Hard News by Russell Brown


ORCON IRL: How was your year?


That's the question we'll put at the final Orcon IRL at Golden Dawn for 2016.

RUSSELL BROWN and CHARLOTTE RYAN will quiz a bunch of people who did stuff about how it all went and the state of the world as we draw to the close of the millennium's strangest year yet.


SIMON WILSON on life in Auckland, and out of Metro.

WORD Christchurch creative director RACHAEL KING on the year Christchurch came back.

Webseries wonders JUSTIN HARWOOD (High Road) and ROSEANNE LIANG (Friday Night Bites) on making TV on the internet.

The peerless STINKY JIM will provide the DJ sounds

And VOOM will play a Christmas show, with special guests.

Stay tuned for more announcements!

(This event will be streamed live by 95bFM, so wear your nice top.)

C'mon down and have a party at the end of the world!*


When: Wednesday December 7, 6.30-9pm

Where: The Golden Dawn, Ponsonby

RSVP here on Facebook (or click the email icon under this post and let us know)


From Zero: The Meth Episode

The episode of the From Zero podcast published today looks at the state of things with methamphetamine. It finds a widespread belief that the official statistics – which have meth use at just over 1% of the population, half what it was at peak – are missing something. That there's a problem placing severe strain on treatment resources and driving a change of approach from the police.

Since we finished the episode, the latest Annual Arrestee Drug Use Monitoring Report  has been published, and shows increases in both use and availability of meth:

... the proportion of detainees who had used methamphetamine in the previous year increased from 28 percent in 2012 to 36 percent in 2015.
The proportion of detainees who felt dependent on methamphetamine increased from 22 percent in 2011 to 35 percent in 2015.

The police press release described an accompanying reduction in the use and availability of cannabis as a "positive trend". I really don't think so. 

It's widely agreed that this time around, meth is manifesting in different places: in the regions and in poorer communities. And I was told more than once that in some places, meth is overtaking marijuana as the social drug of choice. That is not a "positive trend".

In episode five of From Zero, published next week, we look at the economic reasons why that might be happening. But this week is a story about consequences. At the newly-expanded Higher Ground rehab facility in Te Atatu, nearly three quarters of new clients are meth-dependent, although the picture is complicated by multiple other drugs, primarily alcohol. There's a permanent waiting list for treatment.

Things are worse in Porirua, where longtime Mongrel Mob leader Dennis Makalio and his wife Liz are essentially improvising the kind of support and services that are not being provided by the system. They print out and laminate signs that people can put up to let friends and whanau know they're detoxing, and not to bring drugs to the house. They've also set up a Facebook group to share information.

When I visited the Makalios, they also gave me a song they'd recorded and I've uploaded it to YouTube for them:

Part of this week's episode has been spun off into a news story this morning, based on my interview with Detective Senior Sergeant Stan Brown, who headed Operation Rosella, which brought down a meth supply ring in WestAuckland this year. In the course of that operation, Waitemata police harvested 140 mobile phone numbers, all belonging to meth customers. Instead of seeing how many of those people they could prosecute, the police did something visionary: they offered them help with their drug use.

In an interview with me, Detective Senior Sergeant Brown said that his officers now do not always prosecute meth supply, if they determine that it's small-time dealing to support a habit. They will try and get people into treatment. I think this is a prudent use of police resources.

Police will tell you – as Superintendent Virginia Le Bas, National Manager Organised Crime, told me – that they have always pursued this kind of "demand reduction", which is true. But it's also true, as Stan Brown told me, that things have changed since he served in the Drug Squad in the 1980s. And that change is fascinating.

Not all state agencies are working in the same direction, though. At the core of drug rehabilitation is the belief – backed by evidence – that the key to beating drug dependence is stability and security. Higher Ground sometimes has to teach people how to cook for themselves. The Alcohol and Other Drugs Court seeks to get those who come before it not only sober but engaged in their communities. I've interviewed Judge Emma Aitken of the AODC for this episode.

And yet, we have Housing New Zealand doing the opposite of that and terminating tenancies and tearing families apart on the basic of deeply questionable tests for "meth contamination".

It's not helping. It's really not helping.

Episode 4 of From Zero, The Meth Episode, is available here on the RNZ website and in the iTunes podcast store.


Do e-bikes ease traffic congestion? With a little help ...

I wrote a little while ago about how riding an e-bike changed my experience of cycling. I got places more quickly and with less effort than I initially realised, thanks to the electric boost. And that, in turn, influences my decisions about whether I'll ride or drive.

If I'm short on time or low on energy, I'll be more likely to ride if I'm getting some of that sweet electric assistance. And that'll take a car off the road with the attendant benefits of that. I think it's brilliant that we're already seeing more e-bikes on the road thanks to Mercury's e-bike promotion. I know it's been good for participating retailers and my sense is that it's getting more women onto bikes.

I plan to join the revolution too. But I'm perhaps not a typical case. I don't have a commute, unless you count lurching from the bedroom to my home office, which is a very short distance.

There are others like me. A survey conducted for the Portland State Transportation Research and Education Centre asked questions of 553 regular e-bike riders. Seventy three per cent of them said they rode an e-bike to different destinations (that would be me), 65% wanted to replace some car journeys and 60% liked an e-bike because they lived in a hilly area (also me). And more than 70% were, like me, older than 45. Nearly all had ridden a standard bike at some point in their adult lives, but people rode markedly more often after getting an e-bike. Nearly a third continued to ride a standard bike daily or weekly alongside their e-bikes (which will very likely be me). So there's a picture there.

But what about people who might be motivated to take up an e-bike but don't want to ride like a twentysomething cycle courier? What do they need? They need bike lanes. Infrastructure is, I think, crucial to even broader e-bike uptake. Happily, that's starting to happen, in Auckland anyway. Auckland Transport's Urban Cycleways Programme has already begun to spawn both commuter routes, which will be fully-protect cycleways where possible – but also local paths for local journeys, often during the day.

I've debated with some advocates who regard the latter as a soft option, because the local paths often pass through parks and other open spaces, rather than staking a claim on road space. And I disagree. Local journeys matter and riding through parks is nice.

But if we're looking to impact traffic congestion, we are talking about cycle commuting infrastructure – and there's a very clear correlation to be seen in the Big Kahuna of Auckland cycleways, the Northwestern. As the route is improved, more people use it. Between May 2015 and 2016, cycle journeys on the Northwestern increased 47%. I would expect we'll see a further increase when the Northwestern terminates in the K Road precinct and when the protected cycle lanes go in on Great North Road. It'll be easier and safer to ride to the city.

My friend, a woman my age, lives in Mt Albert and runs a business in Newton. It's a little bit far for her to ride a conventional bike, but she bought one of the SmartMotion e-bikes and cruises in on the Northwestern. It works.

Is it a given that people switch from cars to bikes if you do all this? No. There's some evidence that London's huge cycleway programme has brought out more cyclists, but no fewer cars. But London, as a mega-city with a very concentrated centre, is something of a special case. Elsewhere, there's evidence that better provision for cyclists means not only fewer motorists, but happier motorists.

So, in summary: my experience is that an e-bike inclines me to make more and longer cycle journeys, which replace car journeys. An e-bike also influences my riding behaviour – I'm less likely to want to duck and dive, more likely to want my own lane. I think it's pretty clear that e-bikes  do encourage people to commute by bicycle, and I actually know people for whom that is the case. So bring it on.

This post is sponsored by Mercury. Details on Mercury's e-bike promotion can be found here.


Friday Music! 'Tis the Season

It's been dark a long time but it's starting to feel like summer. And that means the parties are starting. The nice people at Base FM kick off with a party on the roof of Rydges Hotel in partnership with Splore this Sunday. It runs from 2pm-8pm and features a live performance from SoccerPractise plus sets from Dylan C, FJ and other Base DJs, covering quite a range of styles. More details and (essential) free RSVP here.

95bFM has put together a really good-looking Christmas Party at the King's Arms on December 1, featuring Yoko Zuna, merk and Roy Irwin, among others, plus DJ sets from Princess Chelsea and the Grow Room. It's free but go here to RSVP.

Stinky Jim and Dubhead are grooving up Hallertau Brewery tomorrow afternoon. That sounds like a nice Saturday.

Much as I've been enjoying Leisure's debut album, I'm pleased to see that one of the band's members, Jordan Arts, is busting out for an evening to do do a show as High Hoops. He's playing with Spycc at REC on Saturday December 3 (tickets here), two days after the release of a new single, 'Burn It Up'.


