Hard News by Russell Brown


Some sort of pun on "Groove" goes here

There has been a chorus of informed post-mortems since it was announced that Real Groove magazine has ceased to exist as a monthly publication, and will be merged into its more modest sibling, the weekly listings freesheet Groove Guide.

Duncan Grieve's post is as serious and insightful as any of his best writing for the magazine; Gary Steel marvels that the magazine gave him a regular place to write about "obscure and experimental music" for nearly 15 years, and Joe Nunweek, a young and latterday writer, observes thus:

We’re at a strange and possibly unprecedented time for music. The days when people bought selectively (30 bucks for a CD, hopefully not dropped lightly) and gave, say, critics and writers scrutiny before going ahead are gone. The only thing separating you from one of the most premier music archivists of his day is how good a deal you’ve got on your broadband connection, and while this has deflated a lot of the snobbery and exclusivity around music, the reification of the obscure, it’s also meant that we will never run out of the stuff again. We have more of it than we know what to do with, like so much ballast in our MP3 player.

Although I was never a key writer on the magazine, I contributed on and off over its history, and I've known some of the people who wrote on it since I was the 20 year-old deputy editor of Rip It Up. And that's a lonnng time ago.

The first I knew of Real Groove was when I bumped into John Dix at Real Groovy Records and he told me, with some delight, that the owner of the store, Chris Hart, had okayed a plan to publish a music magazine. It must have been 1992. John would be the founding editor and the first incarnation of the mag was a faintly-printed A4 newsprint affair.

A string of editors followed – among them fine music journalists like Chris Bourke, Nick Bollinger and Duncan Grieve – but I suspect I'm not alone in thinking that the great Real Groove editor was John Russell.

John came from the old Rip It Up (as did any number of its writers, including, in a roundabout way, me) and he brought with him a vital intuition: music fans benefited when they could develop a sense of trust in a writer. It wasn't only important what was said, but who was saying it.

John had many other virtues as an editor, but for me that was the main one, and I thought his successor, Brock Oliver, drove something out of the magazine when he had it redesigned so that bylines were almost undetectably small on the page. The relationship was gone and the stories consequently seemed generic. I thought Duncan got it back on track by re-emphasising the strong personalities in his stable of writers.

Publisher Vincent Heeringa came to be the guy fronting the news through a roundabout route: the former general manager at Real Groovy Records, Steve Richards, bought Real Groove from Real Groovy two years ago (after the main business struck trouble, and a month before it went into receivership) and traded in a joint venture with Tangible Media until May 2009, when he was bought out. Then Vincent's company, HB Media, publisher of Idealog, Good and Marketing magazines -- merged with Tangible.

Talking to Wammo on the radio, he explained the reasoning behind the closure of the monthly title – it was costing more than it was making, basically. He also said that the magazine had been "out of step with where New Zealand consumers are at" and that there was a "falling appetite for reading longform articles about music."

Whereas, he said, Groove Guide, with its focus on listings, serves "people's need to know what's on and what to do right now."

Wammo pointed out that the loss of longform meant the loss of the bravura on-tour story, the classic interview. Which is true, but to some extent, musicians tell their own stories now, and while that's not a substitute for a truly great tour story, it's not a bad thing in itself.

I do hope some of the edge (and occasionally, anger) of Real Groove is allowed to come over to the new Groove Guide. Weekly freesheets serve live music scenes in cities all over the world, but they really only work when they're a bit sassy. They should write about their cultural communities, spawn personalities and occasionally piss people off.

And, in conclusion, if it hasn't occurred to you already, the thoughtful writing on the magazine's demise – ranging from personal memories to meditations on modern media – has been done entirely by journalists writing blogs. The print media has been confined to merely recording the news. That is significant.


One Real Groove writer who keeps a fine and feisty blog is Hussein Moses at The Corner. He spawned a discussion about Gary Steel's column in the new Metro condemning the New Zealand Music Awards as a RIANZ closed shop, the record companies as pimps and "NZ On Air (paid for by our taxes) [for] acting like a go-between finding the best knocking shops in which to display these wares."

Steel responded with a blog post of his own, a rather startling portion of which was occupied with personal attacks on me, as a "media vampire" and various other things. Given that I'd posted only one brief comment to the discussion that wasn't even addressed to Gary, I was rather puzzled by the assault. For the record, I think his column makes some useful points but is let down by factual errors. I've opined some more on the music awards themselves in the Corner thread if you're interested.

Tonight, is of course, awards night, and I'm looking forward to it. If I'm not so fussed on some of the finalists this year, I concur entirely with the view expressed by Rip It Up editor Phil Bell in an excellent interview with Charlotte on bFM's Morning Glory today – it should be online here soon.

I do enjoy the general bacchanale of awards night, and I do not plan to be home early.

And yes, there is still time to invite me to your after-parties. Holla.


And a couple of thing to listen out for. If you've ever loved the work of Robert Scott, you need to get your hands on Ends Run Together, his new solo album on Flying Nun. It is wonderful.

And on Friday October 15, the world gets a new Disasteradio album: Charisma. Luke has been dropping preview tracks like little electronic lollies for a couple of weeks. You can find links to his Facebook, YouTube and Bandcamp on his home page here, and his Twitter is here. He is so nice.

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