Hard News by Russell Brown


Anzac Day II

I spent a couple of hours at our local RSA on Saturday. It was well past the traditional solemnity of the morning, well into the drinking. The old fellows drank like soldiers and the soldiers, there in their uniforms, with their mates and families, bought each other rounds. The singing and dancing stopped at 6pm for The Ode, then started again. There was no trouble.

It was genuinely a traditional Anzac Day, in that it was a community commemoration. In the years that followed the first war, small towns saved up and built their own memorials and raised their own halls. It wasn't the stuff of Prime Ministers.

My friends got talking to an RSA office-holder down there last week, and that wasn't the stuff of Prime Ministers either. It was about the struggle to get support for former soldiers, the government's belated acknowledgement of the reality of PTSD and the need for the state to act on that acknowledgement.

The presence of servicemen, in their cups as they were, brought that home. I know a couple of career military officers, one a cousin, and they have a seriousness and a bearing that sets them apart. Whatever we think of war, for so long as we have soldiers, we have a duty to recognise what we ask them to be.

I came home and watched Sam Neill's documentary Anzac: Tides of Blood, on Maori Television. I'm not sure who else did – it's not showing up on the channel's on-demand most-watched – but if you have the time today, I would urge you to watch it here.

Neill's documentary is personal, nuanced and honest. It explains how we created the "Anzac myth" – why we had to create it – and how our understanding of it evolved over a hundred years, through the rancour of the 1970s to the reinvention of the 1980s, when Anzac services became a mass event and the talisman of modern politicians.

I watched nothing of the mainstream channels, but, not for the first time, I'm grateful to Maori Television. Earlier in the day, Ngā Rā o Hune - The Days of June told another story: that of the Waikato Maori who refused to fight for the empire that had robbed them of ther land and their mana.

During the day, too, there were things said on Twitter that defied the popular conception of that platform as a place of trivia. Luke Tipoki posted these:

Gina Rangi posted this:

My friend Danielle posted this:

I went out for a long ride, and barely got around the corner before I encountered the local parade.

There was even a tank at the intersection. The kids liked it, it seemed okay.

By yesterday, there was the news that an Australian sports reporter had been sacked for insulting the memory of the men who supposedly fought in the first war for his freedom to speak. I will defer to the historian Geoff Lemon for a perspective on that. Over here, the clowns who run the Herald on Sunday's Spy section claimed their "tip line lit up" in response to the off-message Anzac thoughts of Lizzie Marvelly, who responded with a thoughtfulness and intelligence her witless accusers didn't really deserve.

And then, at the end of the Hurricanes' rugby match against the Reds in Brisbane, someone thought it appropriate to mark this time of loss with round of after round of machine-gun fire from an armoured vehicle. It seemed impossibly insensitive.

Far rather, for me, the solemnity then the singing and dancing at the RSA. Kia kaha.


Friday Music: Put the band in a lounge

I don't know about you, but some of the "gigs" I've enjoyed most in my life have just been bands playing in the lounge at some party. It's some combination of the lack of separation between band and audience and the way a band sounds without the over-amplification of a "proper" music venue. It's relaxed (the band's playing in a house) and a little transgressive (the band's playing in a house!).

That's the vibe captured in this nice video from The Wireless about Wellington's Eyegum Music Collective:

There's a short story here too.

I remember once sort of gatecrashing an advertising-crowd party in Ponsonby with my buddy Andy, because Voom were playing. Although we knew a few people there, it did feel a little awkward not knowing the hosts. And when Andy, who had forgotten to eat all day, staggered to his feet quite the worse for wear from beer and doobies to take a guest vocal on the second run though 'Beth' ... well, you could literally hear the muttering and tut-tutting in the room.

But after he'd got himself to the mic, from the moment he sang "You know how I feel ...", it all started to change. He nailed it. He nailed the high part – even Buzz doesn't do that some nights. And by the end, the whole room was letting loose and singing along with him. You couldn't have scripted it better.

But, to be fair, he did know the song, having made the video ...


Most of us know the high-level story of how the MP3 revolution caught record companies napping, and how long it took them to realise that the era when pressing CDs had been like printing money was over. But The New Yorker's feature about Bennie Lyndell Glover, The Man Who Broke the Music Business, is the most interesting explanation I've seen of what actually happened behind the scenes.

