Saturday, May 08, 2010

So let me sing a song for you / Just to help your day along

How many of the world's armies travel with mobile Karaoke trucks?

h/t to ThaiVisa

Friday, May 07, 2010

The bats have left the bell tower

Hugely recommended, this interview with Martin Mills, owner of the most important independent record label in the world (and the bloke who released some of my favourite records ever and still does):

The internet has revived interest in music, thinks Mills, by encouraging people to experiment.

"It's made so much more possible - a greater and deeper love of music. It's re-stimulated my own involvement in music generally, rather than just my business. The links people send you allow you to go off down a path and discover something great.

"People who in their 30s a few years ago who may have stopped listening to new music, or were listening to iterations of music they heard in their late teens or early twenties, are now able to discover entirely new things. You've got new artists being discovered by 30, 40, 50 and 60 year olds. You'll now have a group of friends talking about music and sending links. I think that comes from the integration of the laptop into both our working and our personal lives, the internet is so great at spreading the word."

[From Indie music mogul: The net's great for us • The Register]

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Two minutes fifty / it’s a 45 single / oh yeah

This post, originally from August, 2006, in reply to a question from Robbie Siataga on an earlier post, linked, still seems to work for me. I thought I'd repost it for NZ Music Month, and because of the ongoing discussion on Public Address:


This was a question I received from Dubmugga;

where do you see New Zealand music going and what measures would you implement to ensure it's continued relevance in the standardised global media market ???

This is not somewhere I really wanted, as I said, the previous two posts about this topic, to end up. I don’t want to dig myself a hole here I can’t easily get out of, but I suspect I’m about to.

So a qualifier again: this post is not trying to offer definitive answers, rather it’s a series of random thoughts, written as they occur. My opinion is just that and I don’t pretend to have any answers or pretend to be able to predict anything. I’m no seer, and I'm no self proclaimed expert.

DM…you expressed your fairly strongly held, feelings about NZ on Air and the way they administer the brief they have from the people of NZ, via the current government, to promote the nation’s music across the broadcasting spectrums. Your opinions are not uncommonly held and are regularly expressed on various forums and elsewhere.

Whilst I have my problems too with some of this they’re not nearly as pronounced as yours and others' are. It is a topic, however, that a lot of people, musicians especially, feel very strongly about.

Myself, I think NZ on Air is trapped a little between the need to promote something with a strong indigenous flavour (i.e. the cultural side of its brief) and the commercial radio stations who, despite lip service have no desire to play any real percentage of New Zealand music and would, if the political environment was right, drop most of it as fast as they possibly could. It’s a tough place for Brendan to be and for this reason, and a few others, I am of two minds about the concept of a quota. On a clear downside, and evidenced in NZ recently, the quota (and I’ve said this many times) strips the music of its identity, especially its cultural identity, in the mad drive to get songs on a radio system that is obliged to play a percentage but only wants to play songs that fit easily.

They don’t want songs that quirkily stand out, they want songs that blandly sell ads, songs from acts like Breaks Co-op, the new Stellar and Brooke Fraser which are facelessly unthreatening. I’m not saying they’re bad…Breaks Co-op are quite pleasant. But that, sadly, is not what the NZ music industry, if it is to thrive and survive, needs. It needs raw and rough originality, music that sounds different to that global mass released daily. I think Scribe had that, it was so wonderfully Newzild despite its pretensions to being otherwise.

However, I have to say, it’s an ominous sign that his new, massively overdue, album is being recorded (partially with DJ Premier, a bit of a hero of mine) in NYC. But that’s what the soulless bulldozer that is Australian A&R (which has had a shitty record in recent years) does I’m afraid, as I know from personal experience.

The US music industry is in massive trouble and yet these acts strive to sound like it, where the hell is the logic in that. The most influential NZ music in recent decades, the music which has had an international presence (with the exception of Haley, but that’s another whole thing) is music that sounded drastically different to everything else out there, and was, with the exception of How Bizarre, deemed to be decidedly radio unfriendly (and HB was deemed to be unsuitable for radio in NZ by every programmer but one originally). I’m talking about early Split Enz and the Flying Nun catalogue of the eighties. Nothing else out of NZ has had the musical influence of those three outside the country.

Up against that is the need for hits. Pop music is driven by hits which traditionally are driven by radio and video, hence the two main targeted focal points for NZOA. And I agree with that focus generally. Without hits, underground or overground, no sales. You can’t survive on credibility, as Flying Nun found, being forced to bring in Mushroom as a partner (which started the process where NZ’s most important catalogue disappeared into an American corporate which will inevitably eventually forget it exists).

