Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Mixed Blessings

A briefer Friday Music today. After all, I've already spent hours this week researching and writing about the very mixed blessing that is Apple Music. You can hear me talking about that some more from 2pm on Radio New Zealand's Music 101 tomorrow.

Speaking of mixed blessings: Kanye West at Glastonbury. I found a stream last weekend and watched his odd, very uneven headline show – and perhaps the victory in it was that you kind of had to watch, just to see what might happen next. There was something really gutsy about going out alone like that. And something a little joyless about how it felt in the end.

But Glasto 2015 really did deliver some delights. In keeping with the provisions of Section 42 of the Copyright Act 1994 I obtained a video of the whole Jamie Xx set for purposes of criticism and review and by the time my family came home on Monday night I was very much all raving under one roof. I didn't actually kiss the subwoofer, but I could have.

Happily, the BBC has made available the opening of the set, where he played The Persuasions' 'Good Times' before tipping into the tune on his album that samples it, 'I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)'.

And, neatly, the glorious conclusion with 'Loud Places' and a crowd of people who clearly wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the universe:

This really is my jam.

In a similar vein, Caribou played at sunset on the Friday.

Also, Roy Ayers:

While Kanye was all on his lonesome, elsewhere on the site the Mothership was Returning:

In further fishnet tights action, Perfume Genius:

I thought Spiritualised sounded pretty cool ...

Patti Smith is never not cool.

It's a bit of a shame that the Beeb chose 'Doubt' from the Mary J. Blige set and not her incredible, rainswept and emotional performance of 'No More Drama', but this is still great:

There was word that Lionel Ritchie's appearance in the now-traditional Sunday afternoon guilty pleasure slot at the Pyramid Stage drew the biggest crowd of the entire festival. And yeah, it does look that way ...

And there's a lot more to be had in the Beeb's giant YouTube playlist ...


Martyn Pepperell has a nice interview with Lontalius, who is typically thoughtful.

Music 101 interviews my lovely friend Renee Jones on occasion of her moving on from Independent Music NZ after more than a decade of looking after artists:

New on Audioculture: Peter McLennan on the Christchurch-based performing arts collective Pacific Underground.

And a really great documentary on The Saints' immortal first album (I'm) Stranded and what came before and after. There's much to relate to for New Zealanders in its themes of distance and difference:


New tracks!

The title track of the Phoenix Foundation's forthcoming album Give Up Your Dreams is the second single. It's not nearly as bleak at the title would suggest ...

Another really nice new tune from Chelsea Jade.

Flume drops a dramatic remix of a song by Sydneysiders Collarbones:

And finally, James Duncan remixes Dudley Benson's 'Muscles'. You can buy the EP here on Bandcamp and it further includes remixes by Eyeliner (aka Disasteradio) and Murderbike. Four bucks!

You have six days to help out with the crowdfunding for Dudley to complete his album Zealandia. He's at 67% of his $12,000 total.


Apple Music: Taking a dump on a butterfly

In the development of the Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs infamously corralled the Mac team into something between a hostile faction and a cult, in the belief that the Mac needed to be created in isolation from the interests of the rest of the company he had built.

It added to the perception that he was an unmanageable lunatic, which eventually led to him being thrown out of his own company, but it was probably the right call.

By contrast, Apple Music, the "revolutionary" service launched this week, feels like like it was created by at least two distinct interest groups within Apple. No, let me rephrase that: it's like a company made a butterfly and then took a dump on it.

My Day One Apple Music experience didn't start particularly well. The "Try now" page on the local Apple website told me I need to update iTunes – and then linked me to a page that contained the same version of iTunes I already had, which did not support Apple Music. Just as I might have become angered, the App Store popped up with an upgrade to iTunes 12.2. It came as part of a fairly hefty Mac OS upgrade and Apple's normally-champion CDN was, understandably, breathing hard on launch day, but it didn't take too long.

The sign-up, in the best Apple tradition, was spookily easy and I was quickly into a couple of screens where I was asked to declare basic taste parameters as to what kind of music I liked and then specific artists (localised to include UMO, Gin Wigmore and Opshop).

I also consented, warily, to enabling iCloud Music Library.

Then, I was in – and it was pretty sweet. "For You", one of four new Apple Music-related tabs at the top of the iTunes window, was a bit dad-rock, but the "new" tab presented me with new music I was actually interested in in a way that Spotify never, ever has. On the "Radio" tab, the Soundsystem station immediately clicked for me and Beats 1 sounded as lively as I'd hoped. The whole thing was seamless, natural and pretty.

