All posts tagged 2011

  • The Vine interview: ‘Fat As Butter festival promoter on Flo Rida cancellation’, January 2012

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Interview: Fat As Butter on Flo Rida cancellation: “Some hip-hop artists tend to disrespect Australia.”

    An eleventh hour cancellation is every live music promoter’s worst nightmare. Last week, we published an interview with Mos Def’s 2011 Australian tour promoter, who also revealed – in graphic detail – the financial burdens attached to such outcomes.

    Another prime example of this type of behaviour on the Australian touring circuit occurred at the 2011 Fat As Butter festival at Newcastle’s Foreshore Park, on 22 October. Headlined by Empire Of The Sun, The Living End and Illy among a line-up of 38 Australian and international acts, event promoters Mothership Music had also booked the American rapper Flo Rida (pictured, with orange) – known for such modern classics as ‘Low (feat. T-Pain)’‘Good Feeling’ and ‘Right Round’ – to play the main (‘Fat’) stage at 5.10pm, after The Jezabels and before Naughty By Nature. Twenty minutes before he was due, organisers received a phone call from his tour manager: Flo Rida wouldn’t be able to make it to the show. Uh oh.

    The aftermath was covered in detail by FasterLouder, and event organiser Brent Lean posted the following message on the festival’s Facebook a couple of hours after the cancellation: “We’re as upset as you are. We paid Flo to appear months ago and since he’s been on his Australian tour, he’s been an absolute Tonk. He’s been in Sydney today, and he’s had a hissy fit. We did everything we absolutely could to get him here, but he wouldn’t come. We’re absolutely devastated he decided not to be a part of Fat As Butter.”

    What happens next, though? What recourse does a burned Australian festival promoter have in terms of recouping the artist fee they’d paid to Flo Rida and his entourage months in advance? I connected with Mothership Music managing director – and Fat As Butter promoter – Brent Lean back in November 2011 to find out.

    TheVine: It’s been a couple of weeks since the Flo Rida incident went down, Brent. How are you feeling about it all now?

    BL: Look, we’re OK about it. We’re going about the correct processes to find out exactly what happened. We know the circumstance of what happened, but now we’re in the process of seeking the return of the [performance] fee. That’s with the agent and record company over in America. Overall it’s disappointing he didn’t appear, but we’re happy that we got the message out there so that the fans know exactly what the circumstance was. We’re just being truthful in the process.

    At any point during the negotiation process did you have an inkling that this might happen?

    No, not at all. We bought the show from another company that was touring him in the country. We were tracking his movements at other shows, leading in [to the festival]. We were aware of certain incidents and bits and pieces that made us wary, but they were more about when he was at the event, as opposed to whether he’d turn up. At no point did we think that he’d cancel, and not show. That was never on our radar.

    You always expect that something may go wrong, and you work every contingency you can to avoid that, but at the end of the day, when the news came through that he was cancelling, that was an absolute shock. We had to go into damage control straight away, because it’s a large festival – with 38 acts appearing – so we had to work out how to fill the spot and advise the punters. We understood that they’d be very frustrated and disappointed by the announcement. We had to go into contingency plans as to how to handle that.

    Will you be hesitant to book hip-hop acts in future, having had this experience with Flo Rida?

    Not really. You pick and choose where they’re at. Last year we had Ice Cube headline Fat As Butter, and he was an absolute joy to deal with. Very professional; met all of his contractual obligations, we met all of ours; a hug at the end of the night and ‘great job’.

    What we do find with some hip-hop artists is that they tend to disrespect Australia, I think. They tend to disrespect the audience and promoters, because effectively – and it happens quite often – they don’t stick to the terms of their contracts. They arrive here, then they’re seeking additional things on top of the contract; left, right and centre. And in some cases, strong-arming promoters into paying for additional things outside of the contract.

    Now, in comparison to Australian artists? That would never happen. In the 20 years I’ve been doing [event organisation and promotion], I’ve never had a contract dispute with an Australian artist. Everyone’s up front; everyone signs a contract, everyone knows what the terms are, and each party meets those terms. I find it very disappointing that, for whatever reason, some of the American hip-hop artists can come out here and think that they can disrespect promoters, events, and the audience by, clearly, wanting additional conditions – or money, whatever it may be – outside of the signed contract. And as I said, and I don’t mind saying it: strong-arming promoters into doing that. It’s disappointing.

    So without a doubt, buyer beware. All you can do is make sure your contract is watertight, and then you need the strength of your convictions to say, “Well, I’m not going to give you anything outside of that contract.” I think in the past, perhaps, [Australian] promoters have given in to the additional considerations, or whatever they’re trying to put on you, and there seems to be a threat, at times. For us personally, we just don’t stand for any of those sorts of things. If we’ve got indications through the negotiating process that anything like that is going to happen, then we’d rather not have them appear on any of our shows.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine.

  • The Vine story: Interview with Sam Speaight, Mos Def’s Australian tour promoter, January 2012

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Interview: Mos Def tour promoter Sam Speaight: “I literally broke down and cried.”

    One year ago, acclaimed American hip-hop artist Dante Smith – stage name Mos Def (pictured right) – was set to tour Australia for the first time. Eleven shows were booked, including headline festival appearances at Soundscape in Hobart and The Hot Barbeque in Melbourne. After failing to appear at his first scheduled performance in Adelaide, he went on to randomly skip four shows of the itinerary. Such was the ensuing confusion, that following the postponements, cancellations and sternly-worded press releases from the promoter, Peace Music, became something of a sport here at TheVine. For background, revisit our news story ‘Mos Def gone missing on Australian tour’.  (I’m pleased to note that he made it to Brisbane for his Australia Day show, which was actually pretty great.)

    What did those four cancellations mean for Peace Music, though? The promoters were awfully quiet for the remainder of the year, which posed the question: “Did the Mos Def debacle put an end to their live music interests?”. In late 2011, I contacted the company’s managing director, Sam Speaight, requesting an interview about the logistics of touring American hip-hop artists in Australia. “I’d love to do this,” he replied via email. “So often promoters are dragged into the street and shot (proverbially speaking) by the ticket-buying public over hip-hop artists’ cancellations and their childlike antics. Few people understand that, in many cases, the promoters have driven themselves to the brink of sanity and financial ruin to avoid an artist cancelling.”

