• Qweekend story: ‘Orange Crush: Thomas Broich’, April 2014

    A story for Qweekend, published in the April 5-6 issue of the magazine: a profile of Brisbane Roar footballer Thomas Broich. An excerpt appears underneath; click the image below to view a PDF version.

    Orange Crush

    His sublime skills made Thomas Broich one of Queensland’s most welcome sports imports. And his move from Germany not only revived his passion for football but gave Brisbane Roar a man for all seasons.

    Qweekend story: 'Orange Crush: Thomas Broich' by Andrew McMillen, April 2014

    Story by Andrew McMillen / Photography by Russell Shakespeare

    The Saturday morning sun warms the lawn as 20 or so men in orange shirts follow the path of a round ball. Players yelp after bone-shaking tackles and groan at the sight of missed shots skirting the crossbar. Complimentary coffee and bacon-and-egg burgers are on offer for the crowd that has gathered outside Ballymore Stadium in Brisbane’s inner-north Herston for this open members’ training session.

    Wendy Shaw stands with arms crossed beside a sign that reads Beware: flying footballs. The 55-year-old supermarket manager hasn’t missed a Roar home game since the club’s inception nine years ago. She stares intently at number 22, a tall, tanned man with dark hair and green boots.

    “He’s had a shave, that’s always a good thing,” she laughs. “That’s one of our superstitions – if Thomas has a shave, it means we’re going to win!”

    Just out of earshot, attacking midfielder Thomas Broich is delivering cross after cross to the team’s strikers, who attempt to put the ball past goalkeeper Michael Theo. The 33-year-old Broich – who earlier this year played his 100th game for the club – has been a professional footballer for nearly half his life, and has been subject to intense media and fan scrutiny.

    After a rollercoaster ride of a career throughout the 2000s in the German premier league, the Bundesliga – the world’s most attended football competition – Broich was near the end of his tether, and considering quitting. It took a timely transfer to a club halfway around the world to reignite his passion.

    Since he first wore the orange jersey in the 2010-11 season, Brisbane Roar has been a consistent presence at the pointy end of the A-League, winning two of the past three championships.

    A home game on March 22 saw the team secure its second premiership in four years; the match-winner arrived in the 92nd minute, when Broich attracted the close attention of four Melbourne Victory defenders before he passed to midfielder Luke Brattan, whose pinpoint strike sealed the game 1-0. The team heads into the finals series as favourites to take its third championship.

    ++

    So deafening was the buzz surrounding the young midfielder in the seasons leading up to his Bundesliga debut that a television journalist named Aljoscha Pause approached him in 2003 with a tempting offer: to be the subject of a feature-length documentary, the first such film portrait of a German footballer.

    “I wanted to find somebody who would be charismatic enough to carry a whole film, and intelligent enough to reflect the business from inside – not an easy task,” Pause tells Qweekend. At the time, Broich was 22 and playing in the second-division Bundesliga; the project was initially scheduled for two years.

    “It was meant to show me break through into a big club, or the national team,” says Broich. “Then it just turned to shit. Excuse my language!” He gives a sheepish grin, momentarily forgetting his well-practised media manners. “It went the complete other way. That’s when the project became interesting for completely different reasons – it wasn’t about the rise of a footballer any more, it was more about the fall of a footballer.”

    Pause estimates that the pair spent about 400 hours filming together, over the course of eight years and several club transfers, first with Borussia Mönchengladbach (2003-06); later, FC Köln (’06-’09); and finally, with FC Nürnberg (’09-10). The pair became close during the process, which made Pause’s job more difficult; the line between filmmaker and friend became blurred. The result, Tom Meets Zizou, was released in 2011 and charts Broich’s youthful naivety.

    Early on, the football press picked up on his preferences for classical music and philosophy, dubbing him “Mozart”. The youngster was eager to please, and played up to the caricature by posing for photographs while engaged in intellectual activities such as reading, chess, and playing piano. These points of difference weren’t particularly well received in the hyper-masculine world of professional football. Says Broich with a grimace in 2014: “I look at the young guy in the film and think, oh my god, you’re so stupid. Who do you think you are?”

    Ultimately, the film chronicles an optimistic, skilled young player being gradually worn down by a ruthless industry. It was only when then-Brisbane Roar coach Ange Postecoglou travelled to Germany to offer Broich a lifeline that a fitting dénouement became clear.

    “When I hit rock bottom, I made the decision to come to Australia, and that’s where the fairytale started for me,” says Broich. “For the first time in years, I was able to enjoy my football again.”

    The film ends with the Roar’s spectacular first grand final in March 2011. Before a record home crowd of more than 50,000, Brisbane was down 2-0 to the Central Coast Mariners with just three minutes of extra time remaining. It would take something remarkable to claw back the scoreline. In response, Broich made a casual assist in front of goal to the Brazilian striker Henrique, who netted the chance and made it 2-1. Then, in the 120th minute, Broich sent a corner kick onto the head of fellow midfielder Erik Paartalu, who tied the game, resulting in a penalty shoot-out won by the home team. It was Broich’s first championship trophy. He was 30 years old.

    To read the full story, visit The Courier-Mail.

     

  • The Monthly story: ‘Queen’s Man: Jarrod Bleijie’, March 2014

    A story for the March 2014 issue of The Monthly, and my first essay for the magazine: a profile of Queensland’s attorney-general, Jarrod Bleijie. Excerpt below.

    Queen’s Man

    The crazy brave populism of Jarrod Bleijie

    The Monthly story: 'Queen's Man: The crazy brave populism of Jarrod Bleijie', March 2014, by Australian freelance journalist Andrew McMillen

    One Friday evening last September, some 60 members of the Bandidos motorcycle gang descended on a busy restaurant in the Gold Coast suburb of Broadbeach to confront a man associated with the Finks, a rival gang. In the ensuing melee, four police officers were injured. Later, a smaller group of Bandidos assembled outside the nearby Southport police watch house in an apparent show of support for their 18 arrested peers.

    For Queensland’s attorney-general, Jarrod Bleijie, that evening was a “line in the sand”. Three weeks later, just before 3 am on 16 October, the Liberal National Party–dominated state parliament passed three pieces of bikie-related legislation, including the bill that would become the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) Act. “Recent events have proved that certain groups have no regard for the Queensland public,” Bleijie said. “Enough is enough. By restricting their movements and operations, the community is protected and it prevents these groups from running their criminal enterprises.”

    Under the VLAD Act, a “vicious lawless associate” found guilty of any criminal offence listed in the legislation, from the smallest drug possession charge up, would serve a mandatory prison term of up to 25 years on top of their sentence. The Tattoo Parlours Act bans members of criminal associations and their associates from operating, working in or owning tattoo parlours. The Criminal Law (Criminal Organisations Disruption) Amendment Act amends various pieces of legislation to label 26 motorcycle clubs as criminal organisations and ban their members from congregating in groups of more than three or meeting at their clubhouses. The Queensland government would go on to establish a “bikies only” prison, where inmates may be dressed in fluoro pink overalls.

    Police have arrested dozens of people under the new laws, including a group of five men drinking beer at the Yandina Hotel on the Sunshine Coast and a group of five Victorian men buying ice-creams on the Gold Coast. Clubhouses were closed; interstate bikies called off their trips north. The United Motorcycle Council Queensland hired a PR firm. Tearful family members hit the airwaves. A High Court challenge was touted (and is in train). Meanwhile, protesters took to the streets, on motorcycles and on foot. The tabloid press, normally so keen to demand a crackdown, any crackdown, on crime, no longer knew which way to turn. Even the Queensland premier, Campbell Newman, appeared to waver for a moment, hinting that the laws might be a temporary measure.

    But Bleijie remained steadfast. As he put it in a radio interview at the time: “These laws are targeting these particular types of grub and thug to make people in Queensland safe in their homes at night. They don’t have to worry about these types of thugs on our streets any more … We’re dealing with a different type of criminal: the toughest of the toughest and the worst of the worst.”

    The VLAD Act, with its broad definition of “vicious lawless associate”, would target not only criminal motorcycle gangs but also organised crime gangs that are not “patched” – “akin to the Mafia in the States”, Bleijie said in the same interview – and paedophile rings “that are grooming and doing all sorts of terrible things to our young kids”.

    In Bleijie (whose Dutch surname rhymes with “play”), Queenslanders suddenly had a tireless warrior for law and order: a former lawyer who could debate the finer points of complicated legislation through the dead of night, then front up to a morning media conference looking no worse for wear. The Courier-Mail dubbed him “boy wonder”, Robin to Newman’s Batman.

    The night after the passing of the anti-bikie legislation, another populist bill was sped through parliament. This one was a response to the case of Robert John Fardon, a 65-year-old who had served time for a number of violent sexual offences against girls and women, including acts committed while on parole. In 2003, Fardon became the first prisoner to be detained indefinitely under Queensland’s Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act, legislation introduced by Peter Beattie’s Labor government. Last year, a review by the Supreme Court of Queensland ordered that Fardon be released on strict conditions. In response, Bleijie introduced an amendment to the legislation that would allow him to ask the governor to make a “public interest declaration” to keep offenders like Fardon behind bars.

    In legal circles, the amendment was branded a publicity stunt, and Bleijie was ridiculed for not understanding the separation of powers – the courts, not politicians, send people to prison. Tony Fitzgerald, the man who’d led the inquiry that had exposed corruption and political interference at the highest level in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s government 25 years earlier, was prompted to write in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail: “It is incomprehensible that any rational Queenslander who is even remotely aware of the state’s recent history could for a moment consider reintroducing political interference into the administration of criminal justice, even to the point of making decisions about incarceration.”

