A huge chunk of buried New Zealand music history is set to be unpacked now that Rip It Up magazine’s archive has been sold to Simon Grigg.
As a label owner or manager, Grigg has been behind much of New Zealand’s most successful music. In the 70s, he formed the Suburban Reptiles and managed The Screaming MeeMees. His subsequent record labels put out singles like There is No Depression in New Zealand by Blam Blam Blam; In the Neighbourhood by Sisters Underground, and OMC’s insidious How Bizarre.
He was among the first to popularize punk in the 70s and house music in the 90s, when he co-owned The Box and Cause Celebre, the epicentre of Auckland nightlife, back when you could ask the bartender, known as The Hat, to mix you a Japanese Slipper, and dance all night to Britpop.
Last month, when Rip It Up magazine was offered for sale -- on Trademe -- Grigg, who spends half his time in Bangkok and runs NZ music history site Audioculture, quietly organised to buy its entire back archive.
Grigg, who flatted with the magazine’s founding editor Murray Cammick in the 80s, has no interest in continuing the magazine, which has been laying very low lately, but having been there from the beginning, he understands the value of what it represents.
Over 37 years, Rip It Up covered the local music industry -- all those volatile, smelly, egotistical, creative people being as provocative and expressive as possible -- and this massive cultural legacy currently sits in 50 large cardboard boxes.
We asked Simon Grigg about what treasures he’s about to discover...
1972: What have you found in the boxes you’ve opened so far?
SG: A lot of it is just copies of magazines, but about eight or nine boxes were marked “RIP IT UP PHOTOGRAPHS”. Rip It Up used to be sent all this PR stuff by the record companies, so I’ve got more photographs of Oasis than anybody probably needs, but there’s also literally hundreds of unpublished photographs.
For example, there was this band called The Playthings. They were one of the first Flying Nun bands. As far as I know there were no photographs of these guys until now. I’ve got three.
Daniel Keighley, the guy who did Sweetwaters: we did a story on him on Audioculture and couldn’t find any photographs of him. He’s now dead. I’ve found five photographs.
There’s also every issue from 1996 on CD Roms, with amazing photos of Anika Moa and P Money which have never been seen before, as far as I know.
1972: Are there performance shots, too?
SG: Yeah, I found maybe 40 photographs of the Datsuns playing in Hamilton. That’s just what I’ve pulled out so far, but there’s hundreds of these things, and it’s a matter of transferring them onto a hard drive somehow, because CDs degrade after a period of time.
1972: Are there any recordings or demo tapes?
SG: There’s a whole box of unmarked tapes. I hope they’re interviews.
1972: Are you worried about what you’ve gotten yourself into?
SG: I hired a storage space and started looking through these boxes. I woke up the morning after and thought ‘Oh god, this is probably a couple of years of my life, and I’m not sure there’s any money in this!’ and then immediately went straight back in there and started going through more boxes for hours. It was amazing. That magazine was so phenomenally important. It really was. It’s one of the main reasons we have a music industry.
1972: What about anthologizing the best music writing?
SG: That would be great. Russell Brown went touring around Europe with the Chills in 1989. It ran over three issues, this amazing road trip. It’s kind of lost at the moment, but we’ll have to get it out there again. Some of the greatest music writers and commentators to have written in New Zealand over the last 30 years or so started at Rip It Up. Russell Brown, Chris Bourke... There was a woman called Donna Yuzwalk who was amazing in the 80s and 90s.
1972: Axl Rose famously told her to ‘Yuzwalk on outta here’ at a Guns n Roses concert, because he didn’t like something she’d written about the band. I wasn’t there, but heard the story secondhand and love it so much.
SG: You were probably too young to read Rip It Up in its heyday, but back in the 80s and early 90s, they used to have a thing called “Gossips”. No, “Rumours”, which was the most-read thing in there. For a while, every area had a guy whose job it was to write to Rip It Up every month and say what was going on in their town.
And it used to have a great gossip column by “Elvis Slag”, with all the dirt on the record industry. You don’t get that stuff any more because everything’s on the internet. But it tells more than just the music story, it tells the whole social story as well.
1972: It can be hard to explain the value of that kind of ephemera. Is this a thankless job?
SG: Maybe, but I’m not doing it to be thanked. I’m just doing it because somebody had to do it. I’m as good as anybody, I suppose. I was just so worried it was going to go to somebody who just didn’t give a toss.
All this stuff: this is our soul.