Hard News by Russell Brown


Listening Lounge 2016: Drugs and the dancehall

When the promoters of the Splore festival asked me to put together another Listening Lounge talk programme for this year's festival, they asked whether I had a dream guest I'd like to bring in. I did. And I'm pleased to say that the plan came together and, with the assistance of the New Zealand Drug Foundation, Dr Sanho Tree will be delivering the keynote speech.

Sanho is the director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and if you've read any of the work I've done for Matters of Substance in the past three years, you'll probably have seen him quoted. Indeed, at one point my editor felt moved to politely suggest that I should write a story without quoting Sanho.

He's a former military and diplomatic historian and investigative journalist and a one-time personal assistant to entertainer and social activist Harry Belafonte. And he draws on all that to place the war on drugs "at the intersection of race and poverty". He's also witty, quotable and very smart.

Sanho will talk about the foundations of the global drug war in US foreign policy imperatives, the reasons it has failed and the prospects and means for reform. He'll also look forward to UNGASS 2016 – the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, which takes place in New York in April.

I've written an extensive backgrounder on UNGASS for Matters of Substance, which traces an arc from the bold promise of "a drug-free world by 2008" on which UNGASS 1998 was branded, through to 2016, where the slogan might as well be "maybe we're doing this wrong ..."

Sanho's talk will be the concluding part of the first section of The Listening Lounge, at the Living Lounge stage from 10.30am on Saturday the 20th. I'll kick off with a brief summary of the history of psychoactive drugs and the laws that regulate them in New Zealand and an outline of where we're at now.

Then, at 11am, it's time for our panel:

Richie Hardcore is a broadcaster, steward, personal trainer and former kickboxer who spends his days working in the community with people with drug and alcohol problems. The twist? He does not use alcohol or drugs and has not done so far many years. But he's not judging.

Wendy Allison is one of the founders of the Kiwiburn festival, the New Zealand counterpart to Burning Man. She's done fascinating work on what people are really getting when they buy recreational drugs on the black market – and why that's a big problem.

The Rev Dr Hirini Kaa is a historian, social campaigner and Anglican minister. He has characterised the war on drugs as part of a "war on the poor", but, like many Maori leaders, is deeply wary of any move to relax drug prohibition.

Dr Jamie Whyte is, of course, the former leader of the Act Party. In line with his libertarian philosophy, he endorses the legalisation of drugs. But even for a libertarian, does the state have a role to play? And why can't even the party of personal choice get behind drug law reform?


Sanho will speak from 11.30 till noon, when the theme changes to The State of the Dancehall Nation, which takes up the theme of the state of dance music that proved so profitable and interesting with Mr Scruff at last year's Listening Lounge.

 First up is the panel I'm calling The Parliament:

Eddie Johnston (aka Lontalius aka Race Banyon) is a young producer and performer who moves across musical boundaries with disarming ease. He's steeped in dance music history but worries about appropriating cultures he didn't create.

Aroha Harawira gave a fascinating (and sometimes alarming) account of working as a woman in the DJ trade at one of our Orcon IRL events last year and so I've asked her back. She's smart and strong and she know her tunes.

Lady Flic began her DJ career in New Zealand, got her break via the Red Bull Music Academy and moved to London and thence to Bali, where she is music director at the Potato Head Beach Club. She's shared a stage with Snoop Dogg, Fatboy Slim and Derrick May, to name a few.

Nick Dwyer is a DJ and soooo much more than a DJ. After years helming the breakfast show for George FM, he's now creative director at a radio station in Tokyo. He produced and directed the Making Tracks TV series and Digging the Carts, a documentary about video game music. With Dick Johnson he also helms the afro-everything group Weird Together.

Which brings us to the final part of the programme: the House of Lords.

In the late 1980s Hackney brothers the Ragga Twins helped create the original gritty jungle sound that became drum 'n' bass. They're still working, still recording, still a massive bundle of fun – and reggae probably still owes them money.