And then I tried to do something pretty basic. I tried to save an album (Toro y Moi's new one, What For?) for later play. I clicked the "..." menu next to the album title and tried "Add to My Music". If the album had been added to "My Music" (ie: my existing iTunes library) I couldn't see it. So I tried click the "+" symbol, whch apparently filled the same function. Still no luck. So I went back to "..." and tried "Add To", which showed all my existing iTunes playlists, but gave me no option to create a new playlist to create a new one for the album.

I tried exiting to old-fashioned iTunes and created a new playlist called "Toro y Moi" in my "2015 albums" playlist folder, then adding the album to that. It looked like something had happened, but when I checked there were no tracks in it. I was invited to add tracks to the new playlist separately, but I still couldn't find the tracks I wanted to add in "My Music".

At some point I switched off iCloud Music Library to see if that helped. It didn't, but when I switched it back on I realised that the tiny rotating circle to the right of the iTunes title bar was signalling that iTunes was scanning my existing library for the cloud, a la the dreaded iTunes Match. It took about 45 minutes to do that and then, without asking, started uploading all the tracks in my library that it couldn't match – gigabytes of them – which I really was not in the mood for.

But when I stopped that, the one EP that I had managed to get to display in My Music (Golden Features' XXIV) – which I'd had to painfully drag up a long column of playlists for put in my 2015 Albums folder, because there's no way of saving an album into an existing folder – greyed out and became unplayable. I seemed to have switched off iCloud Library again by halting the unwanted uploads. So, back to the start.

Eventually, once iCloud Library was finished, I was able to see tracks I saved to My Music. I could save a track I liked from Radio (which is an great feature), but I couldn't save it to a playlist, only to My Music. So as a workaround, I dragged tracks from "Recently Added" in iTunes to a new playlist I'd manually created. But surely it wasn't meant to work like this?

Through all this, I kept going back to the albums I'd tried to save. And each time, I had to dig them out. Although there was a "Recently Played" for Radio stations, I couldn't find an equivalent for albums, playlists or individual tracks, even those I'd apparently saved, within Apple Music. (I say "apparently" because the tick symbol signalling an album had been saved kept defaulting back to a "+" and I genuinely had no idea what the hell was going on.)

But I had made progress. I'd been able to create a playlist and add tracks to it, and I'd added an album to my library, albeit painfully. So I updated my iPhone (another long download), ticked my new playlists and tried to sync my phone with my library.

Computer said no.

Apple Music tracks can't be synced to another device in the customary iTunes fashion. Instead, you need to depend on the magic of, gulp, iCloud Music Library. Result: duplicated playlists, the unwanted chaos of being forced to see my whole, unruly iTunes library "merged" with the existing library on my phone. I didn't have the heart to work out whether the duplicated playlists on my phone were the same ones duplicated (and even triplicated!) by iCloudMusic Library in my desktop iTunes.

And I still couldn't see the Apple Music playlists I'd been trying to add to it.

So I made sure I had "Music Available Offline" (meaning only music physically stored in the device is visible) checked, but it turned out that this is overidden by iCloud Music Library. And if I switched off iCloud Music Library, that disabled any ability to save anything from Apple Music to my phone. Not just for offline play – any kind of playlisting or bookmarking from the phone itself.

So we're left with a situation where any kind of persistence is hugely problematic, and I'm inclined to think the problem is iCloud. Apple has been nagging its customers to use its cloud service for a while now, even though the target market – Apple-infused knowledge workers who want to seamlessly pick up and put down their three or four Apple devices – must surely be a subset of the whole customer base.

I dunno, maybe similarly there are iTunes users – on Mac OS and elsewhere – who have neat and tidy music libraries that they largely bought at the iTunes Store and absolutely adore having it all perfectly replicated, from device to device, in the cloud. Or perhaps young Spotify users are quite used to have no music actually stored on their devices. But among the real-world music fans Apple claims to be targeting? Not so much.

It really does feel like a good streaming music service has been forced to serve the company's overarching strategy and has suffered badly as a result. The odd and slightly encouraging thing is that it's quite fixable, even within the three-month free trial period. Apple could ...

• Get the fuck over integrating Apple Music with users' existing libraries. As currently executed it's not a feature, it's a bug. At the least, just give us the option to maintain separation. It's no big deal.

• Build some kind of persistence into Apple Music itself, like any other streaming service has. It's absurd that I can't easily revisit albums and playlists I've saved (or even listened to) within the service itself.

• Alternatively, add an "Apple Music" tab to the left-hand column in iTunes, like the pointless "Purchased Music" one that's already there.

• Sort out basic UI flubs like not being able to save an album to a new playlist, or save a Radio track to any playlist. Jesus Christ, this should be basic.