Glover worked for years at a CD plant, back when such plants churned out hundreds of thousands of shiny high-margin discs a day. He didn't steal CDs, but plenty of other people did, and he obtained them to supply a big IRC warez group, thus securing himself premium access to the video files on the group's servers – so he could bootleg and sell movies. He had to keep his for-profit bootlegging a secret from the rest of "The Scene".

The Scene went on for a long time, under the direction of "Kali", a mastermind who lived with his mother, didn't have a life and, in the end, wasn't even convicted in court. It's the real revenge of the nerds.


New on Audioculture this week: Keith Newman's profile of Gary Thain, the Christchurch-born bassist for the oft-mocked but at the time very big Uriah Heep. It's ultimately a tragic story – Thain died of a heroin overdose at the rock 'n' roll age of 27 – but it's hard not to smile at language of his death notice in the Press:


Revisiting a couple of things ...

I wrote a few weeks ago about the "unforced craft" of SJD's new Saint John Divine album. I finally got to see the band play the new songs last saturday and it bore out everything I'd thought about the record. Sean Donnelly has been a nervous performer at times, but he and his band were notably relaxed and in command of everything they did. It was a tremendous show, one aided by the great sightlines and acoustics (it's the five-metre drapes) of The Tuning Fork.

In that same post, I also mentioned Anthonie Tonnon's Successor album. I could write more now, because I've been playing it semi-obsessively since. In the past Tonnon could have been thought merely clever, but now he has created a rich and sympathetic musical setting for his words. One of the things I like about it is that that it's a politically aware record that never once shouts a slogan. There are worse ways to spend $12.50 than to give it a try, believe me.

Oh, and I'm definitely planning to stay up late for Nick Dwyer's Weird Night Out extravaganza at the reopened St James next Saturday. Further announcements coming in the next week, I gather.


Darren Watson, fresh from securing more freedom for everyone's speech with the High Court win over 'Planet Key', has a new video ...


 Tunes ...

Jordan Arts (aka High Hoops) and some mates "recorded some tracks at a cliffside abode". He says there's an EP where this came from, and if it's like this, I'm all ears:

Another peek at the fothcoming Unknown Mortal Orchestra album:

And another taster from Janine and the Mixtape's next EP, quoting DMX:

And because it's Friday and you'll be wanting to dance in your kitchen, this fucking brilliant edit of good old Wild Cherry's immortal only hit, 'Play That Funky Music'. Free WAV download. Enjoy!


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



This Anzac Day

It is inevitable and fitting that this Anzac Day, marking a hundred years since the disastrous invasion of Gallipoli, should be a particularly significant one. I think it's also true that the official messaging of 2015 has smoothed out the century since into something far less complex than it really was.

The wars and the remembrance movement – with its remarkable and surprising iconography, which literally made its mark on the landscape – have shaped us in many ways. But the phenomenon of the past 20 years, where young people and families have flocked to Dawn Parades has almost created an ahistorical past. In the 1970s, it didn't happen. We bought poppies to raise money for old soldiers, but there were fewer grand speeches from politicians. Big, greedy companies didn't try and get a piece of the action. It wasn't a stage for politicians.

The Returned Services Association was still at that time a part of the social fabric, especially in provincial New Zealand, where every town had a memorial hall. Unlike the organisation of 2015, the RSA could operate, politically and socially, as a powerful conservative force. If you're over the age of 45, you may remember them that way. They weren't always the good guys. (And I say that having been a member of my local RSA, where everything stops, daily, for The Ode.) Our relationship with the RSA has become less complex as it has become a less important part of the national life.

There were also men, many of them, who didn't want to remember what they had seen. Their experience, the trauma they silently lived with, shaped our society as much as the sense of nationhood we are said to have found on foreign fields.

We tend, further, to forget the complexity of Maori participation in the first world war. The legend of the courage and ferocity of Maori soldiers persists today. The Native Contigent suffered awfully at Gallipoli. But there were also iwi, disposessed of their land, their populations already ravaged, who wanted no part of the Empire's war, and Maori who absconded from conscription for the same reason.

This not to say people should not remember their near ancestors and the sacrifices they have made. But amid all the commemoration, I think an opportunity has been missed for a genuine and important social history. We've accepted a history located safely on foreign battlefields with familiar names, when so much of what actually shaped us happened at home.

Imagine the story of of the hundred years since, with everything in it: the tensions, the triumphs, the trauma, the objectors, the protestors, the evolving understandings of what it all meant, the extent to which the former order was left behind by the changes of the 1980s, the way that created space for the new and current interpretation of the day. Imagine not a distant, virtuous history of long-gone men, but one that is still with us and about us.

NB: I'm told that many of the things I've written about here are touched on Sam Neill's documentary Anzac: Tides of Blood, which screens on Maori Television at 7.00am and 8.00pm tomorrow.


Friday Music: Record Store Day 2015

If we're all supposed to be over Record Store Day, it appears that no one has told the stores. Tomorrow looks like a heck of a day, and not only in Auckland.

In particular, the array of of live performances seems unprecedented. The resurgent Marbecks has booked a Princess Chelsea & Jonathan Bree DJ set at noon, followed by Tiny Ruins at 1pm and Lawrence Arabia at 2pm. They've also marked down all vinyl by at least 20% for the day and will be putting out a selection for clearance at 70% off.

Elsewhere, Southbound Records have SJD and Don McGlashan playing,  Slow Boat in Wellington has Neil Finn and Tami Neilson, Real Groovy has The Cleves (aka Bitch) and Larry's Rebels, Rough Peel has Adam McGrath from The Eastern and folk band Eb & Sparrow, and Vinyl Countdown in New Plymouth has a sausage sizzle and Peter Jefferies. Peter Jefferies!

Peter McLennan has all the RSD detail, including set times, over at Dubdotdash and Under the Radar has a Roundup too. If I told you any more I'd just be trading on their fine work.

Me, I sense a an inner-city bike ride coming on Saturday, subject to the weather.


But wait! There's more. The good people at Flying Out are opening a record store on Record Store Day.

It's at 80 Pitt St, on the site of the old Shaver Shop, a few metres from Karangahape Road. Apart from Flying Nun and Arch Hill CD releases, it'll be all vinyl, in the mould of Captured Tracks. The shop will open with a bunch of stock that's not yet on the Flying Out store and boss Ben Howe tells me they've gone for a mix of marquee titles – 4AD and Matador – and more unusual stuff. There'll also be a small quantity of second-hand vinyl, although they won't be a trader like Real Groovy is.

They'll also be serving "pay what you want" coffee.

The upper floors of the building will be home to the other business Howe is associated with: Flying Nun Records, Arch Hill Recordings and Aeroplane Music Services. And there's a big basement Ben hopes to develop into an event space.


Something Nun-adjacent on Audioculture – Richard Langston (yes, the one from the telly) has written about how he came back from London in 1985 to create Garage, the Dunedin-based fanzine that to this day is prized by New Zealand music geeks. As he notes, of all the gigs he's done, "it’s the one that keeps returning, the one that still seems to serve a purpose."


Note that Flying Nun's RSD special is a re-release of Shayne Carter and Peter Jefferies' 'Randolph's Going Home' 7" (which is perhaps why Peter is venturing out on Saturday). Having missed Shayne's shows last weekend, it was great to see him play a short set at Wednesday's Grantforgrant fundraiser at Golden Dawn. Man, he's strong.

Also of interest locally for RSD, Liam Finn is releasing a 10" vinyl companion piece to his 2014 album The Nihilist. It's called The Nihilist Demos.

And as I type, the Phoenix Foundation have just tweeted this ...


This seems worth getting behind: six-time New Zealand beatboxing champ King HomeBoy has been invited to the World Beat Boxing Championships in Germany at the end of May. After hearing his story (which is pretty interesting – he was born deaf!) at this week's The Project seminar at AUT, Ben Glazewiski of the web developer Springload decided to launch a Kickstarter to get him there.

You can read more and donate here on the Kickstarter page.

And here's some of King HomeBoy's chops, in a video that has racked up 1.7 million views:


If there's been a moodier thing this week than the new video for Courtney Barnett's 'Kim's Caravan', I'm not sure I want to know about it. Part lonely melancholia, part celebration of ordinary people and their ordinary places ...


The music month shows are starting to take shape. And once again Apra will be staging Covered – a show where local artists play their favourite songs by other people. It's on Thursday May 14 and this year features Tami Neilson, She's So Rad, SJD, Mulholland and Clap Clap Riot. 

A similar event called Under The Covers will be held in Wellington on May 1 at James Cabaret.

As previously noted, the month starts with a bang with Nick Dwyer's huge Weird Night Out lineup at the reopened St James on May 2.


The tracks ...

I somehow left this out a couple of weeks ago, but here it is now. A really lovely Lontalius remix of Janine's new tune:

This lush rework of another artist's track has got me quite interested in the Afro/Euro outfit  The Very Best – a collaboration between Radioclit and Esau Mwamwaya, a singer from Lilongwe, Malawi.

Here's one of their own tracks.

Over at TheAudience, some nice electronic dub vibes from Auckland's Romantech (click through for a download):

And the atmospheric beat collage of Wellington's paperghost:


BREAKING! The Reflex has just posted his rework of the Heidi Leonore version of 'Everybody Loves the Sunshine'. Free download, because apparently it's a nice day in London:


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



What would a harm reduction strategy look like now?

On Saturday, I was part of a panel on TV3's The Nation, talking about drug policy in light of the programme's interviews with associate Health minister Peter Dunne and Stargate founder Matt Bowden who both advanced the view that the beleaguered Psychoactive Substances Act can fulfill its stated purpose.

I wrote late last year about how the government's amendment banning the use of animal testing as part of the Act's approval process has effectively rendered that process inoperable, at least for the time being. The government wrecked its own law.

Dunne believes it just needs time for new testing technologies to emerge – which he grants might be five or even 10 years – and Bowden believes it's possible to find a way through the mess already, which is why he has announced a crowdfunding programme for testing as part of a product approval under the Act.

In contrast to many people shouting on social media, I do actually think both men are sincere in wanting a regulated system to work, but they do also have other motivations; political and financial.

I think the key thing is that the market isn't going to stand still. There's plenty of evidence that since they were banned from sale (when the Act's interim approval regime was curtailed) synthetic cannabinoids (oh, all right: cannibomimetics) have become more available on the black market.

This bust in Christchurch last month certainly indicated they were for sale alongside methamphetamine. And there is speculation (from Norml and others)  that the weed drought of recent months has been partly driven by criminal groups' shift from cannabis cultivation (risky, takes time and space to do) to the production of synthetic cannabis (high yield and fast). It's analogous to the huge spike in the production and consumption during liquor Prohibition in the 1930s in the US. (People went back to making and drinking beer as soon as Prohibition ended.)

This wouldn't mean they were producing the psychoactive chemicals, just spraying them in solution onto some plant matter. The process would even use one chemical often employed in meth production, acetone.

Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker told me she'd been told by her regional commander of police that the process is widespread.

Whether that's happening or not, it does appear to me that there are now more people importing psychoactive substances via the internet. This isn't necessarily organised crime as we'd usually think of it: quantities and distribution networks are likely to be quite small.

You only need to study Erowid to see that even experienced users can get into strife with the array of substances now available. There's also the risk of people trying to eyeball doses sometimes measured in milligrams. But drugs bought this way are actually likely to be safer than street drugs – they're more likely to be what it says on the label. By contrast, the contents of street pills and powders might be dangerously at variance with what they're supposed to be.

I've seen the results of drug testing conducted at a New Zealand festival last year (with a retail testing kit). In some cases, there's not too much to worry about: the guy who paid money for coke and got ritalin. In others, they're deeply alarming. Four out of five people who though they had LSD in fact had the much more dangerous NBOMe drugs (scary dose-response curve, possibility of organ damage or death) and some "ecstasy" pills were in fact PMA, which has been linked to quite a number of overdose deaths. Only a quarter of people who submitted their purchases for testing actually had what they thought they had.

I guess the question is: what would a harm reduction strategy look like now? Not in five or 10 years, but now?

What actions would a harm reduction approach prescribe? Should partygoers be able to safely test their pills before popping them?