Also fresh on Bandcamp: Lord Echo's album Harmonies. It's a dizzingly eclectic collection of grooves, from the afrobeat of 'Makossa No 3' (featured here a while ago) to this out-and-out disco tune with Mara TK:
The first new LCD Soundsystem recordings since they (ahem) broke up in 2011:
Under the Radar has James Murphy's Facebook Q&A, in which he explains, among other things, that the album won't be out till the vinyl's ready. Even the stars have to wait for pressing ...
This is nice: Gareth Shute and friends have created a map of all Auckland music venues ever. It's not complete, correct or definitive yet (I'll have a little dabble suggesting things over the weekend) but it's a really good inititiave.
Red Bull Music Academy has the story of the first drum machine: the Rhythmicon.
And on Audioculture, Rossing Cunningham an extremely rare video interview with Peter Jefferies. Here he is talking about returning to New Zealand:
This week's Media Take looks at cannabis and the law from various angles – and it kicks off with something of a surprise.
I've interviewed Māori Party MP Marama Fox on the issue before, for this November 2015 Matters of Substance story, and figured I had a fair idea of where she stood. Back then, she stated up front that she didn't support cannabis decriminalisation.
“I’m not interested in decriminalising marijuana. I’m more interested in a restructure of the law, so it’s still a criminal behaviour, but the response is different. Punitive responses haven’t worked."
She then went on to urge a health-oriented response to the problems she sees in whanau and communities; a response that sounded quite a lot like decriminalisation.
But, as she says in this clip we gave Stuff in advance of the show, Marama and her party have moved, not only on medical cannabis but on decriminalisation. "I'm ready to have that conversation," she says now. She doesn't even rule out legalisation in the long term. And the reason for her personal shift is the way methamphetamine is supplanting cannabis in many regional communities – as her own relatives are discovering.
"They're going to every tinny house and being offered P," she says. "There is no marijuana availability ... they make more money off P than they do off marijuana, they no longer supply marijuana to the town. For that reason, I'm willing to have the conversation."
In truth, it would take legalised and regulated sale – or a form of decriminalisation that permitted small-scale cultivation – to really disconnect cannabis from the ballooning meth trade. And Marama's checklist of cancers caused by cannabis isn't borne out by the evidence. But the traditionally conservative Māori Party has now joined the Green, Act, United Future parties and The Opportunities Party in wanting to talk about reform. A string of polls indicating that the public is of similar mind have yet to move Labour (which does want to broaden access for medical users) and National.
The review does find that cannabis use during adolescence is related to impairment in education, employment and social relations. And, in a nauced assessment, that "cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use the greater the risk." Cannabis is very definitely not without its harms. And the fact that Māori use is higher than that for other groups and, crucially, that so many Māori begin using cannabis under the age of 14, makes the issue particularly acute for Māori communities
It is also not without its benefits. The review found "conclusive or substantial evidence" that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective in treating vomiting (ie: as an antiemetic), MS-related spasticity – and chronic pain.
That last, of course, is one of the main reasons that people profess to use cannabis therapeutically. And in theory, the state takes a compassionate view of that particular illegal conduct. Minister Peter Dunne and senior officers have both said that the police will exercise disrcretion in such cases. But, as Nelson lawyer Sue Grey says in this week's show, that's really not what's happening. Very vulnerable people are being subjected to searches and prosecutions.
The two AOD treatment professionals on the show, Donna Blair and Suzy Marrison, were, respectively, less and more keen on law reform. Donna's qualms were largely around resourcing – even if reform did make people with problems more likely to seek help, where was the funding? Norml president Chris Fowlie noted that a share of the $300m currently spent annually policing cannabis (and inflicting legal harm) would help.
There's another reason we need to be talking about this more seriously. And that's that cannabis is everywhere. It's in the culture in a way it has not been before. A couple of weeks ago, the Viceland channel on Sky had "Weed Week", which was chock-full of the kind of content that used to (and still could) get magazines banned by the Chief Censor. Saying the same old thing to young people really isn't going to work.
Anyway, there's much more in the programme and its online-only extra discussion. You can wait until 11.30am Sunday, when both parts are bundled together for an extended screening on Maori Television. Or you can watch on demand. Have a look:
Last week, in a futile search for a pair of cycling gloves at advertised clearance prices, I called three Kathmandu outlets. At two, my call was answered by a pleasant young Irish person. At the third number, the voicemail message was equally pleasant, and equally Irish. When I eventually went into a fourth branch, I was directed to the clearance gloves by a cheery English chap. They didn't have my size.
