Hard News by Russell Brown

24

Friday Music: The Music Story

As Karyn Hay noted at Wednesday night's announcement, it's been a poorly-kept secret in the industry that Auckland Museum has been preparing a major New Zealand music exhibition. But if the reveal of Volume: Making Music in New Zealand comes as news to you, you should regard it as happy news.

The exhibition was conceived a year and a half ago by Recorded Music New Zealand's Mark Roach and it has been shaped through research and writing from Graham Reid and the input of an advisory panel that includes Simon Grigg and Aroha Harawira.

It builds on the momentum that has gathered behind our popular music heritage in recent years, which includes Audioculture, a sweeping programme of digital re-releases guided by the RMNZ board and a fledgling Flying Nun Foundation (Ian Dalziel and I are on the board of that). So it's the right show at the right time.

Among other things, Mark looks after the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame and the hope is that the exhibition will be a significant step towards a permanent home for that initiative. It doesn't open till October 28 (and runs until May 2017), but you can get an idea of the flavour from the promo clip released this week:

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Josell Ramos' 2003 film Maestro cops an undistinguished score of 36 on Metacritic and it's not hard to see why. The cinematography is mostly terrible, the soundtrack is badly mastered and irrelevant in parts, and its narrative is so jumbled that anyone who doesn't already know the story will find it mystifying. But it provides a rare insight into the early days of dance music in New York, when a community of mostly gay black men forged the culture everyone else embraced five, 10, 20 years later. There's even film from The Loft.

The film's owners appear to have given up on selling it and are instead concentrating on licensing the rare footage it contains (I'm guessing they have more than is in the movie for anyone with the budget to license the music, which they presumably didn't). Eight of the nine parts posted to YouTube have been taken down on copyright claims, but the first 10 minutes remains.

A comment under the clip claims that mint copies of the DVD have been going for as much as $450, which is daft. There's a magnet URL if you want to try your luck.

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Bill Direen's back catalogue has (quite rightly) enjoyed some reverent treatment in recent years, with the German label Unwucht re-releasing his early EPs on beautiful-sounding 12" vinyl. Now, it's the turn of the first Builders album, Beatin Hearts, which is to be re-released as a vinyl LP by the US label Grapefruit. There's a pre-order deal for the album and the limited-edition 7" Buildermash EP.

Meanwhile, here's 'Alien' in its anxious fucking glory. That's Chris Knox on climactic backing vocals:

And over at Audioculture, Roger Shepherd writes about writing his Flying Nun story.

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The New Zealand International Film Festival has announced its music film lineup and it includes a Zappa doco and Barbara Kopple's Miss Sharon Jones!

Over at Fact, James Blake presents a list of his favourite b-sides and rarities for you to show off to your friends with.

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My buddies The Onedin Line play with Sleepers Union at the latter's album launch gig at the Crown Hotel in Dunedin tonight. And they got a David Mitchell poster!

There's an intriguingly elcectic lineup for The Wine Cellar's multi-night Borderline festival next week– from Princess Chelsea and Soccer Practuce to Jay Clarkson and Phil Dadson. Leonard Charles with fully funky band sounds enticing. Nightly tickets or festival passes are available from Under the Radar.

And 95bFM presents its Fancy New Band showcase at the King's Arms tonight. Station manager Hugh Sundae will be dressing up in a pilot's uniform and picking up punters in a bus beforehand. The route runs a loop through K Road, Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Arch Hill and Kingsland. Like this:

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Fazerdaze has released a simple video that seems to perfectly fit her dreamy, disarming song 'Little Uneasy'. As Martyn Pepperell's interview for The 405 reveals, it's made in Hobsonville, on Auckland's expanding fringe. No, I didn't pick it either, but it looks like a sweet place for a ride.

And Lawrence Arabia released this late-Beatlesque heads up for his forthcoming album Absolute Truth, which is out on Flying Nun in July. He explained the song's genesis to The Pantograph Punch.

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Tunes!

It was a nice surprise when Lontalius dropped a cover of Anika Moa's 'Dreams in My Head' into his set at his recent album launch. And this morning he put a recording on Soundcloud. Yay.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra dropped a new track this week. It conjures Prince and it is funky as shit. I like this a lot.

Loop Recordings crew Yoko Zuna today release Luminols, an EP recorded at Red Bull Studios with a cluster of guest vocalists, including P Diggs, Laughton Kora and Tom Scott. But I'm going with LarzRanda and Heavy yo:

Space Above are Aaron Short of the Naked and Famous, Sam MCarthy and Maddie North. Their deep, driving debut is out now:

They've also done a more mysterious mixtape for A Label Called Success:

RocknRolla Soundsystem are back with a fresh edit. This time, it's Toots! (Free download with a bit of Hypeddit palaver.)

Pitch Black have re-upped tracks from their 2009 album of remixes, Rhythm, Sound and Movement. And it still sounds pretty nice:

A neat little mash-up of Juju's 'African Rhythms' and Fela's 'Sorrow Tears and Blood'. Click through for download options:

Righto - kitchen dancing time. Perth's Casual Connection have dropped a bunch of reworks on Soundcloud as free downloads, including this little corker:

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

24

Things that do us good and ill

Earlier this month, I attended a conference on the best ways to regulate drugs which are illegal now but might not be so in future. Most of the discussion revolved around cannabis and concerns about the effects of commerce. No one wants to repeat the mistakes made with alcohol and tobacco.

I came away better-informed and more positive about the option of cannabis social clubs. They seem to offer a middle course between untrammelled commerce and a Uruguay-style state monopoly – an option that appeals to some researchers but which would, I think, fail for basic consumer reasons. Will two flavours of state weed really fly? Will it work if the state doesn't provide the pot that people want?

As Professor Tom DeCorte of Ghent University noted, in places like Belgium, people have actually turned to cannabis clubs in search of choice, and for better-quality, and in some cases milder, pot.

Professor DeCorte said that clubs are generally run by enthusiasts and seem to regulate themselves well. The only potential problem I could see was the implicit assumption that cannabis use is uniform and habitual. When you join a club that lets you obtain a certain amount of weed – and in some clubs that amount is up to 100 grams per week – maybe that's inducement to consume more, more regularly.

Also among the speakers was Dr Paul Quigley, an emergency medicine specialist and clinical toxicologist at Wellington Hospital, who won some headlines last year by saying that he'd like to see MDMA legalised and regulated as a safer alternative to the novel chemicals currently sending people to ED.

"I would love just 10% of the budget that goes into the War on Drugs to come to me in Health," he said during his talk.

But those chemicals aren't his big problem. He pointed out that he sees 500 alcohol-related presentations for every other drug presentation. He's not a wowser – he's a craft beer enthusiast and a certified beer-taster – but he wants alcohol to be harder to get and more expensive.

He puzzled over ways to moderate the consumption of drugs that are legal now or will be in the future. Education ("PSAs reach an audience that already acts well") and warning labels ("who reads them?") did not seem effective. Merely prescribing a drug does not mean the user will self-regulate well – indeed, the reverse may be true. He even mused ("this is science-fiction, folks") on the possbilities of a licence to consume alcohol – one which could be withdrawn on the basis of, say, a drink-drive conviction, thus preventing entry to licensed premises. It was an enjoyable discourse.

I chatted with Dr Quigley afterwards about some of the other things he's seeing at the frontline. The most interesting was the re-purposing of vapourisers, which currently dwell in a regulatory twilight zone: they're legitimately stocked, but can't be sold as a smoking cessation aid, even though when they deliver nicotine they plainly help people give up smoking.

Vapes aren't going away, and they present a challenge for regulators. Dr Quigley is increasingly aware of them being used as delivery devices for both opiates and methaphetamine. People simply dunk their drugs into watermelon-flavoured e-juice from the local head shop and vape away. This is clearly less harmful than injecting the drugs, especially in the case of opiates, where the means of administration makes fatal overdose much less likely.

With respect to alcohol, he noted problems with current drinking patterns among young people: most notably, the tendency to keep going by consuming energy drinks alongside or with alcohol. The alcohol has a longer half-life than the caffeine and sometimes, tragically, kids who have been put to bed to sleep it off – even in the recovery position – have never woken up because the caffeine wore off and their lungs stopped working.

There's another drug you can buy at the supermarket that causes problems. Wellington ED alone sees about 700 cases annually of paracetamol overdose. They cluster around the weekends and most are impulsive suicide attempts. It's a really terrible way to commit suicide. If it works, it's an awful way to die; and if it doesn't, it can cause serious organ damage.

It may come as a surprise to hear that Dr Quigley does not favour a permissive approach to medical marijuana. He's amenable to legalising recreational use, but believes that medicines must be trialled and approved according to established standards. Having doctors prescribe raw cannabis would be "turning them into drug dealers".

I thought of all this when I read The Guardian's astonishing story of how Florida's love affair with synthetic prescription painkillers tipped over into a heroin boom.

In part, it answers the question: if the black market is so bad, how come America developed such a huge problem with legal prescription drugs? In the case of Florida, it was because the state made such an awful job of regulating prescription.

Florida’s problems started after OxyContin swept on to the market in 1996, just as medical authorities began pressing doctors to pay greater attention to alleviating pain. Unscrupulous businessmen in Florida spotted an opportunity.

Within a few years, hundreds of pain clinics popped up around the state dispensing opioid pills to just about anyone who asked. Among the earliest and biggest was American Pain in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area, with a pharmacy run by former strippers and doctors carrying guns under their white coats.

It took in tens of millions of dollars a year selling OxyContin and generic versions containing oxycodone to people who travelled from Kentucky and West Virginiawhere painkillers were known as “hillbilly heroin”. They came south along the “Oxy Express” by bus or the carload, sometimes driven by dealers who took a cut of the pills.

At one point, more than 90% of all the prescription opioids dispensed by doctors in the US were sold in Florida.

Eventually, in 2010, the state cracked down on prescription. 

American Pain was shut down in an FBI raid and its owners were imprisoned. The Florida legislature passed laws to kill off other pill mills and curtail the largely unfettered prescription of opioids. Deaths from oxycodone in Florida dropped 69% in the five years from 2010.

But the clampdown left those already addicted without a ready supply. It limited access to pills, forced up prices on the street, and made heroin a cheaper alternative. As the drug flooded in from Mexico, heroin deaths in Florida more than doubled in 2014 alone to a record 408.

Lord knows what they do about this.

But there is an irony in the fact that Florida has very narrow permissions (and they largely haven't even kicked in yet) for another drug that treats pain: cannabis. But that may soon change – Florida is coming up to a ballot initiative that would considerably expand access to medical marijuana. So more people would have access to medpot for a wider range of conditions, including pain that might otherwise be treated with more dangerous drugs, like those opioids that have caused such a problem.

Sounds good, right? But it's hard not to feel a bit queasy about Big Marijuana descending on the state and showering money on a "Yes" vote that would hugely expand its potential market.

And yet, denying pain relief on the basis that the drugs that provide it could be misused is, to put it mildlly, ethically problematic. At UNGASS last month, delegates from many developing countries spoke compellingly about the suffering caused in their countries by drug control policies that tightly restricted opioid painkillers. On the other hand, our own Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs has advised against Pharmac funding the approved cannabis-based medicine Sativex on the dubious assumption that it might be "diverted".

You're probably looking for a conclusion about now. Well, I don't have one – beyond the oservation that this whole thing is very, very complicated.

41

Three Dreams

I have three dreams. One is characteristic, one is recurring and one is singular.

The characteristic one is simple in concept: it's me and my friends going places and doing things. In the last one I can recall, there was a lake, my family was there – and so, for some reason, were Lorde and her friends. I think they got to the party and we didn't, but also that this is not a very profound dream. It's really just exercising social noise.

The recurring one is deeper. It's a flying dream that I've had since childhood. It's always low flying, and my clearest memory of it in childhood is of circling our front yard like a dragonfly, with a teatowel spanning my outstretched arms.

In my twenties, the flying dream evolved – or, rather the flying itself did. It became more like softly falling; if I fell right, I'd never hit the ground. Indeed, I'd be able to surf around half a metre away from the earth, as if it were a trick with gravity. I remember several times falling all the way up Parnell Rise, en route to Windsor Castle.

Did you notice what I said there? Certainly, there was a period in my life where my friends and I walked up Parnell Rise in some fairly elevated states. But we didn't actually fly. It's just that for some reason my brain has stored this dream in a way usually reserved for real-life memories. Unless I broke the spell by consciously thinking about it, it was something that actually happened.

I had this dream for the first time in a long while recently and the next day allowed my conscious mind to entertain it for a little while because it was just so pleasant to believe, for a while, that it was real, that I had the trick of it.

The singular dream is one that was both helpful and important to me – and one I'd like to never have again.