    A couple of days later, we connected via Skype. “The total chaos that seems to govern most of all the management side of these artists’ careers is just dumbfounding,” Sam told me from his new pad in London. “If people knew what went on behind the scenes, if nothing else, it would be a spectacle worth reading about.” He’s not wrong.

    AM: Tell me about the Mos Def tour, Sam. Was this your worst experience with touring hip-hop artists in Australia?

    SS: Oh, yeah. That was definitely the worst example of madness and insanity from an international artist that I’ve ever seen, or heard of. Utter madness permeated everything that happened, in terms of the artist’s management, the delivery and management of the artist’s live engagement. He’s since pulled similar things at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. They’ve just gone through a similar experience to what I did, but fortunately, they only had one show to deal with, whereas I had an entire headlining tour.

    Let’s go back to the start. When you first confirmed the booking, was there a point at which you realised that things might not go to plan? Were alarm bells ringing at any point during the lead-up to his arrival in Australia?

    Good Lord, yes. Even before I signed the contract with his “management”, in inverted commas, I was aware that this was a difficult, tricky, potentially trouble-fraught artist to deal with. I structured as best I could my strategy for dealing with this artist to minimise the potentiality for misadventure in the establishment phase of that project. But all the pre-planning in the world couldn’t have prepared me for the living nightmare that was the reality of doing that tour and dealing with Mos Def. [Laughs] I literally broke down and cried partway through the tour.

    You need to set the scene. Where were you when you broke down and cried?

    [Laughs] I was at home. It was a Sunday afternoon, if I recall correctly, at my house in Redfern – which I’ve now sold, by the way. I’ve moved to the other side of the world to try and forget all about this experience! [laughs].

    I was at home, hanging out with my lovely girlfriend, Gillian. Earlier in the day, Mos’ tour manager had called to advise that the rescheduled make-up show, which had been put in place in connection with one of the shows that he’d cancelled on his tour – the Tasmanian show. He advised that the make-up show would not be going ahead, and they would be unable to play it. Which was a disaster. One of a string of disasters that occurred on that tour. I was in an awful state of mind as a result of that, because it meant yet more massive financial losses, and yet more damage to my company’s name and reputation insofar as I was delivering the show to a promoter in Tasmania, I wasn’t promoting it myself. So there was a third party affected by this madness.

    A few hours after I dealt with that disaster, I got a call from my tour manager, to say that he’d been asked a question via [Mos Def’s] managers, the question being: “Are there any other shows that we can play on this tour? Can you please investigate booking us some more shows? We would like to try and play some more shows.”

    This is three or four days before the end of the tour. I remember reaching this psychological breaking point, where I’d been assaulted by this emotional nightmare every day for a month, in the lead-up to the rescheduling of, then delivery of this project. I said to my tour manager, “I can’t believe you’ve just asked me that question. You know how much money I’ve lost here. You know that the tour’s four days from completion. Are you totally insane? Who in the southern hemisphere is ever going to book this artist ever again? After what’s gone down here, for a start. And further to that, how on earth would I be able to organise any new shows within the space of four days given the fact that I’m staring down the barrel of financial ruination?”

    That was basically just what tipped me over the edge. I just remember being in my living room, just losing the plot. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back! [laughs]

    But it gives you an insight into just how warped and twisted, and how absolutely separated from reality the awareness of management – within the scope of that being a professional function – is, in the minds of these artists. They seem to live in such a bizarre, self-constructed reality that is so far away from what you might describe as career management, business, or just basic logic. [Laughs] Their worldview and outlook… it’s difficult for people like me — and I assume like you, too — to understand people who have to justify their existence by earning a dollar, which is then pursuant to them doing a good job of things, and being a professional. This is just a world that a lot of these people seem to be able to avoid living in.

    And Mos Def’s a great example. If you Google, you’ll see that in the last 12 months there’s been a spate of these absolute last-minute cancellations. If the cancellation or postponement is done in a way that allows the promoter some opportunity to minimise their losses and to at least deal with the ticket buying public in a professional fashion, so that it doesn’t damage that artist’s fanbase and the promoter’s business, then cancellations are unfortunately sometimes a part of doing business in the music industry. But that’s not the approach that’s usually taken in these situations by these American hip-hop artists. More often than not, there’s very little justification if any given for it. It’s oftentimes just a childish whim, whereby they’ve decided that something about the project isn’t to their liking, or they’ve got something better to do that day, or they don’t feel like getting out of bed that morning.

    As a result of that, they’re perfectly happy to – in some promoters’ cases – turn people’s lives upside down, and send peoples’ whole businesses spiralling toward the ground without any thought for basic humanity.

    This is probably a long bow to draw, but I see a lot of this same attitude toward happily disregarding other people within the scope of business, and totally ignoring the massive financial ramifications of doing something like cancelling a show 24 hours out, to the problems we’re seeing across the entire global financial system at the moment. You’re basically talking about an approach to doing business that is morally bankrupt. It’s the exact same underpinning ideology that I see caught up in the actions of Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, whereby these people are perfectly happy, without a single qualm in the world, to destroy peoples’ lives, trash peoples’ businesses, send people broke, without even a second thought. Just as long as – whatever they decided to do that day, gets done. I think that’s what really drives at this. The financial system that these people are participating in, and their actions, by association and as a function of that system, are absolutely and utterly morally bankrupt. But that’s a very long view, I guess. [Laughs]

    For the full interview, visit The Vine.

  • “In Search Of Ukrainian Summer Romance: Inside Anastasia’s Odessa Odyssey”, January 2012

    In July 2011, my girlfriend and I travelled to Ukraine as guests of a dating website named Anastasia to report on one of their so-called romance tours. It was one of the strangest and coolest experiences of our lives.

    What appears below is a longer version of a story that was published in the December 2011 issue of Maxim Australia. That story, entitled “European Union: Riding shotgun on a Ukrainian summer romance tour“, can be read here.

    All words below were written by myself, Andrew McMillen. All photos below were taken by Rachael Hall; you can click any of them to view a larger version, which will open in a new window.

    If you would like to republish this story or these photos, please contact me via email or Twitter.

    ++

    In Search of Ukrainian Summer Romance: Inside Anastasia’s Odessa Odyssey
    by Andrew McMillen

    “This is a situation that very few men in the world have ever been in, to walk into a place where there’s no pretence about what everybody is there for.”