    Weeks later, Queensland’s Court of Appeal struck down the new laws, agreeing that they would have required the Supreme Court to “exercise powers repugnant to or incompatible with [its] institutional integrity”.

    “To have any politician alone decide who’s going to be in jail or not is scary,” says Dan O’Gorman, a prominent Brisbane barrister. “I’ve acted for Fardon for seven years. He’s had a terrible life himself, which doesn’t justify his behaviour, of course. But Fardon is not the issue; the issue is the process. [Bleijie] just doesn’t seem to understand the role of an A-G. Unfortunately, not only has this fellow not defended the institutional integrity of the judicial process, he’s the leader of the cheer squad that’s attacking the courts. It’s an unbelievable situation.”

    To read the full 3,000 word story, visit The Monthly’s website.

  • Introducing ‘Dispatches’: a weekly email newsletter, March 2014

    In March 2014 I started Dispatches, a weekly newsletter about my three passions: writing, music and reading. A screenshot of the first dispatch, Bikies, suicide contagion and drug wars, is included below.

    'Dispatches #1: Bikies, suicide contagion and drug wars', a weekly email newsletter by Australian freelance journalist Andrew McMillen

    I named it Dispatches after one of my favourite books: Michael Herr’s classic ‘new journalism’ narrative, first published in 1977, which placed the author near the centre of the Vietnam War while reporting for Esquire. I first read it in March 2012 and even writing about it here is almost enough to send me running to my bookshelf to tear through it again. Herr has a remarkable command of language. Clearly, the book comes highly recommended.

    The format will no doubt change over time, but for now I’ve split it into thirds:

    Words – highlighting my newly published writing, when applicable
    Sounds – music and podcast recommendations
    Reads – a selection of the best longform journalism and books I read in the past week

    If you like any of those three things, you might consider subscribing via TinyLetter here. If, like me, you spend too many hours each week immersed in your inbox, you can ‘try before you buy’ by viewing an archive of past mailouts here and deciding whether it’s worth your time. I hope it is.

    Besides offering a more regular way of keeping in touch with my readers than through this rather static blog or my cautious public engagement on social media, Dispatches is intended to be an interactive experiment-in-progress. At 26, I’ve done a reasonable amount of work of developing my own tastes, but I’m certainly open to your suggestions when it comes to reading and music.

    Finally: I’d like to note that Dispatches is inspired by Ryan Holiday’s fantastic monthly reading recommendation newsletter, and by the weekly emails sent by journalism hubs Longform and Longreads. I’m not aiming to compete with any of those mailouts – in part, because all three are so fucking good that I’d be setting myself up to fail. Instead, I’m offering a personalised take on the words and sounds that enter my skull each week and influence the way I interpret the world and write about it.

    Welcome to Dispatches.

  • The Weekend Australian album review: The War On Drugs, March 2014

    An album review published in The Weekend Australian on March 15 – my first ever five-star album review, I believe.

    The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream

    twod_dreamAbout 3 ½ minutes into the first track, ‘Under the Pressure’, is when it first becomes apparent that Lost in the Dream may be a masterpiece: a muscular brass melody seeps into the mix, mimicking the chord progression and adding a new urgency to an already brisk tune. Its final three minutes are free of percussion; instead, waves of shimmering guitar tones and bass harmonics slowly fade out, to stunning effect. It’s one hell of a mood-setter that summarises the album’s pervasive feel of hazy discontent tinged with brightness.

    Within moments of track two settling into its groove, all bets are off. This galloping indie rock number is an instant classic that captures The War on Drugs at its most vital: four players locked into one of the most remarkable and moving grooves I’ve heard. It’s a cop-out that one hates to defer to, but words don’t do it justice. ‘Red Eyes‘ — the album’s first single — is a towering musical achievement that will be studied decades hence, just as we still study Led Zeppelin, the Stones and the Beatles.

    The War on Drugs was formed in 2005 by singer-guitarist Adam Granduciel and Lost in the Dream is the band’s third album, yet as with its predecessor Slave Ambient (2011), many of its complex sounds were assembled piece by piece by the frontman. “I wanted to do something that showcased what the band had become without necessarily giving up control of the recording,” the 35-year-old recently told American website Grantland. “I feel like with this record, I wasn’t ready to do that yet.”

    A break-up left him alone in a big, empty house with the task of finishing this record, which sees the band teetering on the precipice between indie acclaim and mainstream acceptance. (The quartet visited Australia at the end of last year, playing day slots to modest crowds at Falls Festival and a handful of smaller headline shows.)

    Granduciel’s anxiety and depression during this period played their part in Lost in the Dream’s sonic footprint; despite the upbeat bravado of ‘Red Eyes’, many of the remaining nine tracks favour introspective, world-weary instrumentation and narratives.

    Sixth track ‘Eyes to the Wind’ is a fine example: at a key moment midway through the song, Granduciel sings “There’s just a stranger, living in me” in his sweet, distinctive accent, which sits perfectly amid strummed acoustic guitars and delicate piano runs. Album closer ‘In Reverse’ dwells in late-night self-examination — “Sometimes I wait for the cold wind blowing/ As I struggle with myself right now/ As I let the darkness in” — amid a buoyant chord progression and insistent backbeat.

    There is darkness on Lost in the Dream, as in life, but these moments ultimately are outweighed by hope. In sum, this is a striking statement from a visionary songwriter and his dedicated bandmates. It’s a masterful hour-long work whose strengths and charms are immediately evident yet whose secrets are buried deep.

    LABEL: Inertia/Secretly Canadian
    RATING: 5 stars

  • The Vine live review: Soundwave Festival Brisbane, February 2014

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Soundwave Festival
    RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
    Saturday 22 February 2014

    Gwar at Soundwave Festival 2014 in Brisbane, reviewed by Andrew McMillen for The Vine. Photo credit: Justin Edwards

    Ah, the dangers of printing festival programs weeks ahead: at least four of the bands listed today have cancelled for various reasons, which means that the timetables inside the 82-page colour booklet are completely unreliable. As we walk into the venue there’s a guy on a megaphone advising everyone to download the phone app, which is a nice PSA, but I do wonder how many punters who don’t visit Australian music websites or lurk social media still expect to see Megadeth, Newsted, Whitechapel et al today. The visual design for this year’s Soundwave is sumo-themed, and in the program there’s a message from the promoter, written first in Japanese then in English underneath: “Rockers of Australia unite. Respect & look after each other! Head of cabbage, A.J Maddah.” 

    Fittingly, the first act I see comprises eight men in camouflage costumes, demonic masks and clown-like face paint. On their first visit to Australia, Ohio band Mushroomhead fulfil my wishes by playing ‘Sun Doesn’t Rise’ and ‘Solitaire Unravelling’ up front. They attract a decent early crowd and I’m glad I saw those two songs before jetting to the main stage for Biffy Clyro, who have added a guitarist and keyboardist since I last saw them a few years ago. But then, the Scottish trio — now bona fide arena rockstars in the UK — have been writing songs with stadiums in mind for the last couple of albums, so it’s no surprise that they turn in an excellent set. Material from their two most recent albums fills out their 45 minutes, but I’m most pleased to hear Puzzle track ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’. They drop the news that they’ll be visiting again in September, to cheers from the devoted few hundred who catch one of the day’s better sets.

    “That’s a fucken awesome backdrop,” I hear one bloke say to another while we wait for Testament. “I’d love to have it as a tattoo,” his mate replies. It is a pretty fucken awesome backdrop: an illustration of a big-bearded bastard, ten metres across, with multiple horns erupting from the skull and facial expression set to ‘severe’. There’s lightning in the background, too. Awesome tattoo ideas aside, I’m mostly here because a friend swears that Testament are one of the best thrash metal bands ever.

    Look, Craig, you’ve got a point. Frontman Chuck Billy regularly uses his microphone stand as an air guitar and his commitment to the cause is incredible: his chord progressions and solos mimic the two guitarists’ actual work, and he even has giant novelty guitar picks that he strums for a while before tossing into the crowd. He’s an adorable, avuncular figure who constantly grins and sticks his tongue out at the crowd, thoroughly enjoying his job. Metal is often treated with such po-faced sincerity that it’s easy to forget how ridiculous it all is, at its core. These guys give the impression that they’ve never forgotten.

    Which is a nice segue into Gwar [pictured above] on the same stage, whose singer sports a dildo that spurts fake blood onto the crowd. He and his bandmates are all wearing outrageous, spiked costumes and earnestly playing their instruments as if it’s just another day at the office. A couple of songs in, a Tony Abbott character walks out on stage and begins telling the band that they’ve got to finish up; that their behaviour is not on. He is immediately decapitated by the lead singer’s sword, and his spinal column begins pissing blood onto the crowd while a muscular, shirtless stagehand keeps a grip on Abbott’s hips so that he doesn’t blast the band in the face with the gunk. I am now on their side completely.

    For the full review and photos, visit The Vine. Photo credit: Justin Edwards.

  • The Weekend Australian album reviews, February 2014: Warpaint, Halfway, Harmony

    Album reviews published in The Weekend Australian in February 2014.

    ++

    Warpaint - Warpaint

    Warpaint - 'Warpaint' album cover, reviewed in The Weekend Australian by Andrew McMillen, February 2014The music made by the four members of Los Angeles indie rock act Warpaint rarely contains hard edges.