I'm doing The Mixtape with Alex Behan at 5pm on Music 101 tomorrow afternoon. The trick with these things is to choose songs that not only work as a playlist, but which come with stories attached. I've only called Alex back with one panicked change to the list so far, so I figure I'm winning.

You might also be interested in Episode 3 of From Zero, my RNZ podcast about New Zealanders and drugs. This episode is 'Drugs and Popular Culture' and it features quite a bit of music – and a nice interview with Tom Scott of Home Brew and Average Rap Band.

Also tomorrow: I'm playing some vinyl records at Real Groovy from 1pm-3pm. All styles, as ever.


Kim Pflaum, formerly of Yumi Zouma, plays Whammy bar tonight (and Moon in Wellington tomorrow night in support of Bad Humours, her debut EP as Madeira. It's a pretty cool record. I like this Lontalius/Race Banyon remix too:


A gorgeous (and good-humoured) new video for Fat Freddy's Drop's 'Fish in the Sea':


Russell Baillie talks to Ian Chapman about his new book, The Dunedin Sound – Some Disenchanted Evening. And Audioculture has an except from the book – Amanda Mills' wonderful essay searching for evidence that the "Dunedin Sound" is a thing

The illustrations are a treat too. This is Alec Bathgate's HP agreement for his Les Paul copy guitar, 1977. He later sold the guitar to David Kilgour and it can be seen in most images of the Clean through the 1980s.

A few of these have emerged before, but Audioculture now has a full crop of Fiona Clark's images of early Auckland punk rock, centred on the Idle Idols and Zwines. There's a decent enough photographic record of this time, but most people were shooting in black and white. The colour is what makes Fiona's pics special.

In the centre, Jonathan Jamrag, at the time this was taken in Rooter. He would leave a month later to form The Atrocities, but is probably best known as the frontman of Proud Scum. In the front, Craig, the vocalist with The Aliens. Behind Gail Young, now a designer in Paris.

Oh, and one more David Mancuso thing: Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster interview, republished by RBMA last week. It's fascinating.



Whoop! New Dimitri from Paris! And it's fully afro-disco! This is an instrumental version of his new single. Click through for a free download. Yuss.

RocknRolla Soundsystem meet Pops Staples! Free download ...

Lord Echo featuring Mara TK. It's nice.

A bang-up-to-date deep house set from james carter – free download.


And finally, I'd really like to thank Dan and everyone at The Audio Consultant for supporting the Friday Music post every week. They're good people. They're moving on now, so I'm looking out for a new sponsor. It's a very modest rate for a weekly presence, so if you think that might be you, click the email link under this post and get in touch.


From Zero: Drugs and popular culture

The third episode of From Zero, my RNZ podcast series about New Zealanders and drugs, looks at drugs and popular culture: music, movies, TV and magazines.

There is more of this than most people realise. New Zealand was a bit of a late starter – while American jazz musicians wrote and sang about drugs as a part of their lives and environments from the 1930s (I explain what 'Minnie the Moocher' is about in the episode), we didn't have our first honest-to-goodness pop song about drugs until Lew Pryme's 'Gracious Lady Alice Dee' in 1968.

There have been quite a few since – more than I could fit in the Top 10 New Zealand Songs About Drugs I wrote for Audioculture. In the episode I talk to Chris Stapp of Deja Voodoo about saying the unsayable in 'P' and Tom Scott about whether all the drug-taking in this video was real (spoiler: yes).

Also, Outrageous Fortune and Westside creator James Griffin talks about why Van and Munter just had to be this way:

And Geoff Murphy sheds some light on the weed scene in Goodbye Pork Pie.

All these and more have reached us without greatly troubling the censors. But there is one thing that will still reliably cop you a ban: the wrong kind of gardening tips. Chief Censor Andrew Jack explains why issues of Norml News and High Times have been deemed objectionable – and Norml president Chris Fowlie responds with indignation.

Some people might hear this ep as frivolous, or even as celebrating drug use. It's not, really: it's creative people reflecting society with the tools at hand. And you can be ensured that Episode 4, on methamphetamine, is considerably darker.

For now, here's that time Billy T. James went on TV and taught small children how to roll a joint ...

Episode 3 of From Zero, Drugs and Popular Culture, is available here on the RNZ website. You can also subscribe to the podcast via the iTunes Store.