Published on June 22nd, 2013 | by Dedee W0
Simon Grigg Interview – On AudioCulture
AudioCulture is a new website which calls itself ‘the noisy library of New Zealand music.’ As all students know, the best libraries are noisy ones. Dedee W sat down for a chat with its Creative Director Simon Grigg, to find out how this amazing project came about.
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It’s a sunny afternoon in Kingsland, and the winter sunshine is fairly baking as I sit on a black leather couch in Simon Grigg’s office, surrounded by bits of New Zealand music history.
(30mins, Track 34) “Look at this – that’s the original handwritten lyrics to ‘Bliss’” he says, going over to his desk to grab something.
Simon Grigg, the man behind the recently launched website AudioCulture, has been involved in the music industry since the late 70s. Back then he formed and managed Suburban Reptiles, one of the first two punk bands in New Zealand. I knew he’d have some great stories, (so many, I couldn’t fit them all in here) but getting to see an actual physical piece of history? Even better.
He hands me a folded plastic sleeve, with a small piece of lined note paper inside. On it are several lines scrawled messily in pen, some crossed out. I can just make out the words ‘ Drink Yourself More Bliss’, quite possibly one of the greatest Kiwi drinking anthems of our time. I can’t stop staring at it. This is awesome.
“So this is the actual bit of paper that they started writing Bliss on?! Wow, I’m so glad they kept this! Did this come directly from the band?“
He gestures to a large cardboard box on the floor. “I’ve got a whole box of unpublished photos of 70s bands, those lyrics were in that box too. That came from Ian Morris’ brother..”
On the coffee table in front of us are a pile of old 1960s Groove magazines on yellowed newsprint, bookmarked and ready for scanning onto the website. Next to them , a neatly stacked pile of black folders – holding original sheet music from Prince Tui Teka’s band that his friend had bought off Trademe.
“I mean, it’s New Zealand history. It should be in the National Archives, and I s’pose it will be after we’re done scanning from it.”
New Zealand music history is something Grigg is passionate about. He was there for a good chunk of it, and believes in the importance of documenting it, for nostalgia, for education, and for future generations. After all, these are our stories, and we should be proud of them. Being a certified gig junky, I can’t help but agree.
“History is now. What’s happening right now will soon be history,” he says.
That’s what makes this new site so exciting. It makes me feel excited to be part of something right now. All the interviews, and documenting and reviewing of things seems worth it. I mean this is why we do it right?
Grigg originally had the idea three years ago, when he realised there was a gap in what could be found online about certain artists. During this time the amount of funding needed went up and up, so NZ on Air took a while to see if he was serious before it was approved a year ago.
“I mean there’s Wikipedia and a few good sites, but there’s not a lot really. I tried to look up some stuff on Dave Dobbyn, and there was virtually nothing online. I went through the Nature’s Best album and tried to find information on any of the artists on there, and only about a third had stuff up online.”
He could see there was a gap there, so he decided to fill that gap.
AudioCulture is a virtual treasure trove of musical gems from our expanding history. You can come and get your fix, and learn about a wealth of New Zealand artists, in a list that will keep on growing. The site launched with 250 pages (and counting), with another 300 pages to follow in their second year.
His wife came up with the name, quite early on. They decided it didn’t have to have ‘NZ’ in it,
“I mean, when you look at Rolling Stone website, it doesn’t say Rolling Stone USA. We have the .co.nz on there.”
The launch date was originally set for the 1st of June, but they changed it to May 31st, to fit it right in at the end of NZ Music Month. The perfect present to open on a long weekend.
Grigg got Murray Cammick on board as the Editor. The two of them go way back as close friends and ex-flatmates, and as the man who started Ripitup magazine, he was the man for the job.
“He’s one of the people I respect most in the world, and he also has these unbelieveable music archives.”
Grigg is also something of a collector himself, having 15,000 records in storage while he spends his time living between New Zealand and Bangkok. That’s a lifetime’s collection of records alright.