    Usually, it’s the stuff of film dream sequences: ethereal, emotive and somewhat divorced from reality. This wistful aesthetic worked well on the band’s 2010 debut The Fool, and still does four years later.

    But it’s the seventh of 12 tracks here, ‘Disco//Very’, that’s most immediately striking. Powered by Jenny Lee Lindberg’s busy bassline and drummer Stella Mozgawa’s intricate cymbal-and-snare pattern, its opening lyric almost works as a band mission statement: “I’ve got a friend with a melody that will kill/ She’ll eat you alive.”

    These four are masters of mood and melody, and Warpaint is a fine document of that fact. Three years in the making, it’s an engrossing listen from the wordless opening track, ‘Intro’, right through to its plaintive closer, ‘Son’.

    First single ‘Love Is to Die’ is an instant earworm on par with The Fool single ‘Undertow’ in terms of sheer accessibility. As before, vocals are shared among Lindberg and guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman. In Australian-born Mozgawa the band possesses one of rock’s finest drummers, yet they’re not above paring back the percussion, as evidenced on sparse penultimate track ‘Drive’.

    It is to Warpaint’s credit that their second album is full of interesting and accomplished experiments rather than the comparatively simple emulation of initial success. While it is well worth the four-year wait, here’s hoping the band’s work ethic speeds up a little before the next release. Warpaint comes highly recommended.

    LABEL: Remote Control
    RATING: 4 stars

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    Halfway - Any Old Love

    Halfway - 'Any Old Love' album cover, reviewed in The Weekend Australian by Andrew McMillen, February 2014Eight players make up Halfway, a rock band from Brisbane that injects banjo, pedal steel guitar, piano and mandolin into the genre’s usual instrumentation.

    The central lyrical theme on Any Old Love is evident in the title: almost all of the 13 tracks are love songs in one shape or another. Whether it’s the exploration of that emotion in its nascent stages (‘Honey I Like You’) or towards the end of a difficult relationship (‘Hard Life Loving You’), the prose is never less than honest and true.

    So, too, are the razor-sharp melodies conjured by these eight men, particularly album opener ‘Dropout’, a ludicrously catchy instant-classic that is at once familiar and unique. In a departure from the shared duties observed on 2010′s excellent An Outpost Of Promise, almost all of these songs are credited to John Busby, who shares vocals with fellow guitarist Chris Dale.

    Both possess soft, distinctive voices that sit snugly amid their bandmates’ driving groove. There is depth to the stories told here, too: “Bar stories and cautionary tales on the Central Western Line”, reads a subtitle in the liner notes, referring to the 780km Queensland railway system that runs from the state’s Emerald to Hughenden.

    There’s even a helpful glossary that lists 13 terms and names mentioned in the lyrics; clearly, a lot of thought has gone into this album, the band’s fourth. Any Old Love marks another accomplished entry into the growing catalogue of one of Australia’s best rock bands.

    LABEL: Plus One
    RATING: 4.5 stars

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    Harmony - Carpetbombing

    Harmony - 'Carpetbombing' album cover, reviewed in The Weekend Australian by Andrew McMillen, February 2014“I know I smell like petrol; smell like I’ve been sleeping rough / Like I’ve got on everything I own, no matter what the heat.”

    An ominous spoken-word piece by Cold Chisel songwriter Don Walker, ‘The Closing of the Day’, is as memorable as album openers come. Accompanied by a lone guitar looping spectral notes, its function as calm-before-storm is perfectly executed.

    It leads right into ‘Water Runs Cold’, where the bass and drums make their first appearance and, within a minute, Harmony’s secret weapon cuts in: the stirring vocals of Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuis and Erica Dunn, which provide stark contrast to the full-throated roar favoured by guitarist and lead vocalist Tom Lyngcoln.

    It’s this juxtaposition of femininity and masculinity that first proved compelling on the Melbourne band’s self-titled debut album in 2011. On Carpetbombing, they’ve sharpened their songwriting. The result is a potent collection of bleak, beautiful songs that can be atonal at times, awash in dissonant chords and clattering cymbals. It’s in these moments that the gospel-style vocals are deployed like a floodlight into a pitch-black cavern. The effect is used sparingly, however; Harmony is far from a one-trick pony.

    Highlights include the peculiar, push-and-pull rhythm of ‘Diminishing Returns’, which concludes with a cutting guitar solo by Lyngcoln, and the six-minute epic ‘Unknown Hunter’, which may be the band’s most remarkable piece of work.

    Carpetbombing is not an easy listen. Its unique charm requires some immersion before being properly appreciated, and its unconventional song structures continue to surprise long after that uncertain first listen.

    LABEL: Poison City Records
    RATING: 4 stars

  • The Vine live review: Laneway Festival Brisbane, January 2014

    A festival review for The Vine, co-written with Matt Shea. Excerpt below.

