Thursday, December 31, 2009

At 17 got my first Volkswagon / And mastered the life-long art of dragging

A quick diversion:

And with your hair combed right / and your pants fit tight

Yeah, its via Bob Lefsetz, who mostly loves the sound of his own voice (remind me..what has he actually done apart from type?), but this, if you wanna be a pop star or just make music professionally, is very, very good:

record labels. they can help or they can drag you down. here's the scoop. if they expect you to be the primary distributor of the product, don't sign the deal. the typical deal is a 90/10 split, you get the ten minus every expense related to the project. thus you are paying for everything and giving the label 90 percent of the gross. read that sentence again.

if they aren't really really offering you something good in terms of promotion, or something....some tangible quantitized tie-in to something bigger, skip it. you can hire that stuff yourself easier. talk to other artists on the roster and ask them what they think. any more, if you are an emerging artist, it's going to be hard to find a label home. they are losing so much dough they only want for sure money makers or somewhat less money losers on the roster, and they are dropping folks right and left. this is all good for you. take heart. it's a 90/10 deal and you get the 10 and they want you to be the primary distributor of the product plus pay for the whole deal, those are not very good terms.

Lots & lots more at the link.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

See how they're dancing / to the Superfly

Our paranoia is often worth revisiting decades later. Here is, in several parts, Orson Welles (who knows a bit about paranoia after all) and a fascinating, for mostly the wrong reasons, documentary version of Alvin Toffler’s massive ‘70s seller, Future Shock, now largely forgotten:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I'm wise enough to know that life doesn't give us the dreams we dream

I saw Nina live once and it wasn’t a happy night, as she wasn’t in a good state. Sometimes I wish I’d been born twenty years earlier.

A fascinating documentary from 1969, from Peter Rodis.

They’re smiling in your face / the backstabbers…

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So the Chinese have executed a Briton for perhaps smuggling opiates into China. I think it’s thoroughly appalling, but without wanting to get into the pros and cons of the death penalty (which, as I’m sure any reader of this blog would likely be aware of, I’m, without reservation, opposed to), one can’t but wince at the British hypocrisy.

It’s hard not to recall that much of the wealth of The British Empire in the 19th and first half of the 20th Century came from stepping over the bodies of countless Chinese with who they fought several wars to ensure were addicted to opium supplied and controlled by Great Britain. The armies, the great banks of the empire, the homes and finery of upper-class Britain and much more, were funded in a large part by the imperial importation of noxious drugs into China:

The first Opium War was followed by a second in 1856-60. The British were joined by the French as junior partners, the French having appointed themselves the ``protectors'' of China's Catholics. The combined British and French forces looted and destroyed the Emperor's Summer Palace.

In the treaty ending the second Opium War, the Chinese were forced to accept the legalization of opium. With Chinese resistance broken, large scale opium production in China was begun, supposedly to stop the drain on silver caused by opium imports. Both imports and domestic production soared, with imports reaching 105,508 chests by 1880. It is conservatively estimated, that China's opium-addicts numbered between 30 and 40 million, at that time.

Parallel to this, the British gained a stranglehold on the Chinese economy and government finances. In 1853, the British were able to grab control of Chinese Customs in Shanghai, because of the Taiping revolt. Twenty years later, all Chinese customs were managed by the British, with all Customs Houses of China within reach of British shells. For 40 years after 1860, Britain dominated China's commerce. By 1895, China's trade with Britain's represented two-thirds of all China trade, which then totalled 53.2 million pounds sterling.

Opium remained at the head of the list, averaging 10 million pounds sterling a year during the 1880's. By 1900, a great part of government revenues went to pay indemnities, imposed on China by various ``peace'' treaties.

Opium went hand-in-hand with foreign conquest and revolution. China was rapidly broken apart by the centrifugal forces introduced by the effects of British looting.

And, yes, ancient history and all, but the roots of the scourge that still afflicts China (and much of the world) lies in the trade.

Indeed, when the Communists came to power in China, 10% of the population were said to be opium addicts, and similar figures existed in Hong Kong, Singapore and much of the global Chinese community much, much later.

I’m old enough to remember the opium dens infamous in Auckland’s Grey’s Ave and Hobson Street which lived into the ‘70s, and sat and listened to the notorious old Herne Bay madam, Flora, telling us horrific stories of death and pain in the immigrant Chinese community in the later part of that decade.

None of which excuses the Chinese, or justifies what they’ve just done, but it perhaps needs to be said.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ain't been round since you know when / Christmas time is here again

Christmas In Ekamai

A million or more words must've been put to screen about Avatar since Dec 17th. I'm about to add to them. Sorry.

Christmas Day in Bangkok seemed to be the obvious time to see this. It's a Buddhist town, and a working day, so, we figured, we could celebrate in our own unhurried way. We'd do the family thing, the Skyping and the gifts, the big breakfast and then, having dispensed with all that, wander onto the Skytrain and rattle down to the cinemas at the Paragon, where the IMAX is reputedly the most advanced anywhere, with a gobsmacking sound system, and often sparsely filled on a weekday afternoon. I booked a bunch of the best seats in the place online just to be sure. Row F, 19 to 21, smack in the middle one row in front of the deluxe ($12) seats.

On arrival the queue went halfway across the 5th floor dome and the PA was loudly announcing that there were only 2 seats left. We'd lucked in by being prepared, and reflected that it wou'd've put a shitty cloud over our observance of some ancient deity's son's make believe birthday if we'd not been able to get a seat. There were lots of very moody looking people wandering away.

IMAX BKK style

After a family scrap over the amount of popcorn we'd bought (there was no point in rejoining the line to get more, as it too seemed to grow by the minute), we were seated. Best seats in the house, aside from the big loungy things with waitress / waiter service up the back, but they feel like a waste of money and you just know he / she's gonna return with the beer when just you're trying to get your head around some complex love triangle. No, we had a coke (it wasn't even zero, being Xmas and all).

There is a lot that could be said about the movie: the plot is very hackneyed and a little offensive (and we expect more from James Cameron? On what past evidence?); it has more stereotypes than the average Fox News Hour; the attacks on every facet of the American sense of entitlement and the way they go about grabbing that entitlement reflected on their history from Pocahontas & John Smith to Manifest Destiny to the winning of the west to Vietnam to Iraq and beyond, was however both predicable and a little bit fodder-simplistic. I'd argue that it likely largely went over the heads of much of the US audience who simply wouldn't get the link (and one has to question the usual assumption that the American Empire is still dominant in 2154); the white man as the saviour of the noble savages had an awful arrogance about it and the implied racism really made me struggle at times; then there were the scenes that felt like The Lion King in 3D, most specifically when the tribe was sitting around the magic tree singing...It felt like a wimoweh moment was a comin' did the African accents (as in Oprah goes to Africa styles) of the 'people'.

But, for that I loved it. I felt like I was there, if a few days late (sorry I'm not as culturally immediate as many others out there), witnessing a pivotal moment in cinematic history. The technology now means that nothing will be the same again. Draw a line out from 1900, the history of the cinema, and you can point your finger at maybe ten-fifteen moments when a film completely changed the the way movies were made and the possibilities of the cinema as both entertainment and an artform. In my life I've seen about 4 and I'd argue that Star Wars, and maybe the realism of the opening salvo of Private Ryan (forget the rest of the movie) were others..and of course, the early Pixars. Of course, this is not a brilliant movie in the way that, say, Raging Bull or The Godfather was, but it's, as is being almost universally said, a game changer and one that you feel yourself drifting into, so much so that I periodically snapped out of what felt like complete involuntary absorption. And I'd realise that, yes, I was just watching a movie, albeit one with a very average story (and for that reason why, oh why would you ever bother to see it in 2D or on DVD, although the thought occurred to me later as I passed the pirate DVDs near the Skytrain station, that if they had been filmed in theatre, 3D that is, would the effects kinda work if you had the shades?).

The two and three quarter hours passed in a flash, and almost had to slap myself at the end. At one stage a guy a few seats down from me returned from the loo, and I watched as he emerged from behind parts of the movie to take his seat. I'd not realised that he wasn't in the film until he sat.

Paragon Dept Store

As we left, the lack of conversation was notable..I've only left a cinema surrounded by such silence twice before..Once Were Warriors in Auckland circa 94, and Apocalypse Now in Sydney in '79. Of course this was not the cinematic mind fuck either those were once you strip away the technology. Maybe (or maybe not) it was because the audience was 99% Thai and the sub-titles were slapped in badly in 2D and appeared only faintly at the back of the screen image, often being overshadowed by things that moved past them..still, as said, if you went for the story...

But what struck me more than anything was not the film itself but the fact that in studios and in minds all over the cinematic universe, and indeed in bedrooms and teen minds, ideas are forming to take this to the next level, to take the possibilities to the next strata, to exceed the achievements of what was very ordinary, and largely ignorable Hollywood cliched fodder, dressed up as a show case for mind boggling technology.

And that big parts of it were made in NZ.

Oh, and the hongi was well cool.

Afterwards, unable to face a heavy and inappropriate Christmas dinner in Bangkok, and having battled through what felt like a milion people in the malls (it took 15 minutes to walk 200m on the skywalk) we retired to what may be my favourite restaurant on the planet right now, Pla Dib, in Ari, for some Thai-Japanese fusion (Salmon Sushimi Larb..yum) with Belgian seemed like the right thing to do.

People turn on in Otaki / I wish you were there....

Utter briliance from Space Waltz:

Phil Warren gets it (although he notoriously missed Spilt Ends on the same show) and the rest don't...but one could hardly expect Howard Morrison to. I just think having the balls to go up against the horror that was the NZBC light entertainment machine in the 1970s (and beyond) is something.

I remember watching this at the time..the next day the whole nation was talking about it. Three years later when I borrowed a microphone from Alastair Riddell, I was still in awe.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Walking a straight line / No Deviation

Yes, yes,'s gratitous plug time, although I've missed the rush, I'm sure. But I'd just thought I'd mention one last time that The Screaming Meemees' album, If This is Paradise, I'll Take The Bag, as produced by the mighty Ian Morris in a haze in 1981 and 1982 (sessions that found him eventually married it should be mentioned), and remastered lovingly in 2009 by Alan Jansson is available on iTunes and directly, in glorious non-DRM via Amplifier.Screaming Meemees

This is what Skip Jensen, in the review of the album on the authoritative All Music Guide said:

Existing from 1980 to 1982, the Screaming Meemees were probably New Zealand's biggest pop band of the post-punk and new wave era. The quartet of Tony Drumm, Yoh, Peter van der Fluit, and Michael O'Neill initially dealt in the three-chord power pop derivative of the Buzzcocks.

If This Is Paradise, I'll take the Bag was recorded in 1981 with producer Ian Morris and boasted a eclectic range of influences in the mix of power pop, electro, dub, and funk -- styles not usually associated with New Zealand rock sound.

Their work for the album brought the Screaming Meemees closer to what U.K. groups A Certain Ratio and Rip Rig and Panic were up to.

The Screaming Meemees were as essential to the history of New Zealand rock as Split Enz and Blam Blam Blam.


The reissue also adds pretty much all non-album tracks, singles and more and will hopefully make a physical release sometime in 2010, geographical constraints being what they are right now, and maybe I'll get around to processing the live footage sitting on my desk right now.

For more on the band there's a bio on my site, and a personal recollection.

And cheers to all at Amplifier for making this, and so much more, happen.

From early 1981, Can't Take It:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An' if I close my eyes / They will not go away

7 years

Hey Charlie / I'll be eligible for parole / come Valentines Day

All Christmas records are not tosh.

Darlene Love and Phil Spector

Well, that's only slightly true as the overwhelming bulk of those foisted upon the public by hungry record companies are complete rubbish, and are best discarded, or set aside from the things that are supposed to make us feel good at this time of year. In 2009 Bob Dylan decided it was his turn and, while I've not heard it (and am unlikely to) beyond a track or two, plus this shocker of a video, I am happy to conclude that my life would be fuller if I didn't.

But we've been blessed (I can use words like that since it's Christmas and once upon a time I was forced to go to church every Xmas eve by a long past girlfriend, so I feel I've earned the right to use the word at Christmas, even if I'm happy being a non-believer in all that twaddle at any time of the year, Xmas especially..I remember standing outside the Catholic church in Northcote in 1981 with The Screaming Meemees, various Ainsworths, Regulators and assorted other North Shore bands, having a fag whilst the families thought we were at the back of the crowded room..the things you do for love and rock'n'roll) with the odd tune that stands above the morass of quickie, knock 'em out for that quick buck fodder that covers the sale tables outside your average mall record store for weeks before December 25th. Or fills the for a good cause compilations that labels get their acts to contribute to (royalty free of course although the label still gets the marketing and warehousing fees deducted before the returns get divvied up).

No, some are actually made for the right, jollity, and because the song itself has legs.

So, not all Christmas records suck but, really most of them do, however to prove a point, here are a few that don't:

The Maytals: The Christmas Song

Produced by the great Byron Lee, this came out in 1972 on a 7" and, yep, it's affectingly lovely..but then Toots was the man who stood up on stage at Mainstreet in Auckland in tears, thanking New Zealand for his first, and only I'd imagine, number one (Beautiful Woman).

Chuck Berry: Merry Christmas Baby

Very Charles Brown in it's execution, this bluesy wee gem, which dips into White Christmas in the middle, dates back to 1958.

Marvin Gaye: Purple Snowflakes

This was a single in 1964, and a flop. Why Marvin's pre-What's Going On period is so overlooked is beyond me. His live cut of The Christmas Song, recorded at The Apollo in the mid 60s, is a lost gem too.

Tom Waits: A Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis

From his '73 album, Blue Valentine, there was a push to get this to number one in Ireland in 2007, which given the lyrics would've been, uhh, a miracle. They didn't get there but they managed to get a huge blip in his sales in the region. I can think of worse records to hit the top spot at Christmas. And I could name a few....

John Cale: A Child's Christmas In Wales

From '73's gothic masterpiece, Paris 1919. This is Cale's lovely lyrical reworking of the Dylan Thomas short story of the same name.

Chet Baker: The First Noel

Yeah, it's well cheesy, and it's from his declining years and it was likely done for all the wrong reasons (see above), but I like it, and it's Chet.

Run DMC: Christmas In Hollis

Of course. It doesn't age too badly, and it's a record I play every yule season as a ritual.

Alexander O'Neal: The Little Drummer Boy

Produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and long since deleted, this was taken from an album called My Gift To You. Side one, the Jam & Lewis side, was actually ok. This is like Fake with sprayed on snow. Side two sucked.

Darlene Love: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

The greatest Christmas record ever, end of story, no discussion. Phil Spector may be what he is, but, man, could he make a record. From the correctly famous '64 My Christmas Gift To You album, but you knew that, right?

Monday, December 21, 2009

And I hoped we passed the audition...

While the Beatles were busy re-inventing popular music as we know it, they still had time to send out a Christmas record every year.

Merry Xmas y'all

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I got a Rocket in my Pocket and a Roll in my Walk

I've been meaning to link to this for a while: Chris Bourke's rather wonderful and evocative obit, from 2002, for one of Auckland City's most vital characters of the last half century. With a huge soul, generous and straight up, he's very much missed..there's always a bottle of Ouzo at the bar for you, buddy...Phil Warren

Phil Warren, Impresario

Irrepressible, imaginative, energetic, brash, provocative, entertaining, Phil Warren had all the ingredients to be a classic demagogue. Instead he used his talents to further his passions: entertainment and the region of Auckland. The two connected often; he believed show business and politics were natural bedfellows. Both require the gift of the gab – and a natural charisma to encourage people to get out and vote for you. He knew the old gag – “politics is show business in drag” – and once put it to use when he booked Diamond Lil for a Labour Party conference. Besides all the acts he booked, all the local body meetings he chaired, in the early 1970s he altered the social fabric of New Zealand when he acted like a one-man lobbyist to change archaic laws that prevented licensed drinking after 10 o’clock. “I always vote for Phil,” an Auckland friend once said. “He’s the only politician who believes people should be allowed to go out at night.

[From Distractions]

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wine, Wind and Pray on The Minds

"It's flying in the face of our 2,000-year-old beliefs," a Catholic church spokesman, Lyndsay Freer, said.

[From Semi-nude Mary and Joseph spark outrage in New Zealand | World news |]

Ahh, but which ones've changed the stories so many times down the years to suit (and slaughtered those who disagree), it's increasingly hard for us to keep up

Bought me a hi-fi for Xmas / Now I'm living in paradise

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere / Angel.....

An other extract from the Opinionated Diner archives..this time the 7" list from March, 2006. I've tweaked it a little, mostly just typos and illiterate half finished sentences that crept through. Looking at the original I must've written the last half in some sort of bourbon induced haze (although I've never liked the stuff, but if I apply Occam's Razor to it, I can come up with no other explanation) and the proofing was worse..I have this shocking habit of typing and posting, and noticing some glaring error weeks or months later.

Anyway, read it if you want, laugh at my inclusion of a Wings single if you must, but I make no apologies for any of it:

There is something about the magical seven inch vinyl single, something that the CD single, and the cassingle (which must be the silliest, most useless format least the CD is convenient and usually works as its designed to) could and can never aspire too. Both are unappealingly soulless. The small round, iconic seven inch however, as rough as it sounds sometimes (and that is a part of its soul, the audio shittiness bought on by its intended disposability) defines the pop song and is the philosophical parent of the mp3 in its disposability. Something the record companies still don’t get....

[From Simongriggdotinfo | The Opinionated Diner: The 7" Singles]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It was really nothing....

Chad Taylor, over at his Marginalia, has a series of end of year thanks and is kind enough to mention me. I'm not sure whether to laugh or hide, but he's clearly nailed it rather well: I'm a grumpy bugger at the best of times and my wife, bless her, says I'm getting worse as I age. I hope so, I quite enjoy a good grump and grizzle.
Sign in Soi 38

But this all of course, lays something of a burden on me at the moment. I'm in Bangkok now and I was going to have a few, two month in, reflections on the place. The problem is I quite like it, so that targeted box in Dresden might have to wait, Chad.

Of course there are downs. The air quality in BKK is pretty shitty, but, figures say, improving at some rate, and over the years you can feel it. And I find that that is compensated for by the fact that, for an Asian city of some 10 million, it's pretty clean at ground level, certainly much more so than poor Bali is these days, where the roadways, valleys and waterways are increasingly clogged by garbage and plastic.

And, yes, the sex tourism makes me cringe. The dirty old men with young true-love Thai girls are just horrible and much more in your face than Bali, where of course it exists but tends to be rather more hidden, or found in those grimy old retired expat bars in Sanur and Ubud. The one thing I've not seen here is the old man (whose family don't know he's in Bali I'd guess) with young local boy thing that you see a lot of in Bali. I'm guessing that may be out of town, or, hopefully somewhat cleaned up.

But if you keep away from a couple of areas in BKK you avoid all that, so we do and we do. And I'm throughly over people in the home country making jokes about it...

But I'm here to prove Chad wrong, so a quick bullet pointed list of things I like about Bangkok:

  • The markets. There are dozens, big and small selling everything you might and most likely don't want. You have tourist hell markets (the late night ones near Patpong and the ones by Lumphini Park), you have markets in Chinatown with whole streets that sell just about every kind of button you may ever see, next to alleys filled with ribbons, and ten minutes from there you can be in a mega mall which hocks $3000 shoes and $500,000 sports cars, if you were so inclined. You can then wander on, after they close, to 24hr flower markets that stock every bloom you could imagine. You literally can buy almost anything, and I've gone from a land where it's hard to buy anything, to a veritable land of consumer plenty, where not only do they have it, whatever it may be, they have an enormous range to choose from. Then we have the weekend markets...10-15,000 stalls that cover everything from snakes to designer footwear to high end furniture to second hand jeans to hand crafted glassware with everything imaginable in-between. All in a clean, hassle and completely smoke free environment, which I love. Or you could simply sit in the coffee shops there, listen to the DJ and watch the Thai punks, fashion victims, & rockabilly boys, or the Germans in too tight shorts and Birkenstocks, go by.
  • Yeah, the malls. I'm a sucker for big malls, and no-one, not Singapore, not HK, not the US, not Jakarta (which has more but they tend to repeat the same bits in every mall, lacks the range of most things, and the foodhalls & gourmet supermarkets but it's the closest to BKK), does malls like this town. Three Kinokuniya bookstores, any one of which has more range than every bookstore in NZ combined. And all joined by the spotlessly clean, uber-fast and cheap skytrains or skywalks.
  • The way that shop staff not only take your purchases down to the taxi rank, but hail a taxi, tell them the address, then put your purchases in the cab and wave you smilingly on your way. It's called service. And the cab only costs about $3 to get home. Oh, and you never have to count your change..or get offered a candy as change (when the store till has a draw full of coins).
Paragon Xmas
  • Christmas...why does Asia, the non-Christian parts, which is all of it really, do this so well? No baggage of pretending to celebrate faux religious dogma perhaps? Whatever, Bangkok does Xmas so much better than any western nation, way better than London (although it's been few years since I've seen it in the weeks building up to December 25} and waaaaayyyyy better than New Zealand with it's Santa and depressing Farmer's Parade. Here, simply, they celebrate the fun, and don't try to hide behind religious symbolism. Half the buildings festooned in walls of lights and OTT decorations have nothing to gain commercially from the season..they just do it. The guy installing the washing machine here (free, part of the service..and the machine was a third the cost of the same thing in Auckland) kept on smiling widely at me and saying Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.. And Merry Christmas to you too.
French drummers
  • Just about everything here is cheaper than Bali. And transport, electricity, and internet (the net is about ten times the speed for one tenth the price, it's like the world has opened up) are not only a fraction of the price, largely they
Roti guys
  • The smiles..I was warned repeatedly by silly old expats in Bali that the Thai people don't smile. Rubbish, and mostly they're genuine with the grins and humour that comes with much interaction here. But like all national stereotypes, that's all they are, silly generalisations, and I've found smiles, I've found cold silence and I've found every emotion in between. Like anywhere else.
  • I love the food. I love Thai food. I love the food on the side of the street. I love the foodhalls. I love the late-night outdoor food stalls at Soi 38 (with the girl who grins so joyfully as she welcomes us back and she prepares our Mango and sticky rice..which tastes there like it does nowhere else). I love the cheap hole-in-the-wall places that serve you so much food it's hard to walk and then hand you a bill for about 500B ($15) for three people. I love the spices and herbs, and the mind-bending chili, in almost everything. I love the Indian food. I love the market snacks..the banana roti and rice sweets. I love the food.
kids in Klong
  • I love the drinks..not just the juices and blended drinks, but the the wonderful wine everywhere, at a passable price, and the wonderful beers..the local beers and the Belgian bars and so much more. It's like arriving after years in the desert.
  • Oh, and the rivers and klongs..water transport is efficient, very fast, very, very cheap and the klongs are way cleaner than the naysayers had me believe.
Klong Taxi
  • And it's all, as I said earlier, all smoke-bloody-free.....

Is that ok, Chad?


Monday, December 14, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pa Pa Sa Re Ni Ni Sa Pa Pa Sa Re Ni Ni Sa


hello dilli haat
everything is ok just want to inform u ur one mirror of the front wall upstair is broken which is not good for goodluck please repair it soon . when i pass by bus trough ur restarant i always see i dont have ur phone number otherwise i could have called u an informed u
best of luck
Posted by charan, on 01/22/2008 at 19:43

[From Indians in Thailand - Dillii Haat]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

No Tricks In '86: The 12" Singles

The techno mafia

Back in January 2006, on this blog, I posted a list of my favourite 12" singles. It was picked up by quite a few other sites, not least of which was the godfather of all house and dance music sites, Jahsonic, and it kinda went around the world, which was a buzz. I them followed it with a list of 7" singles and albums.

The list disappeared into the blog archives and when I changed the URL to my own (from a blogger one) it, along with all the earlier posts, lost all their images..and I was too lazy to spend days or weeks fixing it so I decided to pull this list from the archives and put it more permanently on my site. It can be found here.

I fixed a couple of typos and an mistake or two but it's really as it was, with new images. Enjoy or criticise, whichever turns you on...

The albums and singles will follow at some future stage.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

But At Least We'll Know That It's True / That I'm Almost Sixteen Again...

buzzcocks tickets

If you'd pulled me aside thirty years back and told me that this year I'd be watching the The Buzzcocks in Bangkok, likely I'd be inclined to verbally slap you a bit to bring some sense back into the conversation. Of course I wouldn't have as I'm not a violent person by nature ( the last person I hit was Nicky Hager in the 4th Form, and I've felt guilt since).

But tonight there I was, in the rather agreeable but still fairly rockn'roll surroundings of Club Culture near Victory Monument (which wasn't actually a victory at all) grooving along to The Buzzcocks. The fucking Buzzcocks....

We used to laugh at the 60s acts in the 1980s touring their handful of hits around the workingman's clubs of the UK and periodically making it to NZ. The likes of The Searchers and The Hollies. And I'm still one to sneer at the poor old Human League and ABC, or for that matter most acts from the '77 batch doing the traps three decades on. The only Class of '77 acts I'd cross the road to see would be Paul Weller or Elvis Costello.

