Hard News by Russell Brown


A medical cannabis korero by the sea

Several weeks ago at Splore, I ran, as I do every year, the festival's talk programme, The Listening Lounge. And the highlight this year was a discussion of medical cannabis and the law featuring five people who are at the frontlines of that debate.

Those people were patient advocate Pearl Schomburg, Shane Le Brun of Medical Cannabis Awareness NZ (MCANZ), Panapa Ehau of Hikurangi Enterprises (which will be the first New Zealand company to make a licensed medical cannabis product), Chloe Swarbrick MP and New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell. We talked about prospects for the government's medical cannabis bill, why the Greens' more ambitious bill was voted down and how the system works – or doesn't – right now.

Happily, the discussion was recorded. I've excerpted some key parts below.

Note that the Drug Foundation has published a guide to making a submission on the government's relatively cautious medical cannabis bill and is completing a series of workshops on the bill in Auckland tomorrow and Thursday – you can still register here for those. Also, MCANZ has published a model cannabis policy. Note that submissions close next Wednesday the 21st.

And you can read more about the remarkable things Panapa and his colleagues are doing in Ruatoria in my story here on The Spinoff

On why the "Chloe bill" wasn't voted through to select committee – and whether its provision for licensed home-growing was a showstopper.


CHLOE: "I think there were a lot of reasons that our bill didn't get across the line. The first was that it was introduced the day after the government introduced their bill. That's just one of the really annoying vagaries of the way the order paper works in the house, but I think it allowed a lot of MPs to say 'we've stuck our neck out this far, we don't want to cross the line any more'. And if you've ever met many politicians you'll know they're not the most risk-inclined group of people. They want to keep their jobs and that means staying as close as possible to the status quo.

 "So talking about we how go about getting more compassionate, considerate, comprehensive reform – I've been working quite a bit with Ross, and with Shane, and we're going to be starting a cross-party group in Parliament to try and get an increase in the understanding and evidence base that poltiicians have when they go into these debates. So at the very least they can't say that they don't know the evidence.

"Talking about my bill, the reasons that were cited by politicians for voting it down was first and foremost that they'd opened the door with the government one. But secondly that this would be carte blanche, open-door, anybody and everybody would be smoking cannabis.

"There's a whole bunch of things to unpack in there. The first is that smoking's not actually the preferred way of using for many patients. The second is that they hadn't actually read the bill. Section 6 of the bill proposed a regulatory standard, which would be defined by select committee. And they had this real fear around what came to be dubbed the grow-your-own provision.

"I don't know how they think people are going to be getting their cannabis with the terminal illness defence. There is still going to be the growing of cannabis."

SHANE:  "The government is committed to setting up a licensing agency to license the medical cannabis industry in New Zealand. And doctors are quite resistant to prescribing medical cannabis products at the moment, let alone handing out permits to people to grow. So we'd actually put the onus on the licensing agency, so that a patient-initiated application would go to the Ministry of Health's cannabis cultivation licensing agency. And they would review the patient and if they met a couple of criteria, they would be granted the privilege to grow their own.

"Naturally here'd be police checks. We're not going to be handing out any permits to patched members. But there'd also be the efficacy concerns. Youre not going to have a ptient apply for something like blindness, but for patients with severe pain and MS, rheumatoid arthritis, all those conditions where there's moderate to good evidence, they should be allowed to grow their own."

ROSS: "There is the potential in the government bill to create a system as Shane describes it. That's probably the unknown thing about what the government announced in its bill – there's a little bit in the bill which would empower all these regulations. Now, if the regulations the government developed were like Canada or Shane's, then I think we'd all be happy, because it actually picks up a lot of what Chloe's bill did. But I don't think the government's communicated that very clearly and actually I don't know if the government has a good understanding about the extent of those regulations. Because they rushed it through in 100 days."

PEARL: "I think if you're not seriously going to allow people to have a home-grown option, this black market will continue and patients will suffer. Patients are suffering dreadfully at the moment with the black market as it is. People getting ripped off – not only getting ripped off financially but getting sold, cheaply or expensively, very poor-quality products that are actually making them sicker. And it's incredibly dangerous.

