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Q&A: Simon Grigg on his purchase of the RipItUp archives – and what he plans to do with them

A few weeks ago a mysterious TradeMe listing revealed that the iconic New Zealand music magazine RipItUp was for sale. Yesterday there was happier news, when the redoubtable industry legend Simon Grigg was revealed as having purchased the invaluable archives. Steve Newall interviews him below about his purchase, and his plans.

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Source: RIUclassic.tumblr.com

Steve Newall: When you came across the magazine for sale were you interested in the whole entity, or were you looking to acquire the archive from day one?

Simon Grigg: The archives. I don’t want to run a magazine, basically. If the whole magazine was sold at the whole price I probably would have taken it, but I wouldn’t have set a magazine up – for a variety of reasons, not least of which the troubles of running a magazine these days, and I don’t do that. I’ve never done that.

It seems like something that would allow you the privilege of losing a lot of money from day one.

Absolutely. Primarily what I wanted to do was just save the archives, because I regard them as a national treasure, as I think I’ve said. I thought ‘Oh my God, this could probably go to a Fairfax or a major corporation like that’, in which case it’s lost forever.

As you began negotiating, was it a difficult proposition to pry the business apart into those two segments? Or was the seller amenable to that early on?

Grant Hislop, the previous owner, was very positive about the whole thing, and he understood what I was trying to do. From day one, he said ‘if the archives were going to go to anybody, I’d be pleased if they went to you’. So it was pretty straightforward, we just had to negotiate a price, was all, which we did.

When you say ‘archive’ people could look at it a few different ways. On the one hand, there’s a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style warehouse with huge crates being wheeled in. On the other, a collection of different electronic storage media.

It’s both, really. There’s a physical archive. Fortunately, because Rip It Up’s some 37 years old now, when Murray [Cammick] left in 1993 or 1994 he took a lot of the stuff that had been with him from day one and he’s been curating it ever since. I think that’s great, he can hang on to that. He’s done a fantastic job, and with some sort of moral right for him to do that.

There are physical boxes of stuff going back to after that, which is twenty-plus years. And I don’t know exactly what’s in those boxes yet, they haven’t been delivered, but I’m sure there will be some interesting stuff. There’s probably a lot of crap as well.

As much as anything, it’s preserving the writing, whether published or unpublished, and the IP so it exists as an entity. Ideally I’d like to see a lot of the stuff end up free online, for noncommercial use. If we could possibly get Rip It Up back online, every issue, it’s a huge thing. For noncommercial use – for schools, research, that sort of thing, I’d be very happy.

There are a couple of things in the archive that I wrote which I wouldn’t mind if they never saw the light of day [chiefly my first ever band interview with 90s ska punkers Less Than Jake]. If you can give the extended group of contributors a right of embarrassment veto, that would be incredible.

There’s my dancefloor column, which I’d be happy to see disappear forever. It is what it is. We have to accept that we wrote these things and we sent them in there, and so there’s a chance they’ll see the light of day again at some stage. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone will read them, but it’s like Papers Past, which the National Library did, where they just put up newspapers as they existed because it provides context.

Rip It Up Issue 1 (Source: RIUclassic.tumblr.com)

Rip It Up Issue 1 (Source: RIUclassic.tumblr.com)

Seeing everything on the page – who’s playing, who they’re playing with, what the venues are and who’s advertising – is fascinating.

And what the record reviews were like at the time. A lot of classic records got really bad reviews in Rip It Up and vice versa.

That context is so important, because you can take interviews and use them in a biography or something, but seeing them on the page gives a completely different impression.

It’s also 40 years of our time. 40 years of New Zealanders being New Zealanders listening to music. Listening to music is not just putting on a CD or a record, it’s all the things that go around it, the social context. Which is what we tried to do with Audioculture, tell the social story. It’s about the music scene. It’s about the people that went along and all the other stuff.  It’ll fit quite well with Audioculture, but it also gives you the flavour of the times. It makes you understand what was going on when the Springboks came in 1981. It wasn’t just the Springboks arriving – 1981 was an amazing year. A lot of interesting live music and revolutionary stuff happening around at the time, which was maybe why people went out and protested as well.

Using that example, over the couple of years preceding the Tour, Rip It Up tells the story of the culture that opposed it.

Yeah, the psyche that changed. Punk rock turned up, so all of a sudden people were a bit more tetchy about things socially. And we discovered how to write protest lyrics, that sort of thing. Without that you might not have got ‘There Is No Depression in New Zealand’, so all these things tie together.

Besides looking at the archive in its totality and preserving that, are there other specific things that excite you about the possibilities it presents?