    Laneway Festival 2014
    RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
    Friday 31 January 2014

    The Vine live review: Laneway Festival Brisbane, January 2014, by Andrew McMillen. Photo credit: Justin Edwards

    We sent our music men Andrew McMillen and Matt Shea along to Australia’s first Laneway Festival of 2014 at the RNA Showgrounds in Brisbane on January 31. This is their story, just please be advised the following contains tales of creepy stalking, swearing and mid-strength Mexican beer….

    Andrew McMillen: How do you sell tickets to music festivals? Amid reports of a horror 2013 for promoters throughout the country, with cancellations, downsizing and low attendances almost across the board, the answer to that question has remained the same as it ever was: book bands that people want to pay good money to see. It’s simple in theory but tricky in practice, with a good deal of gambling and gamesmanship required many months in advance. In this sense, Laneway has struck a vein of pure gold in 2014: their line-up is stacked with in-demand artists, many of whom performed strongly at a certain music poll that aired five days prior to the touring festival’s traditional first Australian show in the Queensland capital.

    Matt Shea: My question is, how do you improve upon the Brisbane leg of Laneway, which was one of the best festivals to blow through the city in 2013? You upgrade the line-up for starters. If last year’s roster of artists was impressive, 2014 is a clean home run with the inclusion of superstars Haim and Lorde, a strong slug of rap courtesy of Run the Jewels, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt, and an almost never-ending list of support players: Daughter, Four Tet, Kurt Vile, Warpaint, and god knows how many more. The festival app’s planner is pretty much useless. There are clashes everywhere. Thanks, arseholes.

    That’s from the audience perspective. From promoters Danny Rogers and Jerome Borazio’s perspective, you increase capacity. Which, given the ample space available at Brisbane’s RNA Showgrounds, makes a lot of sense. But does it make sense for Laneway?

    Laneway’s submission to do the same in Sydney was rescued by an eleventh hour plea from Michael Chugg — who co-promotes the festival — when he told Leichardt Council that no other Australian music festival quite has the same capacity to connect with music fans. But by bumping up the numbers, Rogers, Borazio and their collaborators are of course risking such a hard-won note of distinction. In it’s first year in Melbourne back in 2004, the gents were cheerily selling tallies and inviting their parents along. In 2014, we’re talking something much more widescreen.

    To accommodate the extra numbers, the RNA Showgrounds setup has been re-jigged. The Carpark Stage (better than it sounds) is no longer the place to see the biggest acts. Instead, it plays second fiddle to the Alexandria Street stage, which in a daring move during Brisbane’s monsoon season, is completely open to the elements.

    And those crowds don’t go unnoticed. Whereas in 2013 it was easy to get around, this year you often find yourself caught in great swathes of people, many of them careening into each other as sticky weather and over imbibing combine to nasty effect. After a while you find yourself wondering if this is what Laneway is all about. I’m not so sure.

    Andrew: Fittingly, the site is busy within a few hours of gates opening, as must-see acts have been scheduled from the early afternoon onwards. Up first, King Krule is a swing and miss at the Carpark Stage: the English songwriter is interesting on record, but unengaging in the flesh. To my dismay, a quick scout around the three other stages yields no alternatives, which seems like surprisingly poor organisation for so early in the day. King Krule delivers that rare, unedifying type of set that turns me off a band that I already liked. Adalita at the Alexandria Street stage is the exact opposite: alongside her three accomplices, she reminds me that I need to spend more time with her 2013 album All Day Venus. Their performance of the title track is the first great song I hear today, thanks to a monstrous extended outro. “I’ve got a touch of bronchitis,” the singer says. “But I’ll do my best. Fuck that excuse!” It’s clear during a solo reading of ‘Heavy Cut’ that her voice isn’t doing quite what she’d like, yet Ms Srsen powers through anyway. Heroic.

    A few songs into Adalita’s set, I clock the unmistakeable visage of triple j Music Director Richard Kingsmill standing before me, clutching a brown jacket and wearing a navy shirt, blue jeans and orange shoes. He shields his bespectacled eyes from the glaring sun and adopts a power stance, rocking his right leg to the beat of the bass drum with crossed arms.

    Richard Kingsmill watching Adalita at Laneway Festival 2014. Photo by Andrew McMillen

    The more avid conspiracy theorists of the Australian music scene would have us believe that Kingsmill ultimately decides which bands have careers in this country and the circumstances in which they succeed. No one man should have all that power, they posit, to crib a Kanye line. I watch him rub his chin and lean into the power chords that blast through the speakers. Momentarily, an enthusiastic blonde girl jumps onto a male friend stood before Kingsmill; he takes a swift step back in response, but it appears that the spell has been broken. The man with the golden ears flees in haste, as if he just remembered he had somewhere else to be.

    By sheer coincidence I clock him again at set’s end, over by the food stalls while I buy a cup of lemonade. He’s using chopsticks to eat from a cardboard box while chatting to a fellow radio presenter. Since I have nothing better to do, I follow him to an indoor stage sponsored by an energy drink company. Tracking an individual through a crowd of hundreds is a new thrill; I feel like Jason Bourne or some shit. It’s so loud in here that I apply earplugs immediately. Kingsmill doesn’t. I’m leaning against a steel barrier before the sound desk, watching him watching… I don’t even know who. It doesn’t matter.

    I have spoken to him before, once, years ago, for a version of the played-out “Does triple j have too much power and control over the artistic fates of music in this country?!?!” story that was resurrected in the Fairfax press earlier this month, to much navel-gazing and hand-wringing among those who care about such things. Then, as on the air, Kingsmill struck me as an unashamed music geek; an obsessive who just so happens to be paid to be immersed in the art that he loves. Nothing I see here diminishes that impression. Ten minutes later, I stalk him back out to the Alexandria Street stage, where Vance Joy has attracted a huge crowd.

    For the full review and photos, visit The Vine. Top photo credit: Justin Edwards.

  • Red Bull story: ‘It Took Two: TNGHT’, January 2014

    A story for Red Bull about the electronic production duo TNGHT. Excerpt below.

    It Took Two
    by Andrew McMillen

    Red Bull story: 'It Took Two' by Andrew McMillen, about the electronic production duo TNGHT, January 2014

    Chapter One: Like Minds Attract

    The two young men stand in a small room, each holding a laptop and silently sizing up one another. One is a lanky, pale Scotsman named Ross; he is better known as Hudson Mohawke. The other, a shorter Canadian with Haitian ancestry, is named Lunice both on stage and in person. Following their work, it’s pretty obvious what both men specialise in: creating beats and layering melodies that convince even the most dance-averse to join the surging throng that crowds the stage.

    Exchanging pleasantries and making small talk backstage at festivals is one thing. To make music together is something else entirely. Though Ross and Lunice both possess extraordinarily high musical IQs, their keen ears don’t necessarily hear the same things. Nor is it a guarantee that they’ll be able to tolerate another living, breathing presence in the recording studio. Electronic music production is a pursuit that demands isolation, introspection and patience. Doubling the humans in the room rarely doubles the quality of the music. As they plug in their laptops, power up the sound system and crack their knuckles in anticipation of the work ahead, both men know that this collaboration, named TNGHT, will either be a disaster or a roaring success.

    It helped that they both had the exact same equipment at that crucial first session. “That’s been an issue for me before – you get in the studio with someone who’s in there using something else,” Ross says. He gives a heavy sigh to indicate his frustration. “It’s a hassle to get parts from one computer, take a USB drive, put it in this shit” When he and Lunice got together, there were no such impediments to creativity, as “it’s more simple to just do it on one computer.”

    The pair of them had both been using the FruityLoops digital audio workstation software for years, but their set-up was identical, even down to the Virtual Studio Technology interface and the plug-ins they both used. This partnership was clearly meant to be. “What’s funny is that we approach it completely different,” Lunice says. We use the same things, but how I see him work is sort of how you’d see somebody work with an operating system; they’d hit ‘search’ instead of just writing right away. And I guess that’s how the whole jam [mentality] comes from, because we’re not specifically [making] anything, we just make it happen.” Ross nods at his musical partner while sipping a gin and tonic through a straw, and says, “Lunice would do things that I would never think to do, and likewise.”

    To read the full story, visit Red Bull’s website.

  • The Vine live review: Big Day Out Gold Coast, January 2014

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Big Day Out 2014
    Metricon Stadium & Carrara Parklands, Gold Coast
    Sunday 19 January 2014 

    The Vine live review: Big Day Out Gold Coast, January 2014, by Andrew McMillen. Photo credit: Justin Edwards

    I love music.

    That’s about the most banal opening sentence to a live music review that you’ve ever read, but it’s worth dwelling upon a little here at the outset.

    Music has been a huge part of my life and identity for as long as I can remember. I am obsessed. If I’m not listening to music on speakers or headphones I’m thinking about it, humming or singing a melody, or learning how to play songs on guitar. It occupies my every waking moment. I love music and the Big Day Out has been a consistent, reliable lightning rod for that cause since I first attended in 2005. I’ve only missed one year (2010) since. As long as they keep booking excellent lineups, I’ll keep walking through these gates on a Sunday in January.

    Today heralds a shift in venue for the Gold Coast event, from the usual Parklands to a football stadium and its surrounds. It works well. The arena and its grandstands are where the main stages are housed; elsewhere, three big tents for the smaller acts. There are no problems getting around. Full credit to the organisers here, because to let loose tens of thousands of people in a new environment and to keep it all running smoothly is a remarkable feat indeed. We festival-goers are a fickle lot, generally quick to criticise an event’s logistical shortcomings, but today there’s literally nothing to bitch about. Amazing.