 "A lot of recreational growers, let's call them, don't understand the need for clean product that patIents absolutely have to have. A lot of recreational growers think their products are okay for patients – and they're not always. Some are, but you need to give patients the right to grow – or to allow somebody to grow for them, because a lot of sick patients can't.

"So although I accept that for patients they need regulation around pharmaceutical products and also products in health food shops, in terms of my right to grow my plants in my garden, I think I've got enough support from my doctor to say that I can make my own choices about whether I grow it, or whether I go to a provider and say here, here's a photocopy of my letters that will keep you safe. There can be a really simple system set up for people like us.

"We do need regulations, but we need to start coming from more of an angle of what do patients want, what do they need? And unless you allow another pathway, the black market will continue."

On how the current system is working, or not.


SHANE: When we first started trying to find cheaper products and made these special applications, the first two special applications in the country had both been epic failures. So [Ministry of Health officials] were quite sceptical that it was going to even work. I had them comment to me about an MS patient who'd already had a good response to Sativex and illicit cannabis – they scoffed and said 'it might not even work, Shane'.

"From there we've gone through perhaps a dozen of these special applications for different patients – and they've all worked. So we've got this issue now where it's still way too expensive and the patients can't afford to go legal. For an epileptic kid, the pure CBD product that's available could cost up to $250 a day."

"The ministry has been looking at regulations around the world at the moment and it's interesting that Canada's the one that keeps cropping up for everyone. The model that our charity's put forward is very similar to Canada. The main driver at the moment is that we don’t want to follow Australia. They have 11 companies trying to grow and about 20 companies trying to import, but they've only got about 350 patients in the entire country.

"So there's a hundred million dollar industry on paper – and yet they've got a couple of hundred patients to fight over between them. So we really need to get loose access down to GPs and maybe even nurse practitioners in some case, so that patients don't have to go illegal, and so we can get enough legal patients on the books to actually have a domestic industry."

On cannabis efficacy and the paucity of medical research.


SHANE: "It's quite a complex situation because doctors like these things called Phase 3 clinical trials – and they cost tens of millions of dollars. And for a plant-based medicine that's not really a doable prospect for most companies, because another company can come along and basically make the same product without the research and rip off their data.

"That's already happened. The main drug for epilepsy is called Epidilex. It's made by the company in the UK who make Sativex. That's being trialled in America and meanwhile we've got a functional equivalent from a Canadian company called Tilray that's here right now and it's cheaper and it does the same job. But there's not a single jot of research behind it.

"But in general terms, when we do literature reviews there's good evidence for multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and for for HIV-induced nausea and vomiting as well. Neuropathic pain syndromes too. And there's weaker evidence for other conditions.

"But evidence versus efficacy is also two different things. In New Zealand we've had two really severe Tourette's patients try Sativex for their Tourette's tics. One of them swore like a trooper, like all the comedies on TV that might rip off and shit on their condtion. But the Sativex worked really well in both cases. So we can say that in a limited number of cases in New Zealand we have 100% success for Sativex in treating Tourette's syndrome. So it's limited evidence – but 'limited evidence' is a moot point when it's working in the here and now."

On Hikurangi Enterprises.


PANAPA: "We've positioned ourselves to be the first company in New Zealand to grow and manufacture a medicinal cannabis product, and it's focused on creating income for our people back home. So we're looking after the land and the people.

"In North America where the cannabis industry has taken off – there's a greenrush around the world and there has been a wave of investment bankers coming in buying out the industry. So we're doing everything that we can to be the first nose through the crack in that door, so we can secure that space or have influence over that space for people on the ground, so it doesn't get taken away."

"Social enterprise is a hyped-up term at the moment, but it's pretty much investing everything back into the benefit of the community. We have a charitable company and a charitable trust and any of the proceeds that come through all go back into investing in more opportunities for our own people, to lift the wellbeing of their families, through them creating job opportunities with the skills that they have, and that they want to use, rather than being forced into boxes." 

"The people with the big wallets are chasing in this space and it's our story and the reason why we do stuff that has really been a key component of us being in the lead in the industry.

"We've got to spend the money to go through the clinical trials. Huge amounts of resource have gone in, but it's something we believe in and we're passionate about and that was really the driving force. It's not an easy or simple pathway to go down, but with perseverance and belief we've been able to do it."

ROSS: "I really like the model of Hikurangi. The fear I think we all have is big multinational pharmaceutical companies coming in and dominating a domestic market. I love the charitable trust model, rater than a for-profit commercial model. That's the kind of stuff we should be advocating to the select committee."

On the "green fairies" currently supplying medical users – and in several cases facing serious criminal charges as a consequence.


PEARL: "That's definitely quite a passion of mine. Let's be clear: not all growers are good growers – some are making absolute rubbish and peddling it to anyone they can. But there are some very skilled growers who are making very fine medicines for patients. I use a couple of those products myself. I haven't used any pharmaceuticals for two years now, and I've got a multiple health conditions which create a lot of pain. You can see I've got a lot of scarring on my shoulders – I don't actually have a joint in here at the moment, it's full of plaster of paris. I just recently had surgery on this one here and if I hadn't had that range of medicines with in hospital … I took them into hospital and I never had any pharmaceuticals from the day after surgery.

"The doctors all knew I was using medicinal cannabis. They didn't ask me what I was using and where I was using it. It was on my file, 'patient prefers medicinal cannabis', but nobody talked to me about it it. Which I found quite odd, that doctors and specialists would not discuss it with me. 

"The providers that make my medicine for are highly-skilled. And that's why I want an amnesty on the medicinal community at the moment, so that people like that can take in these kinds of of conversations with these wonderful people here, and at Parliamentary level. And we can use that information to bring the good ones up to code, get ride of the duds in the process, because they won't survive without prohibition, the bad fairies. Let's see what we've got.

"Even to go to a select committee is very difficult for these people. It's not only them and their livelihoods – they're supporting a lot of patients. And as happened last year with the busting of one of my good fairies, John Patrick. He was providing balm to myself and my good friend Joan Cowie, who is passing as we speak. He got busted and I can't tell you how heartbreaking it has been to see the damage and the downward spiral in my dear friend Joan's condition since she's lost her most important medicine."

On the government's medical cannabis bill – and the importance of submitting on it.


CHLOE: "The government bill which did get through does three things. The first thing is that it essentially creates a criminal defence for people with a terminal illness. If it is actually to work the way it says on the box, people who have a terminal illness who are using or growing cannabis will still be dragged through the court system and have to prove before the judge how sick they are."

ROSS: "They did not consult patient groups and advocates and I think that was a real shame. I think it's really shameful. So for the submission process, we need to hear the patient voice. The risk with the bill that's coming up in the select committee process is that it'll be the New Zealand Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs, and the people who should be listened to will be ignored. We need to make sure patient voices, their carers, the green fairies are supported to make submissions as well. That's what's missing at the moment."

"We've written a submission guide on our website. For people who haven't written a submission before, it's really simple. Just tell a story. Ask to give an oral submission as well and front up to MPs and tell your story in public. Even if you're not a patient or a carer, but just a concerned citizen who wants to see reform. That's what gets reform done in this country."

CHLOE: "The flipside of what I said before about how politicians are very risk-averse because they don't want to stick their necks out is that if we do put pressure on them and make it known that they will lose their jobs if they don't jump – then they will react. I had a lot of people who were super-disappointed after our members' bill didn't go through and lot of people saying 'oh, I give up, I'm so over politics'. No! You cannot do that or we continue on with the status quo. This has to be the time when as many people as possible start participating in the political system, outside of the three-year general election cycle. You cannot let politicians get away with behaving like this, especially when it diverges so much from what the average citizen actually wants to see with regard to reform."

PEARL: "The time has come to be brave and stand up, if not for yourself then for you loved ones. Please stand up, now more than ever. Be brave – there is safety in numbers. I've been a very out speaker in term of my medicinal cannabis patient. status for 20 years or more now – you don't have to be that out, but step up to your doctors, your MPs. Write a submission."


Friday Music: NME – it was fun while it lasted

The news that this week's New Musical Express will be the final print edition of the magazine has no impact on my life. I've never seen a copy of the freesheet version that was NME's last bid to stay in print in 2015 and I only ever even visit its website by accident. It says nothing to me about my life, basically.

But the news does remind me that for quite a few years, the NME said a great deal to me. It even, to some extent, determined the life I live now.

As I noted in this Audioculture memoir, in the late 1970s and early 1980s I would buy the NME most weeks and open it to see what the latest thing was. Or, rather, had been. It's almost unthinkable in the internet age, but NME made its way to New Zealand by surface mail and an issue would be two or three months old by the time it turned up on the shelves in Christchurch.

It mattered less than you might think, kids of today: the delay gave local record companies a chance to get their releases together and I think quite often the latest post-punk landmark would surface here about the same time the NME's review did. We accepted the tyranny of distance as a fact of life.

But the NME didn't just tell me about music: it made me think that writing about music was something I could do. It wasn't the first music writing I paid attention to – that was Gordon Campbell in The Listener (I have a particular memory of his lacerating review of Billy Joel's The Stranger) – but it gave me a powerful idea of what writing about music could be and how far it might stretch.

To be sure, my writing role models might not have been entirely healthy: Paul Morley and Ian Penman were wordy, pretentious and undisciplined at times. But they seemed to offer a more adventurous vision of journalism than anything else available to me at the time. The dullness of my first year as a cadet at the Christchurch Star was leavened when Rob White, the paper's record reviewer (at the time a Very Serious Job) kindly let me start interviewing my peers in bands.

The following year, half-mad in The Star's Timaru branch office, I wrote an ambitious, Morleyesque account of a gig at Linlcoln University where the Dance Exponents and The Clean played and the farming students smeared food on the walls. It was my first effort for Rip It Up, and within a year I had departed newspapers and moved to Auckland to become the magazine's deputy editor. Nothing would ever be the same again.

After I landed in London in 1986, my first job interview was where I'd dreamed it might be: at the NME office. I had arrived at the time of a couple of the paper's fairly frequent ideological wars, when the soul boys were set against the rock 'n' rollers and the traditional rock scribes against the ones who thought the kids needed to know (every week ideally) about Nietzsche.

I didn't get the job. I got on well enough with David Quantick and whoever else the other interviewer was and they were impressed that I'd basically been typesetting Rip It Up, but I had no layout skills for the sub's job that was on offer – and, they said, they possibly already had too many New Zealanders.

I can't recall what other countrymen might have been there, but David Swift, who had been my rock-writing contemporary at The Press when I was at The Star, was on the subs' bench. Later, Andy Fyfe, my flatmate from the year in Timaru, and former Mockers drummer Brendan Fitzgerald (whose first ever review I'd commissioned back at Rip It Up) would do the same job. I did feel a little left out.

I went to work in record shops and the next time I visited the NME office it had moved to the IPC towers on the South Bank of the Thames and I was in the midst of my brief, inglorious stint in music PR, for Buster Bloodvessel's relaunch of the Blue Beat label (just the label, not the back-catalogue, sadly). I walked in with our would-be girl group and the girls got quite a bit of attention, while I was a bit of a gooseberry.

I did connect with the odd NME legend. Steven "Seething" Wells, the skinhead firebrand, was a nice, endlessly enthusiastic bloke I'd chat to at press events. And former deputy editor Tony Stewart took me on as a writer after I'd gone in to interview for (again) a subbing job at Sounds, the less-cool (but still the first of the "inkies" to cover the Sex Pistols, by months) rival to NME.

Part of my pitch for myself was that I actually knew what it was like to help your mate's band load out at the end of the night, unlike most of the public schoolboys whose work crowded the columns of the music papers. So the scales were falling from my eyes somewhat now that I'd seen it all close-up.

Not long after that, Brendan bailed me up at a gig and told me I was far too good for Sounds and he'd sort it out for me at NME. It never happened, but it was an illustration of the way the NME writers saw themselves as the elite in their small, lively world. But I enjoyed writing for Sounds: I didn't have to battle to get the hip hop and reggae stories the way I might have at NME. And I'll always be grateful to Penny Reel, a weedy little white bloke and another NME alumnus, for explaining rocksteady reggae to me when I was given the job of reviewing the wonderful Sonia Pottinger collection Put On Your Best Dress.

Tony subsequently tapped me to come over to the new magazine he was editing: Select, a glossy whose ink didn't come off on your hands. That was great for a while and I followed Yello to Poland and met Youssou N'Dour in New York. But we fell out a bit: he was unpredictable and cliquey and I felt I didn't know the codes. It may not have helped that I told a mildly unflattering story about (future Loaded magazine founder) James Brown coming to one of my parties. It turned out that James had been Tony's protege at NME.

I started to think about Julie Burchill's immortal quote about there being nothing sadder than a 40 year-old man enthusing about the latest 7" single. And yet, I was still using NME as a tastemaker like I always had. When I was happily engulfed by acid house in 1988, I was ready because I'd I read someone raving about house music in the NME the year before.

By the time Fiona and I returned to New Zealand in 1991, I didn't want to make NME any more, I wanted to make The Face or iD – and, in a way, I did. I'm not sure I bought a single issue of NME after that. Why would you? Although NME was yet to have its last great fling with Britpop, the inkies as a concept were dying. Sounds closed down two weeks before I flew home.

I'll always be grateful to NME for its cultural and career guidance. The ephemeral nature of NME fame was often misunderstood and resented from outside, but it's exciting as a kid to be told that this new thing is the greatest thing ever (and by the time you realised it wasn't, everyone would have moved on). The idea that ambitious, pretentious reviews and surreal on-tour stories were journalism too was immensely enabling.

But the world has changed. The actual idea of music journalism – which was always bound more tightly to the needs and foibles of the music industry than we liked to think – has changed too. We don't always need people telling us a thing we don't yet have is a game-changer, because we can just go to Spotify or Soundcloud and find out for ourselves. It's still a fun thing to do – that's why you're reading this – and there's still a prize for being first, but music journalists are far less likely to be crucial cultural arbiters than they once were. That's all okay. It was fun while it lasted.


Quite by chance, a part of my pop print past was waiting for me when I fired up Twitter this morning. Seems the KLF fansite KLF Online found that Audioculture memoir ...

I got a bit of a bollocking from my editor at The Catalogue, Richard Boon about it too. (Yes, that's the same Richard Boon who was the first manager of the Buzzzcocks and he was really nice bloke. He's a librarian now.)

I would also point out that I bucked the hype and gave the Manic Street Preachers' first album a bad review too – to be fair, it was quite rubbish.



ACL: The best of times, the worst of times

I had an excellent time with my friends at Auckland City Limits yesterday. I witnessed a spellbinding performance from a great artist and discovered how much I loved another band. So why was I wondering in the midst of it whether this festival really works?

The promoters got a lot right with their second iteration of ACL (and their third show at Western Springs). Entry systems were (mostly) good, the bars were something of a marvel and toilet capacity was decent, if unevenly distributed. The fact that outside a couple of R18 areas, the drinks were low in alcohol was probably key to the feeling that it was a safe space for kids. Food was top-notch and highly available.

But all that was helped greatly by the fact that only about 20,000 people came through the gates. I'm guessing break-even was in the range of 25-30,000, and nearer the latter.

Ironically, a good part of the joy in the early part of the day was that we spent it with a much smaller crowd – maybe 1000? – at the festival-within-a-festival that was the Golden Dawn zone. We arrived just as Fabulous/Arabia were starting and it was the stickiest of guilty pleasures. I've always liked their album, but I hadn't realised that their live show takes the yacht-rock dream to a stream of loving period covers. Boz Scaggs! Steely Dan! The Doobies! I was so happy I'd almost have donned one of the yacht-captain's hats that seem to be all over this summer's festivals. Almost.

From there, it was over to the stadium stages and the Libertines' first ever New Zealand show. They were messy as fuck, as the good lord intended, and it was infectious. The video screens showed Pete and Karl sharing their mike like two dossers convening over a fag-end and I thought about the intimacy of their creative partnership, how they fell out, and how they came together again. Rock 'n' roll.

From there it was back to Golden Dawn, which was so thoroughly congenial (same lightning bar service, better beer, not enough toilets, no duelling mainstage PAs) that we passed up on going out to see the D4 and instead enjoyed the sprawling majesty of The Magic Factory, who sound like the Rolling Stones through a filter. Only bum note: the belief, in the face of all evidence, that what people want to hear at a music festival is a comedian. Nope.

From there, I met up with my family and went over to catch some of Future in the stadium – which meant we caught some of Tash Sultana. She's a post-Ed Sheeran busker-with-loops – her point of difference is fevered shredding and gurning on guitar – and I thought she was awful. It was also a glimpse of maybe the key problem the festival faces. She's a famous-via-YouTube star and I get that she has a young following, but it just didn't fit well into a lineup of more substantial artists.

Future was cool but not exactly our vibe, so we went back over to the outside field for the end of The Avalanches (who we'd actually intended to see in the first place) and ... Grace Jones.

My god, she was good. You could have forgiven her for just rolling out the hits, but it was never that. Her icier songs are as challenging as ever – an edgy 'Warm Leatherette', a punk rock 'Love is the Drug' – and her band is  amazing. And the lady herself? A goddess, a queen, an artist.

She was also patient when the crowd – the biggest for any act all day – couldn't quite muster the vocal enthusiasm she deserved. And it seemed like she might yet be persuaded to come back out for an encore of 'Slave to the Rhythm' ...

What happened instead was horrifying. Thousands of people's Grace Jones afterglow was shattered by – I'm still strugging to believe this happened – a video message from former All Black Dan Carter inviting everyone to give a big Auckland welcome to Peking Duk on the adjacent stage. I have no idea what the flaming fuck that was about, but I presume money changed hands somewhere.

And then Peking Duk started. It was the most hideous, risible, hackneyed, desperate EDM bullshit you could imagine. I get that there was probably some sort of contractual obligation involved – like when the Auckland Big Day Out would be obliged to present some tedious Aussie rock act too far up the schedule. And I get that a not-insubstantial number of punters, all of them under 25, actually liked it. I get that a mass-audience festival needs to cater to people who listen to The Edge, and that the reality is that this is a show owned by Live Nation. I still want the police to press cultural-crime charges.

The scheduling didn't help matters. Peking Duk made no sense as the follow-up to Grace. Justice made no sense as the lead-in to Beck. It was as if the whole thing had been designed as a series of profoundly awkward handovers. Why did Tash Sultana get to play on the big stage with the video screens when four times as many people were at Grace Jones, an intensely visual performer?

The relatively small crowd in the stadium proved a bit of problem for Beck, the ostensible headliner, and my honey and I, not really feeling it, decided we'd walk over and check out Phoenix. WHO WERE AMAZING. Joyous, nimble, delightful dancing music played by a real band whose delights I've somehow missed until now. It was such a cool way to end the day.

So if I had such a great time, what's wrong with Auckland City Limits? Well, firstly, that it couldn't sell 30,000 tickets, which meant it was easy to get around, get a drink or a meal or a pee – but also meant an odd lack of audience vibe for many performances. The sound-spill between the two pairs of stages seemed worse this year, and in parts of the site the experience was incoherent. The inevitable conflict between the concept of a curated festival and the requirements of the Live Nation juggernaut was made more jarring by the scheduling. Maybe Phoenix could have followed Grace, maybe Peking Duk could have been matched with Future, or Justice. Maybe there should be a dance tent? But something just felt a little off all day.

I'm grateful to the local promoters for the day I did have, and especially for their generosity to a good friend of mine who was venturing back into the throng after a really tough three years ("I was proud of myself," she told me). But I do worry a bit about their festival.


Splore 2018

At 4am on Sunday, we caught the yellow Splore schoolbus back up the hill to our campsite. By the time the engine clattered into life, it was packed with revellers coming down as well as going up. And just as we started, the driver banged on Bruno Mars’ ‘When I Was Your Man’, as loud as it would go. And the whole bus let rip and sang along at top-of-lungs. I kind of hate Bruno Mars, but shit that was a magic moment.

It was also a very Splore moment. One of the joys of the annual festival at Tapapakanga Regional Park is the way people people interact with each other. From the moment you step on site, a kind of emotional muscle memory kicks in and you find yourself talking to strangers, making each other laugh – and dancing with the crowd.

Apart from a handful of showers on the Friday, the weather was pristine. This was good for everyone, but most of all for the festival management, who'd been able to think about more than ordering yet more trucks of gravel in a desperate attempt to keep the roads open. In particular, there was a new two-gate entry system, which was so effective at preventing queues that we wondered on Friday afternoon if hardly anyone had turned up.

They had, although there were more late sales and two-day passes than usual, and many people who did arrive on Friday seemed to stay up at the campsites, where there were more vendors this year, until the evening. But by the time Dizzee Rascal hit the stage, it was evident there were plenty of people on site. It undoubtedly helped that LCD Soundsystem cancelled their Spark Arena show on Saturday night (ironically, on the day that cancellation was announced, Splore had just put on a bus back to town for the gig – and sold a few tickets).

I was among the doubters when Dizzee Rascal was announced as Splore's Friday night headliner. I was wrong. Dizzee and his his crew were great: tight, clever and endlessly engaging. I think a big part of it was that apparently everyone liked it: adults, kids, the representatives of the tangata whenua. Also, the bass was quite loud:

On the following morning, I came down early to do what I do every year: have a swim at the beach before before spending three hours running the onstage korero at The Listening Lounge. It went pretty well, and I deeply appreciated the warmth and patience of Ngāti Whanaunga negotiator Tipa Compain in our first session. The final session, featuring a compelling panel talking about the prospects for meaningful medical cannabis reform, was recorded and I'll transcribe and write that up as soon as I'm able.

From there, I scoffed some paella for launch and watched an extraordinarily energetic New Telepathics performance ...

Then later eased back at the Crystal Palace while Manuel Bundy rolled out lazy, hazy hip hop beats and showed just what a great DJ he still is. Along the way, there were little moments like this:

Saturday night was more giant party than concert for our crew. We drank cocktails at a bar set into the roots of an old pohutukawa tree before dispersing to variously dance to Roger Perry (a last-minute sub for an ill John Morales), who made me very happy by dropping the house classic 'Jack Your Body', sampling the madness of the packed Lucky Star precinct and generally just roving and laughing.

Then there was Sunday. Some people seem to figure the party's over and are packed and on the road by lunchtime – but they're missing out. The shared day after the night night before is one of the festival's delights. My day began with breakfast to the sound of sweet rocksteady tunes from Dubhead, encompassed the Acetones and the roots-pop of Chronixx (who was a bit disappointing, tbh) and ended with an entrancing three hours of delicate, soulful techno at Crystal Palace by the German DJ Mimi Love, who was only supposed to play until 4pm, but kept playing till 5.

The booking of Mimi was event manager Fred Kublikowski's treat to himself, and he deserved it. They'd made budget on ticket sales and bar revenue and this year they wouldn't be killed by the costs of remediating the site after rain. It's worth noting that the festival's bottom line is determined not only by the money people pay to come, but by the commerce conducted over three or four days. How much would tickets cost if they were the sole way of funding the party?

"$650," Fred told me without pausing. "I've thought about it a lot."

I wish I'd grabbed a photo (or better, a video) of one thing that happened afterwards, which was Dub Pistols' Barry Ashworth, who'd been DJing the main stage, doing an impromptu version of 'Mucky Weekend' with some lads who'd recognised him. Let's just say that Barry was extremely pleased with his weekend at Splore.

The new entry system wasn't the only change this year. All the bars and stages are now unfenced, which makes the whole thing much more comfortable. And the DJ stage lost the built dancefloor from last year, which was the change I didn't like – could we have a dancefloor again next year please?

So now I'm back home in the city, labouring through a cold and giving thanks. Thanks to the promoters, to all the people serving food and drink (who embody the Splore vibe to a remarkable degree), to my thousands of fellow Splorers – and most of all to my regular Splore crew. We're a good team of party people, we had some excellent first-timers (including some kids who absolutely loved it) and I think it makes a big difference that most of our gang are women, including the people in charge. It's basically a matriarchy and I like it. I'd say "see you all next year", but that's a given.


PS: Feel free to post your own Splore pics. Click the choose file button (you need to have typed something in the comment box) and you can upload up to three images per comment by using the edit function to go back in. About 1MB is a good size.


Friday Music: The fractions of a cent

On the Spinoff this week, Gareth Shute has a fascinating analysis of which New Zealand artists get the most monthly streams on the biggest of the streaming platforms, Spotify – both within New Zealand and worldwide.

You can have a look for yourself, but the results are quite telling as to what kind of music we really listen to at home – Six60, Fat Freddy's Drop, Katchafire, Shapeshifter, Sons of Zion, Stan Walker and the Black Seeds are all in the Top 10 – and what the world tunes into.

Lorde, unsurprisingly, tops both tables, followed some way back by Crowded House, but the next three on the world chart – Savage, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and the Naked and Famous – aren't even in the Top 20 at home.

Gareth hasn't ventured on what those numbers might be worth in real money, but Digital Music News's What Streaming Music Services Pay offers a rough guide. Their table shows Spotify paying $0.00397 per stream, indicating that Lorde's $12.2 million monthly streams earn her nearly $50,000 a month. Feel free to do the calculations on some of the others yourself.

But do note that the artists generally don't keep most of their earnings and that these numbers don't allow for any special deals that the "Big Three" music companies may have with Spotify or, as far as I can tell, publishing royalties (which writers do largely keep, but where are not nearly as good on streaming as on radio play). DMN gets its figures from a large indie label, and the majors' deals are still largely a black box. And, of course, Spotify has the most market share (48%) but its payment rate is half that of the next-biggest service, Apple Music.

Nonetheless, these numbers do indicate that artists who can break through on the streaming services have a shot at a sustainable living, even when they may not have a brand new album out. Savage is the prime example of that. And breaking through in the modern world often means licensing a song to an ad or a movie, which in turn attracts its own revenue.

It's complicated, but this is how music looks now. But if you like an artist who hasn't cracked streaming, they're not getting more than a tiny fraction of your monthly subscription, even if they're all you listen to. If you want to help, buying their stuff – especially at gigs or on Bandcamp – is still the best way.

(Speaking of which, Sandy Mill's single 'Let It Go', with remixes, is now up on Bandcamp for just a dollar.)


The Auckland City Limits timetable is out. Of note: Grace Jones plays fairly early (7.45pm) and clashes almost entirely with Justice. Oh well, you can't have everything and when you are getting is Grace Jones and Beck, well, that's a lot.

If you're not going to ACL, or you're still up for it afterwards, Pitch Black are playing at Neck of the Woods.

In other live news, Anthonie Tonnon is playing some shows in April with a full band, for the first time in a while. I'm interested to see that his two Auckland shows are at Lot 23 in Eden Terrace – I suspect we may see a few more gigs there, given the looming situation with music venues. Tickets can be had here.

Chris Schulz has a nice King's Arms farewell story in the Herald, including my friends Phil and Renee talking about their memorable wedding at the KA.

Note that there's one last big lash for the venue's last day on earth next Wednesday, with 95bFM broadcasting from 7am, Voom, King Kapisi, Queen Neptune and Wax Chattels playing from 7pm and DJs all day.

Meanwhile, a send-off of a different kind for Golden Dawn. The Tavern of Power Project, conceived by The Noisefloor production studio, is in the process of shooting and recording every act to play the GD in 2018. They explain it thus:

The project is intended as both an archive and a celebration; of the venue’s diversity, inclusivity and above all the exceptional music that graced it’s tiny stage.

There will be a vast pool of all types footage filmed over the 3 months; from the base crew of camera people and guest shooters who have a long association with the venue and the performers. It is firmly impressed upon all camera people that they are to maintain a low key presence.. not be in the face of patrons or performers and to not interfere with the special Golden Dawn vibe. 

And the first of the videos has just been posted:


I caught the interview with Ehren "Bear Witness" Thomas of Canadian indigenous group A Tribe Called Red on RNZ's Music 101 on Saturday and what I heard excited me so much that I got myself tickets for their March 24 show as part of the Auckland Arts Festival.

They mix traditional pow wow music with various modern electronic dance genres and while their work is quite varied, this one put me in mind of gqom music from Durban in the way it employs voices as rhythmic elements. Check out the interview for other examples of their music.



Not getting to Splore this weekend? You can still grab this fresh hour-long mix from Copenhagen's finest,  Courtesy:

And a straight-up free download of a edit of an old disco number by the Canadian-Jamaican singer The Mighty Pope. No, I'd never heard of him before either, but this is great!

And that's me. Off to Splore in the morning ...