Hard News by Russell Brown

6

Friday Music: Back on the K

One of the best things that happened on Karangahape Road last year was Flying Out's The Others Way Festival. The multi-venue event showed that it was possible to present a diverse lineup for a range of demographics and sell the thing out.

It was notable that the early showtimes and adherence to the schedule drew out a lot of people who maybe don't go to that many gigs and it seemed to mesh perfectly with K Road's peculiar sense of community.

Flying Out has announced that it's back on Friday, September 2, and there's an earlybird offer on tickets. Notably, the Las Vegas and the old Samoa House have been added as venues. One day, they'll get to close K Road itself, but this looks great.

Also, Auckland City Limits is back on Saturday, March 11, 2017.

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The longlist for the Apra Silver Scrolls is out, and while it's perhaps not quite as jammed with hits as last year's, it's a notably varied list, from Dave Dobbyn's 'Harmony House' and David Dalla's protest song 'Don't Rate That' to Shayne Carter's imposing, gothic 'We Will Rise Again'. It's really nice to see Street Chant's 'Pedestrian Support League' in there.

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Speaking of Shayne P Carter, Flying Nun has announced the September 9 release date of the "piano album", Offsider:

And the associated tour dates:

  • Thursday 18th August, The Tuning Fork, Auckland
  • 
Friday 19th August, Bar Bodega, Wellington

  • Friday 26th August, Blue Smoke, Christchurch

  • Saturday 27th August, The Cook, Dunedin

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra's first track in a while, 'First World Problems', is their most funky, nimble tune yet. And now there's a video, in which interpretive dance serves as a fucking-and-fighting metaphor. Well, I think that's what it's about ...

Also fresh: Tourettes has a great video for another taster from his forthcoming album. Whammy Bar stands in for the Big Apple. Very short and proper mad.

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British reggae writer and photographer Dave Hendley passed away this week. He wasn't well known outside reggae business, but if you have a Trojan Records compilation, he may have been the compiler. Here, he wrote about his love for reggae and, more particularly, for the "liberated raw graphics" of Jamaican cover art showcased in sleeves like this:

American Photo magazine showcased some of his pictures of reggae legends at work in JA (thanks for the tip, Dubhead), along with his stories about getting them:

“Probably the most pictures I ever took of anyone, in one of those brief encounters where you take pictures for three or four minutes, was Gregory Isaacs. It took me a month to pluck up the courage to photograph him. He had a bad reputation—he was a very sweet singer, but he was also an out-and-out hoodlum. I think it was a Saturday morning, and we were flying out that night, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get a picture of Gregory Isaacs.’ He was my favorite singer at the time. I saw him down on the North Parade, I said “Gregory, can I take your picture.” He just dropped into a crouched position, he was wearing these very heavy shades, and he just looked completely menacing. I did eight frames, four frames with the glasses off, four with the glasses on—quite nervous, hands shaking.”

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At Audioculture, Murray Cammick has the richly-illustrated story of The Datsuns, from their apprenticeship opening for every international band band that came to Hamilton to – almost instantly, it seemed at the time – the cover of NME. It's really worth a read.

Also new on Audioculture: Gareth Shute profiles DJ DLT, from the beginnings of Upper Hutt Posse on. I still remember booking them during my brief spell as a dance party maestro. They were much harder than any of the Auckland rap crews – and DLT did his stuff with but one turntable. He recalls that in the story:

“At some point during the recording of the album, we borrowed a mixer. It was hard core because I had to learn it on the fly, while recording it. I didn't have a mixer at home to practise on or anything like that. In 1989, when we moved to Auckland, we got lots of gigs so I did eventually get a better set-up, but it was still only one turntable. All the photos from back in the day, you can see that I've only got one turntable and a mixer.”

Here's one from 1990 with the newly luxurious two-turntable set-up:

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Simon Grigg has digitised a long-lost video of the Screaming Meemees playing at the Brown Trout Festival in Dannevirke in in 1983. As you might expect, the North Shore boys didn't go down well with everyone in the crowd and the set was cut short when a bottle from the crowd struck Tony Drumm. But it lasted long enough for the band to play a couple of songs that were never recorded:

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One of the diversions at the horrorshow that has been the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week has been the interludes with the house band, which have not been the wall-to-wall country-rock you might expect. I've been telling people how they played David Bowie's 'Station to Station' on day one and people don't entirely believe me – so here it is. And yeah, they murdered it:

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Tunes!

The Golden Pony are back with another loping, funky house tune. Free download:

If you read the news, you'll know that Turkey's got some problems right now. But there's always disco. Beam Me Up Disco just presented this great mix from Istanbul's Mercan Senel:

She has a bunch of wiggy re-takes on Turkish disco classics. Check this:

And finally, staying with the disco groove, Patrick Cowley's classic 1979 remix of Lipps, Inc's 'Funkytown' is on free download at HearThis. It's a reshare-to-download deal and you might as well grab it now!

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

135

RNC 2016: A literal shitshow

There is a norovirus outbreak at the Republican National Congress. To be fair, uncontrollable vomiting and loss of bowel control would be a reasonable response to the contents of the convention's first day. You may find some irony in the fact that norovirus is transmitted via the faecal-oral route.

"This is insane," I tweeted yesterday as I watched three people get up and tell their stories under the banner 'Victims of Illegal Immigrants', but it was in keeping with the constant tone of fear and hatred that underscored the day's theme of Make America Safe Again.

Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who Trump would appoint as Secretary of Defense, demanded military readiness for "multiple" conflicts. He dragged the term "New American Century" out of some fetid necon cellar, he warned darkly that America's enemies had "Weapons of Mass Destruction" and he repeatedly led a chant calling for Trump's political opponent, Hillary Clinton, to be locked up. That's an undeniably unnerving thing to hear a prospective leader of a country's armed forces to say.

But the US news media overlooked all this savagery in favour of wall-to-wall commentary on Melania Trump's plagiarism. The Trump campaign obliged by denying, in the face of all evidence, that there had in fact been any plagiarism at all. It got to the point where they were quoting My Little Pony to justify it. They insisted, bizarrely, that the controversy was Hillary Clinton's fault.

As Josh Marshall notes, this reaction of denial and attack is characteristic of Trump and, by extension, his campaign. Marshall also says this:

In substantive terms, the much bigger story from last night was a hastily thrown together program focused on violence, bloodshed and betrayal by political enemies. We've become so inured to Trump's brand of incitement that it's barely gotten any notice that Trump had three parents whose children had been killed by illegal/undocumented immigrants tell their stories and whip up outrage and fear about the brown menace to the South. These were either brutal murders or killings with extreme negligence. The pain these parents experience is unfathomable. 

But whatever you think about undocumented immigrants there's no evidence they are more violent or more prone to murder than others in American society. One could just as easily get three people whose children had been killed by African-Americans or Jews, people whose pain and anguish would be no less harrowing. This isn't illustration; it's incitement. When Trump first did this in California a couple months ago people were aghast. Now it's normal.

Day two of the conference seems to offer a similar mix to day one of the chilling and the preposterous. Yesterday, we heard speeches from several reality TV stars and a fading sitcom legend. Today, there's a golder, a soap opera star, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the manager of Trump's winery.

Again, it will probably be a matter of can't-bear-to-watch-but-can't-look-away. I've embedded the live stream below. Let's all hold hands and wonder what the hell is going on. Together.

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8

Strange times with Starboy

Late last month, Fairfax reported that legal-high entrepreneur Matt Bowden had moved with his family to Thailand, apparently to escape debts of more than $3.5 million, including more than a million in tax bills.

The reporter, Chloe Winter, had not been able to speak to Bowden, but it turns out he has been talking – to Vice drug nerd Hamilton Morris, who makes a video series called Hamilton's Pharmacopeia. On Friday, Vice posted an episode of the series that has apparently been a long time in the making ...

Bowden quickly let his Facebook friends know with this message:

Thoroughly enjoyed making this piece with Hamilton Morris, Andy Capper, Dan Cain, Christopher Gill and others from VICE. Thank you all for coming all the way to NZ and then to China to make a rock video with me, and thanks to Shane for taking an interest, what a cool gesture. This was filmed mainly in 2012 right during that election when government were pressured to destroy my operations, and national media wanted to put the boot in, these guys came and offered to make this video and tell this story. I'm honoured to be featured in Hamilton's Pharmacopoeia. Can't wait to see the rock video filmed at Hell's Gate Rotorua and various pharmaceutical factories and labs in China. It was a lot like being on tour! (Apologies to any children or ladies viewing, I used inappropriate language a couple of times.) Enjoy!

But you know what? I really don't think this video does what Matt Bowden thinks it does. It makes him look like kind of an asshole.

The 15-minute report traverses New Zealand's Psychoactive Substances Act, but the timeline is unclear – is that psychoactive substance that Morris vapes at the counter of Shosha in K Road before or after the PSA was amended to end the interim regulations and proactively ban all such products?

"All my life I'd dreamed of visiting the great cannabinoid laboratories of Shanghai," Morris claims, dubiously.

And lo, he does, with Bowden's assistance. The lab's owners are happy to have Bowden and a videographer visit, Morris explains, because of all the money he's sent their way. The lab itself is pretty much a horrorshow – everything you feared about grey-area Chinese drug factories but were too scared to find out.

And amid it all, Bowden is making a music video. While bemused Chinese workers point their phones, he prances around as Starboy, his alter-ego vanity project. He actually dances next to an open tray holding kilograms of your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine white powder.

"The message of the song is that when you do make a stand for the things you believe in, the system will try to crush you," Bowden explains to Morris. "Basically there's no time to apologise when you're in their sights and the the sky is falling. Which is kind of what happened to me right after I wrote the song. So I've got a lot of energy to communicate these basic issues of freedom."

Then we're back in Auckland, at the house that Bowden has since had sold out from under him, with the subject acknowledging he's had a tough year but insisting that his research continues.

Fast-forward to this year, and Morris Skyping Bowden in Thailand, where the latter explains explains: "I had to leave my country –  they wanted to put me in jail. Right after I started talking about if we could develop an alternative to alcohol. It took about two weeks and my life was basically over."

He claims that "the alcohol industry went to the Prime Minister basically, and "put pressure" on the government, which is what he told me, vaguely, the last time I interviewed him last year. But the facts say that his problem was that he didn't pay his taxes and he got audited. Certainly, the abrupt end of the PSA's interim licensing period cut off his revenue stream, but when your revenue is contingent on a hugely controversial – and temporary – government dispensation, you'd surely be bearing that in mind.

The Skype call closes with Bowden offering to send Morris "some new tryptamine analogues" to try, subject to US law permitting that.

The interesting thing is that Bowden's company, Psychoactive Research Limited, has been granted Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority licences to import psychoactive substances for research, in the name of Dr Shangjin Yang, who was made a joint director with Bowden this year. Dr Yang is a genuine scientist who has previously worked on cancer treatments.

So perhaps it's possible that Dr Yang will come up with Bowden's dream: the low-risk psychoactive product that will make its way through the regulations and be approved for sale in New Zealand – and thereafter the world.

But it's hard to see this very weird video helping that happen.

8

Music: The Passing of Vega

I saw Suicide at the Camden Palace on Thursday, October 9, 1987. It was hard going: the venue was kind of a dump, it must have been after midnight by the time they came on, and and when they did, they were so loud it literally made my teeth hurt.

But, you know, they were identifiably Suicide and that was exciting. And Alan Vega was all shambolic cool. When someone down the front helpfully pointed out that he was getting a bit fat, Vega responded.

"Yeah, I know. Waddaya want me to do – jog?"

Maybe you had to be there, but I laughed then and still makes me laugh now.

So Alan Vega died yesterday, aged 78. He had a heart attack and a stroke in 2012, so his health had not been the best. Most of the commentary has revolved around his role as the frontman of Suicide, and the duo's first two albums in particular.

That's understandable. Those two albums were like a separate evolutionary branch. They pretty much came out of nowhere and they influenced everyone from New Order and Depeche Mode to Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails and Bruce Springsteen (who covered 'Dream Baby Dream' both in concert and on record). And yet, they stood alone. For all that they offered an essential new perspective on rock and prefigured electronic dance music, there was no crop of wannabe Suicides.

Okay, look: I got that Springsteen part off Wikipedia. I'm not gonna be the guy who pretends he's got all the dead guy's records. But I was intrigued by this November 2015 interview that Rolling Stone tweeted after the news broke. In it, Vega tells the story of Cubist Blues, the album he made with melodic superhero Alex Chilton and his friend Ben Vaughn in 1994.

So I listened to Cubist Blues on Spotify (it's on Apple Music too) and holy shit, what a good record. Loose, rambling and – especially gven that Vega spends most of his time in his trademark 50s rock 'n' roll croon – impossibly varied. And it wasn't really meant to be:

To him, he was expecting to record only the scuffling, muted rock & roll track "Fat City," a nearly nine-minute song whose lyrics he scrawled on the day's New York Post and the trio recorded in one take. "Alex was sitting on the ground in a lotus position, playing guitar," Vega recalls of the late-night session, which took place at New York City's now-closed Dessau Studio. "He was in his position for 200 hours; he wouldn't move. I guess he smoked pot or whatever."

Vega thought they were simply going to record a single, but they ended up being there for hours. "He kept saying, 'Let's do another,'" the singer recalls. So they then tackled the ambling, bluesy "Sister," which Vega improvised. "Then he said, 'Let's do another one,'" Vega says. And they came up with 10 more off the top of their heads. "Next thing you know, I literally felt a fire burning in my scalp. I had flames coming out as we were doing the last song, 'Dream Baby Dream.'"

The album was recently re-released by Light in the Attic, who posted one track 'Fly Away', on YouTube. "It sounds like it should be on the soundtrack of a David Lynch film," Fiona observed as she passed. It does.