But that formula…radio, video, hits…is changing and will change in future years (and not too future…very few predicted Youtube five years ago, although the pointers were there) in ways we can’t imagine yet. How the hits will come will change and that change has already begun. Digital access to everything, unbelievable interactivity in our entertainment and the sheer amount of material available to each and every one of us is inevitably going to force a sea-change in musical entertainment as radical as the one the planet endured when recorded music first became widely available about 90 years ago.

Already one thing is obvious. The album as such is more or less in its death throes. It’s going to take a while but it’s inevitable. The song, which is where this all started, is where it’s all going back to, and the delivery medium is a form of digital or the suchlike. It’s easy to forget that the album as a force is less than 40 years old. And there are very few successful albums that haven’t been driven by one or two key songs. Even the iPod and its equivalent is just an interim step…already music capable phones are dealing to standalone MP3 players in the more technologically advanced societies of Asia.

This inevitable step makes the major record companies largely redundant. All they really offer now is the means of distribution and the money to record and make videos. The last two requirements have more or less already slipped out of their hands as the means to do both are to a releasable level are within the means of virtually anyone.

The video delivery process too is in the process of being democratised. The means of distribution offered by the majors will still be a strength as long as people want to buy CDs from brick and mortar shops, but the end of that is in sight too, perhaps not in the next couple of years but sooner than most people realise. And any requirement for physical CDs will be fulfilled by central warehousing linked to shops that are little more than ordering and listening booths, mostly in Wal-mart / Warehouse type operations. Already the hardcore artist fanbases are almost exclusively catered for on-line.

The only other thing the big boys can offer traditionally is marketing muscle. Once again the digital revolution, right now the likes of MySpace and the p2p sites and MP3 blogs are removing that from the domain of the majors and placing it in the hands of the artists or their switched on management. Ever wondered why the big boys are so violently against the P2P sharers. They’ve been screwing people for decades without a conscious ethical murmur, so the righteousness of their position is questionable. No it’s because it removes another layer of control, of need for their services. The majors will soon be reduced to little more than catalogues to be licensed, and a few mega acts that can’t survive outside the machinery of those companies.

In 2006 over 20% of the music sold globally now comes from sources outside the majors. As that creeps more and more on-line it means that a larger percentage of the return from the sales of music will return to the makers. A record or CD will no longer need to have a massive comfort zone in the pricing (about $10 per CD on a full priced NZ disc) to cover the majors’ bloated costs, or the “warehousing”. The artist will, hopefully, no longer have to suffer punitive recording contracts. Even the role of the publisher is reduced to little more than a bank and a sync negotiator as the digital age and various performing rights organisations provide all the services a writer really needs. The balance shifts.

So what has this got to do with the future of NZ music. Everything, actually. It’s a reasonable assumption that in the medium term multinational labels will cease to invest in local music. Australia has already seen a huge drop in local signing in the past couple of years and the same is evident in NZ.

In my previous post I talked about the digital divide between New Zealand and the rest of the planet. On the NZ Radio list I was lambasted a while back by someone for saying that NZ has no hotspots. The argument was that NZ did not have the population of support such technology. That, of course is nonsense. Here in Bali, with a population of 3.5 million, they are everywhere, in the tourist areas, in the domestic areas, in the malls, the food halls; and it’s the same across much of the world. That’s a little thing but it’s important as it signifies the gulf that has developed between New Zealand and much of the world. I now reside in a third world country but I feel that, visiting New Zealand regularly, as I do, I’m going into a technology vacuum there. The technological gulf has tempered the music buying habit that we took so much for granted in previous years. And for kids to buy music, especially NZ music it has to be two things, exciting and accessible. The quota has largely removed the exciting bit, and the difficulty of getting local music beyond the traditional means (which means buying an album, not the songs you want) has dampened accessibility.

As the digital move is made away from majors and multinationals, so NZ on Air’s role will have to change. How exactly I’m not sure, but a return to their grassroots seems obvious, supporting the smaller, cutting edge, more innovative music being made at that level. I think the export drive, the funding of such and the relentless talking, committees, and reports are and were a waste of space and time. Unless of course you have something viable to sell. No one was doing Fat Freddies abroad but there are 200 Brooke Frasers. Which one makes more sense to push. And yet the whole NZOA system has been dedicated to the likes of that latter because it made our radio happy and worked for the quota. FFD on the other hand were made by the fans, both in NZ and abroad, and, like Split Enz, in 1979, driven to radio by the public.

So as I said earlier, the mad rush to radio removed the things that made so much music identifiably ours. The industry got caught up in the whole “kiwi music” thing and “kiwi music month” so much that it lost track of what was special in the first place. I think we do our best musicians a disservice too by putting all “kiwi music” on such a pedestal, forever saying that we have so much talent in NZ, implying that it is somewhat more advantaged than the rest of the world.

Of course we have talent, but no more so than a city of four million people anywhere else in the world. There are some, no make that, many, truly awful musicians and bands in the country too. Being “kiwi” doesn’t make the 50% of stuff on most “Kiwi Hit Discs” that is un-listenable, any better than it is in the real world.

Our edge and the ability to sell New Zealand music elsewhere doesn’t rely on where we come from, to most of the world, it matters little. They don’t care and don’t want to care when they hear Six Months in A Leaky Boat or How Bizarre, on the radio, where it was recorded. Lets not be parochial and arrogant about this. Our edge comes from the fact that these songs sounded completely, radically, different to whatever else was on the dial. A difference that the quota has dulled, with tangible results now.

Ok, that’s enough from me…I’ve said my bit, probably a bit too much. Some of the opinions expressed are probably rather crudely put and need fleshing out somewhat but I think I need a Bintang……

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Besame mucho / love me forever and make all my dreams come true

Bangkok design

The preacher talked to me and he smiled / Said, come and walk with me, come and walk one more mile

This is an interesting, and I think fairly perceptive overview of China's possible media future, from journalist and media observer Charles Mabbett:

When China’s most popular blogger Han Han had his recent post about a spate of violent attacks in Chinese schools taken down, it wasn’t the first time that he had courted controversy and it is unlikely to be the last.

The post entitled “Children, you’re depressing grandpa” was critical of a media ban on reporting the latest attack in Taizhou, Jiangsu Province, at a time when the Shanghai World Expo was due to get underway. Evidently,, the website that hosts many of China’s most popular blogs determined it was too sensitive to keep online.

Han Han represents a relatively recent phenomenon in China, one that commands millions of readers and is highly influential as both social commentary and barometer of public sentiment. As of April 2010, his blog had attracted 350 million hits, making him by far and away, the king of China’s blogosphere.

[From Bloggers and Chinese Twitter, China’s new media wave | Asia New Zealand Foundation]

The underlying fact that should never be ignored is that China is only 30 years into the post Mao era, and the massive social momentum that Charles saw in-country is hard to describe unless you see it first hand. And never underestimate the Chinese pragmatism.

This fairly radical revision of the boundaries of twitter, which I didn't know, fascinates:

While Chinese Twitter can accommodate up to 400 characters, it is more common for users to post messages up to about 120 characters. Compared with English, Chinese characters allows between two to eight times more information to be packed into the same number of characters.

Which makes it vastly more powerful as a social networking and news dispersal medium. Twitter has played a huge part in the bloody political head-butting that hopefully reached some resolution yesterday here, and I'm keen to find out the Thai script limitations.

Update: Shorty after I posted this, I found this post on the Bangkok protests and the rise of Moblogging:

About the same time as my first tweet, I also posted my first "moblog". This is an abbreviation of "mobile blogging", which, as the name suggests, is blogging from your mobile phone. This was the most exciting development for me. For the first time I was able to post blogs while I was still on location and my thoughts were still fresh. If you visit you will be able to see some examples of my moblogs. The main difference between the blogs here at and those moblogs are obviously the number of words. However, if you compare my earlier moblogs to the ones I do these days, you can see that I am now typing longer moblogs on my iPhone. Sometimes, I post about the same event on both blogs, but the moblog is definitely more laid back and relaxed and has more of my daily life that I don't write about at Even if the events are the same, the pictures are always different. This is because I use my big DSLR for this blog and my iPhone camera for the moblog. As I carry my iPhone around with me all the time, unlike the heavy DSLR, you will find the I write moblogs more frequently. And I also now find it easier to process pictures and video in my iPhone and then use a Word Press application to write my moblog. These are then uploaded up onto the Internet. Whenever possible, I try to post while I am still at the event.

[From Paknam Web: An iPhone, Twitter and the Red Shirt Rally - (Thailand Travel, Culture, Food and Life)]

Although I didn't for a moment feel threatened going about my daily business in the city, and I think the same goes for just about every expat here, there being absolutely no outflow of resident non-Thai and an ongoing daily arrival of 20,000 tourists (down from the normal 30,000 a day) which is still an incredible number, the live twitter stream on google, which in my office I kept open on my second monitor, was pretty much the live news stream I needed to carry on in a fairly normal way.

The world, how we approach it and how we draw information from it has changed just that little bit more in the past few weeks.

Monday, May 03, 2010

A Chill in My Vein

In honour of New Zealand Music Month, from Otaki (and a huge hattip to Yvette Parsons, without whom we may never have seen these):

or the live version:

With the upload comment:

only thing the annoys me is the sound person did not know how to do the sound correctly, so...that's why I was off pitch. sorry guys, but I did do the best I could under that situation.

I gave you silk suits, blue diamonds and gucci handbags / I gave you things you couldn't even pronounce

The Take me Back Weekender

Sunday, May 02, 2010

There's nothing I wouldn't be / Oh that's the gift of schizo

Oo-eee, in the USA this wack-job would be only slightly to the right of centre, but in the UK? Surely not. Perhaps so these days......

