all. The most important thing now might have been shared by only a few hundred people back in the day. It was always going to be a little more, well ... noisy.
I'm proud of my little part in all this and grateful to everyone else who has helped – not least Brendan Smyth at NZ On Air, who found a way to fund the idea in the first place. If you're a longtime reader, you might have noticed that Chris is steering an effort to update all the stub articles written early on just so many artists were at least mentioned. I recently did the update on the Androidss, and I have similar updates on Bird Nest Roys and Diatribe coming up. You'll also note the effort to involve more women, Māori and Pasifika contributors.
So, just take some time, dive in, browse and search. And spend as long on the page as you like.
Here are the the Top 10 most-viewed pages on Audioculture, 2013 to 2018:
2. Darcy Clay
And a couple of great new ones:
Alan Perrott on the amazing story of Mark Williams, the boy from Dargaville. That's an upgrade, and there's a second part on his years in Australia coming soon.
And the late Alan Brunton's previously unpublished ‘Hey Bird’ – an essay on rock’n’roll Christchurch in the late 1950s that was brought to Audioculture's attention by one of his literary executors, Martin Edmond, who worked with Brunton in the Red Mole troupe.
The first thing I noticed about Marlon Williams' show at Auckland Town Hall on Saturday night was that about half the audience looked old enough to be his grandparents.
I don't, I hasten to add, mean that in a bad way. But it was striking that a 27 year-old artist can fill the Town Hall twice with people who were three or four decades into the journey when he was born.
Sure, he has that choir-schooled voice and he could make a career out of crooning through church tours. But what struck me about the show is the extent to which he didn't do that.
One moment his band the Yarra Benders were sounding like the Bad Seeds and the next he was offering some stage banter about not understanding trap music ("I don't know how to behave!") that soared majestically over the heads of most of those present. It was surprising, funny, and at times pleasingly weird.
There were quirky cover versions – Yoko Ono's 'Nobody Sees Me Like You Do' and Barry Gibb's 'Carried Away', which, Williams explained with a nerdy delight, had been rejected by Barbara Streisand for her chart-topping album with Gibb, Guilty – and towards the end of the show, there was this.
Amazing. And not long after, he and his band were embracing onstage to celebrate the final concert of a 67-date international tour.
It wasn't the only good music of the night. Julia Deans has been playing support on the New Zealand tour and for the two Auckland dates she supplemented her live band with her friends and fellow singers Celia Church and Anna Coddington, who stood alongside her at the front of the stage for about half the set. It was a band put together to play songs from her new album We Light Fire, but it also found fresh ways through her debut, Modern Fables: 'A New Dialogue' seemed to take flight with those three voices aboard.
She finished solo with the title track from We Light Fire and got a big and richly-deserved ovation. I gather that at other dates on this tour, she's had to suffer people talking through her set. Those people are not only rude but massive musical ignoramuses and I am extremely grateful that their ilk didn't seem much in evidence on Saturday night.
I spent the hours afterwards contemplating what I'd seen and heard and wondering whether this will come to be regarded as a golden era for our music. There are so many of these talented, resourceful singers and songwriters now. They seem able to call on musicians who can do justice to their work, and managers who can get them where they need to be. And yes, in the streaming age they won't always trouble the charts, or get much traction on global-generic commercial radio – but that doesn't really matter. It's basically irrelevant. People are making art here.
Today is, of course, the final day of New Zealand Music Month 2018. It wasn't always the thing it is now, and last Saturday on Music 101, Alex Behan did a really great job of explaining the story. You can catch up with the text and audio here. It's really worth your time.
Congratulations to Graeme Downes, whose Verlaines songs 'Lucky In My Dreams' from the album Way Out Where and 'Angela' from the album Juvenilia have been picked up for use in Big Dogs, a new US crime thriller series set in New York City, based on the book Rivers of Gold by Adam Dunn.
This is also a real win for Songbroker, the Jan Hellriegel-founded site where Graeme's catalogue is available for licensing. Songbroker recently opened an office in Los Angeles, where it is being represented by Greg Johnson.
And congrats of a different nature to She's So Rad's Jeremy Toy for getting up and coming back from a horrible accident in which he was taken out by a drunk motorcyclist as he was unloading his gear after a gig. That guy contributes so much and it's not the first shitty thing to happen to him. You can read more in Hussein Moses's story on The Spinoff (which also includes an exclusve embed of a new She's So Rad song, 'You and I').
Firstly, Boycrush's twinkling new tune:
And a meeting of giants: Iggy Pop joins Underworld to make an outright fuckin' banger.
I mentioned Jeremy Toy: here he is with a new track as his soulful alter-ego Leonard Charles:
And because the guy clearly doesn't know how to rest up, an EP of lovely, chunky, fuzzy grooves, all free to download.
Anna Coddington and Dick Johnson are back as Clicks, with a dancefloor single that manager to be both sharp and so very smooth. On the streams or for sale here on Bandcamp.
A tender, spooky sad new single from James Blake that seems to have come out of nowhere:
A great 90-minute afro-disco mix that's a free download:
Brazilian techno master Gui Boratto is back. Interview here.
And, finally, something awesome from the Unofficial Flying Nun Vault: Toy Love playing 'Death Rehearsal' at the Hillsborough in Christchurch in 1980. Yeah, that's what all the fuss was about ...