They're joined by Barry Ashworth of the Dub Pistols, who was in the room (and in Ibiza) when the late 80s house revolution changed the face of global dance music and has worked since as a DJ, musician, TV broadcaster and occasional football pundit. He also helped get The Specials back together, and who can say that?

After all that, I have to leg it over to Splore DJ Stage to play my own 90-minute set of vintage house vinyl from 1.30. I'll probably be due a beer and swim when all that's done.

You can see the full Splore programme and purchase your tickets here.


PS: Note that Sanho Tree speaks at public seminars in Auckland and Wellington in the week following Splore, under the banner A New Deal? Changing approaches to drugs in 2016. If I haven't already made this obvious, he's worth catching.


On Friday night, I closed a long, occasionally difficult but undoubtedly valuable discussion thread spawned by my post about incidents of sexual harassment at the Laneway festival. There were two main reasons for doing so.

The first was that the thread had become quite nasty and personalised. I asked everyone, including some people who are not regular contributors here, to pull back and was ignored. People screenshotting each other is not a discussion; or at least, not the kind of discussion I want to host. Some past threads may have run on in a similar state, but literally only because for years I didn't have the ability to close threads.

Moreover, some of what was happening seemed to be the exercising of old and not-so-old enmities from Twitter, which is unfair to people commenting here, especially those who aren't on Twitter themselves. (I've felt the need to talk directly to a couple of people in the past few months when they've discovered themselves being talked about elsewhere and were understandably upset.) The sometimes-difficult relationship between this place and Twitter was well and truly surfaced.

The other reason was me. Moderation, at least the way I've chosen to do it over the years, can be emotionally exhausting. I'd put a lot of time and thought into the thread – even deliberately removing myself for a while on the hunch that I'd had enough to say, especially to other dudes. Fretting about it literally had me lying awake on Thursday night. I'd tried not to look at any comments elsewhere, but it's hard to avoid seeing sneering comments about yourself on Twitter sometimes, and I did find that upsetting. The death of a friend and some emotionally challenging stuff with my sons were also part of the picture. It was a pretty hard week.

I thought the discussion had got to a decent place on Friday afternoon, but when it turned to shit in the evening, I just had nothing. I needed to be able to just spend some time with my family and not worry. I needed to sleep. I was worried about my blood pressure, but a bit too scared to take it. So my mental and physical health and my family life took priority. I'm not public property.

But part of the thread had gradually evolved into a discussion of why some women were no longer comfortable, or at least less comfortable, commenting here. I do care about that and I understand why some people were unhappy at the loss of that discussion. I suggested to Emma Hart that she could reboot things and moderate a new thread on the topic, but she responded: "Jesus no. Fuck no. The last two pages of that thread were insane." Which is pretty much the reason I won't be reopening the thread either.

But there's more than one way to do this, and perhaps a way that doesn't hang people out to dry is better anyway. I've already had a number of sympathetic messages about the thread, all but one from women,  and some of those have also contained some useful tips. I'd like to hear from more members of our reader community – and women in particular – about how they feel about discussions here and what they think could be improved. I don't think the answer is as simple as a formal code of conduct – anyone explicitly abusive or threatening is generally swiftly removed anyway and regular readers know how to use the "report post" button. It's a bit more nuanced than that.

But I would like to hear about it. You can email me by clicking the little icon below this post.

Anyway, I hope you all have a happy and fulfilling week. I felt a lot better after I took some action and went to find some people in real life on Sunday. You might enjoy the blog post I made of it.


Mt Eden: Not a closing but an opening

Although I'm fond of the place, I hadn't paid a great deal of attention to the wrangle over the closing to motor traffic of the access road to the summit of Mt Eden.

The car ban has been discussed for years, as part of an imperative to protect the physical cone – buses were mercifully banned in 2011 – but the idea gained momentum in 2014, when the Tāmaki Collective Settlement became law, and care of 14 Auckland volcanoes thus passed to local iwi, via the Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority.