• For God's sake make it possible to save something I've listened to – as a streaming link and as tracks playable offline – on a mobile device without forcing me to accept some broken version of a desktop iTunes library I never wanted on my phone in the first fucking place.

I haven't covered Connect here – because it's not all that important as user experience for now – or family sharing, because I signed up to a family account and I just can't face that part at the moment.

But I'm interested in other people's experiences, and in whether there's something I've missed or done wrong. I would aso note that there's no harm at all in downloading the new iTunes, signing up for the three-month trial and having a play (you can listen to the Radio service without even signing up). It's a pretty sweet experience in many respects.

After all, it's only a disaster if you try and make it do any more than simply play you music.


Whakamomori: Raw, open and honest

This week's Media Take looks at Target Zero, the documentary that follows Mike King as he travels around the country talking to young people about depression and suicide. The documentary has been something of a phenomenon for Maori Television since it screened two weeks ago, with a flood of on-demand views both within and outside New Zealand.

We changed our usual format for the discussion. For obvious reasons, there's no merry banter between Toi Iti and I at the top of the show and we decided in advance to let the discussion with Mike and his friend and sometime radio partner, psychologist Malcolm Falconer, run beyond the seven minutes we had scheduled for the broadcast show.

After we wrapped the discussion, I commented to Toi that I had no idea how long we'd talked for. It turned out to be more than 17 minutes, whch is a long time in television.

The most remarkable parts of Target Zero are those where young people speak on their own account. What they say is raw, open and honest – sometimes wrenchingly so. Why did they open up like that? Probably because they were talking to an adult who had already revealed himself as flawed. They weren't used to hearing a man talking about being vulnerable and they responded to it.

Those kids really exposed themselves, and I understand why there is some strong official resistance to what Mike is doing. The view has long been that talking about suicide to young people is risky, that it normalises suicide as a behaviour. There will be further concern that Mike's campaign is so tightly tied to him as a person.

But we've spent a long time not talking about suicide and the rate is not falling. In particular, the suicide rate among young Maori men is twice that of the general population. It's hard to hear these kids and not feel that it's good they feel able to share their feelings.

I want to express my respect for Toi. When he admitted in the discussion that he found this korero difficult, he was expressing the very vulnerability that goes unacknowledged among men and, on the evidence of the documentary, Maori men in particular. It really wasn't your average current affairs chat.

Twenty or 30 years ago, suicide took more of my friends than any other cause of death. There may be another such period as I grow older again. It seems important to talk about it. 

You can watch the full discussion on-demand here.

Target Zero is here on-demand.

And the show as broadcast is here and includes a chat with Maori Television head of content Mike Rehu and my report on the Apple Music flap. Props to our editor Paul Oremland for doing such a good job of bringing down the discussion with Mike and Malcolm to seven broadcast minutes.


Potency and purity

Over the weekend, my attention was drawn to a column by National Poisons Centre toxicologist Leo Schep, published in the Herald last week, apparently in response to comments by Wellington ED doctor Paul Quigley, calling for regulated sale of MDMA.

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.

It's tempting to suppose that there was something else at play here. The emergency presentations were so dramatic that both doctors and police initially told news media they suspected the pills taken by the patients had been contaminated with a toxic substance.

But Schep is correct. The case series documented in the wake of the admissions notes that:

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.

MDMA is not harmless, as the case Schep describes makes clear. It can be deadly. But it's not hard to see why emergency doctors like Quigley would see it as a better option than most other things that could turn up in a pill: globally, MDMA accounts for only a small proportion of emergency visits and a large percentage of those are not life-threatening.

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.


Friday Music: A dream or memory of some things

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.


On the basis that the trailer below is there now, I'm expecting that the reportedly brilliant and unflinching Nina Simone documentaryWhat Happened, Miss Simone? will turn up on Netflix NZ within the next day or so. (If it doesn't, you probably know what to do.)


A rather promising snippet from the newly-announced New Order album, Music Complete, due in September. No, they still haven't sorted things out with Hooky.


From John Dix's wild memory of Bruno Lawrence, published this week on Audioculture:

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".

Also new this week on Audioculture, Gareth Shute tells the story of Murray Cammick's unexpected rock label Wildside. Gotta bust out this memorable magazine cover ...


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.

And from the Radio New Zealand Music team, Zac Arnold talks to Boycrush, aka Alistair Deverick, about being a man in New Zealand.


Tunes ...

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):

Meanwhile, Red Bull Studios in Auckland is running a competition to remix Chelsea Jade's 'Night Swimmer', and the results are quite brilliant. You can find all the entries on Soundcloud via the #CHELSEAJADEREMIX hashtag. These two are taking my fancy.

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):

Another free download: a dub of a track from the new Seun Kuti remix EP.

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. 


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