Things were similar at the cafe in Northland where we took brunch last weekend, which was staffed by a whole fleet of handsome young men from foreign lands. One – tall, tanned, tattooed and French – addressed my darling as "darling" when he delivered our eggs.
This is all one face of a trend illustrated in the New Zealand Herald's fascinating data feature on trends in migration and the granting of visas. While the number student visas granted in the past couple of years has declined slightly, the number of work visas continues to grow. More than 40,000 people entered New Zealand on work visas in the year to March, and the majority of those were working holiday visas.
It's not hard to see why hospitality and retail businesses, especially those serving tourists, might want to employ these young travellers. They're educated, often bilingual and they're not expecting a substantial wage. It's not very different from the kind of transient work generations of New Zealanders have regarded almost as a birthright in Britain. Most of them are also not from the places that come to mind when we talk about immigration. The UK is the largest source of work visa migrants, while China and India account for only a small proportion.
As the Herald feature notes, both the government and the Labour Opposition want to address record net migration by restraining work visa numbers. And in Labour's case, that should spare them from lingering accusations of racism.
Intended or otherwise, Labour has created one hell of a vacuum. They’ve talked up immigration as a problem since last year, and last week they ramped it up to Very Serious Problem which requires cuts in the tens of thousands … but they don’t have any policy.
This isn’t a policy debate – this is a debate about whether an arbitrary number sounds aggressively-yet-responsibly big. Ten thousand? Not big enough! Fifty thousand? Too big!
To be fair, the Greens haven't exactly been champs here either. Last year, co-leader James Shaw announced as policy an odd, gimmicky migration ceiling of 1% of national population, which would have the effect of halving current migration levels. He didn't say how or where numbers would be cut. Winston Peters gleefully claimed to have been vindicated and the Greens now appear to be doing their best to forget Shaw ever said it in the first place.
One thing I like about Keith's column is what he doesn't do. He doesn't reflexively attack any concern about migration levels as racist per se. It was fair, he notes, of Andrew Little, to associate Auckland house prices with migration levels.
Who's going to suffer most from that? I'll give you a clue: it's not whitey here, sitting on a capital gain nest-egg in a central Auckland suburb. It's the people at the bottom and on the edge.
As Greg Niness pointed out last December, the entire profile of Auckland's population growth has altered in the past three years. For years, projections have shown most of Auckland's population growth coming from natural increase. Natural increase is tracking as expected, but quite suddenly, two thirds of Auckland's population growth is down to migration. At 36,000 in the year to March, net migration to Auckland is seven times higher than it was in 2013. It's very largely external migration. Net migration with the rest of the New Zealand has been negative in recent years.
It's not just housing. If you think traffic congestion is getting worse in Auckland, you're right. Around 800 new vehicles are registered in Auckland every week and it's showing.
Is all this fixable? Of course. Other cities cope with far greater population density than Auckland. But the city is only beginning to address an infrastructure shortfall created over decades. There are no quick fixes for that. So maybe it does make sense to take the heat out of net migration growth for a while.
After all, governments have always made periodic adjustments to immigration policy. The current settings were introduced in 2012, in what was, in the words of Minister Nathan Guy, a bid to "maximise the economic value that immigration delivers to New Zealand", after a slight softening during the GFC. The pitch, as ever, was a focus on "higher-value" migrants.
One of the changes in 2012 aimed to expedite applications in the parent category. Then last year, National cut the cap in the parent category from 5500 to 2000 – a move the Dominion Post editorial column characterised as both insignificant in the wider picture and carrying an "unpleasant tinge of xenophobia". (China makes up 50% of approvals in the parent category and India 20%.)
People here on student visas were given more flexibility in seeking work to support themselves in 2012, and the path-to-residency for students was eased. These are much bigger numbers than the parent category. But international education is a significant export earner for New Zealand. And if you're talking about high-value immigration, already-settled people with tertiary degrees would seem to fit that bill.
Immigration has been a principal driver of economic growth not only for this government, but for the Clark government before it. It makes governments look good, even if their voters grumble about it.
I think New Zealand could do with a larger population in the longer term and I love the more diverse place that Auckland has become. It makes no sense to blame individual migrants for taking jobs, houses or space on the motorways. It does make sense to regard new New Zealanders – and new Aucklanders in particular – as people who have to live with the same deepening infrastructure deficits as the rest of us.
I do think there's a strong case for at least temporarily taking the heat out of record net migration trends. Indeed, so do all Parliamentary parties with the exception of Act (so long as the leafy lanes of Epsom are left undisturbed, presumably) and possibly United Future. It's hugely incumbent on them in election year to do so by forming, as Keith noted, actual policies – and not via confusing statements about slashing numbers or empty headlines about arbitrary ceilings.
Every option has costs, every lever pulls on something else. And that includes doing nothing new at all. The more we can be honest and precise about that, the better we deprive racists and xenophobes of the initiative.
I was flattered when I was asked a while ago to make a contribution to Base FM's Cover Story II exhibition – but also a little flummoxed. The show, which launched on Wednesday, asks DJs to nominate a special record and tell a story about it. I loved the first round last year. But the second one focuses on New Zealand records, and while I have some local dance and hip hop vinyl, I knew there would be others who could talk about those records more credibly than me.
And then I remembered Stridulators.
Stridulators were Steve Roach and Chris Burt, who had played guitar and drums respectively for the new wave band The Techtones. Their only record as a duo, a 7" single in 1984 (House of Squirm, distributed by Flying Nun), is not at all like The Techtones. Like many great New Zealand records of the time, it's a DIY recording. But rather than reaching back for a lost rock 'n' roll essence, this haunting, surging creation of layered drums, synthesisers, guitars and vocals seems to be pushing forward for something new.
I chose the b-side, 'The Inside Track', rather than the other, 'Queue', because it's more of a groove, and because I had actually played it to people as a DJ – a requirement of the show.
There followed a few reminders of the fallibility of memory. My recollection was that it had been recorded at Steve's flat at Rosslyn Apartments in College Hill. But it turns out that The House of Squirm was actually Chris's house in John Street.
But there are reasons that I associate Rosslyn Apartments with that time. It was quite a place. I was the 22 year-old deputy editor of Rip It Up, and my boss, Murray Cammick, had a flat there with Simon Grigg. Steve originally lived there with Ngila Dickson, who would go on to win an Oscar for her costume design in Lord of the Rings. Mark Phillips, who had launched Auckland club culture with Peter Urlich at A Certain Bar, lived there too. Trevor Reekie ran Pagan Records from one of the flats, Roger Shepherd lived there later on and future EMI Music NZ boss Chris Caddick was there too. Then there was film-maker Willie Keddell and his impossibly elegant Dominican girlfriend, artist and activist Charo Oquet, who were worldly, interesting and kind.
I sorted most of that out for my text, but in the process, got put wrong by someone who told me that it had been made on a TASCAM Portastudio, essentially a mixing board that could record four tracks to cassette tape. My memory that the principal recording was actually done on a stereo cassette recorder turned out to be correct. (The guitar/organ/drum groove was then transferred to a reel-to-reel four-track for overdubs.)
The Portastudio factoid remains in the text at the exhibition, but that's okay, because it has a nice resonance. Which is: that same year in Chicago – hell, probably at the same time – Jamie Principle made the first draft of 'Your Love' at home on a Portastudio. People were trying new things.
The 7" is Stridulators' only vinyl release (it followed Squirm Songs, which was only released on, you guessed it, cassette tape) – but it had a life afterwards. The Headless Chickens covered it on the 1995 version of Body Blow (Chris Matthews was a big fan):
Both Steve and Chris went into screen sound post-production. Chris specialised in sound design – and when he set up his own award-winning studio in 1992, he called it … The Inside Track.
The thing was, neither Steve or Chris had listened to that record in many years. Musicians do that: they forget not just how much other people liked a piece of work, they forget how much they liked it. Steve said he couldn't believe how good it sounded when he went back to it. The key, he thought, was a matter of the extra space afforded by the absence of a bass guitar – and their very careful approach to recording.
The record itself offers a shuddering bass that simply wasn't a feature of New Zealand pressings at the time. There's just nothing else like it and to me it represents a unique branch of the evolution of New Zealand music.
Which is all very well, but it's been unheard by almost anyone for more than 30 years. There's a rip of 'Queue' on YouTube but 'The Inside Track' isn't anywhere. Well, until now. Steve and Chris have kindly provided me with high-quality WAV files of both sides. The higher-quality files reveal more of the layering that went into the recording – but, oddly enough, I think the vinyl still has more of a bottom-end kick.
I've uploaded them to Soundcloud for you to hear – play them loud – and Steve and Chris will get them up on Bandcamp when they get their act together.
Indeed, they might do more than that. Steve's amenable to re-releasing Squirm Songs after some tidying up. And at Wednesday's launch, we talked about The Techtones' lost album, TT23, recorded by Doug Hood on that four-track. As David Kilgour observed recently, the way that album sounded was a key influence on The Clean's decision to make Boodle Boodle Boodle with Doug and the four-track.
It's beeen good seeing swathes of local back-catalogue get digital re-release in recent years, but while streaming is cool and all, I think there's a lot to be said for making certain records available in good, lossless formats.
Anyway, it's been a really nice experience giving proper recognition to a forgotten, important record – and it was great seeing both Steve and Chris at the launch.
I think they were surprised by what an event it was – Base FM know how to throw a party.
Cover Story II runs at Studio One Toi Tū, 1 Ponsonby Road, until May 13.
Among the crowd at the launch was Sandy Mill, who shared the happy news that she's finally about to start recording her solo album, with Milan Borich on drums, Jeremy Toy on various and her husband Andrew Park on bass. That's a lot of musicality there.
If you've heard SJD's recent albums, you've heard Sandy's backing vocals. And man, she can sing. I've always loved this 2002 banger:
Sandy's also a DJ (we shared a night on the decks at Golden Dawn last year) and I think one thing you can count on is that whatever she's gonna do, it'll be funky.
Staying with the forgotten-gems vibe, I'm pretty excited about the fact that micronism's album, Inside a Quiet Mind, has been remastered and is up for release in digital and – for the first time! – on vinyl, on July 21.
This album, originally released in 1998 on Kog Transmissions, was a big influence on the emerging electronic music of New Zealand. Fittingly, it's been remastered by Kog co-founder Chris Chetland. There are more details and pre-orders on the Bandcamp page, and for now, there's this extremely-tasty-sounding preview:
Oh look, one more out of the archives. This week, Ed Kuepper tweeted this recording of The Saints playing at the Hope & Anchor in London in 1977. It sounds bloody amazing:
Dub Terminator is back! The Auckland producer teams up with Ras Stone again for this impeccable slab of digital reggae. Check out his Soundcloud for three extra dubs of the same track.
Friendly Potential this week presents a two-hour treat from the highly-capable hands of Stinky Jim. And it's downloadable! Get yourself some explorations.
And finally, longtime gig archivist Darkstation was there last Saturday night when JPSE and friends played in tribute to their friend and colleague Jim Laing. And he's posted this. Downloadable, just quietly.
On the face of it, the words "BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards" might seem to beckon jokes about fairisle jumpers and and beards. Even given the reinvention of folk tropes by a new generation of artists, the words "BBC Radio 2" makes it sound somehow unpromising. But I ended up watching the edited version of said awards and rather enjoying their amiably under-produced style. And musically, they really had their moments.
I had not, for instance, ever heard of Fara, four young women from Orkney, but I thought this was great:
One theme for the evening appeared to be being sent unwillingly to Australia. Hence, Daoirí Farrell's convict story 'Van Diemen's Land':
Also: Billy Bragg channelling Hall of Fame honoree Woody Guthrie:
And ... Al Stewart! He's still alive!
There are a few other things in the official YouTube playlist, including Ry Cooder and Afro-Celt Soundsystem, but in truth, it got worse as it went along and the closing act, Jim Moray, seemed to me like folk's equivalent of Nashville crossover dreck. But, you know, I would watch this again.
I'll be on a road trip up north tomorrow, but for everyone else it's Record Store Day 2017. My friends at Southbound Records will have around 300 of this year's RSD releases available first-come-first-served from 9am. And they have live music from 2pm, with Stretch playing songs from his debut album Bury All Horses, then Jed Town's group Ghost Town perfrming and signing copies of their album, Sky Is Falling. Also, they just announced yesterday, 50% off second-hand vinyl and 10% off everything else.