    We’re in a seaside city called Odessa, in south Ukraine. More accurately, we’re in a stuffy basement conference room at the Continental Hotel in the city’s centre. We’re being addressed by Larry Cervantes, public relations manager of a website named Anastasia, which claims to be “the world’s leading international dating and romance tour company”. My girlfriend Rachael and I are here as guests of Anastasia to report on their Ukrainian ‘summer romance tour’.

    “Beautiful women grow in certain parts of the world more than others,” Larry continues, “and you’re in one of them. Maybe six or seven thousand guys in the world have experienced what you’re going to experience: being put into a situation where you have so much choice that it’ll be mind-boggling. So be prepared, gas up, and I guarantee you’re going to have a wonderful time.”

    One seasoned summer romance tourist adds, “Plan to do this a lot in the future!”, and two dozen men join him in laughter.

    Larry is impressively tanned, speaks in a deep, low Californian drawl, and offered us a forceful handshake at Odessa Airport yesterday afternoon. Odessa is a strange, beautiful city; in the midst of summer, the air crackles with a dry, insistent heat that’s a pleasant change from the humidity of Brisbane. It’s home to one of the largest ports in the Black Sea basin, yet as our taxi driver threads his way through traffic sans seatbelt while yelling into his mobile phone we get the distinct impression that most buildings outside of the tourist-friendly city centre are slowly falling apart from decades of neglect.

    Larry tells us that 45 men have signed on for this tour; a statement which seems strange, as over the next seven days we follow the tour, we never see more than 30 at any one time. One can only assume that their reasons for attending lie somewhere on the spectrum between searching for casual sex and lifelong commitment. Whatever the case, they’re each prepared to spend US$5,000 – including return airfares from New York’s JFK airport and local accommodation – to be here. The median age of the mostly-American tour group sits between 40 and 45. There’s one Australian: Owen, a West Australian miner in his early 40s. Most of the men are educated professionals. Many of them have at least one divorce under their belt.

    The walls of the basement conference room feature tasteful oil paintings of the London Bridge and World Trade Centre. Four Anastasia reps are seated at the front of the room: Larry, William Tate – an affable American tour representative who served in the United States Marines – and two Ukrainian representatives named Olga and Anna. Before they address us, the mood is somewhat standoffish. Some of the 24 men chat quietly amongst themselves; most sit alone, eyes to the front, wondering silently what they’ve gotten themselves into. None of them give off the impression of being pick-up artists, or Neil Strauss acolytes. Just like in any high school classroom, the back row is full, but the first couple are sparse.

    Eight media types line the aisle, ourselves included. Two comically large TV cameras – one from Australian 60 Minutes, the other from Sky News – scan the room. Their footage will undoubtedly be edited down to include only the most forlorn facial expressions. Over the next hour, the four Anastasia reps give their charges a rough ‘n’ ready guide to the Wild West that is Ukrainian dating. Most of the men have some familiarity with local members of Anastasia, having thoroughly combed the ladies’ profiles in search of their ideal match. Some have already set up dates through the website while they’re in town.

    The company reps explore the concept of scamming – or, as euphemistically dubbed by William, “getting sushi’d” – at length. This is an apparently common situation during these kinds of tours, where a foreign man may unwittingly find himself footing the bill for an entire table’s drinks, entrees, steak, sushi; in the parlance of the overwhelmingly American entourage, ’the whole nine yards’. Local custom deigns that men invariably take care of most monetary concerns, and some of the women they’ll meet in the next week will try to exploit this to their advantage. ”You don’t want to appear cheap, or miserly,” explains Larry, “but you don’t want to appear to be foolish with money.”

    Based on the witty quips a couple of the men toss in throughout the hour, it’s apparent that they’re return visitors to this region. Their knowledge sets them apart as the group’s worldly alpha males, and they seem only too happy to inhabit this role. A pair sat toward the back snigger conspiratorially over a laptop. The younger, shaggy-haired surfer-type, Derek, shows his white-haired pal Roger a photograph of a European-looking lady lying on what appears to be a hotel bed, dressed only in lingerie.

    ++

    The next day, on the bus ride to the first social, I meet a portly, genial German in his early 30s named Edward. He’s a return visitor to Anastasia’s Ukraine tours, but claims to be here more out of boredom – he had a week off from his job in Frankfurt – than any real desire to meet local women. It sounds like he’s hedging his bets in anticipation of failure. He tells me that most of these guys won’t get laid on this trip, let alone find long-term partners. “If you’re looking for a fuck trip, you should go to Germany,” he advises me via a thick accent. He politely declines my offer of a more formal interview later in the week.

    We arrive at The Park Residence [pictured above], a luxury country club-style venue built featuring a central swimming pool and adjacent tennis courts. Anastasia’s photographer and videographer circle the group, madly recording away as the men stroll through a car park. It’s hot; many of the guys are dressed to impress in dark suits, which must be uncomfortable. They all head for the poolside bar, while a house music soundtrack – managed by a bored-looking dude in his 20s – washes over a crowd of women. The vast majority of them are young and stunning. So begins the group’s first six hours of socialising, Odessa-style.

    The men here aren’t only outnumbered by women – perhaps four-to-one at the party’s peak – but female interpreters, too: 45 of them have been commissioned for this event alone, which means that there’s always a few extras lounging around in the shade and picking at fruit platters. Some of the tourists appear to use the trip as an excuse to become new men; performers whose egos float far, far higher than their everyday persona. Others remain trapped by their insecurities and self-esteem issues. They may be in a different country, but it’s hard to forget everything they’ve learned in their life when it comes to women, and the attraction thereof.

    Though initially the mood at The Park is more high-school disco than adult social, owing to the awkwardness and segregation between the sexes, most of the guys are mingling within the hour. Larry’s initial prediction about the nature of this event rings true on two counts: the women are improbably attractive, though to be fair, they’re all members of local agencies whose clients consist entirely of beautiful women. And secondly: they all know that they’re here for the sole purpose of meeting men. Given the median age of the tour group, it’s likely that these guys won’t have been in this kind of environment – as artificial as it may be – since college keggers. Which is ironic, as many of these girls would appear to be college freshmen at best. There’s eye candy on display, sure, but when it comes to the likelihood of a middle-aged man finding both physical and intellectual stimulation in a barely-adult woman, it’s easy to slip into scepticism.