My father died a little over 20 years ago. He died of lung cancer and it took a long time, perhaps because he was in denial that it was happening. He was a good man and I will always be grateful for the security of my childhood, but like many men of his generation, he was often uncomfortable with his feelings.

I was feeling frustrated with his way of dying, and deprived of the father-son talk, the big generational handover. There were things I wanted to say, but he wasn't available.

And then one night, I dreamed it was me that was dying.

It was awful, bleak, terrifying in its inevitability. I woke up gasping at 6am. I think my heart was thumping. It didn't take me long to realise that maybe this was how Dad was feeling and I consequently accepted that, unless he bid it, The Talk wasn't going to happen. It was his death, not mine. I had no rights on it, just an obligation to make him comfortable.

I got my talk in the end, after he passed. His body had been brought back to the house, everyone else went out and I spent half an hour saying what I wanted to say. That was okay. The Talk had always been for me. And there's no way I would have accepted that like I did, had it not been for the dream.

There is, I should say, one other salutory dream: it was a matter of my unconscious delivering me a dressing-down, with a kind of sardonic poetry. It, too, was an enlightenment. But I'm afraid you don't get to know about that one.

98

This. Is. Crazy.

It's eight days since the Prime Minister airily assured Guyon Espiner on Morning Report that "in my experience with Work and Income", homeless people could go along to their local office and get sorted with some emergency housing.

We now know that what that means is that Work and Income will place people in spartan accommodation on very high rents and then lodge those rents as a debt against them, even if they have no means of repaying it.

Another Morning Report story broadcast this morning looks at where that leads and cites, among others, the case of a mother of eight who now owes Work and Income $60,000 because she has had nowhere else to go but the accommodation that is costing her more than $1200 a week.

The woman was evicted by Housing New Zealand months ago after "methamphetamine contamination" was detected at her home. The story says it's "unclear" whether the contamination happened during her tenancy or is the fault of a previous tenant.

Auckland Action Against Poverty cooordinator Alastair Russell explains in the report that there is a mandatory 12-month ban under Housing New Zealand's meth policy.

"So she'll clock up this debt for another six months and then go back to Housing New Zealand seeking assistance with a debt of probably in excess of $100,000."

The aggravation here is Housing New Zealand's zero-tolerance policy, which is not connected to the Ministry of Health guidelines  (which only cover clan lab remediation anyway), but is, so far as I can tell, triggered by any detection at all of methamphetamine residue in a building. 

The problem here, as toxicologists explained to the Science Media Centre back in March, is that residues from meth being smoked – as opposed to manufacture, which involves dangerous chemicals and real health risks – pose, at worst, a "minimal" risk of toxicity.

There is a further problem in that the companies which carry out such testing operate in an unlicensed environment. There are no standards for the services they offer.

So on a scientific level, the HNZ policy is woo. But it's not about science. They're not testing for health risks; they're testing for tenant lifestyle. And they're using tenant lifestyle as a pretext for generating churn in the inadequate stock of public housing, because the only way they can get more people into public housing is to get other people out out of it.

Perhaps this mother allowed meth to be smoked in her house, perhaps a previous tenant did. But is throwing her and eight children out on the street really a sensible or humane response? Especially when the upshot is that she will have to return to be re-housed after her stand-down and the only difference is that she will then be carrying a crippling debt?

This. Is. Crazy.

49

The media awards are dead – long live the media awards!

Friday's Canon Media Awards was the most interesting instance of the long-running national ceremony in a long time, maybe ever. There were notable insurgencies – The SpinOff took two awards from 11 first-time nominations, Radio NZ's The Wireless won Website of the Year – and there seemed to be more young people in the room than I can remember.

It might well also have been the last media awards in the current form.

For years – and more especially since the broadcast categories were removed, making the whole thing slightly less leviathan – the awards have centred on a rivalry between the country's two big newspaper chains. Assuming the whole merger thing isn't just a ruse while big investors get their money out of APN and Fairfax, the two chains could be one by this time next year. Nominations earned as rivals in 2016 might be awards received as colleagues by May next year

This isn't necessarily a disaster. The partisan cheering and table-thumping can be a bit wearying if you're not involved. And the path ahead seems clear enough: make it a journalism and publishing awards across the various media platforms.