The maunga authority's strong view was that the tihi, or summit, should be clear of traffic as a matter of respect for its spiritual and cultural significance to mana whenua and, in the words of authority chair Paul Majurey, as "a key measure to protect this taonga, and to reflect the mana whenua and community aspirations of their living connections with this taonga."

The Eden-Albert local board agreed, as did Friends of Maungawhau. A Digipoll survey commissioned by the Herald found strong support.

The most organised opposition came from Act's MP David Seymour, who set up a website soliciting submissions to Auckland Council and the authority. Affordable Auckland's Stephen Berry also took some time away from the important job of hating Len Brown to issue a release declaring that "such a move verges on lunacy".

Neither of them was successful and at the end of last month, bollards were put in place to block the road. Access arrangements for motorists are now what they have been for buses since 2011: there is parking and a roundabout for turning part way up the mountain and visitors can either walk up the short way – a little over 200 metres – or take the longer path that winds around the mountain.

Visitors with limited mobility can call the Auckland Council customer service centre ahead of time to obtain a temporary code to lower the bollards so they can drive up – although they will need to be able to quote a mobility card number. Frequent visitors can apply by email for a permanent code.

Well, that's the detail. But the detail doesn't really capture what's happened here. Yesterday – which was, fittingly, the first Mondayised Waitangi Day – I rode my bike over to Mt Eden and came up the summit road. And it was ... beautiful.

What had been a narrow one-way road was now flocked with Aucklanders walking, cycling and running their ways up and down.

Groups of people from buses parked below trailed over the paths around the cone. And it seemed more possible now to pause on the access road rather than get out of the way lest a car come. One the way down, I stopped to take in a view I'd never really considered before.

And at the summit? It was wide and clear. There were, as ever, plenty of tourists, but there was space for everyone.

One Twitter correspondent told me that the first time he'd been up, there were "people literally singing up there". Another paid tribute to the "great atmosphere" at the tihi a few evenings back – "I'd love to see a summer festival up there one day," she said. "Stalls in the middle of the old car park."

My only reservation is that already having a mobility card is a fairly high bar for people who might be mobile on the flat but can't manage the climb and perhaps a way could be found to accommodate them without letting that concession be abused. But otherwise, what I saw yesterday was a near-miraculous illustration of what happens when you give a space back to people, and not cars. It's not a closing, it's an opening.

So kia ora and thank you to the Tāmaki iwi. Your manaakitanga does not go unnoticed.


Here's one more good thing. Work has begun on the Waterview shared path, which covers the same stretch as the Waterview Connection tunnel and effectively makes it possible to walk or ride across the motu, from harbour to harbour – if by a somewhat less direct route than the tunnel.

NZTA had to be pretty much boxed around the ears by the Waterview Board of Inquiry to take on the job, but it's begun now and it's good thing.  As a bonus, it connects a string of reserves and public spaces that are currently isolated from one another. In doing so, it enhances each of those spaces.

Jessica Rose has a lovely piece over at Bike Auckland on what the project means to her.


Sunday People

With one thing or another, including some challenging family stuff and a death in my peer group, I had a rough week and wound up neither communicating or sleeping well. Speechless, sleepless and exhausted. I woke at 5am today and eventually gave up on getting unconscious again.

After a cup of tea and a half-hearted look through the papers, I decided what I needed instead of sitting around feeling anxious was a ride to Avondale markets. I'd be back in time for Sunday poached eggs.

As I waited on the centre line to turn right from Carrington Road into the cycleway, a car came past to my left; too close, too fast, its horn blaring.

"Oh, fuck off," I said, loudly.

"Good morning!" I bid the pack of Sunday road riders who'd been watching.

"Ooh, naughty," laughed one. "You rode on the road!'

It seemed to make sense to make an effort to talk to people, face to face, in real life, so when I pulled up to lock my bike to the fence at Avondale Raceway, I smiled at the guy on the other side, who'd pulled up with an incredible-looking electric cargo bike arrangement.

"Where'd you ride from?" I asked him.

"Onehunga," he panted. "And the power ran out at New Windsor."