    In the late afternoon, tour host Olga MCs a poolside dance-off that’s narrated entirely in Ukrainian, for the benefit of the local women. Derek is paired with a lustrous blonde, who he later tells us is a stripper. Tour guide William Owen – the West Australian miner, who is being closely filmed by 60 Minutes – and an American attorney named James battle it out over a few rounds. James is incredible shape for a 53 year-old: he pops, locks and swings his partner around like a hula hoop. He’s also a spitting image of a younger Sean Connery. Derek’s shirt is soon removed and he engages in some crude arse-grabbing and breast-motorboating with his partner [pictured below]. As far as gentlemanly conduct is concerned, he and James are oceans apart, yet together they’re the tour’s most extroverted characters. So ends the first of three socials, yet several of the men keep the party going elsewhere by arranging impromptu dates immediately afterwards. Others collect phone numbers with a view to set up dates in a few days’ time.

    ++

    Saturday’s event – in neighbouring city Kherson – is a four-hour bus ride away. The roads in south Ukraine seem to be populated with vehicles driven by sociopaths. The asphalt is falling apart; indicators are rarely used; seatbelts are never used; and no-one is willing to show the slightest compassion for their fellow drivers. It’s vehicular madness, and it’s utterly fascinating. Tour rep William notices our interest and tells us that, for Ukrainian drivers, road signs and speed limits are considered “suggestive”, not prescriptive. He’s lived here on-and-off for six years, and believes that if you have “$100 and a face”, you’ll be given a driver’s license. He replaces the brakes and tyres on his BMW yearly due to the wear and tear caused by the poor road surface. “You’ve never experienced tailgating until you’ve driven here,” he tells us. “If you can fit a credit card between your car and theirs, that’s plenty of room.”

    Luckily we brought three buses on the trip to Kherson, as one breaks down halfway there; its passengers join ours. At the back of the bus, Derek reveals to the group that he met his “smoking hot” Russian ex-wife of five years on a flight from Vienna to New York immediately after an Anastasia tour, not on the tour itself. She recently left him, soon after he’d put her through medical school. Curious. Group morale is high as we pass through the city of Kherson and arrive at a club named Amigo [pictured below]. Its location is anything but central; housing commission-style flats and a couple of convenience stores are Amigo’s only neighbours.

    Walking off a bus at 1pm and upstairs into a dark, hot, smoky club feels as dirty as it sounds. We’re late – the bus driver took a few wrong turns – so most of the club’s seats are already occupied by women, who sip drinks and judge every man in eyeshot. If The Park’s circumstance felt questionably artificial, this feels outright plastic. To make matters worse for the guys, the ratio today is more like 2:1. Which still betters most real-world nightclub situations, but it’s a disappointment after the quantity of women in attendance yesterday. To be fair, Kherson is home to only a third of Odessa’s million-strong population.

    Spending six hours breathing in Amigo’s poisonous atmosphere is a tall ask for non-smokers like us – though, incidentally, the tour’s smokers are thrilled to discover that 12-packs here cost the equivalent of AUD$1. The strangest thing about this club is that it’s attached to a bowling alley. Apparently Ukrainians are crazy about tenpin bowling, and not in an ironic manner. To break up the monotony of watching men dance awkwardly with women half their age, Rachael and I hire a lane for an hour and throw down.

    Halfway through our second round, Olga announces another dance-off. Predictably, Derek and James reappear; the former loses his shirt again, while today James is paired with a chesty 20 year-old in a green dress who appears to be having the time of her life. Alarmingly, one of the tour’s oldest – and heaviest – men is relieved of his shirt and tie by a cunning local. A topless, sweating fat man is not something I thought I’d ever witness on a Saturday afternoon in south Ukraine. 7pm rolls around, mercifully, and then it’s adios, Amigo.

    There’s a striking contrast between the tour’s mood upon arrival and departure. Under the blazing sun it was all laughs and optimism; as night descends on the ride home, it’s more funereal, with a dash of crushed expectations. No-one really knows what to say. Many of the tourists opt to stare out the window, lost in thought. To complicate matters and unintentionally rub salt in the group’s wounds, one Canadian guy has picked up a woman and is bringing her back to Odessa. Other than Rachael, she’s the only female on board. James is practically beside himself with incredulity. “How did this happen?” he asks the smug dude and his date, who both appear to be in their mid-30s. “You only met today, and you’re bringing her home?”

    Moments before we left the venue, Derek gave a silver dress to a woman he’d met here years ago, yet within minutes of the gift-giving she left him drunk, shirtless and dejected. As our bus begins the long trek back to Odessa, Roger won’t stop giving him shit about it. “What happened with your gal? She didn’t like the dress?” Derek says she fed him a story about having to leave due to a sick mother – which makes sense, he says, as last time they met, she bailed on him to take care of her sick father. Roger laughs like a hyena. Derek, nonplussed, passes out flat on his back, blocking the aisle with his feet. His accomplice, too, has been drinking, and he deems now an appropriate time to share his perspective on these tours.

    Roger – a personal trainer from St Louis, Missouri in his early 40s – has toured Odessa with Anastasia four times. He’s the relatively introverted yin to Derek’s relentlessly provocative yang. “I come for the party; for the kick of it,” he says. This’ll probably be his last trip. “The only reason I did it this time was because whine-bag back there” – he points his thumb at his recently-divorced friend Derek – “begged me to.” In his mind, he can either spend “$5,000 to go to Florida and lay on a beach for 10 days”, or the same amount of money to do the same thing here. He’s sceptical about the long-term prospects of any relationships formed here. ”I’m not saying that guys don’t find girls, because I’ve brought two back to the States.” Neither worked out for him; one was an interpreter who was simultaneously courting both him and another guy in Texas, unbeknownst to either of them. She used Roger for the airfare to St Louis, then fled south. It was a crushing disappointment at the time, but an experience he can laugh about now.

    He believes that every man on this trip will return home alone. “You ain’t gonna meet somebody and fall in love in five days.” Roger says hasn’t used the website in 11 years, but still gets weekly email notifications from the site that Ukrainian women are allegedly “trying to connect with him” – which he deletes, unread. His take on Anastasia is that it’s simply “bringing a bunch of old men a little bit of happiness. It’s money for [Anastasia], but it’s also happiness for the old guy on the computer thinking he’s writing a cute girl.” Which is not always the case: often, the girls’ interpreters answer their mail on their behalf, he says. These tours are rarely a try-before-you-buy scenario for guys seeking potential brides; Roger says he “guarantees that 95 or 96% of the guys never sleep with the girls.” He laughs and tells me that “all men are lonely old fools. You’ll get there one day.”