We got a bit of that on Friday. One News Now was named best news site,  TVNZ's Luke Appleby got Scoop of the Year for the prison fight club story, The Wireless and The SpinOff got noms and awards in "proper" journalistic categories (most notably, Tess McClure was named Junior Feature Writer of the Year). And while it will take some working out, it's do-able. I'd like to see more recognition of "digital" – the one-word name for the level at which so may young people come into the industry now. And while it was great to see Harkanwal Singh win "best digital artwork or graphics", I think we're due for data visualistion to be a thing.

These are changing times. And in that context, I think the most touching story on Friday was the naming of Barbara Fountain as Editorial Leader of the Year. Barbara has been editor of New Zealand Doctor for the past 20 years and has made it an exemplary trade publication – but it could have ended last year. Instead, she stepped up and in partnership with Anna Mickell bought NZ Doctor and several smaller publications from their previous owner. It continues to operate as both a print periodical and a paywalled website and we're all the better for that.

Also: warmest congratulations to my friend Matt Nippert, who was named Reporter of the Year after a number of years as a bridesmaid. If ever a man earned the right to drink red wine from a trophy and exclaim "I am a  golden god!", it's Matt.

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And yes, we won too. Public Address was named Best Blog Site. That's the whole site, not just me: and that means all our bloggers, our developers CactusLab and you, the readers and commenters. Lord knows some of you try my patience at times, but I learn something from you every day.

But it was personally pleasing too. Public Address has been online since 2002 and we've had comments since 2006. Hard News itself has its roots in the Hard News radio rant on 95bFM, which began in 1991 and whose text (and sometimes audio) was published on the internet from 1993.

You do have your ups and downs in that many years, and I've had some dispiriting experiences recently. I've wondered if I still had the energy for this, the more so given that my means of support as a working journalist have been increasingly uncertain. It's hard to find the time not just for publishing, but for people.

But I'm cheered, not least by the kind words from my journalist peers on Friday night. We'll press on. And this week I'll finally get the forms and sign us up to membership of the Press Council, something Graeme Edgeler has been patiently offering to pay for for quite a long time now. (Sorry Graeme.)

I'm also cheered by something I saw a few hours before Friday's awards ceremony. For years, I've been wishing for a shared voluntary subscriptions platform for blog and independent media. I started talking a while ago to Alex Clark, who had a vision for something similar.

He is an extraordinarily persistent man, he was able to attract a little investment, and I'm pleased to report that Press Patron is under serious development and only a few months away from a 1.0 release. I went and had a look at the work in progress and it's good.

I should note that although the mock-ups on the Press Patron website feature Public Address pages, this is Alex's baby. My main contribution has probably been steering him away from the hard paywall model towards the voluntary subscriptions that have worked for us on a more informal level.

So at some point I'll ask those of you who are supporting Public Address via PayPal subscriptions and online banking payments to consider moving to this new platform. I'll have a much better idea of who (and how many) you are and will be able to communicate better. You'll have a dashboard to manage your contributions to us and other sites. I'm keen to work on a subscriber benefits system once the platform is up and running. It's good.

And finally, thanks and congratulations to our friends at the other blog site nominees, Villainesse and The Pantograph Punch. We do different things in different ways, but it felt nice to be there alongside positive ventures. I think we've well and truly broken through some stultifying conventions about what blogs are.

Update: I've received the comments from the judges, Deborah Hill Cone and Bill Ralston. They're touching and gratifying:

With Public Address Russell Brown inspires hope the internet can be deep as well as fast.  He should feel proud he has created a unique and meaningful community with a compelling voice that demands to be heard, not by shrieking loudly but by talking thoughtfully.

For an online entity, Public Address retains a surprisingly quirky and organic personality. Readers are left in no doubt this is an enterprise which is authentic and wholehearted, not dreamt up in a corporate focus group.  The writing is classy but fierce, bringing clarity to topics as varied as racism, footpaths and eczema.

Public Address is a place to read something that means something.

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And after all that, we have a TV show to record this evening. The SpinOff's publisher Duncan Greive will be grilled until he reveals his secret sauce.

Also, we'll look at a story – the crisis around housing and homelessness – in which public service media have taken the lead, with Newshub's Mike Wesley-Smith and Louisa Wall MP. And we'll turn our attention to the strange and unnerving spectacle of the US presidential elections with Jennifer Curtin and John Dybvig.

If you'd like to join us for the recording of Media Take – and you only have another month before we're all on the street looking for work – come to TVNZ at 5.45pm today.