I came around inside the fence and asked if I could take his picture with my phone. He said sure. I decided I'd take more pictures ...


Friday Music: Festive and Unconflicted

The music post here is usually a break from politics, but I was amused this morning by Prime Minister John Key's declaration that he would be forsaking Waitangi tomorrow for somewhere "festive and unconflicted" to spend Waitangi Day – because it immediately suggested one of those "By coincidence that's the title of my forthcoming album" jokes of which I will never tire.

And, indeed, when Key was among party leaders set a cultural questionaire in 2011, he declared his favourite music not to be that of any particular artist, but "easy listening music". Festive and Unconflicted sounds like a great easy listening album.

Of course, the PM's expressed preferences have moved around a little over the years, or between elections. In 2008, he professed to be a fan of Nesian Mystik and OpShop, but when pressed on his favourite OpShop tune said: "You, know, their big hit... hmm... well I don't know them by name, I just know what I like to listen to." In 2014, he told a group of schoolkids, improbably, that his favourite music was now One Direction.

But it is all about theatre. Helen Clark's goverment might have provided crucial support for New Zealand popular music, but each year at the Music Awards, she basically pretended through gritted teeth to enjoy the music itself. It manifested in the speeches – or, rather, The Speech, which she insisted on writing herself (over the entreaties of advisors) and delivered a little more loudly and less convincingly each year.

Not every senior politician can be a Grant Robertson – who, when asked for his favourite music will likely respond with a Top 10, a two-hour Spotify playlist and an offer to write a series of blog posts – and that's a reasonable reflection of the public itself. Not everyone is lost in music.

But I will say this: when I noticed and greeted James Dann in the crowd for Battles at Laneway on Monday, I turned around to my buddy and said: "That was Labour's candidate in Ilam at the last election."

"Wow," said my friend.

Indeed. Should James eventually achieve higher political honours, the Parliament's knowledge of the works of Lady Gaga and Grimes will have increased considerably. There are others in the House: Jacinda Ardern is famously a DJ and, I'm told, National's Chris Bishop has his roots in goth.

Actually, where am I even going with this? I'm really not sure. But ... Vaclav Havel. There was a politician who knew the power of music to disrupt, rather than soothe and sedate. He might sometimes have been festive, but I don't think he was ever much a fan of the unconflicted.


Speaking of Laneway: Jackson has yet again taken some great pictures of the performers and the punters.


A bit of a video feast this week. The BBC three-partner Music Moguls is on YouTube. Episode two, on producers, is narrated by Nile Rodgers and it's really interesting. It includes Tony Visconti's recreation of the way Bowie's 'Heroes' was built up from the original bare-bones band recording:

There's also Part One, on managers, and Part Three, on music PR.

The Phoenix Foundation have a nice live session for Findspire Studios in France. ("Bonjour, nous sommes le Phoenix Foundation ...")

And thanks heaps to Public Address reader David for the tip on This Is Ska, a remarkable 1964 BBC documentary featuring everyone from Byron Lee and The Dragonaires to Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster and Stranger Cole.

The comments on this blog have some useful detail on the film, including this:

If the presenter looks vaguely familiar to anyone, that's probably because it is Edward Seaga who later went on to become Jamaica's fifth Prime Minister (JLP - Jamaican Labour Party). But in the 60's Seaga was a music promoter and the owner of the West Indies Records Ltd (WIRL) label which he sold on to Byron Lee (the band leader in the video) in 1968. Most non-Jamaican reggae fans' overriding memory of Seaga will be from the 1978 One Love Concert when Bob Marley got Seaga and his rival, Michael Manley, to shake hands on stage in front of the whole nation.



Still mo' Bowie. A remix of Big Daddy Kane's 'Good Times', with 'Sound and Vision' mashed into the mix. Free download with a bit of account-following palaver.

This week's Lontalius album teaser. Official site here.

And ... there was going to be more, but HearThis has packed a sad and is throwing up database errors. So later for that ...


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant