Hard News by Russell Brown

6

Friday Music: The Return of Disasteradio

I confess, it had escaped me that there had not been a Disasteradio album for seven years. It's not as if Luke Rowell had been idle: he's made a bunch of records as his alter-ego Eyeliner in that time. But Sweatshop, the album released this week, has been a looong time coming. I mean, Kim Hill played the title track, the "first single from the forthcoming 2014 album"  in, well, 2014.

But the good news is, Sweatshop is out and it's really wonderful: a funky, infectious record with 80s pop in its heart and vocodered vocals and old-fashioned drum machine sounds all over the shop. What might look mad and gimmicky is actually a box of finely-crafted bangers with a depth that gives lie to its immediate appeal.

Take for instance, that title track. Its refrain references Foxconn and it's born out of Luke's unease that the gear he does his work with is likely the fruit of exploitative labour practices. You'd also totally bop around your kitchen to it. 

The songs are more melodic and, well, songlike than previous releases have been – Luke claims the inspiration of Tom Petty, among others, this time around – and I like that too. I'm really looking forward to seeing him play at The Other's Way festival on September 1.

If you can't make that, the other tour dates were announced this morning:

Hamilton, Nivara Lounge August 31

Christchurch, Darkroom, September 8

Dunedin, None Gallery, September 9

Palmerston North, Stomach, September 15

Whanganui, Lucky, September 16

Wellington, Meow, September 30

The album is on the streaming services, but if you buy it on Bandcamp and pay more than zero (it's on name-your-price) you also get a download code for the accompanying digital EP of instrumentals, Sweatpants. And Luke actually gets some money to fund his space travel hobby.

–––

Speaking of which, Luke told me something nice this week. Way back when I my TV show was called Media7, we had access to enough budget for me to commission Luke to rework our original theme music by SJD. And he used that fee to buy the onstage laptop he played every gig with for the next six years. Huzzah!

If only such a thing were possible now. It's one thing paying for the use of music in your productions (a very good thing thing, might I add), but it's even better being in a position to commission work. Back in 2009, Media7 wrapped up its year by commissioning James Milne (aka Lawrence Arabia) to write and perform a song about a media year characterised by apologies. It was a very good song:

From memory, Luke played the season-ender the following year.

It's not entirely unknown now – the new Checkpoint launched with a theme commissioned from James, and the likes of Karl Steven and the Phoenix Foundation writers have forged parallel careers in writing music for the screen. But it does rather underline the way killing TVNZ 7 and freezing broadcast funding for nine years has had an impact beyond the obvious.

–––

The Others Way made its second lineup announcement this morning, adding, among others, Tiny Ruins, Grayson Gilmour, the Friendly Potential crew and, yup, Eyeliner. Luke Rowell is going to be busy.

And tomorrow night, I'll be DJing with the brilliant Sandy Mill in the courtyard at Golden Dawn while Hopetoun Brown play inside. We'll be on the decks until 2am, so you if you're watching the rugby, you could still swing by before or after. It'll be funky!

–––

One thing you can't accuse Lorde of is laziness. I don't quite get how she does it, but here, exactly two months after the release of Melodrama, she is returning to Electric Lady studios for Homemade, a "reimagining" of songs from the album, captured to video.

I like this for a couple of reasons. The first is that although I really enjoyed Melodrama, especially the back half of it, I did stop listening to it for a while out of fatigue at the loud pop production. In Homemade, the songs are stripped back and performed with acoustic instruments and a choir. It could be pretentious, but it isn't. The second reason is that it makes up for that diabolical video for 'Perfect Places'.

The singer talks about why she did it in an introductory video interview. Some songs work better than others. 'Writer in the Dark' was always going to be a starter, but I also like 'The Louvre', not least because the arrangement calls for French horns on the coda at the end. Cool.

Meanwhile, she's on her world tour, and here she is at Outside Lands festival in San Francisco, bringing Jack Antonoff on stage to play Paul Simon's 'Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard'. It's really sweet.

That's a pretty good fan video, but it's also here on the official festival video of the full show.

–––

Tunes!

One of the fun things about Pure Heroine was the sheer number of remixes draped over its bare bones. Many of them were not good, but some of them were really good. Melodrama, which fills a lot more sonic space, is thus far not as fruitful. But its most spare track, 'Liability', has given rise to this lovely, dreamy hiphip version. It's even a straight-up free download.

Northlander WhyFi, an ally of Auckland Grow Room collective (The Wireless did a nice profile on him) dropped this track this week. The lyrical theme is dark, the bass is low and the tempo is loping. It's good.

In celebration of the solar eclipse visible in across America last Monday, some techno-hippie guy made a take on Pink Floyd's 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun'. The tune and the lyrics make several appearances but it doesn't sound all that much like the original. It's groovy though (and a free download):

A Nina Simone edit with a dressing of Grace Jones:

And RocknRolla Soundsystem roll back with this thumping edit of Robert Palmer's 'Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley'.

Those last two aren't downloadable yet, but they seem to be lined up for a free Nu Blends compilation out next month.

9

Synthetic cannabinoids: a primer

What is synthetic cannabis? Why is it even called that? Where does it come from? What's the extent of the problem in New Zealand? And why have we seen a spate of deaths linked to these products in Auckland?

The New Zealand Drug Foundation asked me to write a backgrounder addressing these and other questions, which is now available on its website.

I learned a bit researching it and was even surprised by some of what I learned. Notably, the extent to which the recent spate of acute presentations is an Auckland, not a national problem.

I can say with some confidence that it's not about fly spray or weed killer or  any other impurity in the street products – it's more likely about dose.

Anyway, have a read and if you have any further questions I can try and answer those too.

20

Friday Music: Down the Hall on a Friday Night

It was only because I happened to see a tweet that I clicked through last Friday to the first live stream of Neil Finn and and friends as they record his forthcoming album, Out of Silence, at Roundhead Studios – and it was quite an experience

I happened to drop in right at the beginning of the final, conclusive take of the new song 'More Than One of You', an epic, Beatleseque number featuring a choir of stars: Sandy Mill, Hollie Fullbrook, Lawrence Arabia, Samuel Flynn Scott, Victoria Kelly and more. And it was beautiful.

It features in this short clip of highlights from the evening:

To see the whole song, you can jump to that point in the original video here.

And thanks to Finn fan blackandwhiteboy for logging shortcuts to other highlights of the two-hour stream:

01:12 -Pablo Vasquez & Elroy Finn

09:55 Gentle Hum

15:33 Faster Than Light

28:00 Widows Peak

31:48 Better Be Home Soon

39:32 As Sure As I Am

47:17 Independence Day(?)

54:06 Ging Gang Gooly

1:08:49 More Than One Of You

1:44:51 Love is Emotional

1:51:05 Second Nature

1:56:48 -Pablo Vasquez & Elroy Finn

Note that 'As Sure As I Am' features Nick Seymour on bass – and Nick's in Ireland. The pair of them work to play a beat apart to allow for the Skype delay, and almost get there.

It's not all action – quite a lot of recording albums involves muddling around setting up to do a thing, and Neil is quite enthused with taking Skype calls from fans around the world – but with a glass of wine in hand, it's an unusual and lovely way to spend a Friday evening.

Tonight's stream – featuring a guest appearance from Tim Finn – starts at 7pm and you can watch it here at Neil's YouTube page or here on his Facebook page. If you can, the YouTube is a better bet – it's in stereo, while the Facebook stream is mono.

The stream is directed by the amazing Hugh Sundae, who will also be doing  the job at Orcon IRL at the Golden Dawn on Sunday.

–––

My friends at Southbound Record Shop currently have a big range of releases from the remarkable ambient-chamber music label Erased Tapes in stock – and a nice little treat for anyone who can make it in to the store and knows to ask.

There's a free CD sampler in store, featuring Penguin Cafe, Rival Consoles and others from the label. Nice.

–––

Moving to Nelson, DJ-journalist Grant Smithies has opened a record shop in a beer garden. Because of course he has.

–––

I really enjoyed Bill Direen and the Builders' show at Golden Dawn last Friday night – this time, there were lots of odds and ends early on (including a version of W.H. Auden's 'Death of  a Fascist') and then, with a band, a set that included a funky swag of songs from CONCH3.

This weekend, it's Wellington's turn. Bill plays the Pyramid Club on Sunday and there are screenings of Simon Ogston's Bill Direen: A Memory of Others on Saturday and Sunday.

See also: Graeme Hill and that Smithies guy sfting through Bill's back catalogue on Radio Live and Campbell Walker's deep, thoughtful examination of the film and the artist for The Pantograph Punch.

–––

Blair Parkes has made a video for my favourite song from his recent album, the krautpop romp 'Run Electro':

–––

Something remarkable arrived at The Internet Archive this week: a huge trove of professionally digitised 78rpm records. The sound files are freely downloadable in a range of formats – as is the label art:

–––

A different kind of musical history: the first LP I ever owned for myself wasn't what I thought it was. I thought I'd bought an album with songs by The Sweet on one side and their glam buddies Slade on the other. But what I hadn't understood was that it wasn't the original artists, but one of the Sounds Like series of cover albums record by top Dutch session musicians. I still played it heaps.

Cover albums were a surprisingly big thing in the early 70s, but I can't find mention of the Sounds Like series released in New Zealand. I'm not even sure I have the name of the series right. Can anybody help?

Anyway, some madman has put together an hour-long mix of soundalike cover versions for FACT mag. And the result is very strange ...

–––

Tunes!

I don't know how I missed this at the time, but about a month ago, Auckland  kiwiana disco kings DICE posted this remix of Chris Knox's 'Not Given Lightly'. It's totally mad, but it works. (Free download.)

The same crew have also pitched in on the Redbull remix competition for Ladi6's 'Royal Blue'. Nice.

FACT highlighted this lovely bit of Afro-synth goodness by Esa, an artist I know nothing about but will be investigating.

And new from Aucklanders-in-London Chaos in the CBD:

–––

119

A thundering clash of perspectives

It was a deep irony that the final push for the decision of Metiria Turei to end her Parliamentary career appears to have come from Checkpoint, a programme whose people have so often weighed in behind the vulnerable New Zealanders she cares for.

The programme had been contacted by a member of her extended family upset by her account of struggling as a solo mother in the 1990s, to the point where she had had no choice but to misrepresent her living circumstances to Work and Income. Its editors could simply have ignored the family member, pretended it never happened – but they wouldn't have been doing their jobs. At any rate, at least one other news organisation was working on the same story. It was coming.

There's a thundering clash of perspectives here. The people grieving Metiria's harsh exit see journalists as pursuing the poor, brown solo mum she was 20-odd years ago. Journalists are obliged to see her as the Member of Parliament she's been for the past 15 years, as a would-be member of the country's governing executive.

Metiria's AGM speech prompted me to do something I hadn't done before: to say, yeah, me too. Twenty five years ago, I felt it necessary to misrepresent my own family's circumstances to get by, because the system worked so badly. That system still works badly. And the evidence is that the most vulnerable people in it are doing worse than ever. You see those people now on the streets of Auckland.

It seems to have been Metiria's decision to identify her predicament with those people that prompted the family member to contact the press. Perhaps she didn't adequately consider the impact on those who were around her two decades ago of what she said last month.

But I think many people who haven't been there genuinely don't understand how hard it can be to get by on a benefit in New Zealand – still less what people do to get by. People do do cashies where they can, they might cut corners where they have to. Some are so powerless, sick or bereft of whanau support that the best they can do is sit miserably and beg outside the supermarket. They don't count up the coins and report them to Winz.

They were the people Metiria sought to represent. But, as she herself acknowledged on Monday, it might have been better had she settled her own account with the state before doing so. She has earned an MP's salary for 15 years, and that of a commercial lawyer for three years before that. It will probably end up being a matter of around $7000 owed. She could have paid that, closed the matter and cut off any avenue for the Taxpayers' Union to make up a number and multiply it by 10. (At which point, ironically, it looked more like the sum claimed by Bill English for living where he didn't actually live.)

And she'd still have been there fighting.

It is possible for good people to take a different view of the same set of circumstances. Metiria's colleagues and fellow candidates have been overwhelmingly behind her. Yet Dave Clendon, the colleague who resigned in protest at her apparent lack of remorse, actually has more in common with her than many of them. He, too, identifies as Māori. He grew up in a working-class family in Otara.

Meanwhile, I'm aware of both Green Party members enraged by her treatment and who resigned last week because they couldn't support her actions. There are also some Green Party staff furious at how this has gone down. How, they ask, was this not thought through? How could this not have been signed off by the whole Green caucus? They feel let down.

Apart from the usual suspects, I don't think there's a lot of genuine ill-will towards Metiria personally. Her own commitment to her ideals isn't in doubt. Even the scalp-claiming by a couple of journalists last night was half-hearted. (Patrick Gower actually apologised to James Shaw this morning for claiming yesterday's Newshub-Reid poll had preciptated his co-leader's resignation, and I can't recall that ever happening before.) Unlike Todd Barclay, Metiria Turei never treated those around her badly. Unlike Barclay, she didn't brazenly lie to journalists. Indeed, she got caught telling the truth, if not in all its untidy detail.

But before all this, she had also privately expressed doubts about a long political career. To be a Cabinet minister? Or to go back and be an anarchist? It sometimes frustrated people around her. And now the decision has been made in a way no one would have wished. We haven't heard the last of Metiria Turei. I think she'll make an awesome anarchist.

–––

Metiria has, wholly understandably, taken this coming weekend off politics. But I'm extremely grateful to her for – before I even asked – arranging for James Shaw to take her place in the lineup up at Sunday's Orcon IRL. Free RSVPs are close to filling up, so if you'd like to come along, get in today.

79

The new establishment

Jacinda Ardern opened her transport policy speech yesterday, as she should, with a mihi to the tangata whenua. And then she did something interesting: a specific shout-out to three Auckland transport advocacy groups – Greater Auckland, Generation Zero and Bike Auckland.

Well, actually, she called Bike Auckland by its old name, Cycle Action, so the hell-yeahs from their people were a little hesitant while they processed the error. But that didn't really detract from what seemed a very conscious embrace of the city's most prominent transport advocates. Later, she explicitly linked her party's proposals to the Congestion Free Network plan championed by Greater Auckland and Generation Zero. (The Greens did this back in 2014.) This is this morning's Greater Auckland home page:

Andrew Little wouldn't have done that – or if he had, it would have sounded like something someone told him to say. And the government certainly would not have. Although Transport minister Simon Bridges has a good relationship with the advocates, Steven Joyce is more often to be found bickering with them on Twitter – and elements of the nimby-dominated, intellectually arid Auckland centre right regard Generation Zero as something akin to youth terrorists.

Indeed, when Bridges comes to town he seems to have a better time with the urban liberals than he does with National's own Auckland establishment, which has largely responded to the Super City era by noisily – and generally unsuccessfully – resisting change.

If Ardern can form a government next month – and for all the euphoria of the activists at Wynyard yesterday, that's far from certain – I sense that we'll be seeing the rise of a new establishment, one forged by the Super City amalgamation. On a campaign level, it's the people who've delivered in three mayoral elections and then in Labour's two recent by-election victories. On a policy level, it's the new urbanists.

And fair enough, too. Those groups have worked hard and have a command of the evidence. They've become accepted as authorities. Pretty much everything about Auckland cycle infrastructure is run past Bike Auckland before the public sees it. And last week, Labour's policy was previewed to Greater Auckland and independent researcher Ben Ross.

My sense is that Ardern's personal networks in Auckland will become important beyond just planning and transport. This will cause some tensions in the rest of the country. And it will cause some tensions on the old left – witness the Facebook fury when Greater Auckland et al failed to line up behind Mike Lee in last year's municipal elections.

But Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter, who was there at Labour's announcement yesterday with the kids from Generation Zero, won't mind. She was entitled to tweet yesterday to the effect that my-work-here-is-done.

Whatever happens in next month's election, Auckland will be important, and not only for the million votes it holds.