    We pull into a petrol station for a break, which rouses Derek from his slumber. He hasn’t eaten all day, yet he selects a Stella Artois for sustenance, returns to the bus, and starts drunk-dialling every woman in his phone. Which is amusing for a while, until I realise I’m speeding through the dark Ukrainian countryside, listening to a grown man acting like a desperate and dateless teenager. It’s a dark thought, and I try to shake it immediately, but it’s stuck. If the tour’s most experienced and extroverted guy is striking out, what chance do the rest of these dudes have? My mind is filled with despair for the plight of the summer romance tour. It’s nearly midnight when we return to Odessa. The Kherson trip has been a failure, and everyone knows it – except for the Canadian guy and his date, perhaps.

    The tour’s third and final social takes place on Sunday evening, and it’s going to have to be something special to recoup the team morale lost in Kherson. It’s also the guys’ last realistic opportunity to meet local women and set up dates for the remaining five days. After this, they’re essentially on their own, which is a tough place to be in an unfamiliar country. Stakes are high.

    ++

    On Sunday afternoon, we’re ushered into the same room used for orientation on Friday morning. Again the mood of the room tilts toward tension, as an overweight, greying Anastasia media rep named Walter Bodkin treats the 24 guys in attendance like naughty schoolchildren by, essentially, warning them to behave themselves tonight as there’ll be “loads of media there”. Upon our arrival in Ukraine, Larry spoke in awed tones of Walter’s presence on this trip: his 35 years of experience at US television network CBS lends heft to his professional capabilities. On Friday, Rachael and I spent nearly an hour listening to his tales and theories regarding international dating. Walter has been married twice; his most recent divorce cost him over $1 million – which he didn’t tell us, but I later discovered online.

    Ostensibly, a lot is riding on this final social for Anastasia in PR terms, and they don’t want the guys to mess it up. Tonight’s centrepiece is the Miss Bikini 2011 contest, which, frankly, the Anastasia staff seem more excited about than the tourists. Walter takes an ominous tone when advising the group that “once the local guys hear that there’s a bikini show on, they’re gonna want to get inside”, and that security will be tight. Yet, walking down Odessa’s main shopping strip a few days ago, we came across several large billboards advertising all three Anastasia socials in Ukrainian. To publicly advertise what’s being portrayed – by Walter, to the tourists – as a secret event seems deceptive. Olga presents each man with an Anastasia-branded gift bag containing a white sailor cap, which the guys are asked to wear before disembarking from the bus and strolling down the main strip of the popular Arcadia Beach. It’s corny as hell, but most of them comply.

    The footpath to the social venue – a beachside club named Itaka – is congested with human traffic heading in the opposite direction to our group. Someone comments on this, and Walter laughs as he tells us that “they” – Anastasia, presumably – have cleared the beach ahead of our arrival. Which sounds like it’d take considerable cash and muscle to pull off, as there are hundreds of shirtless, suntanned locals streaming past us and throwing dirty looks. It’s impressive, to some extent, that they’d do that just for a couple of dozen guys, but also questionable considering that all these people were, until a few moments ago, doing their best to snatch some sunny Sunday joy amid a challenging day-to-day life. As in any other tourism-reliant city around the world, cash is king.

    The group pauses for a brief photo opportunity outside the club [above], and then we venture into the belly of the beast. We’re led down three flights of stairs and through a busy bar to the bottom level, where 22 bikini-clad models are fanning themselves and posing for photos. Like Friday’s social, it’s centred around a swimming pool; like on Friday, security are actively discouraging patrons from diving in. Opposite the impromptu stage is the ocean, which shimmers as the sun starts to dip. The cordoned-off section of water at the foot of Itaka’s real estate is eerily sparse for such an idyllic location, until I remember the fleeing crowds. Now, dozens of empty plastic sun lounges face the Black Sea [pictured below]. A stray cat paws at the sand in search of salty snacks. House music – a fixture in this part of the world, it seems – thumps soullessly from the speakers as final preparations are made for Miss Bikini 2011.

    The tour group has been led into this surreal scene and left to fend for themselves. There’s a lot of standing around and gawking at the bikini girls. The wiser members of the tour fan out and begin introducing themselves to women seated poolside, interpreters in tow. The smartest guys ignore the bikini contest altogether and relocate to a second, smaller pool area to court women away from the glare and noise. The West Australian miner Owen – who, incidentally, is attending this tour for free as a guest of Anastasia – is judging the contest; so too is Walter, a British journalist from Loaded magazine, and a woman named Dasha Astafieva, who was Playboy’s 55th anniversary Playmate in January 2009.

    Larry MCs the event in English; a female offsider does the same in Ukrainian. He introduces Dasha with an air of reverence, as if she discovered penicillin. Interestingly, scores of local women queue for photos with the porn star between breaks in her judging duties. Here, she has far more female fans than males, but that could also be because there are far more women in attendance. I’m watching the fawning group from behind [pictured below], when an overzealous admirer suddenly clutches her too hard and Dasha’s left breast momentarily slips out of her strapless dress. The crowd of surrounding women gasp in amazement as she quickly fixes herself, embarrassed. I’m convinced that I’m the only male in attendance who saw this happen.

    We meet another Australian named Chris. He is dressed in a blue singlet, jeans, work boots, trucker cap and sunglasses, and sports ponytailed grey hair and a foot-long grey beard. He wields an explosive laugh and speaks in the broadest Australian accent imaginable. Within our first five minutes of conversation, he reveals himself to be a xenophobe and a climate change sceptic. It’s fascinating to meet an archetypal bogan in a place like this. Naturally, 60 Minutes sink their claws into him immediately, and he’s plainly thrilled by the idea of appearing on national television while holidaying in Ukraine. This is his first trip outside of Australia. He’s only paid to attend this one social; the rest of his trip was self-arranged, including his apartment on the outskirts of Odessa. I’m impressed, because organising something of this scale seems far beyond his abilities. [Pictured below, left to right: 60 Minutes reporter Michael Usher, Chris, and myself.]

    The bikini contest is won by a petite blonde from neighbouring city Nikolaev named Natalia, who earns a Yamaha jetski for her trouble. Dasha then leads a performance by her pop group, Nikita [pictured below], which features another female vocalist, backup dancers, and a shirtless male DJ who does little more than press ‘play’ and show off choreographed dance moves. There’s around 50 girls in the audience. I can only see five guys from the tour in the throng. After their eight-song set – performed alternately in English and Ukrainian – the stage is broken down and a dance floor opens up in front of the bar.

    By this point, Itaka could be any club anywhere in the world. Some guys pick up; some don’t. Chris hits the beer pretty hard; he’s tanked before midnight, and asks an Anastasia rep to arrange a taxi home, alone. Looking across the crowds dancing poolside or conversing with the opposite sex, it does seem quite a stretch that this is all worth it, romantically speaking. In terms of meeting new people and having new experiences – sure. Just by signing up to this thing, it’s impossible for the guys not to tick both boxes. But finding a long-term partner – let alone a casual sex partner – in Odessa seems no more likely for these men than in their hometowns, were they actively pursuing either outcome.

    ++

    With the three socials over, the rest of the week is left fairly open. Daily sightseeing tours run to nearby venues like a winery and the Odessa catacombs. They’re sparsely-attended, but interesting and worthwhile for Rachael and I; less so for the single tourists, it seems, though a couple of guys bring dates and interpreters. From an Irish bar on the main strip on Tuesday night, we spy three of the tour guys walking alongside a tall, leggy blonde. ”So many hoops to jump through to probably not get laid,” remarks the American journalist we’re drinking with.

    We get to talking with a couple of the other guys about their impressions of this trip. Lee [pictured in foreground, above], 43, owns a small trucking company in western Pennsylvania. “I’ve been married three times before,” he says. “No regrets. I never wanted to be divorced once; never thought it would happen three times.” He’s been a member of Anastasia since January 2011. This is his first trip outside of the US. He’s been on several dates and is particularly keen on two women: one in Odessa, who we’ve seen him with on several occasions and seems lovely, and another in Nikolaev who has been having problems finding a babysitter for her young child in order to meet Lee again. He doesn’t think dating here is any easier than back home. “If everything was easy, why would I need to come to Odessa? If it was easy I could walk down to the local pub, and – there she is.” He advises those intending to join a tour like this to “not set your expectations so high that they’re unattainable, because then you’re going to be disappointed”, and “just be yourself. I’ve been myself since the day I landed.” It seems to be working well for him.

    Like Lee, James – the 53 year-old attorney, stunning dancer, and Sean Connery lookalike – wears his heart on his sleeve. They’re both totally sincere, and make no bones about their intentions here: to find their respective soulmates. “Most of these men are here for that reason,” James believes. “We’re not looking for a good time for a week. We’ve had that back home. We’re looking for somebody we can share our life with, but we have to be attracted to them as well, on every level. Do you really think we’d come all this way if we could find it at home? We can’t!” He first visited Odessa in May 2011, and says he did everything he was told not to do – “except wander off by myself. I didn’t do that. But – did I take them shopping? Yes. Did I fail to attend the socials in full? Yes. Women took me elsewhere; they took me out of the competition. I bought girls a pair of shoes, a purse, a cell phone, a laptop… it was about a $2,000 lesson, in total. Painful, but necessary.” He wasn’t self-aware last time, but believes he is now. He’s been on several dates, and he’d been corresponding with almost all of them through Anastasia beforehand. “I genuinely want to find the person who can love me the way I want to love them,” he says. “That’s what my parents had for 59 years. I’ve seen it. It exists.”

    Word spreads among the group that Roger got sushi’d big-time earlier that night; his date and interpreter took him to the tune of US$900. We also hear that the oldest guy on the tour, Richie, yesterday proposed to a local girl. We catch up with him on our final night in Odessa, and he lays it all out on the table during a two-hour conversation. Like many elderly people, he goes to great pains to describe the smallest, most insignificant details of his stories, as if to justify his continuing existence. He tells us of his three failed marriages; his six children; his careers in construction, firefighting and police investigation, and everything in between. He tells us of meeting his new fiancée, Tanya, through Anastasia in March, after dreaming of a woman who looked exactly like her and combing the website for nearly a year.

    “I flew 7,000 miles – a third of the way around the world – to meet the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever met in my life,” Richie says. “She’s beautiful inside and out. Every word she said on the computer, she’s proven beyond any reasonable doubt that she is the person that she claimed to be. I love her dearly. We’re hoping that we can get her visa and passport through as quickly as possible. We’re both very excited. We both want it to happen,” he says of his intention to take her back to his home in the United States. “I’m ecstatic. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love her. Our biggest argument is who loves whom more. If our whole life goes that way, it’ll be the best argument the world has ever seen!”

    At 29, Tanya is 39 years Richie’s junior. She doesn’t speak English; he doesn’t speak Ukrainian. I suspect deep down he knows the odds are against him. But what is love if not an insane leap at happiness? As we shake hands and say goodbye, I wish Richie all the best, and mean it more than I have in my whole life.

    Andrew McMillen (@Andrew_McMillen) is an Australian freelance journalist.

  • Maxim Australia story: “European Union: Riding shotgun on a Ukrainian summer romance tour”, December 2011

    A story for the December 2011 issue of Maxim Australia. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    Travel: European Union

    Maxim rides shotgun on the world’s premier romance tour. Truth by told, we left feeling weird and depressed.

    Words by Andrew McMillen, photographs by Rachael Hall

    Odessa, Ukraine

    “Beautiful women grow in certain parts of the world more than others, and you’re in one of them. Maybe six or seven thousand guys in the world have experienced what you’re going to experience: Being put into a situation where you have so much choice that it’ll be mind-boggling. So be prepared, gas up, and I guarantee you’re going to have a wonderful time.”

    These are the words of Larry Cervantes, public relations manager of a website named Anastasia (anastasiadate.com), which claims to be “the world’s leading international dating and romance tour company”.

    My girlfriend – we met in Australia, but thanks for asking – and I are in a seaside city called Odessa, in south Ukraine, as guests of Anastasia. They invited us to check out their ‘Summer Romance Tour’ – a weeklong leap into the exotic abyss in search of love… or something like it.

    The tour is centred around three “socials”, which are parties arranged by Anastasia in conjunction with local dating agencies. Really, it was a heart-warmingly wacky offer we just couldn’t refuse.

