Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Look at the graceful way she dances / one foot speaks / the other one answers

And then just when you wonder how stupid a major record company can possibly be, along comes another to prove that they are not all as boneheaded as Universal. That WMI can work out a deal with YouTube shows that not all the dinosaurs are without a clue. Of course this raises a whole bunch more questions, the most important being: where does the money come from, as YouTube doesn’t, as far as I can see, have any reasonable income stream, and will have a very hard time surviving with a subscription.

Still it’s interesting to see at least two of the majors, Warner Music and EMI, trying to come to grips with the future, whilst Universal and SonyBMG flounder around trying to resurrect the past. It reminds me of a time a few years back when the head of one record company said I wish this dance phase would pass so we could get back to signing proper artists.

Not that I think all this matters one iota in the long run…the two words, writing and wall are still valid. The record industry as we have known it for the past seventy years is over, it’s just a matter of how long the death rattles take to subside.

Talking of Warner Music, I scratch my head with bemusement at the forthcoming 25Th Anniversary of Flying Nun Records. Uh…ok….

The current owner of the name Flying Nun is celebrating the quarter century of the brand. Twenty Five years since my old friend Roger Shepherd rang me and said he was thinking of starting a label in Christchurch. I, in my misguided wisdom, and in the midst of dealing with the inevitable mish mash of artist babysitting and financial stress that is indie labelism, told him not to be so silly.

Roger was at that time, and still is, a good friend, but I am damned pleased he didn’t take my advice. What Roger created, not only in its recorded legacy, but, more so, in its ethos, was without question the singly most important and defining label and community in the short history of New Zealand popular music. Over the next 15 years he, and a handful of crucial allies, the likes of Chris Knox, Gary Cope (his original partner), Doug Hood, Lesley Paris, Paul McKessar, and others, played a massive part in inventing the landscape that is contemporary NZ Music. They released hundreds of records, the bulk of which were screamingly uncommercial, but that is why it was what it was. The one off 7”s, the bands that were fantastic but would never cover costs, the playing cards (they must be worth something now, no?), the totality of it all, was what made Flying Nun, Flying Nun.

But that was then and this is now. Flying Nun…the thing that really was FN that is…ceased to exist in any real terms about 2000. It had long been owned, partially at first, by Rupert Murdoch and / or Michael Gudinski, who were bought into the picture some years earlier by Simon Baeyertz from FMR to provide a much needed financial lifeline. The relationship worked well initially. Mushroom was a silent partner in NZ, but provided funding and international support, and as a result of that the Headless Chooks, Chills and Straightjacket Fits all made headway outside New Zealand. And Mushroom Publishing got their hands on the FN publishing catalogue which was a potential goldmine.

After Roger left the label was helmed successfully by Paul and Lesley from the dusty Queen Street offices with the same ethic, until about the turn of the century, in a corporate (the hand of Murdoch cannot forever stay hidden) cost cutting measure, the whole thing was uncomfortably squeezed into FMR’s tiny offices in Scanlan Street in Grey Lynn.

And that, despite records coming out on the label, and signings to the “Flying Nun” label being announced, was when the label started by Roger out of a notion that these undoable things could be done, back in 1981, effectively ceased to exist. There was a winding down process over the next years but a massive full stop was clearly placed at the FN story when its benevolent parent was closed down last year.

Very good, inventive and smart, people have worked with and on “Flying Nun” acts since 2001 but it’s a brand, a logo, and that’s all it is. And even more so now that it’s a desk in Warner Music International. That’s not Flying Nun, and never could be. I know things change but owning a name doesn’t mean the legacy automatically comes with it, and in this case the thing that was is no longer, and hasn’t been for some years.

That said, the ethic that was Flying Nun lives and breathes in New Zealand. There are a dozen examples I could point to, but Loop fits the bill as well as any. Or check out the list of labels here. If anyone should be celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the founding of FN, its labels like these that couldn’t exist without Roger and his crew.

An after note: the iTunes shuffle bought up Toy Love’s live (at The Cook) version of Positively 4th Street segued into Yummy Yummy Yummy as I finished this post. I guess there is an odd coincidental irony in that…

5 comments:

harry the bastard said...

Simon....I was out sipping a few cold ones here in NY with a good friend of mine who is the head of sales over at ADA,which is the indie arm of the Warner Music Group...he had a very interesting point about Edgar Bronfman Jr.Now the guy fucked up pretty bad over at Universal as we all know and from there went on to buying Warners.Apparently his mind is set on two things...a)proving to the world he can be a success in this business and b) Fucking over Universal as much as he can....now of course Universal wanna fuck him over as much as they can,so what we are gonna get here,to me at least will be a very intersting and fun time in this biz...

Bob Daktari said...

and music was the winner one the day.... again.

I believe Roger is compiling a 4CD set to celebrate the anniversary

Do we really need another excuse for all those who hated everything about the Nun to don their Little Brother shirts and pretend they were supporters/fans back in the day?

they really should just leave it be and allow the label to retain the respect it earnt

Simon said...

Someone on The Velvet Rope said that the problem with Warners was that they understood the technology but failed to understand that you need to release decent records to go with it

David said...

Flying Nun started to die when they moved to Auckland. The X factor just wasn't there no more (nothing against Auckland).

dubmugga said...

...growing up in South Otago and hearing the stream of crap which constituted flying nuns musical output inspired me no end to think if these no talent muso thrashers can make a go of it and release stuff then i sure as hell can too

I very much liked the idea of flying nun, the DIY kiwi can-do-ness attitude of it all but i'm sorry to say that the music just didn't nor does move me...

...maybe back in the day if i was a pasty faced leather jacket clad scarfie from dunners i would have got it, but truth be told, we used to get on the piss there just to chase them round the streets and scare the living shits out of them

I think the first kiwi tune i ever took interest in was 'the body electric - pulsing'...

...it's always been electronica or nothing with me and if only we had a decent vinyl pressing plant in the sth island again you'd see the Churtown flying nun ethos soar again *sigh*

props to all involved with it anyway, at least it was homegrown...