And the fucking Buzzcocks.

I mean, they had the tunes, and if the 2009 reissues of the first three albums gave us anything, it was that those are likely the best pop records of their generation, bar none. Tell me a pop anthem from the last half of that decade that tops Ever Fallen In Love or Promises. And they came, they flared, and they burnt out in a fairly gracious way. And, of course Pete Shelley gave us Homosapien which, in it's 12" dub, was both a dancefloor monster and, forgivably, the prototype for everything electroclash, twenty plus years on. Tune indeed (and the album is no slouch). girls outside

It was a mixed crowd of 1000 or so, about 50% UK expats, 30% Thai and the rest mixed. I loved the anonymity of it all, that being something I've enjoyed in Bali too. The nature of my history means that it's hard to do these sorts of gigs in Auckland without some, admittedly often pleasant, closing in.

We had drinks downstairs in the open air bar before we went it. It was as much a show as the band was later one. Faded punks thirty years on are an interesting bunch.

And as Brigid said, being surrounded by the English on holiday does wonders for one's physical self esteem.

There was a Thai Elvis impersonator playing to half a dozen people in the restaurant. We gave him a 20B tip and went in.

The support act, I have no idea what they were called, looked like Harry Potter and band but were actually really bloody good in a tight pop punk way. They looked like they had the legs to travel, and I mused that if they were anywhere in the Western world they'd likely be doing MTV & commercially rather well. They had the looks and the tunes.

A brief break, with some quite tastefully informed between band tunes (smatterings of 60's punk, Big Star etc, plus a few 70's and early '80s tunes..there is something quite special hearing 500 increasingly drunken Englishmen, as they mostly seemed to be by that stage, singing Love Will Tear Us Apart as if they were straight off the benches at Old Trafford) and the arrival of the Thai punks and the confused blonde Swedish hairdressers, who, like about 30% of the crowd, would not have been born much before the band's 1989 reunion. Some of the younger crew had their spiffing brand new Singles Going Steady or Sex Pistols shirts on (unlike a few of the more ancient folks who, despite the fact they'd doubled in size, had inadvisably decided to ignore any remaining style instincts left after all those Special Brews had done their work, and squeeze into that Adverts shirt one last time. Cheers for that..)

Then came the headliners. No fuss, no great announcement, they just wandered on stage, tuned up a bit, like the band at the local pub, and then blatted into Boredom which segued effortlessly, hardly surprising after all these years I guess, into the mighty Fast Cars.elvis

I last saw the band in, I think, about 1990, and my first impression this time was that Shelley looked like a happy off duty bus driver (he seems to have shrunk vertically and grown horizontally..haven't we all) and Steve Diggle, in spotted shirt, had something of the Bruce Forsythe about him. Who would've thought that in 1979?

And Brigid and I wondered too, what the very fat guys with cheap striped polo shirts tucked into their walk shorts would've looked like in 1979?

But, y'know, it was The Buzzcocks.....the fucking Buzzcocks, one more time.

And then the first Englishman crashed the stage and knocked over Pete & his amps and staggered up to a victorious meathead arms in the air yeah, before being politely, this being Thailand where even the punks say sorry, tossed off the stage by the bouncers. He deserved something firmer as the rest of the band hobbled vocals-less through the last half of Autonomy, and Shelley had to borrow an amp and swap guitars.

And the scouse wanker who had the poor Thai girl by the throat outside the toilets (people were intervening rather quickly, thank god) needed, and likely was, given the anger of the approaching staff, a swift explanation as to why his behavior was utterly unacceptable, which if he couldn't understand, led to something sterner from the two cops standing outside.

Some people should not travel, or for that matter, leave their shitty council flat.

But, it rolled into What Do I Get and onwards, then Steve Diggle's moment, a longish Harmony In My Head, where he had the same Man U fans singing the chorus en mass. It was well cool. I smiled and sang a lot.

Thai punks

We wandered out after the encore of Oh Shit, Ever Fallen in Love (in which the Swedish girls seemed to finally find a song to know..must be the Shrek effect) and Orgasm Addict, to get a taxi before the masses swamped them.

So, yes, it was nostalgia (which, sadly they didn't play..and no Love Love Battery), and it was a bunch of old folks mostly singing along with the tunes one more time.

But It was The Buzzcocks...the fucking Buzzcocks.


Those promises..ohhhh...are made for us..ohhh....


Saturday, November 21, 2009

And I want you...

For those of us a long way away...

It poured sweet and clear / it was a very good year

Time for a list.

I hate lists mostly..reading them that is. But rather enjoy putting the things together, so if lists are your thing, please read on.

Okay, as usual I can divide my new music this year into a fairly clear divide between the new and the reissued. But the divide is even stronger this time around as there is a very clear delineation between the physical and the digital. And the line is fairly much the same. My old music is mostly physical and the new music was almost exclusively digital. In other words, I bought old music on CD or vinyl and new music on mp3. If I own a CD of a new record, it's mostly because I was given a copy by the label or for review purposes.

And here's another clear divide: the new music is almost, with one or two exceptions, all on indie labels, big and small, and the old stuff is on majors. Which underlines the commonly held perception that the big record companies have long since lost touch with what their potential customers want to buy, assuming that I'm not completely divorced from the mainstream.

I'm not listing singles or one off tracks from acts as they are both too numerous and I've lost track in what I consider a throughly vintage year for pop music in all it's mainstream and, mostly, alternative forms.

But it's worth mentioning that missing in action at the end of 2009 are the two formats devised and briefly touted by both Apple and the labels to revive the album as a format...this year's DCC.Andy Weatherall

Indeed, the way things are heading, the album as a format may be more and more marginalized as we generations who grew up on the 40 minute LP and 70 minute compact disc become increasingly irrelevant to the recording industry. My teenage daughter shows little interest the format.

However all that sits somewhere in the next decade and in the interim, I'll toss together, if anyone cares, my favourite records this year, starting with the new stuff, or the compiling of the new stuff (and some may be from 2008 or before..yes a sin in these instant times, but I'm simply not that on to it...)

Diplo : Decent Work For Decent Pay

A sound track to the first few months of 2009. This was in the car stereo throughout big parts of February and March and seemed very Bali road-chaos appropriate with it's block party humour and singalong hand slapping the steering wheel-ness. Purists hated it. Fuck 'em, I loved it and had a ball when I saw him banging it out in similar style at 808 in September. I hate purists...

Architeq : Green + Gold

All wonderfully dubby, noisy and swooning like. The spiritual child of Roy Budd mashed with Bristol styled wonkiness. Speaking of which...

RSD : Good Energy

...the godfather of the Bristol scene (pertinent question surely after all these years: water / ingredients / Bristol? There must be a reason?) collects his cinematic dub singles from recent times with some majesty. I never tire of Koto, Kingfisher, or those god-given basslines that've rumbled through his work since the much loved (and rightly so..where is my Carlton album when I need it?) Smith & Mighty days

Martyn : Great Lengths

Everyone knows this right? You'd have to be have been living under a big immovable block of reinforced concrete (or in Bali where things like this really didn't creep through unless you you made a real effort...I guess I did) to have missed the most all-pervasive release of the first part of 2009. Do I need to hear it again? My stats say yes..this is the third most played album in my totals ever (or at least since I signed up a couple of years back). The best pop album of 2009, or more realistically, as dark and melodically adventurous as I'd like pop to sound like, but rarely does.Martyn

DJ Hell : Teufelswerk

Old fashioned big room house music, or is it techno? I guess it really is, but the boundaries have always been so blurred it's a silly argument. Magnificent whatever you may wish to call it, despite the, I think, cheesy opener with Bryan Ferry. See, now I'm kicking myself for calling it old fashioned, as the second half slips effortlessly into a wide ranging modernistic cinematic sprawl that Fritz Lang would have crawled across broken shards to use. Epic and, using the word that should never be used, genius.

Bad Lieutenant: Never Cry Another Tear

Yeah, I know, it's hardly an adventurous choice (see my reissues too) but after four decades of music acquisition at a silly rate, I'm allowed a moment of happy reflection and indulgent nostalgia. The new New Order album without some of the bits that made New Order, New Order, if you will, but it's rather fine and safely spine tingling for all that (and I did, after all, love the last two, much slighted, guitar based New Order albums so much, so there).

Andrew Weatherall : A Pox on The Pioneers

Yeah, and Andy, no slouch in the pioneer stakes himself, is indulging somewhat himself in an album that references the early post-punk 1980s, and, if I had to point a finger even more, Mick Jones' magnificent Big Audio Dynamite (who are worthy of a bit of reverential referencing), and in the process takes a few equally reverential jabs, if that's the correct word, maybe not but it's better than saying poxes, at King Tubby, Terry Hall, his own Sabres of Paradise and so much more. And includes what may be 2009's best lyrical lines, when when talking about responses to his music: “‘As a teenage girl, your music made me bad’”. A glorious document of a career as a musical deviant, and, yes, one of the very great pioneers. Oh, and quickly grab yourself a copy of his Fact Mix. It says it's only up for 3 weeks (it dates from September) but at the time of typing, it's still available; and, if you've not had the pleasure....

Fuck Buttons: Tarot Sport

Produced by Mr. Weatherall, for our listening pleasure, and to my likely conservative ears, quite an improvement over their debut. The idea of wall of aural textures for pleasurable listening is a tough one to pull off. Mostly it fails after it passes the clever hurdle, and tries to jump the pleasure hurdle. The Battles were very much like that for me...yes throughly clever, but horrible to spend any time with. And so it was with Fuck Buttons' debut. I played it and loved what they were trying to pull off, but hated the end result. So, thank you Mister Rotter, you've taken the ideas, sanded off the the ugly bits and added a splash of uber-epic. And it may well be, this week at least, my favourite album of 2009. If only I could let rid of the underlying, and uneasy feeling that I may have inadvertently succumbed to a mutant child of prog-rock...

Terry Lynn: KingstonLogic 2.0

I dunno where I found email from someone I think. A touch of 80's Gussie Clarke digital stylings, albeit much toughened, a smattering of hard staccato ragga pop, a swing towards MIA here and there, and an album that veers towards the harrowing lyrically but with a sugar coating. Kingston via Canada. Love it.

New (non album) video:

Damian Lazarus : Smoke The Monster Out

Thoroughly blissful electronic soundscape that sounds like the sort of thing that Lennon may well have made if he'd been around today (assuming of course that he'd had the benefit of himself a generation or two earlier, breaking down the walls that makes albums like this possible). If you'd asked me in June what my favourite album of 2009 was, I'd have pointed to this without a moment's pause. I love the humour of this record, and the unpredicable swings that still, after months, take me by surprise. A wonderful, wonderful mish-mash taken from twisted journeys through the mind of one of this decade's most adventurous creators.

2562 : Unbalance

God, this is glorious. It a record to make you writhe with the beauty of it all. Throbbing drums, tugging basslines and majestic swirls of synth. And that's just Escape Velocity, the last track. The rest of this album leaves you weak long before you get to it, so much so, that the wash of the track is almost too much to deal with after al that. That may all sound thoroughly verbose and pretentious, and yes, I guess it is, but really, try putting an album like this into words. I can't.DJ Hell

Jamie Jones : Don't You Remember The Future

A rather fetching meeting point between old school electro (Egyptian Lover guests on the album for heavens sake), and club friendly tech-house, which really slipped through the cracks this year but kinda hit a nerve with my, oft self-denied 80s electro fetish...oh and the sort of Prince record that Prince might be making if he wasn't so dull now, in the minor club hit, Summertime.

Elvis Costello : Secret, Profane and Sugarcane

Yeah, I love Elvis Costello, and I'm one of a shrinking number who buy everything he does. And I love it when he goes all plastic like...and this is his plastic bluegrass album. He tries to be authentic, as he does when he does the silly classical thing, and back in the day when he first went to Nashville and made the completely plastic and completely engaging Almost Blue. And yes, his voice on these tracks, especially the slow ones, is absolutely gorgeous. The last track, a sitting-on-the-front-porch remake of Lou Reed's Femme Fatale, is just a wonder.

Sally Shapiro : My Guilty Pleasure

Oh, this is lovely. I'm a sucker for this sort of slight indie euro-pop, so called italo-disco in some sort of odd nostalgia for a sound that never really existed, at least as it's pined for in the 21st Century. That doesn't make this record any less appealing, and the fact that Sally (Swedish I believe..hence the engaging sterility that is such a trademark of every Swedish band from ABBA onwards) is so detached from both a public persona and the underlying pretty synths that make up the musical bed of this album makes me like it even more. What does all that mean? Not very much I guess, but if you really want an eighties reference point for this record I'd point you in the direction of the pre-KLF genius that was Lori and The Chameleons .

Carl Craig & Moritz Von Oswald : Recomposed Vol. 3

This, which got mixed reviews ranging from confused to ecstatic, was both gorgeous and exhausting. Two pioneers of electronic composition reworking, and remaking using both analogue and digital machines, orchestral performances of Maurice Ravel and Modest Mussorgsky, taken from the Deutsche Grammophon catalogue (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to be exact), without ever feeling the need to resort to the obvious or the cliched. The end result was hypnotic. Killer remixes from Ricardo Villalobos and Craig came shortly later as a single.

Omar-S : Fabric 45: Detroit

The guy who works at the Ford Motor Company by day (putting marks on things with a felt pen I believe) and turns out this sort of deep urban techno by night. I guess things must go around and around that head all day, demanding expression after hours. Whatever, this was one mighty Fabric mix, featuring all original tracks, some new, some not so new, but all ruggedly meshed together in a raw and individual way that extends the soul of his city (Florence Ballard is his aunt, after all).

Various: Stroke - Songs For Chris Knox Well, yes, of course it's on the list, even if it's less than a week old. I've known Chris since 1978, we're mates, but not really close. I released the first Tall Dwarfs' record in 1981, before his natural home, Flying Nun (and the day Chris left, it really stopped being Flying Nun) existed. Whilst the true pain is his and his family's, his stroke hit me, as it did many others, pretty hard. I had a swathe of messages and emails from people, including ex-Toy Love members, who felt like they too were helpless to help, being nowhere near. It was a day or two before the news became clearer, and it was an unsettling few days or more.

So, this record matters to me. Chris was a big part of my life and I felt rather hollow the night of the gig in Auckland. You kinda sit in Bangkok thinking that you really need to be somewhere else, but are unable to be. So I played this over and over.

It's quite a record, and the heartfelt love and sincere affection comes through on so many of the tracks. Myself, I have a little trouble with two or three of the tracks, but when it hits, it just floors you. My friend Russell Brown said that one track on here, Will Oldhams' cover of My Only Friend, bought him to tears, and others here have almost done that to me, including The Crying Wolfs take on All My Hollowness to You. Indeed I was rather taken that all three songs from that original TD EP from 1981 all made it on to the album and all sound quite marvelous.

You are gonna buy it, right?

and so to the reissues:

Bad Lieutenant

I liked the Dimitri Nightdubbin' collection of 80s B-sides a lot. The B-sides of so many funk and proto-house 12"s across that decade contained the real gold on the release, and most have never been compiled. I have about 80% of these, and many many more from the era, but it's nice to see so many of them in one place digitally. Just a question: why do the likes of Dimitri and Dave Lee so often feel the need to 'edit' what was often perfection? I had this conversation mid year with Norman Jay and we both agreed it was simply ego. Shame, as it tarnishes something that was better left alone.

The first 3 Buzzcocks albums have seen reissue several times, but none as well as the two pack EMI issues earlier this year, which sound almost as good as the vinyl did the first time around. 30 years on, they still sound like the pop masterpieces they did the first time around.

Oh, and then there was the limited (yes I'm bloody biased) digital re-release of the remastered (by Alan Jansson) album from The Screaming Meemees , with bonus tracks. I'm hoping that 2010 will see the double CD complete with 20 minutes of unseen live material that's sitting on my desk.

The Beastie Boys ' masterpiece, Paul's Boutique found its way back onto my playlist this year. The package was superb, with the original album gatefold beautifully recreated. It's just a shame that the rampant copyright infringement that is this album, and the subsequent settlement of claims, meant that no bonus tracks made it on to the reissue..the associated 12" tracks for example, many of which have never made CD.

But, 2009's reissues / remasters were dominated by The Beatles, of course, and in mono, stereo, 8 track, quad, or any other format you can think of they still sound fantastic, and the new boxed sets / remaster (and most especially the mono box) take them to another level. And of course, without these records the first time around, likely nothing in this post would've existed anyway...

Still waiting on the Kraftwerk, but this'll do for now...

Late addon:

A December arrival, but a week in the King Midas Sound album, Waiting For You, has been stuck on my stereo and iPod. The bastard child of Massive Attack and decades of pirate radio, like so many of the records on this post, it could only be British. The bizarre thing is, the British are fairly useless at making just about anything..with the glaring exceptions of television and popular music, in which, in both cases they not only lead but drag an often unwitting (or the in case of the US, unaware) planet after them. Wonderful, sensual, gorgeous and utterly of its time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Believeing the strangest things (loving the alien)

Marriage For Alien

Saturday, November 14, 2009

One of these days you'll go back to your home / You won't even notice that you are alone

goodbye bali

I guess I hit a brick wall in Bali. After years, it was hard to see it going anywhere. And I needed some urban. So, we packed the bags and moved to Bangkok, where, insanely, we know almost nobody. But, we reassure ourselves, it's rather close to a lot of people I do know, and rather more, for want of a better phrase, in the world.  

For the reasons I touched on in my last post, and for the ongoing and increasing frustrations of doing business and the creeping pollution (garbage everywhere and ongoing raw sewage into the swimming beaches) and traffic gridlock, I'd really had enough. And I increasingly felt that driving on the roads of the island was an ongoing lottery with only one unhappy end result likely..through no fault of mine I was likely to end up in an accident which would kill or maim someone sooner or later. Everyday I got behind the wheel of my car it weighed on me, that the insanity and mayhem on the jalans would likely one day mean that I was held responsible for an injury caused by the irrational, deathwish driving of almost everyone on the island.

Or it was the batshit crazy'd start talking to reasonably rational people and then they'd wander off into some treatise about their recent journey through their past lives, or you'd meet some wonderful soul who, it turns out, has made a small fortune by paying far flung villages a pittance for their ancient artifacts, often ancestral gravestones or the like, which they've either shipped off to abroad for an obscenely inflated markup. Or there are the shysters and devolopers who are selling hugely overpriced property on dodgy landtitles or with fake guarantees of freehold (Indonesian law, regardless of whatever trick of the eye (or proxy) you may pull, is very clear: unless you are Indonesian you can not and likely never will be able to own land). Many of these are celebrated in the grimace inducing paean to insubstantiality, The Yak.

Yes it's gruesome.

But oh so fabulous...

So we left.

For that, the one thing that the years in Bali, and the many other excursions in recent years into other parts of Indonesia, and across Asia have given me is an increased sense of understanding. Or I hope so.

I understand now that I was never really a foreigner in the UK, or Europe, nor in most of the US. I thought I was, but simply put, we were just variations on the same rules. In Asia however the rules are completely different. Confidence shakingly so. Nothing I'd learned, been told, or understood worked anymore as it was supposed to. You take nothing for granted, especially when living day to day outside the comfortable tourist routines. You want to set up a utilities account? Start learning... You want to pay that bill? Start learning.... and so on, and on.

I go back to New Zealand and the things I now, without a blink, regard as normal, may as well be from another galaxy. And I realise how much I've changed and, maybe, learned.

The Klong bus

And Thailand is a slightly (make that substantially) more developed and sophisticated nation than Indonesia, thus the culture shock is radically less than that encountered by the naive New Zealanders arriving in paradise a few years back.

We thought about jumping back to New Zealand, but to be honest, after some years in Asia, we decided the culture shock for us would likely be worse on that return than when we arrived in Asia, plus the sense of isolation we sometimes feel there on our trips back would perhaps be suffocating for us right now, although it doesn't stop me missing the place. I may retire, if and when, to some beach in NZ, but then, likely too, I may end my years in some part of China or South East Asia, but right now the ease of travel and the crush of millions of other souls pushes the right buttons. Did I mention the food.....

I guess irrational impulsiveness is both a personal strength and weakness, but without it I'd never have made a record or done large parts of what I've done and got such joy from doing over the past decades. The trip continues...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is It The Blues I'm Singing?

So that was Indonesia.

I wasn't going to write anything on my leaving for fear that I might offend or come across as the perennial grumpy ex-Indo expat (and the usual response to such is for others to say, vacuously, 'if you don't like it..leave'..uhh, I have) but this piece (which has disappeared on the original site as it's domain seems to have expired, but is at this link and caused quite a noise in Indonesian online circles), on the imploding, but potentially very mighty, city of Jakarta changed my mind. It pushed open the doors a little, thus, giving me some courage to vent.

I actually rather like Jakarta, have enjoyed it greatly at times and looked forward to my many trips into, what may best be described as a Satanic Urban Swamp (caps intentional). I'm very aware though that's because of the level I enter it, the level I enjoy it at, and because I have a ticket out. So yes, there is is much of truth in that overview. It is a bulging, collapsing sprawl that suffers greatly from unchecked greed, shitty governance, collapsing, almost non existent infrastructure, and the almost complete absence of the rule of law as understood across most of the world, East & West (Indonesians love saying "You can't expect it be like it is in the west here", but the truth is it's not like it is in Malaysia, Thailand or Singapore either). And these this truths can, more or less, be transposed onto the nation as a whole.

I lived in Indonesia for close to five years, and found myself mentally immersed (as much as an observer can be immersed) and fascinated by the political life of the nation, and it's struggle to pull itself out of the gaping black-hole that centuries of Dutch misrule, followed by, arguably, much worse, pillaging and misrule by Indonesian leaders who took financial and human rights abuses and crimes against the people of Indonesia to a level that the Dutch colonialists could only but dream of. And in the process created a self serving and self perpetuating, incredibly arrogant, elite that both controls the body politick and economy, and ruthlessly defends itself regardless of the harm it may do to the overwhelming bulk of Indonesia's population, against any threat to its wellbeing, wealth and absolute control.

That elite controls (and includes the senior ranks of) the military, the police and the judiciary, and coldly, absolutely, and unashamedly wields those weapons to bring down any who may threaten it. As I type these institutions are battling to nobble the, too aggressive for their own good, anti-korupsi body, the KPK, seemingly with the connivance of the President, a former general, who, like Bali's governor, a former police chief, as everyone knows but few dare say, could not conceivably have found himself where he is now without substantially paying the piper and having some history, however well hidden and ignored.

This truly is a very odd country, and depressingly dysfunctional in so many ways. It has natural beauty unlike any I've seen anywhere, it has massive resources, both natural and human, and sits across the most important stretch of water on the planet. It's history, complex culture, arts and writings are formidable and awe inspiring. And yet it's population, by any reasonable measure (far beyond the arbitrary line drawn by Jakarta) is overwhelmingly poverty stricken. Many of those who allegedly are living above the poverty line, live lives far below what would be termed abject poverty in neigbouring nations like Thailand or Malaysia. It's education spend is beyond abysmal and even when taught, what is taught does little to help most young Indonesians develop thinking, questioning minds, and teaches a version of history that is at odds with reality. Indonesia claims a literacy rate in the 90%s but for many, perhaps the majority, such literacy is merely token with reading and writing levels rarely existing beyond the cursory (JKT's library system has less than 10,000 books, in a city of some ten million..most people simply do not and can not read - it's rare to find an Indonesian who can read a map for example). Mathematical literacy is little better, with shop staff often needing a calculator to subtract five from ten. You have insane imams barking out barbaric rulings on morality whilst turning a blind eye to one of their own marrying (and having sex with) a 12 year old girl (and eyeing up her 9 year old sister). These same people blame the deaths of hundreds of thousands of their own flock on the failure of the morality of those who perished, as a punishment from their twisted god, and such opinions, rather than sitting in the wacko periphery as they do elsewhere, sit uncomfortably close to mainstream thinking. And that, being Islam, is a massive reason why Indonesia remains forever on the edge of being a failed state. The religion, or narrow, self righteous in it's ignorance, largely humourless, dogma, as may be more accurate (as it is with much religion), stymies much progressive thought, and spends much of it's time trying to flatten the soul of the nation. It remains the primary reason why the nation remains an intellectual never fails to astound me how few printed pages the only real broadsheet newspaper, Kompas, has each day. Indeed (and I'm hoping that lost in translation accounts for much of this) there is rarely a morning when one opens a national (English language) newspaper not to see either SBY or one of his odd Cabinet Ministers make some statement which if not simply inane, borders on the moronic. SBY, in his 2009 post election victory speech, offered a list of desired achievements this term which would make a Miss World contestant stammer with it's inane banality, and ended with his prediction that Indonesia would be one of the world's most advanced nations by 2025. Nobody blinked at the absurdity of this. This in a nation where almost everything you can think of is, to put it in it's most base terms, is irredeemably broken. I defy someone to tell me some part of Indonesian life that isn't broken, from the transport system, health system, manufacturing industries, government at any level, the military, the environment and on and on. And for that matter, something that is less broken after 5 years of SBY than before. Which is the real point. After years of supposed investment and economic stability and growth, little, for most Indonesians, has changed at all.

It's extraordinarily sad.

Unless of course one is a member of the 1 or 2 percent who own and control Indonesia, and all it's wealth. They are doing quite well and their wealth grows and grows with little trickle down beyond the mega malls and Swiss finishing schools. For the rest, Indonesia's success story remains but a mirage, in the electricity-less expanses of Kalimantan or Sulawesi, or the poverty stricken ghettos of Jakarta or Surabaya with no running water, despite what's printed on the pages of The Wall Street Journal or The Financial Times, in which fleeting reporters hail Indonesia's financial miracle. It's as much a mirage as Reagan's trickle down economics were to the inner cities of Detroit in the late 1980s.

And then we have the endemic corruption and theft. Until you've actually lived in the midst of it, it's so hard to really get a handle on how all all encompassing and utterly putrid the corruption is in Indonesia. I've tried to explain it to folks outside the country, even to those in the other SEA nations, but it's virtually impossible to understand the pervasiveness of it unless one is there. Yes there is corruption in Thailand, yes there is corruption in the USA, but the massive point of difference is that in just about every other nation I can think of, such is regarded as wrong. In Indonesia graft and dishonesty are the social norm and, mostly, treated as such by whatever justice system the nation has, with the odd token high level arrest to satisfy the NGOs. This year an organized ring of immigration officials at Bali's airport, were discovered to have stolen US$300,000 from visa fees. They were allowed to keep their jobs and lost a year's promotion. Nobody asked where the money was. That, I thought, spoke ugly volumes.

It covers every facet of everyday life and adds billions of dollars to the cost of the economy every year. It's not just about giving a cop a few rupiah on the side of the road (although they have a quota to collect for their bosses and upwards). Its about state school children not getting a seat at a local school unless they pay the seat and desk 'fee' to the teacher (who passes a cut up stream to the headmaster), or not giving a child their exam results unless they pay a bribe; or tertiary institutes selling professional degrees including medical and engineering; or port and customs officials demanding a cut of any incoming containers and leveraging extra 'special fees" on outgoing freight; or the military and police demanding protection money from industry, shops & business; or female drug dealers being kept in stations for days and repeatedly raped by cops, who are immune; or the sale of visas by immigration; or millions of dollars of poverty support monies being stolen by regional governors; or monies pilfered by the nation's diplomats; or millions of dollars in Haj savings being stolen by the Minister for Religious Affairs. Indeed it's hard to avoid the conclusion that there seems to be some sort of equation between the most devout in one of the most devout nations in the world and the extreme dishonesty in what is likely the nation with the most institutionally entrenched dishonesty at every level. And Bali takes it further, with shortchanging and routine overcharging of tourists and foreigners being not only the daily norm but accepted policy in some retail chains. Taxis rig their meters, petrol stations have their pumps set to add Rp50,000 to the cost (with the pump preset to begin at that figure), the petrol bought at roadside shops is watered down with anything that won't show, pirate DVD shops remove DVDs after you have paid for them and on and on....

And the government, that of SBY, is strangely unwilling to tackle any of this beyond the most superficial level. No-one asks how senior policemen can live in mansions, drive multiple imported luxury vehicles and send their families abroad on salaries of $1000 a month, or how the current Bali governor managed to find assets of half a million US$ to declare in the recent election, on his salary. And all of this, too, is mostly untaxed as virtually no-one in the nation has a (compulsory) tax number, with only ten of the 500+ members of the new legislature having such.

And there is so much more. At just about every level Indonesia, even in third world terms, is largely broken and you simply scratch your head at the magnitude of the problem and whether anyone, after six decades of rather broken independence, will ever be able to put the pieces back together again. Certainly not the current incumbent power structure, which is too far entrenched and derived from the very ugly status quo, who really don't see that much wrong with maintaining things as they are, and largely are doing so. The issue at hand is largely that the government structure in Indonesia, from the village level upwards, still hasn't worked out that democracy is a government of the people, for the benefit of the people, not a government of the people to benefit an elite.

You can only hope that somewhere on the far horizon one of the small but growing number of educated and extremely aware urban intelligentsia, who very much understand the problems, has the drive and political nouse to battle his or her way through the massive obstacles faced by anyone who wants to change the system. Or that given enough people making a noise, essentially once again in the big urban centres, some sort of true reformasi happens to pick up where the largely stalled and disappointing 1998 revolution pointed.

Which brings me to the most astounding part of where we are at as I type. The KPK scandal I linked to above seems to have roused the nation. And not just the middle class or the educated elite, but rather, the masses, the millions, in their kampongs and in the streets and smaller towns across, at least Java and Bali in a rather encouraging way. Despite shitty internet being the norm, Indonesia, at least in the major urban centres, and with the under 30s, is an increasingly wired nation. It's one of the fastest growing Twitter nations on the planet, and cheap nationwide 3G networks have empowered and given a voice to so many that simply would never have been heard in years gone by, or, if they raised a voice, would be ignored. The first rumblings were heard earlier this year when a woman in the outskirts of Jakarta critcised her local hospital by email and was sued by the company for defamation. In days gone by they would have simply sledgehammered her without a murmur. After all it was the national hero, Sukarno, who said Indonesia was a coolie nation, and needed to lift itself out of that mentality. Sadly Indonesian leaders thereafter have treated the nation exactly that way, and SBY's powerbase, at least until this last election, was centered around those who saw it in their interest to maintain that twisted status quo, with Suharto turning nation extortion (and murder of his people) into an art-form.

But this woman somehow rallied the nation behind her, using the internet, and, especially Facebook, where she had a million supporters overnight. It forced the hospital to back down. The case is still going through the courts, who seem unable to work out that the world that allowed them to twist and pollute and act viciously for the benefit of the biggest checkbook (or, rather, bag of Rp100,000 notes..our lawyer told us stories of judges' clerks daily sitting outside courts openly negotiating the fee for verdicts) has gone, or may be on it's way out.

And so to the current case, where the police, popularly regarded as the most dishonest body in this most corrupt of nations, thought they were simply able to lie, make things up, threaten a few people to make false statements, and so on, to bring down the Anti Corruption body that, simply put, was getting too big for their boots and beginning to do their job rather too well. It's a long convoluted story but they, apparently with little good reason, arrested the two senior deputies in the KPK for corrupt practices. The public uproar was immediate. SBY, who is still a product of, and, for all the rather naive international praise, still a part of the bad old days, initially did little but was badly buffeted by the storm, which has done massive damage to his personal reputation as a man of the people. A Facebook page has, after just a few days, well over a million names attached to it, and the nation has, trading from phone to phone via Bluetooth, an almost universal new ringtone, which is widely regarded as a nationwide protest ring. The deputies are out of jail and SBY threw together a few hurriedly gathered experts to work this all out. They seem as confused by the furor, and the potential fallout, as the self obsessed of the elite establishment are. After all, this is their country..not the people who cast votes or work in the factories, offices and fields.

You could easily argue that Indonesia is a hopeless case. On the current evidence I'd think perhaps not yet....

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I had a little trouble in the home town / Things got funky so I had to leave - right away

The truth is this isolation (because of being nuclear-free) has not been good for New Zealand...

[From US may buy NZ skyhawks, reverse military training ban - National - NZ Herald News]

I scratch my head and wonder in what way it's not been good for NZ. You mean because we were not allowed to purchase those antique F-16As, which, as an aside, Pakistan had already paid for?

You ignorant, arrogant twat..fuck off....

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Sumatran Earthquake

Zakharuddin, 42, a resident of Lubuk Laweh lost his wife, their two children, their home and most of his belongings.

"I found my wife's body drifting by the river," he said matter-of-factly, as he collected clothes from the ruins of his home.

He was out of the hamlet when the quake struck, and had only been able to get back on Thursday.

"My daughter was 18 years old and my son was three-and-a half-years old. They are probably right there," he said pointing to the sticky mud that covered what was his home.

Zakharuddin now lives with his mother in a nearby village.

"I really would dig to find my children, but how? Are there others to help me?"

[From West Sumatra loses entire hamlets under landslides | The Jakarta Post]

A happy wedding celebration in the village of Pulau Air came to a horrific end for 400 people when Wednesday's earthquake triggered a landslide.

'They were sucked 30 metres deep into the earth,' said Mr Rustam Pakaya, head of the Health Ministry's crisis centre. 'Even the mosque's minaret, taller than 20 metres, disappeared.'

[From Villages Wiped Out | The Straits Times]

Indonesia is a particularly poor country and many of these people started with little and have nothing now, not even hope. If you wish to donate, please go here.

It all helps.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I turned 18 the other day....

Before the internet...more things from boxes..

Propeller press release, 1980

Propeller press release, 1981


Sunday, September 27, 2009

You gotta wait a minute, wait a minute, oh yeah..

I've always wondered what the Auckland City Council has against Auckland. Sir Dove-Myer Robinson

Over the past three or more decades it's hard to think of a time when Auckland's controlling body has entirely worked toward the betterment of Auckland. There are huge successes of course and I think the city is blessed with it's parks, pools (although Parnell Baths are a shadow of what they once were), libraries, Art Gallery and very much more.

But for all that I do think it's been very poorly served by those we elect and those they employ, and I look at Wellington, or to Melbourne as examples of how cities can be administered and directed.

There have been missteps, many often benign in their intent, but missteps nevertheless, like the recent upgrade of Queen Street, which was done, I believe with the best of intentions, but tens of millions of dollars later left the city with a little less parking and a road that looked almost the same as before...more or less deserted apart from those looking for a bus, and full of large slabs of gray concrete leading to and from the various faceless banks, fast food joints and phone shops.

Or the viaduct which is mostly a pedestrian unfriendly quagmire of mediocrity, which Aucklanders only seem to value because the rest of the shoreline of what has a claim to being one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, is much worse. And was the last area the slacks-wearers at the council tried to develop as an 'entertainment precinct'...

Or there is utter incompetence, such as the way Ponsonby Road, one of Auckland's potential assets is kept half baked by stupid parking restrictions that restrict its development as a boulevard, and that fact that mostly it's treated as a race track with often disastrous results. Or the way the greed and stupidity of the city's parking department, with it's onerous restrictions, which are applied at times when just about every other city in the developed world is actively encouraging people to come and spend, ensures that most of the inner city is deserted and the businesses there struggle to pay the outrageous rates.

Then there is the plainly evil. I'm thinking of the wholesale demolition of the inner city, with the active connivence of the council in the 1980s, under the supposedly leftwing eye of Dame Cath Tizard, which ripped the soul out of the city to enrich a few select developers who just happened to have rather excellent connections to well placed elected representatives; or the same happening around the Britomart a few years later, where an area which, whilst run down, was bustling and quite ready for revitalizing without an onslaught from, yes, more bulldozers, and, yes, more developers who just happened to have good connections to various council folk, getting rich from the council created mess that ensued.

In the time that I've been actively aware of what's happening in the city politik I don't think Auckland City has had a mayor who can reasonably put his hand up and say "I've done a good job and, because of my drive and vision, left the city a better place", at least since the, still talked about in hallowed tones, golden days of Sir Dove-Myer Robinson. His successor, Colin Kay, was the most insubstantial politician I've met (he kept a cigarette case on his desk with about half a dozen brands so as not to offend). Cath I've mentioned, and I'm trying to actually remember anything Les Mills or Christine Fletcher did. The last guy tried but seemed better suited to making museli, and the current incumbent is pretty much mostly concerned with loud-mouthed self aggrandizement.

Sadly Auckland's inner city is an increasingly unattractive jungle of faceless blocks and architectural drabness and you can point the finger at most of those above, and the self righteous and fundamentalists who have largely dominated the council for many years.

But I guess you get who you deserve and Auckland's sweeping and gray 'burbs seem to like the faceless and the mediocre. So we get David Hay and Aaron Bhatnagar who make wide-ranging policy decisions about people and industries they neither understand or like.

Like the entertainment industry.

Which brings us to Aaron's proposal on liquor licensing for Auckland City.

For most of the 1980s and 1990s I ran or was involved in clubs. One was named one of the ten best clubs in the world by a UK magazine in 1991, and recently celebrated a fairly large 20th Anniversary party. All well and good, but we spent most of our time operating up against the council. They were, not because of any attitude on our part, or any intent, the enemy. We battled unreasonable noise controls (and we know they were unreasonable because after hitting them with a legal opinion, they, despite endless attempts to shut us down, backed down and agreed we were operating within the law, unlike their staff who'd been trying to enforce something they had no authority to enforce backed by council paid thugs), ever-changing licensing requirements (once again often unreasonable and draconian in their application, from people who'd never spent a social moment in a licensed premise other than Cobb & Co), demands for instant access for disabled in a previously licensed 50 year old building (no the lift was not good enough, despite the fact it had been for years....fix it or shut now), threatened zoning changes that would force us to shut a long established business, endless road renovations neither asked for nor needed by businesses, which killed access (see below), and so on.

All of which is neither here nor there except as way to illustrate the way that we, and quite some other businesses trying to provide a reasonable standard of internationally acceptable licensed entertainment in a city striving for tourists, were forced to work against the body that was elected to support these things.

Go forward to 2009 and Auckland has a standard of nightlife, of bars, clubs, and live entertainment the equal or better of any in a similar sized city anywhere in the world that I've been. Across the nation's only real urban area on most nights of the week you can find something pretty damn good to do, to listen to or to hang out.


Norman Jay and I were talking a few weeks back about the first time we'd met, many years back, when we bought him to NZ. He'd said how much he'd enjoyed the wide and invigorating nightlife in the city after his time in Australia. We talked about the talent our adventurous nightlife had nurtured....OMC (out of South Auckland but via the city), Nathan Haines, P-Money, Che Fu, Emerson Todd, Mark de Clive Lowe and so on. It's launched radio stations that define large parts of the city..George FM, Base FM and fed talent to 95bFm. Artists, writers and designers have centered themselves around our thriving nightlife industry. We have wonderful late night eateries and hang-outs that bubble and do so much for the soul of the city.

And all of this exists despite the Auckland Council.

I'm going to leave it to others to tell you exactly why this proposed new law is so bad for the city but it's shocking that some one like the Citizens & Ratepayers crew, who have absolutely no understanding of what is needed or what this industry is or what it requires are trying to draft this. But suffice to say that I can say with reasonable confidence that if Aaron Bhatnagar had turned up at the door of Cause Celebre we would have quickly turned him away as undesirable. It's a cheap shot, but I just need to look at his images on his site to know that. It's not that he's necessarily a bad guy, he simply doesn't come close to getting it.

And this all feels like yet another misstep on the part of a council who as a whole simply don't get it and would do better to leave well alone when mostly its working and has worked. Or if it is going to be revisited, is done so by, and in consultation with, the largely responsible and experienced folks who work in the industries and know what is needed.

I'm also going to mention, with a quiet smirk that a friend of mine, whilst talking to an Auckland City licensing person recently had to explain who Dave Dobbyn was.

Disclaimer: I have a grudge against the Auckland City Council. I used to own a record store in High Street. It was successful and sold vinyl records and compact discs that others did not. We imported most of the stock ourselves, or used some specialist importers. We made a profit but the margins were very slim. In 2000-01 the council decided to undertake yet another major renovation of High had been 5 or 6 years since the last, so I guess a multi-million dollar upgrade, despite the protests of retailers (at a couple of meetings in the Ellen Melville Hall) was due. After all, it wasn't their money.

It went on for many (6?) months and the street, and all pedestrian access was completely disrupted. For weeks you simply could not get into my shop, and when you could, you couldn't get into the street. I turned up one day and a council worker told me to go and shop somewhere else. In the midst of it they decided to increase the rates. I wrote a series of letters and the first few were ignored. Eventually one Nicole Haines from the council came down and yes, in front of several witnesses, said that the council understood and we would a) get rates abatement, and b) a reasonable payment schedule would be drafted to take into account the huge losses we'd incurred. She advised us not to make any payment until she was able to get back to us.

So with this in mind when the next rates installment came due I wrote to the council. I received a very terse letter from some person who was too insubstantial to sign his name as anything but 'Jeffrey'. The essence of it was: Get up now. I wrote again, Jeffrey got ruder. I wrote again and then I received a letter from someone further up the chain. I was told that Nicole Haines had not said such a thing...not only that but she was willing to put in writing that she had never met me or been to my business. And I needed to pay up or it would go to court. Simply put, she lied, and if her boss was to be believed, it seemed she was willing to lie in front of a judge.

I found the money but we didn't ever recover from the, I guess, $70,000 or so we'd lost as a result of the council's actions. Yes there were other factors, the internet being one, but the money that the Auckland City Council had cost us was the primary reason we shut our doors a year later. Yes, I have a grudge.