    Friday

    Our first social is at The Park Residence, a luxury venue with a swimming pool and tennis courts. The touring men aren’t just outnumbered by prospective partners but 45 female interpreters are also in attendance. They’re a necessity, as few Ukrainian women speak English, and none of the men (mostly Americans) speak the local tongue.

    As the day begins, the atmosphere is more awkward high-school disco than adult social. But most of the guys are mingling within the hour. Larry’s initial prediction about the nature of this event rings true on two counts: The women are improbably attractive, though they are all members of local agencies whose clients consist entirely of beautiful women. And secondly: They all know they’re here for the sole purpose of meeting men.

    The median age of the tour group sits between 40 and 45, so it’s likely these guys haven’t been in this kind of environment – artificial as it may be – since they last had a kegger at the frat house. It’s ironic, since many of the girls appear to be college freshmen age at best.

    Sure, there’s a Willy Wonka factory’s worth of eye candy on display, but the likelihood of a “romance” blossoming between a middle-aged American man and a barely-adult Ukrainian woman? Call me the anti-Cupid but I’m a little sceptical.

    Saturday

    Today’s social is a four-hour bus ride away, in neighbouring city Kherson. Like the testosterone levels, group morale is high as we arrive at a club named Amigo. Unlike yesterday’s opulent surroundings, housing commission-style flats and a couple of convenience stores are Amigo’s only neighbours. As you may have guessed, there aren’t any tennis courts and swimming pools here.

    Walking into a dark, hot, smoky club in the middle of nowhere at 1pm feels and smells just like it sounds. To make matters worse for the potential Romeos, the babe ratio is a measly two-to-one – around half of yesterday’s embarrassment of female riches. Still, those are better odds than most real-world nightclub situations.

    Spending six hours inhaling the Amigo air is a tall ask for non-smokers. If, unlike myself and the missus, you are a smoker, I can’t recommend this place highly enough – 12 packs of gaspers here cost about a dollar.

    Through the haze, Anastasia’s Ukrainian tour rep Olga leads a dance-off, wherein one of the tour’s oldest – and heaviest – men is relieved of his shirt and tie by a cunning local. A topless, sweating fat man is not something I thought I’d ever witness on a Saturday afternoon in south Ukraine. Mum always did say I was lucky, though.

    In what I would call proof that a higher power exists, the 7pm finishing time draws near. Adios, Amigo. As we drive away, there’s a striking contrast between the tour’s mood upon arrival and departure. Under the blazing July sun it was all laughs and optimism, but as night falls on the ride home, there’s a distinct air of crushed expectations and the sound of hearts beginning to break. Or that could be the shonky bus suspension. Either way, there’s a noise.

    Sunday

    The tour’s third and final social is going to have to be something special to recoup the battering team morale took in Kherson. It’s also the group’s last realistic opportunity to meet local women and set up dates for the remainder of their stay in Odessa. If that doesn’t happen, it means being stuck with just your stockpile of cheap ciggies for company and nothing else.

    Outside the venue – a beachside club named Itaka – the group pauses for a brief photo opportunity in the twilight, before venturing into the belly of the beast. We’re threaded down three flights of stairs and through a busy bar to the poolside bottom level, where 22 bikini-clad models are fanning themselves and posing for photos. It looks promising for the lads…

    Tonight’s, we are here to behold the Miss Bikini 2011 contest. One of the judges is Dasha Astafieva, who was Playboy‘s 55th Anniversary Playmate in 2009. The winner is a petite blonde from neighbouring city Nikolaev named Natalia, who earns a Yamaha jet ski for her efforts. Post-ceremony, we’re treated to the musical stylings of Dasha’s pop group, Nikita. The mosh pit consists of around 50 local girls… and five tourists. After the eight-song set – performed alternately in English and Ukrainian – the stage is broken down and a dance floor emerges in front of the bar. The starter’s pistol has been fired. Party time!

    Itaka could be any club anywhere in the world. Some guys pick up, some don’t. Looking across at the men clumsily dancing poolside or trying to converse with the opposite sex, it seems a bit of a stretch that it’s all worth it, romantically speaking. Finding a long-term partner – let alone a casual sex partner – in Odessa seems no more likely for these men than in their hometowns. True, you won’t be treated to a Euro pop performance or have access to dirt-cheap smokes, but if you’re looking to have a ‘Summer Romance Tour’ that’s affordable and where the women understand what you’re saying, I’d say do it domestically.

    Sidebar: Love Bytes

    An Odessa veteran gives us a hard dose of romantic reality

    Roger – a personal trainer from St Louis, Missouri, in his early-40s – has toured Odessa with Anastasia four times. This’ll probably be his last trip. He says he only returned this time because his recently divorced friend Derek begged him to. He believes that every man on this trip will return home alone, because “you ain’t gonna meet somebody and fall in love in five days”. He hasn’t used the site in 11 years, but still gets weekly notifications from Ukrainian women trying to connect with him – which he deletes, unread.

    His take on Anastasia is that it’s simply “bringing a bunch of old men a little bit of happiness. It’s money [for Anastasia], but it’s also happiness for the old guy on the computer thinking he’s writing a cute girl”. This is not always the case: often, the girls’ interpreters answer mail on their behalf. Physically, these tours are rarely a try-before-you-buy scenario for guys seeking potential brides; Roger guarantees that “95 or 96 per cent of the guys never sleep with the girls”. He laughs, saying, “All men are lonely old fools. You’ll get there one day.” Can’t wait!

    For more on Anatasia and their romance tours, visit anastasiadate.com.

    This 1,200 word story was edited down from a 5,000 word version, which can be read here: “In Search Of Ukrainian Summer Romance: Inside Anastasia’s Odessa Odyssey”. This link also includes many more photos, taken by Rachael Hall.

  • Rolling Stone story: ‘The Discovery Channel: triple j’s power over Australian music’, December 2011

    A feature story published in the January 2012 issue of Rolling Stone Australia, under the ‘National Affairs’ banner.

    Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    National Affairs: The Discovery Channel
    Is triple j’s power over Australian music being used for good, or evil?

    by Andrew McMillen. Illustration by Andrea Innocent

    In many ways, triple j studios – located on the third level of the cavernous ABC building on Harris Street, in inner Sydney – also functions as the central nervous system of the Australian music industry. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of listeners across the country are tuned in. Label owners, promoters, publicists and musicians follow the station with relentless fascination, as its playlist and musical preferences can literally make, delay, or break careers in the notoriously fickle music business.