The stunning design of the site is by Phillip Kelly, a talented graphic designer who spends half his time in New Zealand and the other half in New York, who’s also ‘really into music’
“We had to find designers who understood music, and that was kind of important. Cos music’s quite a specialised thing, you either get it or you don’t.”
The AudioCulture logo with the Maori koru designs woven in sits perfectly with the feel of the site, giving it a distinctly Kiwi flavour, with a retro yet modern simplicity.
I found the look and colour scheme very satisfying and tactile. It’s like a selection of cards on a table, where you can choose which ones to click on. It’s purposely been made very fluid in its structure, so there’s no set order the articles and images appear in on the home page.
“The layout will keep changing, so that every time you visit the site, the order of it changes and reshuffles. Soon there’ll be a feature where you can show just videos.”
As well as an index of artists, there are also sections on labels and scenes, and Grigg says it’s important to also cover lesser known acts, who may’ve played gigs in smaller towns, but to hundreds or thousands of people.
AudioCulture covers “nearly 100 years of Kiwi popular music culture, from the first vinyl recording in the 1920s to digital streaming.” Which makes me think – we often hear about New Zealand being such a young country, and how we ‘hardly have any history’. But then, we kinda do.
“Yeah, I get a bit sorta annoyed about that, because we have got a huge history.
“No-one else in the world started recording til the 1920s and 1910s. So maybe we were about ten years behind the rest of the world, but is wasn’t that much different. I think the quantity of the stuff we recorded in the early days was pretty low. But it was still being made, I mean even Chris Bourke’s book Blue Smoke [The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918-1964] – it just documents that history and there’s so much of it. And it’s very easy now for us to think, ‘Oh we’ve discovered going out at night, and going and seeing bands and stuff.’ But y’know it’s been happening for 50 years. And there’s huge live scenes going on. In the early 80s on any given night in Auckland there was probably 10 or 15 live venues with bands playing, and people going out to see them. So it’s not a new thing.”
“The more and more we get into AudioCulture, the more stuff sorta comes out, and you start reading all these interesting things, like the Chris Bourke book. The history in there is detailed, there was a lot going on. AudioCulture has a tiny little bit of history that’s up there so far. We’re aware that stuff’s still missing, but we care enough to do it properly, rather than just going ‘Supergroove are a band from New Zealand.’”
I ask him how today’s live scene compares to other eras. I see it as going in peaks and troughs over the years, and Grigg agrees.
“In the 60s in New Zealand there was a huge amount going on.. But in the early 70s there was the oil shock, where the price of petrol went up by 400% in a month or something. It was really really bad and the whole country went ‘Whoa! We can’t go out anymore’. Also the music tastes changed away from pop bands, and people had big albums. Split Enz arrived, and it was all about people going to see album shows, so there wasn’t that sense of pop. And it all got a bit ponderous too, everyone got a bit self-indulgent. And then punk came along at the end of the 70s and kicked out all the cobwebs. And that’s the era I come from, and it was an incredibly vibrant period.”
He agrees that these days we have quite a healthy live music scene. Most gig-goers would probably agree, especially when some nights there can be two, three or four great gigs all vying for your attention. These are often all local bands, ranging from gigs at house parties, to small friendly dives to medium sized upmarket venues. The solution of course is to clone yourself and go to all of them. This is much easier than trying to gig hop between two venues at opposite ends of town.
AudioCulture is a project that will never be finished. The site is a work in progress, and articles on all sorts of bands and artists from every era are being added as we speak.
Other newer artists like Pikachunes are already up there. There’s no set order to how things are added. It’s all done as and when they are written or commissioned.
“All our writers are music fans”, says Grigg. “Some of them have been studying the music for ten or twenty years, so the depth of knowledge is incredible.”
Clearly this is true, and many are also friends of the bands, which makes it easy for them to get interviews and extra information. AudioCulture is a neverending archive of NZ popular music culture, and one day Simon will hand the reins to someone else.
Well I’m bloody glad he started it. I leave the interview even more inspired than when I walked in. This site is an amazing resource, and one to treasure and pore over for years to come. Who knows, you might even write something for it yourself one day. Everyone knows someone in a band, right?
Songs to go with this article: