The reasons Quigley might favour such a course are outlined in my what's-in-the-pills story for the New Zealand Drug Foundation's Matters of Substance magazine, which sparked the current media interest in the topic.
Essentially, MDMA (it would be nice if the news media could stop referring to "the purest form of Ecstasy") is less risky than most of the other chemicals people might find in a pill they have bought in the belief it contains MDMA.
Schep strongly disagrees, and opens his column with probably the most alarming case he could cite in support of his argument:
In May 2010, 12 people attending a rave party at a venue called the Cow Palace in Daly City, California, experienced life-threatening complications requiring immediate medical attention; symptoms included seizures and hyperthermia with resultant muscle breakdown and kidney failure.
Two died and four had permanent brain and muscle damage and/or kidney injury. Blood samples from those affected and confiscated tablets from the event identified Ecstasy without evidence of other recreational drugs.
The analyzed patient serum, urine, and confiscated pills as well as autopsy reports confirmed MDMA as the sole intoxicant
Only three of the 12 patients (including one who died) were subject to blood tests. There is no evidence as to whether they, or any of the other patients, took the same pills or capsules. The analyses of the separately confiscated pills – two from an event attended by 16,000 people – are irrelevant in all but one respect, which I'll get to in a moment.
What all 12 had in common was hyperthermia – severely elevated body temperature. The group that suffered suffered "severe morbidity" presented with the highest temperatures – a mean of 41.6C – while the "intact survival" group presented with a mean temperature of 39.3C. The fulminant organ failure and other effects described in these cases are consistent with hyperthermia.
The authors observe:
There are several potential explanations for the poor clinical outcomes in our case series: the victims’ presenting core temperatures; the duration of hyperthermia; the treatment methods used for hyperthermia; the large amounts of MDMA in pills; and in some cases, prolonged hypoxia. Surviving patients commented that the indoor venue was unusually warm that evening. High ambient temperatures combined with prolonged highenergy dancing, seizures described in some cases, and the metabolic effects of MDMA account for the hyperthermia seen in 10 of 12 patients. Most of the severe morbidity and mortality in these cases can be attributed to hyperthermia effects.
Rave enviroments are often "unusually warm" without producing the disastrous cluster of cases seen in 2010. So what happened? Perhaps some of the nine patients whose blood was not tested took something unexpected and toxic. Perhaps it was simply incredibly bad luck that it all happened on one night.
As the authors note, "[t]his case series represents the most severe clinical outcomes reported due to MDMA toxicity from a single event" and "[m]ass casualty events due to MDMA are rare." The only case they cite as a comparison is actually quite different: nearly all the patients then were checked and sent home and the sole patient who died suffered a "multidrug overdose of MDMA, cocaine, and heroin."
But let's go back to those confiscated pills. The potency of the first is not noted, but the second contained 270mg of MDMA. That's as much as three times a typical dose.
There's an easy comparison with another popular recreational drug here. If you drink two bottles of wine in a night, you will very likely suffer a nasty hangover. If you drink two bottles of spirits (which contain about three times as much alcohol as the wine) you might well wind up dead of alcohol poisoning.
From what I can tell, the serum blood analyses of the three patients are consistent with very high doses of MDMA. Welcome to one of the other problems of illcit drug supply: not only is there no control over purity, potency is also uncontrolled. This is an effect of the system Schep is emphatic should be maintained. He is effectively arguing against the evidence he presents.
I'm not pretending that the legalisation and regulation of MDMA would be easy or uncomplicated – and indeed, I wouldn't expect to see it any time soon. But even a degree of realism would make way for safer dancing environments and a higher degree of certainty as to what's actually being taken. Leo Schep's prescription, on the other hand, is a recipe for more of the same thing that killed those poor people in 2010.
We often fill the music we love with dreams and memories; it's one of the purposes of music. On In Colour, the debut solo album by Jamie Xx, it's as if it's been done for us – the whole record sounds like a dream or a memory of some things.
The opening track, 'Gosh', is a reverie patched together with exclamations from 90s British rave tapes, opening a theme that weaves in and out of the album. 'SeeSaw' and 'Loud Places', voiced by Romy, his bandmate in The Xx, are full of longing and the Burial-like 'Sleep Sound' is something on the edge of consciousness. (The Pitchfork review tells you where the samples come from; I shan't pretend to know.)
I've been playing the album a lot in the past two weeks, but it seemed most affecting alone at night in the city: once, driving home at 1am, another time under the lights of a railway platform. It's an album with a mood rather than a narrative, one that seems to make its idiosyncracies (so many steel drums) seem natural and I think it's my favourite long-player of the year.
If you can't get to an actual record store, allow me to recommend Bleep.com as an online store. Because you want this stuff lossless.
Speaking of record stores, I'm playing various vinyl tomorrow, from 11am to 1pm at Real Groovy Records in Auckland.
And then tomorrow evening, I'm playing all kinds of stuff from 7pm to 11pm at Golden Dawn in Ponsonby. Come along!
Also, a word for The Sherwood in Queenstown, where I did some DJing last Thursday night. It was a quiet night, but a very pleasant one, and if the staff at the Sherwood could be any nicer, I'm damned if I know how. Nice place, nice people.
Bruno loved the psychedelic drugs and he never subscribed to the hippie ethos that they were just stepping stones on life’s spiritual journey. He got as far as acid and stayed with it.
We tripped at concerts, the golf course, the movies (I can’t watch Glenda Jackson to this day without flashing back to the Lido in Wellington, where the usherette told us to be quiet, it was nota comedy). I don’t recall tripping at the racetrack but we did go to the Whanganui greyhounds, where I was convinced that a tumbling dog had been hit by a flying bottle (Bruno persuaded me not to report it). I accompanied him to an awards ceremony where everybody was so pissed no one noticed our increasingly aberrant behaviour. Bruno’s attempt to gee up the Members Stand at the Basin Reserve with a haka was a highlight; Bruno giving a bunch of rugger buggers in Lancaster Park a halftime discourse on the game was not – “Imagine the ball as a lump of shit and the players as flies.”
It turns out that I wasn't the only kid who remembers Bruno's BLERTA roadshow coming to a country town. For me, it was looking up in the playground at Grey Main school some time in the early 70s and seeing the BLERTA bus roll past and getting really excited, to the bemusement of my friends. For Sandra Bell, as told to Syd Newman in her new profile on Audioculture, it was seeing them play in the domain at Taupo and knowing "I was one of them".
In radio-style content, Mark James Williams (aka MC Slave) interviews Ladi6 about her life and work –– including the memorable story of playing in a Brazilian favela – with her own music as accompaniment. Nice.
Bic Runga has dropped sixties references into her recordings before, but maybe never as lavishly as she does amid the California dreaming of her new single, written and produced with Kody Nielson. It's like the Fifth Dimension had a pretty baby:
Yeah, there have been a million remixes of Destiny's Child's 'Say My Name' ... but this little two-step number is just a beauty. The Golden Dawn crowd will definitely be hearing this tomorrow night (click through for the download link):
Red Bull Music Academy named its Class of 2015 this week: 61 artists from 37 countries whole converege on this year's base in Paris(!) to listen, learn, collaborate and produce. There are two New Zealanders in the class. You'll have heard plenty hear about Eddie Johnston (aka Lontalius, aka Race Banyon), but the other has been flying much further under the radar. k2k is a young woman called Katherine, from Wellington. Here she references Bryan Adams' 'Heaven' (no, really):
Laura Lee, formerly of Auckland shoegaze band O'Lovely, has struck out in quite a different direction with her debut solo single. Some deets from Martyn Pepperell here.
The extremely reliable RocknRolla Soundsystem have another rework. This very fat blues groove was recorded by the Allman Brothers' slide guitarist Derek Trucks from the Buddy Guy original. (Hit the shopping cart icon on the player to buy it from Bandcamp.)
If you've ever turned over your copy of the New Order 'Blue Monday' 12", you'll know that it's an instrumental dub of the A-side called 'The Beach'. Huddersfield's finest, Jamie "Fatneck" Low, has posted his nice rework of the tune and it's available as a remastered WAV file (just click through to see the download link):
Over at TheAudience, this dark, moody, impressive tune from Idiio (click through for a download):
And from another place entirely, this bright, sprightly summer-in-the-winter pop track from Auckland's Rasela. Insanely catchy (click through for a download):
And finally, the Orb released a new album this week! According to Alex Patterson, Moon Building 2703 AD "is inspired by this place called Earth and the idea that in the future mankind discovers its root element in the ancient rocks on solar moon, which are based on musical harmonies, that despite being imprinted a billion lights years ago, are set to the same tempo as the Orb." Righto then. You can get the album in multiple formats at Bleep.com (including a vinyl version that contains a bonus track in tribute to J Dilla) and in the meantime, here's a downloadable hour-long mix they just did for the Data Transmission podcast.
On last night's Media Take, which you can watch here, Simon Wilson talks about moving on after five notable years as the editor of Metro magazine.
In the normal course of things, this would be more bad media news, but it became clear in the conversation that it is, in its way, reason to be cheerful. Simon realised that he was enjoying writing more than editing – as might have been divined from the sheer number of words under his byline in recent issues – and has managed to negotiate a new position as contributing editor (essentially a staff writer with bonus mana), which will carry a full editorial salary.
From Bauer Media, which has frequently given the impression of being unwilling to spend money on anything, this is notable. Although Metro's long, slow decline in circulation has more or less halted under Simon's tenure, it's not exactly a cash cow. The company hasn't transformed overnight – it's still trying to force rancid and unfair contract terms on freelancer writers – but even small victories over mere bean-counting are cheering these days.
Simon will stay on until a replacement is found, in order to enact a handover. The recruitment ad for the job is quite interesting. It refers to Metro seven times as a "brand" and only five as a "magazine" and even proposes that the successful candidate will be (gulp) a "solution orientated brand champion". But within that is an acknowledgement that a magazine like Metro needs to be more than a monthly pile of paper. A new editor – indeed, any modern editor – will need skills in business development. This is how things are now.
In the same generally upbeat episode of Media Take, Damian Christie talks about Yours TV, the latest evolution of the Yours project for teenage broadcasters and journalists that he kicked off about three years ago. The significance of Yours TV is that it won some NZ On Air digital funding, and that it's there on TVNZ On Demand, like a proper programme.
As Damian pointed out in his announcement on this site recently, the distinction between being "only" on-demand rather than grown-up broadcast is less and less material to the demographic making and watching the programme. TVNZ is quietly looking for more content to present on this basis, and I would not be at all surprised to see Lightbox embrace local production soon. The budgets will be tighter, but the scope should be broader.
The other guest on the programme was Anna Guenther, the founder of the New Zealand crowdfunding site PledgeMe, which is currently celebrating its third birthday with a series of parties in different centres. It bears noting how far crowdfunding has moved into the mainstream in those three short years – especially with respect to what is now a core PledgeMe activity: equity crowdfunding.
Three years ago, raising capital through a crowdfunding website was not only a fringe idea, it was legally impossible. Now, PledgeMe has no fewer than five equity campaigns in motion and PledgeMe itself has just announced a second equity round. Several of these campaigns have been strongly oversubscribed. Some of the investors might have been game for a conventional sharemarket investment, most probably would not.
In further happy news, the journalists at NZME have received some. No, not the departure of Rachel Glucina – although everyone seems pretty pleased about that – but the end of outsourced sub-editing. After seven years of unsatisfactory results, the company's relationship with Pagemasters will end when its contract expires in August.
A new groupwide sub-hub will be developed and that will mean some new hiring. I wouldn't expect it to dispel the often-awkward relationship between the company's radio and print cultures, but a return to keeping the institutional knowledge of the sub-editors in-house – rather than the work being done by people with no stake in the actual editorial product – is absolutely a good thing.
Earlier this year, I spoke at some length to someone who had done something interesting at a New Zealand summer festival, and it's probably not what you're thinking. This person had, with a small team, tested the recreational drugs people had brought with them to the festival. And the results were alarming.
The large majority of festival-goers had not bought the drug they thought they had. In the case of substances bought as LSD, the situation was particularly troubling. Fully 80% of people who thought they had LSD in fact had NBOMe drugs, which are far more risky than LSD – they have a scary dose-response curve and overdoses can be very harmful and even fatal.
Later, I became aware that some people in my wider social circle were buying pills whose ingredients had been obtained – as such party drugs increasingly are – via the "dark web". People liked the speckled blue pills and believed they contained MDMA. I watched people who'd taken them and I had my doubts.
I proposed a story to my editors at Matters of Substance, the magazine of the New Zealand Drug Foundation. Could, I asked, a budget be found to have ESR test one of these pills? It could, we made the arrangements and one afternoon I drove over to ESR with the pill. (I passed three police cars on the way and I confess part of me wanted to be pulled over and searched so I could honestly say "It's for WORK!")
The meeting there was fascinating and informative. I started to get an idea of how the party drug scene had evolved in the past few years, and of how much of a problem it is becoming that we don't know what's in the pills.
I spoke to a number of other people, including Wellington emergency doctor Paul Quigley, who has to deal with the consequences. He was remarkably frank:
“Quite frankly, there’s growing evidence that MDMA is a safe form of intoxication – especially when you compare it to alcohol and so on – but that’s not what you get. You look at the recent hauls in Wellington of alpha-PVP, which is a highly stimulating hallucinogenic. So not only do you hallucinate, but you get the tachycardia and hypertension. That is not an enactogenic effect.
“Even the dealers know this, so they’re mixing things like benzos into these tablets. The high from the amphetamine effect is almost too high, so they try and balance that by putting in a benzodiazepine. Now we’re talking really dangerous, because benzos are addictive – they’re enough of a problem in prescription medicines, let alone the recreational ones.”
It turned out the the blue pills contained a mix of chemicals people like Dr Quigley had not encountered. Chemicals that were not the most harmful thing that can turn up in an "E", but chemicals that have some important caveats associated with their use. In certain circumstances, people have died from taking them.
I readily shared the information with Dr Quigley and a couple of other specialists in advance of publication, because in the end that's the point of the story itself. The problem with our present drug laws is that they force out well-understood drugs whose place is taken by new drugs, which are less well understood and often much riskier. And people like Dr Quigley don't even know what's coming in the door when something goes wrong.
There are various solutions, including permitted onsite testing. But that's a politically alarming step. Dr Quigley would like to see MDMA licensed and regulated for sale. More within reach right now is a risk register – which should be public. That saves lives.
But that's a problem for politicians too. At the least, medical staff should be as well informed as possible about what's in the market, so they know how to respond when they have to. And, mercifully, that small step is beginning to happen. It's a step.
The relationship between me, music and Apple is ... complicated. Music has sustained and excited me since I was a kid. I still listen to it every day and I still regularly pay money to hear it. With a single early exception, every computer I've ever used has been an Apple product. I cannot imagine working on something else. In the past week I've used five different Apple devices.
And yet, I hate the iTunes Store. I'll try anything to avoid purchasing from that dull, barren place and I'm offended by its refusal to sell me lossless files. I can live with the iTunes application itself, although I know it's a different matter for those who must endure it on Windows. It has some major flaws – how could they get something as important as search so wrong? – but no alternatives I've played with have moved me to switch.
So it was always likely that I'd have mixed feelings about Apple's long-awaited launch of a streaming service in the form of Apple Music this week. And I really do.
For starters, Apple has pretty much laid a turd with its three-month free trial for Apple Music. The trial period will be free to users, which is sensible – but it will also earn zero dollars for artists and labels. Who would release an important record in the three months from the Apple Music launch on June 30, in the knowledge that it will not only earn them nothing on Apple Music, but will suck a lot of revenue out of both the iTunes Store and Spotify?
Really, Apple's cash reserves are almost exactly the same as New Zealand's annual GDP. You'd think it could take the hit on this one.
Actually, it's probably the case that the three major record companies have reached an agreement with Apple over this, and it's just the indies out in the cold. One industry publication is saying that it's still possible that Apple Music could launch without important independent labels like XL, Matador and Cooking Vinyl. So, no Adele, Arctic Monkeys or The Prodigy.
But one story it seems safe to discount is that Apple will pay out a markedly lower share of streaming revenue than the 70% Spotify says it redistributes. Digital Music News has backed down on its story to that effect, and granted that Apple Music may even pay out a larger revenue share than Spotify.
In the cause of a fairly messy onstage launch, Apple ushered on Drake to pump up Apple Music and, more particularly, Apple Music Connect, the service that will let artists share things directly with fans – demos, exclusive recordings, pictures, videos and news. Apple's MySpace, if you will. In his five minutes on stage, Drake said this:
Connecting with an audience has never been closer and more reachable than right now. See now, we encourage you to spend the time on your body of work, spend the time on your craft, assemble the right body of work – and instead of having to post your stuff on all these different and sometimes confusing places, it all lies in one very simple, very easy place. And that is Connect.
Apple is pitching young artists the idea of only being present in one place, reaching one audience, as if it's actually a desirable thing. Meanwhile, out in the real world, you can upload your stuff to Soundcloud, Bandcamp or YouTube yourself and all those sites have embeddable players that will let it be present in your own blog, or someone else's, or on your Tumblr or Facebook. You can set up and start selling on Bandcamp all on your own. Telling a kid that this is "sometimes confusing" and Daddy Apple will keep everything make it all better for you is very patronising.
It's not just me choosing to bang on about artist discovery and bedroom producers. In the Apple Music promotional film, Trent Reznor talks about "combining a catalogue of the world's music with music that's not in that catalogue yet, direct from the artist to you" and making it for "not just the top-tier artists but the kids in their bedrooms too".
Not really, and here's why. You can't upload directly to Apple Connect – or, rather, you can once you're in the door. But to get in the door, you need a label or an aggregator from the fairly short list published by Apple.
There is one listed aggregator in New Zealand, DRM, and they're good people (another business in the same group operates this blog's sponsor, The Audience). Or you could go to one of the international aggregators, like CD Baby or Tunecore, but whatever you do, there are fees involved. And if you've knocked out a Drake cover in your room (ie, exactly how Eddie Johnston/Lontalius made his name on Soundcloud), there's publishing too.
I do appreciate that Apple's onboard music advisors, Jimmy Iovine and Reznor have recognised the importance of direct and informal contact between artists and audiences, but Apple is a mediated and formal space. That's why its social game sucks. The only way it makes sense to have all your stuff in one place is if you're able to share it out to everywhere else.
But while fans will be able to share to Facebook, Twitter and email, it doesn't seem there will be tools that will let artists use Connect as a sharing hub the way they might use Tumblr. Or any embed code. Or the kind of API access that lets third-party apps run in Spotify (or – shudder – Spotify to be intergrated into DJ applications). As an artist, you're invited to assume that you'll achieve everything you need to inside Apple Music. You won't.
The irony of Apple's "oh-so-simple" pitch is that Apple Music is largely a cobbling together of existing products with the streaming service added on. Connect is another try at Ping, the iTunes social feature that flopped mightily. Apparently, Apple Music, which allows playback of not only a big musical catalogue in the cloud but songs from your own library that you upload to the cloud (say, streaming holdouts like The Beatles or Metallica), doesn't duplicate iTunes Match, which does the same thing. And the iTunes store is still the iTunes Store. It's a little confusing.
And Beats1 is just a better iTunes Radio. Actually it's way better. It will be available in places like New Zealand, for a start. It will be free to listen to (no word on whether there'll be ads). And it boasts a pretty impressive lineup of on-air talent, including New Zealander and former BBC Radio One star Zane Lowe. I'll certainly give that a listen. I think the element of of human curation embodied in Beats1 and across the other services will work well. I'd find that more appealing that yet another algorithim.
“What I saw in the record industry is it’s just getting more restricted, more restricted, more restricted to where everyone’s trying to figure out what kind of song to make to get on the radio, that’s researched and where advertisers are telling you what to play,” says Iovine.
“What’s happened to the music industry, from my perspective, is a lot of great music is behind the wall that can’t get through, and therefore a lot of artists are getting discouraged. And we hope that this ecosystem really helps revive that.”
Despite the criticisms above, I think Apple Music will do well. Apple has a financial relationship with hundreds of millions of people. Given Apple's push into China, it's probably going to get to a billion before too long. These are people who largely already spend money with Apple. The people who have made the iTunes Store the overwhelmingly dominant retailer of digital music. That's quite a different position to be in than Spotify trying to convert its free listeners to paid.
I also think a shift in the subscription streaming market from advertising-supported to paid will be good for music. The ad-supported model is never going to sustain the music industry.
Moreover, I will be an Apple Music customer. I pay for Spotify now, but my loyalty to Spotify is zero. I hate its user interface. I'll cancel my Spotify account on day one and enjoy three free months, probably on Apple's attractively-priced family deal ($18.99 a month vs $12.99 for a solo account).
But I shopped at Real Groovy before it was in its current home and I'll do so wherever it goes next. K Road would seem to fit.
Actually, it's K Road I'm worried about. The very soul of the strip, St Kevin's Arcade, has been bought by a new owner and it looks like they're going to turn it into Ponsonby.
Well, that's the worry, and for all his fine words to the Herald, Paul Reid, the face of the new owners, hasn't exactly got off on the right foot with the arcade's current community by, I'm told, making an appearance as a drunk do-you-know-who-I-am dick at Whammy Bar recently.
But the building won't, and can't, be demolished. It's just that phrases like "the new Ponsonby Central" make the locals feel unwell.
UPDATE: I'm told Paul Reid has said he definitely doesn't want to turn the arcade into Ponsonby Central, just to refurbish and restore it, and more particularly he has no plans to do anything to Wine Cellar/Whammy. Benefit of the doubt, I reckon.
Speaking of Real Groovy, I'm spinning a few discs there on Saturday June 27, as part of their Saturday DJ thing. I'm on at the store from 11am till 1pm – and then that evening, from 7-11pm, I'm playing a bunch more tunes at Golden Dawn. This is very exciting and you all have to come.
If you happen to be part of our Queenstown reader contingent (I have no idea whether we have a Queenstown reader contingent, but it stands to reason there must be one or two of you there – hi!), I'm playing tunes at The Sherwood from around 8pm till 11pm, next Thursday the 18th. They've even snuck me into the Winter Festival lol.
The sophisticated Auckland gentlemen of Leisure have dropped another tune. It's smooth, naturally:
Basement Tapes is back and he has a new EP, Loving Me, due for release soon on New York label Ralenteer Records. Here's the first single:
Breezy jangles from Dirty Pixels at The Audience. Pretty classic guitar pop imo:
Also, this moody, graceful thing from Idio, who recently had the odd distinction of having their last single, 'Sway', covered on X-Factor (click through for a free download):
And finally, last Saturday night I went to a great gig at Neck of the Woods in memory of Daisy Ram. It was an eclectic bill in what now seems to be the Auckland style – from the blazing rock 'n' roll of Rackets to a hugely enjoyable funky fresh set from Tyra Hammond, with the tireless Jeremy Toy on gadgets.
Tyra goes one better in Wellington tomorrow night, playing the Matterhorn with a full band, including the redoubtable Chip Matthews on the bass guitar. I'd go if I were you, Wellington, I really would.
Meanwhile, here's her soulful, surprising cover of UMO's 'So Good at being in Trouble':
Oh wait ... one more thing. Bandleader James Last left us this week, at the age of 86. His records filled the radiograms of our parents. Here he is with the orchestra covering Hawkwind's 'Silver Machine'. Fuck yeah.