Hard News by Russell Brown


The Unitary Plan and grown-up conversations

News media and interest groups have, of course, been immersed in the contents of the Independent Hearings Panel recommendations on the Proposed Aucland Unitary Plan since their publication yesterday. But perhaps we should also take a moment to consider the meaning of the panel's report. Because it really does change things.

Right up until yesterday, it has been possible to characterise the desire to plan for intensification and provide for growth, as the work of fools, knaves, loons, vandals, nameless planners and Len Brown. Opponents of the Unitary Plan will doubtless continue to wilfully misrepresent the implications of the Unitary Plan, but their job is harder now. The kind of insult salad aspirant Auckland councillor Bill Ralston dished up in March doesn't really work any more.

The imprimateur of a quasi-judicial body has shifted debate on the plan to a different place, not least because the IHP has gone further  than the council itself. Effectively, some grown-ups have looked at it all and come to a conclusion. As flawed as it was in some ways, the government's 2010 super-city legislation laid the ground for that by requiring the oversight of an independent panel rather than council-appointed commissioners.

That doesn't mean the debate is over. The IHP's removal of mana whenua protections will be controversial (it's remarkable how some councillors and commentators seem to believe heritage protections are something only middle-class wote folks get) and there are many other points of contention. But I honestly think the coversation must be more sensible now, whether that suits some people or not.


DNC 2016: Beyond weird, most of the way to scary

Where to even start? As the Democratic Convention gets underway in Philadelphia, crowds of disaffected Sanders delegates – motivated by a dump of Democratic National Committee emails which seem very likely to have been taken in a hack overseen by Russian intelligence agencies who may well be working in the interests of the Trump campaign – seem set on disrupting the event, even though their guy is begging them not to.

In truth, while the emails are awkward for the DNC, they reflect what was a fairly public enmity between the Sanders campaign and the Democratic Party machine at the time they were written. And they do not show that the primary election was "rigged" or that the Sanders campaign was "sabotaged".

Although Pew Research finds that Democratic voters who supported Sanders during the primary now overwhelmingly say they will vote for Clinton, it will be the crowds inside and outside the convention hall who believe Taylor Swift – sorry, Hillary Clinton – is the devil will get all the oxygen.

This is going to be an interesting four days. Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Michelle Obama are lined up to speak. Lord knows where it goes. Would a group hug be out of order?


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.


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.


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


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.


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.”


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:


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:


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:



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!


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


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.



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.