    When reviewing shows I tend to keep an air of bookish distance from the source material. In the past I’ve been the guy near the sound desk with his arms crossed, nodding his head and occasionally tapping a foot; always an observer, rarely a participant. As of today I’ve thrown all that shit out the window in favour of embracing the obvious: dancing. Clearly my past self is an idiot because this is a total revelation: I haven’t ever had this much fun at a festival.

    The first act to loosen my limbs is Toro Y Moi, about whom I knew nothing prior to wandering in under the Red Stage tent and finding myself in the funky soundtrack to a spy film. I especially enjoy the contrast between the studious-looking guitarist, with sensible haircut and collared shirt, against the rock-dog bassist with shaggy long hair, shades and singlet. Earlier, Bluejuice brightened my day with sunny pop songs, shiny gold Freddie Mercury outfits and good humour. And I’m the kind of arsehole who thinks that The Drones soundchecking sounds better than most rock bands in the world, so it’s no surprise that I award their set today full marks. I’m up against the barrier for the first time at a Drones show and it’s a nice change to see how the songs work up close.

    Guitarist Dan Luscombe thanks us for opting to see them over Tame Impala at the main stage, joking that at least a few people think The Drones are the better option. One band writes pop songs about elephants, among other topics; the other opens with a depressing eight-minute narrative about climate change and how fucked humans are as a species. (Not too many teenage girls seeing The Drones, I note.) I love both bands and I’m glad that I catch Impala’s tailing pair of ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ and ‘Apocalypse Dreams’, the latter being an incredible wash of sound that proves that Kevin Parker wasn’t fucking with TheVine when he told us that the band recently found a new way to finish their set.

    For the full review and photos, visit The Vine. Above photo credit: Justin Edwards.

  • The Vine live review: Falls Festival 2013 Byron Bay, January 2014

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Falls Festival 2013
    North Byron Parklands, Byron Bay
    Monday 30 December 2013 – Friday 3 January 2014

    The Vine live review: Falls Festival 2013 Byron Bay, January 2014, by Andrew McMillen. Photo credit: Tim da-Rin

    Mid-morning on the last day of 2013 and the second day of the inaugural Falls Festival in Byron Bay, a perky female staff member drops by our campsite with a clipboard and four questions for our group of thirteen to consider. On a scale of one to five, how would you rate getting to and setting up your campsite? One, we reply. How would you rate the camping amenities? Three. Not camping with your car? Zero. Overall camping vibe? Three.

    Clearly, our spirits are fairly low at this stage. For good reason: the day before, we had discovered that the supposed “short walk” between car park and campsite mentioned on the event website was a laughable lie; at least a kilometre separated our two locations, and when you’re carrying eskies, tents, gazebos, water and food supplies in the middle of a hot day, that’s no joke. It took our group at least three returns journeys on foot each, and around five hours before we were fully set up and able to collapse into chairs, exhausted. Quite the opposite of fun; instead, plenty of sweat, frustration and cursing.

    But music is the reason many of us are here, though there’s also an ‘arts’ component to the festival that’s largely confined to ‘The Village’, an eccentric section of the grounds that’s good for one stoned gawk and not much more. There are two main stages – the Amphitheatre, and the Forest – both of which offer fantastic views from wide and high angles. Local acts play between midday and midnight on a handful of smaller stages. The overall effect is one of overwhelming and occasionally disorienting noise. If you’re looking for silence, this festival is not for you: some form of music can be heard from seemingly every corner of the enormous grounds.

    The first act I see is Tom Thum, a Brisbane-born beatboxer who impresses a bustling Amphitheatre crowd with little more than his voice, microphone and looping devices. Having spent some time with Thum a few months ago while profiling him for Qweekend, I know his repertoire and abilities better than most, but I’m still bowled over by his talent like everyone else. This might be the purest musical experience I see all festival. A truly charismatic showman, Tom Thum possesses a unique and priceless musical brain. His half-hour set passes in the blink of an eye. I can’t imagine a human looking on his performance not being impressed or moved.

    The Roots (above) play the same stage later that night to bring in the new year; as much as I love them, their set feels like a major missed opportunity. Among only a handful of recognisable tunes – ‘The Fire’, ‘The Seed (2.0)’, ‘You Got Me’, ‘Proceed’ – they fall into the role of Jimmy Fallon’s house band far too easily, offering up a slew of covers (‘Jungle Boogie’, ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’) and extended instrumental solos that drag rather than thrill. I’d liked to have heard more of the music that has made them widely respected masters of the genre. The entire hill moves to their music, of course, and it’s certainly a memorable way to see in 2014, but this group has written so many hip-hop classics – and visited this country so rarely – that what could easily have been an A+ night is instead a B.

    For the full review and photos, visit The Vine. Above photo credit: Tim da-Rin.