A high-flying prospective Conservative MP, credited with shaping many of the party's social policies, founded a church that tried to "cure" homosexuals by driving out their "demons" through prayer.

Philippa Stroud, who is likely to win the Sutton and Cheam seat on Thursday and is head of the Centre for Social Justice, the thinktank set up by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, has heavily influenced David Cameron's beliefs on subjects such as the family. A popular and energetic Tory, she is seen as one of the party's rising stars.

[From Rising Tory star Philippa Stroud ran prayer sessions to 'cure' gay people | Politics | The Observer]

Zip a de doo dah

In the mid 1970s I read and re-read a book about Phil Spector. It was a inspirational book for me at that age. Out of His Head by former (and later) Melody Maker editor, and one of the most important music journalists of his time, Richard Williams, was the first biography of Spector and indeed one of the very earliest serious biographies of a rock figure that wasn't all PR puffery and gloss (I'm thinking of The Beatles by Hunter Davies for example, which looked at the good bits and completely ignored anything that wasn't quite so, a little like the Beatles own Anthology too).

Williams wrote the book primarily about the man who made the music, and the music that the man made, the records that redefined what music production was (Williams revisits Spector here, post trial). He completely changed the way we create music and you hear his influence in almost every pop and rock record made to this day; and not only that, if it wasn't enough, he also invented the concept of the producer as an artist, not just a man (or woman) who sits in the booth and works out the balance between instruments, and he did this from his very first recording with the post-doo woppers, The Teddy Bears, in 1958.

Joe Meek, in the UK, was a little later but did much the same, although he didn't cause anything like the musical shockwaves that Spector did, even if he was arguably even crazier, and, yes, he took a life too.

When it came to The Beatles, neither Lennon nor Harrison had, by their own words, ever been produced as such as they were by Spector, a decade after his girl group period began, when he moulded what were for both, their finest solo records and radically different to those sixties pop symphonies but no less brilliant.

Spector's life and the life he enforced on others seems most demented and harrowing when you look at the life of poor Ronnie Spector, who's own book is pretty heavy reading. There is also a chapter in another book, Josh Alan Friedman's Tell The Truth Until They Bleed, where a tragic Ronnie Spector, divorced from Phil, broken and still in her early twenties, is, with yet another of the endless stream of no-name rocker boyfriends that she tagged on to or vice versa, staggering from oldies gig to oldies gig for a pittance, when, it can be said with some confidence that she possessed and maybe still does, one of the greatest female voices of her generation. Few come close, and those records, every one, the hits, the flops and the ones that seem to have completely slipped through the cracks before they were even released, are majestic symphonic pop masterpieces that can tear at your soul, and in my case, aged 16 when I first heard them, very much did.

I've just finished another Spector book, Mick Brown's Tearing Down The Wall Of Sound, which does just that, tears down the myth far more thoroughly than any of the earlier books, by making the story of creation of that music almost incidental to the monster that created it, as if the music was an inevitable by-product of the horror of his life. It's the story of the human train-wreck that Phil Spector was from that very first record through to the murder that eventually ended the his own life as well (unless by some miracle the appeal due shortly allows him to walk, it is after all California). The overwhelming tragedy is that he caused pain for just about everyone he touched, he was in every way possible, a monster and a monster for some fifty years.

But amongst all that there are still those mind-boggling records and I remain as confused as ever as to how we treat things like this. Do we dismiss the music, wipe the tracks I've posted below from pop music's historic record. No, I think not, it wasn't even really a question for me as The Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica is still an album I would happily spend the rest of my days with, but it's a question raised by one of the projects I'm working on at the moment (and, no, I'm not about to make a record with Ronnie..I wish) and thus I voiced it.

In the meantime, the music stands, I guess, and I'm happily, and without guilt, going to post these wonders:

The big hit from Ronnie etc:

A couple of (towering) non-hits from The Ronettes:

A song from The Checkmates Ltd, which was really no longer of its time when Spector released it in '67, but sounds pretty fine 43 years on:

A snippet of Spector in the studio:

And this throughly bizarre video where the odious, convicted, and jailed for underage sex in a very predatory way, Jonathan King, pays tribute to the murderer Phil Spector, which is only really topped by the fact that Spector is, they say, in the same cellblock as Charles Manson, who so wanted to be a Beach Boy, a band who's music centre was besotted with Spector, so much so he had trouble speaking in his presence for years.

This odd matchup does, as way of justifying its inclusion, use as audio, another wonderful Spector produced track, from The Checkmates Ltd (a band who's one big hit, Black Pearl was also a big hit for the NZ band Moana & The Moa Hunters in the early 1990s), Love Is All I Have to Give:

It really is too odd....