There’s curated stuff. I’d really like to get Murray to curate a book or two, sit down, and just go through the writing. Because some of the people who have written for Rip It Up over the years are some of our best writers…

[interrupts] Why thank you.

No, I’m including you in that list, I’m including Russell Brown, I’m including John Russell. People forget what a great writer John Russell was. Kerry Buchanan. These sorts of people. A curated collection of some of this stuff might have legs.

Also, think of the other stuff that happened throughout the magazine’s history. There’s the early rise of hip hop. Phil Bell and Leonie Hayden each editing the magazine at various stages. I mean, they’re pretty major players still. Phil was one of the key people behind the whole hip hop revolution, and so when he was editing the magazine, what was in it? Maybe Phil Bell does a curated piece as well. It’s not necessarily the Murray Cammick era – Rip It Up goes far beyond that.

It also tells the story of when the wheels fell off publishing. Or at least the difficulties. There’s the post-Murray period which is a bit troubled until the mag finds a home at Satellite Media. You can see the peaks and troughs of running a magazine as a business.

Well, people forget it was part of National Business Review for a while. That was a philanthropic thing, I think, that Barry Colman did at the time. But it also meant we had to go out on boats. The MV Liberty, I think it was, was the Rip It Up Christmas party every year. They were wild.

That sounds like an interesting mix of cultures that both enjoy excess.

So, it’s early days, I’ve only just acquired it. And I acquired it, as much as anything, to save it, to make sure it was intact as an entity. And I haven’t really thought too much about where we go next. I want to sit down with Murray tomorrow, he created the magazine with Alistair Dougall all those years ago, so he knows the intent of the magazine and let’s just see what he says.

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I spoke with Murray a couple of weeks ago when writing the story about Rip It Up being for sale on TradeMe. It was a strange situation, obviously, and I suppose that was the same time you were negotiating with Grant.

The first I knew about it was when Murray put something on Facebook, and said “magazine for sale”. And I went “ooh shit” and went straight to Grant from that. And then I saw your story just after that.

I’m glad we didn’t rock the boat. Obviously the negotiations went well, but you never know. It was interesting talking to Murray at that stage. We shared similar views that really what mattered was the archive, and while there’s value in the masthead that’s a completely different kettle of fish to the collected content that already exists.

I mean, who knows? It’s just a name, and somebody might do something completely different with it. As you said before, the whole magazine business has changed so much that you’re a very brave person to get into the magazine business these days. Anywhere in the world, pretty much.

As we’ve seen, the masthead alone doesn’t guarantee it’ll perform.

I don’t know what it means to someone under the age of 30.

Inconsistency, maybe. You’d know the name, but what is it?

It’s been in shops and cafes as a freebie over the last couple of years, with Groove Guide at the other end. And that’s another one, Real Groove, all that stuff’s available I’d assume. I haven’t even talked to Grant about that.

You mention you haven’t received the archive yet. Have you had the chance to visibly sight what it looks like? A picture of a storage lockup or something?

No, I know how many boxes there are, and I’ve had a rough description of what’s in there, but I just thought I had to leap anyway and just do it. Because I just wanted to make sure it was done, and after we’d done the negotiations and were both happy with the price I thought “let’s just do it” because it ensures that the IP and the actual entity will exist forever.

From an Audioculture point of view I’ve had dealings with some of the major media organisations over the last few years, and I know what a brick wall it is. You go along to the likes of Fairfax or Bauer and they’re disinterested in New Zealand culture. They don’t give a stuff about it. So the last thing you want is all the Russell Brown writing or the George Kay stuff or your own stuff all disappearing off and being owned by this conglomerate. Then Audioculture being told we have to pay two or three hundred dollars to use any of it.

And stuff definitely gets thrown away too.

That’s the thing. Who knows what’s in the photographic archives? We’re talking 30-odd boxes of stuff. Now that’s not a vast number of boxes for the years, but there’s going to be stuff in there, I’m sure. I know the record companies have dumped a lot of their stuff. With Audioculture I’ve gone to a lot of companies over the years. “What have you got of Scribe, what have you got of blah blah blah?” And they go “we’ve got these three photographs” and that’s it. Now, they did whole photo shoots and they’ve just disappeared.

I think we have an obligation, somehow, to preserve this stuff as much as we can. So that was the primary reason I jumped.

This is as amazing an outcome as I could have foreseen when writing that previous story. And now you have an even larger obligation to New Zealand culture, so congratulations!

We’ll see how we go. It’s not going to happen overnight, but at least it’s there, and it’s not going away, I hope.

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