Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kirk in the time machine

Found this old web page I'd saved, from Xtra's site in 2001. Murray Cammick interviewing Kirk Harding.

Talking Hip Hop With Kirk Harding

11/10/2001 05:59 PM By Murray Cammick

While expat Kirk Harding was in Auckland for the Aotearoa Hip Hop Summit 2001 I had a chat with him about NZ Hip Hop and working for New York record label Loud. And by the way, there is a doco on the local Hip Hop event this Saturday Oct 13 on TV3.

The New York tragedy of Sept 11 was a daunting event only days before the Aotearoa Hip Hop Summit. Kirk Harding who signed DLT, Slave & Otis and Che Fu to BMG before he headed for his New York job, was safe in Australia on Sept 11. While he continued on to New Zealand his Loud Records boss Steve Rifkind cancelled his Summit appearance, choosing to return to the USA to join his family.

"He was mortified," said Kirk. "He had his three kids sitting in Los Angeles and soon as he saw that some of those planes were actually destined for Los Angeles, that completely freaked him. He was 'I am going to take the first flight I can.' About three days after it happened, he got the first plane from Sydney that could fly into LA."

Did Tha Liks enjoy New Zealand?

"Yeah, they loved it, they loved the whole tour. Those bands do not usually come down here and they hate Europe because of the language barriers, they do not like the food there and the weather is often horrible. Europe is a real grind for almost every act that we have on our roster."

Does that mean we have a better priced McDonalds?

"Better priced McDonalds? NZ and Australia have a better priced everything when you are coming down here with American dollars."

Redhead Kingpin was upset in Australia when he was taken to good restaurants by Virgin Records.

"Snoop was the same when he came down here, they tried to take him to Cafe Rikka and he was like 'I told you I wanted McDonalds.' I don't think people really understood at that stage. They can just handle themselves, they don't even really want any record company involvement because they're not part of that whole world really."

Our rambling suburbs would remind them of Los Angeles?

"Especially Auckland where they see a whole lot of Samoans here. It feels like they are in LA. They thought it was fantastic. Snoop Dogg said he had never felt more at home in another country in his entire life. Tha Liks they really loved it man, they said, 'When can we come back down here?'."

Did they get to see any NZ Hip Hop?

"All they saw was P-Money at the final of the ITF, before they came on stage and they loved what they saw. They met a lot of people, they were hanging out with the Dawn Raid guys. Sony had them working until midnight Friday night doing that Space show."

What is your current job description?

"It is one of those multi-job descriptions. Senior Director of International and I take care of a third of USA marketing and I am head of MTV promotions. The label had to downsize over the last six months because Sony have been cutting back staff. We are on the Sony payroll. Loud is 60 percent owned by Sony and they asked us to cut back. We have had to cut back 27 people from a staff of 80."

Is New York a vibrant music scene?

"Yeah. I do not know about other genres, but Hip Hop, it is all about the private parties. You have to go to private parties to see exactly how vibrant it is. They are packed with people from producers to managers to artists."

How many acts in a year would Loud sign?

"Sony shut us down last year, we were not allowed to sign anyone, we had to focus on what we had. But I think this year we are signing about 10 new artists."

That is a hell of a lot.

"Yeah. I think the idea is in the next couple of months we are going to axe a few of our bigger artists that are not doing so well, and putting the money that we are paying for those bigger artists into a wider spread of artists. Mainly demo deals initially, the idea at the moment is to start a 12 inch label and just have first rights to those artists if the 12 inches do well which is how Wu Tang started. The idea is to take it back to that."

Looking at New Zealand music being recorded at the moment Hip Hop is the most distinctively Pacific. Do you think NZ Hip Hop can fit into the world scene?

"I think that NZ Hip Hop has to focus on New Zealand. I do not know how it fits into the world scene. I think it could do reasonably well in Europe. In France or Germany, they are just focused on becoming stars in their own territories and do not have their eyes on exporting anywhere and they are selling platinum to four times platinum albums there without even caring what is going on in the States."

Is that French language Hip Hop?

"Yeah and German language Hip Hop. But the idea still applies that they are making music for their backyard. I would say there would only have been one international artist ever playlisted on [USA radio station] Hot97 in the last five or six years."

Do you think that because New Zealand hip hop is so different it might give it a marketability at some point?

"I think down the line definitely, because it is different. You look at how prominent Southern USA Hip Hop is now and five years ago nobody was listening to anything from the South. I think eventually, worldwide Hip Hop will come into the USA scene as well. Outside of the States people are really still obsessed with that very mid-90s, classic Hip Hop sound you know and bringing in the whole four elements of Hip Hop as well. Nobody cares about that in the States anymore. It is more about very electronic based beats and Timberland beats and going back to clubs and making it fun and dancing again. It is almost like we are talking about two different types of Hip Hop now? Because everyone in Europe and down here kind of embraces that Wu Tang and DJ Premier kind of sound and that stuff is history in the States. Like they have moved on to the next stage of development of that sound really."

What Loud recordings are part of that next stage?

"Dead Prez is definitely part of the next stage. Also a lot of our Southern stuff, Project Pat. We have this label out of Memphis called Hynotised Minds. They record everything out of their bedrooms and they do not have any guest artists on their records, just their own camp and everything they have done has gone platinum in the last two years."

Did you think the Hip Hop Summit was a success?

"Yeah, yeah, absolutely! 3,000 kids going to see Tha Liks and 3000 kids watching Che Fu and the DJ Battle. Now the Shore kids are coming across and wanting to be part of everything and you see all these new young turntablists coming up and new young bands. Everyone in the NZ Hip Hop scene seem relatively serious about what they are doing and I think that it is good to have someone like Tha Liks or someone who harks back to Run DMC days as far as performance goes, just to show people that they can have fun with what they are doing as well. It is not all about being super serious on stage all the time."

How do you view the role of the multi-national labels in NZ? The signings that exist now are the same as when you left.

"No, there are less than when I left. I do not think that anyone else has been signed. Hip Hop has to go independent. If I was to do a local label down here I would not do it through a major company. It is easier . . . it is not easy, it is a lot of work, but it is not hard to set up 20 interviews and to sell the records to the stores yourself or to get an independent distributor. It is not that much extra work for what you gain out of it at the end of the day."

"You are not going to get into every Sounds store but you are going to get it into core stores in every city to make sure that the right people get it. I think independent is the only way to do it. I was championing the whole major thing for so long, but I see how hard it is when you have got somebody that is not producing a 'Chains".

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