So cheers, Alan Vega. You were a proper New York person.

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My friends The Onedin Line have dropped the first song from their recording session with Mario Posa. It's a warm, jangly taster for an EP out later this year:

Having heard it, I can say there's another song that's a stone cold indie-pop hit on the EP, but this is very nice to be getting on with.

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The Experiment is back for 2016 this weekend at Galatos. The genre-stretching festival's lineup includes familiar names like Anthonie Tonnon, Weird Together and Soccer Practise alongside theatre and dance from the likes of Disco Bloodbath, Pretty Asian Theatre and Jahra Rager. All the rooms will be open. A two-night pass for Friday and Saturday is $35 at Under the Radar and there are single-night tickets too.

And next month, Ladi6 Parks is back with Parks, Julien Dyne, and Brandon Haru for a reprise of last year's studio-on-stage jam The Alpha Sessions. They'll be working it out in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch.

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Tunes!

Free download from Rock 'n' Rolla Soundsystem: their edit of a prowling tune by the French producer Guts. There's some Gershwin way back in there...

A deep, lazy soul groove from local lads Leisure. Twenty thousand-odd plays on Soundcloud in the three days since they dropped it:

And a supple, funky edit of Marlena Shaw's classic 'Woman of the Ghetto'. Click through for the download:

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The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

35

Obama's Mana

Much has been said already about the considered and unifying character of US President Barack Obama's speech at the memorial for the five Dallas cops murdered last week. But I couldn't help but think of the statement he made exactly a week ago, after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile atthe hands of police.

That one contained many of the ideas that featured in the Dallas speech, but it wasn't a big, scripted set-piece. Obama got off a long-haul flight to Warsaw and decided he needed to say something. It's personal and authentic – and evidence of his increasing willingness to talk about race as his presidency draws to a close.

The president gave a speech of a very different character back in May at the Rutgers University Commencement. In that one, he trolled Donald Trump and rocked a stadium crowd while he was at it. "In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue!" he declared.

Last month, he went off script towards the end of something called the North American Leaders Summit to address the idea of Trump and populism.

It's clear that, as the Twitter kids would put it, Obama has entered the stage of his presidency where he has few fucks left to give and a much greater willingness to say what he really thinks.

There's no sign that this frankness is hurting his popularity. Indeed, he's getting more popular. An ABC/WaPo poll this month had his approval rating up to 56%, a level he hasn't seen for a long time (not since the extrajudicial killing of Osama Bin Laden, in fact). It's worth noting that that rise is driven by greater favourability among Democrats, many of whom may be looking at their future presidential choices much as Trevor Noah did recently on The Daily Show:

I'm not among those who perceive Hilary Clinton as some sort of modern devil, but "Grandma Nixon" is a pretty sick burn.

Stephen Colbert made a similar point – and noted a report that Obama could go into the venture capital business in Silicon Valley after his term ends.

Whether that's true or not, it seems clear that Obama's mana is increasing as his presidency ends. And that he will be part of American political and cultural life for a long time to come.

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There has been so much said about the racial divide exposed by the past week's violence in America that it's hard to know where to start. But I will say that I've found the stunning documentary series OJ Simpson: Made in America useful and fascinating. (It has finished its run on ESPN but may be back soon. Or, well, you know where to find these things.)

At its base, Simpson's story is as simple and awful as series of incidents of domestic violence that ended in a killing. At its broadest, it's a sweeping picture of American race relations, media, money and culture.

The racial intensity of the Simpson trial derived from the beating of Rodney King by police – captured for all the world to see on citizen video and unpunished by the courts. But while I understood that connection, I was stunned by the way the second part of the documentary laid out all the incidents that preceded the brutal beating of King. This has been going on for a long, long time.

We live now in an era where citizen video is ubiquitous. And we recently entered the era where that video goes live. Although most of us saw it afterwards, Diamond Reynolds' video, in which her boyfriend Philando bled and died in front of the cellphone camera, went out via Facebook Live. In one sense, the video was a disturbing spectacle – almost a snuff film – and in another, her prudent, desperate attempt to let family and friends know what was happening.

Will it bring justice? It's hard to say. Since King, and before, a substantial number of Americans have seemed willing to accept escalation, violence and loss of control as part of conventional police practice. There's even some kind of rationale there, given the extreme danger posed by America's gun pandemic. It's hard to even see a way out.

The great Gil Scott Heron famously proposed that the revolution would not be televised. He was really making a rather different point, but we do now know that it will be live online. There will, hopefully, be greater accountability as a consequence – and yet at some point we'll see something even worse than Philando Castile, something we should not have seen but cannot unsee. This is going to take a while to work through.