    For decades, since the national broadcaster’s inception in August 1980, triple j has continued to grow: in terms of staff numbers, audience popularity and, as a direct result, cultural influence. With great power comes great responsibility. As triple j continues to slowly evolve into a gangly octopus whose arms now extend far beyond its initial radio habitat into print media, significant online networking, year-round event promotion, and – with the October launch of a standalone Unearthed station – digital radio, it’s worth taking a magnifying glass to the station’s many activities to examine whether their great power is being used for good or evil.

    Two senses are immediately pricked entering triple j studios: the eyes are met with bloody red walls contrasting against innocuous whites, and the ears latch onto the sounds of triple j being piped through the station’s corridors, while Zan Rowe broadcasts her morning show live to air just a few metres away. Station manager Chris Scaddan strolls past their huge music library to his corner office. His coffee table is stacked with months’ worth of printed music media: street press, monthlies, international imports. A recent issue of triple j magazine sits conspicuously atop the pile.

    He turns down the live broadcast to a quiet gurgle as he considers a question: how would he describe triple j to someone who’d never heard it before?

    “It’s uniquely Australian,” Scaddan says. “We’re about new music; mainly, new Australian music. We’re targeted at 18-24 year-olds, so we’re here for young Australians. We play diverse styles of music; we’re independent and non-commercial, which is important. At this point, we’re a brand that reaches across quite a few different platforms. We’re our audience as much as anything, as well. We’re really in touch with our listeners, and we hope that what we’re doing is reflecting and inspiring what they want, and what they want to listen to, and what they want to know about.”

    Eight minutes into the interview, in response to a question about whether triple j’s support is crucial to the success of Australian bands on a national scale, he cites a recently discovered statistic that he’s clearly very proud of: in October 2011, the station posted audience figures of 1.5 million in the five capital cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide).

    “At the moment, we’ve got as many people listening as we ever have. But are we crucial to a band’s success? I don’t think so,” Scaddan says. “Certainly we’re a national broadcaster, and we’ve got a really strong audience. I wouldn’t say it’s crucial to whether you make it or don’t. There are so many different ways that you can find a career or an audience through the Australian music industry. There’s so many examples of bands who may not have been played by triple j who are doing just fine.”

    “Just fine” is a relative term, of course. For every Art Vs Science, Boy & Bear or Washington playing to thousands-strong crowds on the national stage, there are dozens – perhaps hundreds – of acts across Australia who enjoy strong support within their hometowns or capital cities, but struggle to make the jump to national notoriety without the nod from triple j. Does Scaddan find that bands get pissed off when they get told, ‘thanks, but no thanks’ in response to their latest release?

    “That does happen,” he replies. “That’s the nature of the business we’re all in. Just like artists who are pitching for articles in Rolling Stone and don’t get a mention get pissed off, and can’t understand it sometimes. It is really, really difficult. We’re always looking to try and find a really good balance of genres, of locations – nationwide, so we’re not just picking bands from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane all the time.”

    “It’s difficult, and sometimes bands who want to get triple j airplay might not crack it on the playlist. That doesn’t mean they’re still not getting played in other ways on the station. They tune in and they’re not getting played as often as Gotye, or Florence + The Machine, and they think they should be. You just hope they can understand that there’s a limit to how much music can fit on the station and make it work.”

    Such programming decisions lie not with Scaddan, nor with music director Richard Kingsmill, but with the entire triple j staff. When Kingsmill is questioned – in jest – about whether he’s the most powerful man in Australian music, he practically explodes in exasperation from a couch positioned nearby the station’s carefully stacked CD collection.

    “It is not anywhere near the truth. It is just such a misconception to think this place isn’t a team of people,” Kingsmill says. “I have said this time and time again, and if people still think that I sit there and basically call all the shots, they are wrong. I can’t say it enough. This station is built on teamwork. It always has been. If you’ve got a bad framework, or teamwork vibe happening in this place, it shows on the other end of the radio. When we all work together, we get the results. It’s as simple as that.”

    ++

    What happens when your band wins the musical equivalent of the lottery, the triple j Unearthed slot to open the main stage of Splendour In The Grass? In 2011, the competition was won by Brisbane indie pop band Millions. Twenty-two-year-old drummer James Wright is being a little humble by equating the contest to a lottery: those rely on luck alone, not songwriting talent.

    Still, it’s curious to hear Wright honestly state Millions’ intentions upon forming in December 2010. “The entire objective of the band was using triple j to get where we want to go,” he says. A four-piece comprised of members from three Brisbane bands you’ve never heard of, Millions realised during their initial rehearsals that their sound might appeal to the national broadcaster.

    “There was the fleeting chance that, if we maybe more deliberately went towards the triple j sort of sound, in terms of being more accessible than our previous bands, then we might have a shot at actually doing some good, and getting played,” Wright says. “We didn’t exactly have high aspirations for it, but we were really happy with the two songs we’d written [at the time].”

    He says that Millions are “the exact opposite” of their previous bands, in that their path was “extremely thought through, to the point of calculating exactly how many shows it would take us to get where we wanted to go, and to who we should play these shows with and why we should do them and where we should play them.” The Splendour 2011 slot was unexpected for the band, and “pretty much blew everyone’s mind” according to Wright, but not unsurprising given their ambitions.

    Stephen Green is well acquainted with this kind of mindset among artists. Since beginning as a radio “plugger” – a guy who pitches new music to stations across the country – he now runs his own publicity consulting business, SGC Media.

    “The problem of triple j being so dominant is that it artistically skews what some bands are coming out with,” he says. “If you’ve got the opportunity to do the song that’s in your head that’s not very ‘triple j’, or you tweak it somewhat and make it sound like bands that are getting airplay… I think a lot of bands are going down [the second] path a little more.”

    “The tracks that I think work least are the ones that the band have gone, ‘right, we’ve got to get on triple j’, and they’ve tried to write a ‘triple j song’,” Green adds. “If it just happened like that, then – great. But I think too many bands push down that path. Being generic so that you sound like every other band is not usually the way to stand out and have a particularly successful career.”

    When Green works on publicity with Australian artists, he never plans a campaign assuming that the act will get triple j airplay. “If you do that, you’re setting yourself up for a big disappointment,” he says. “I don’t think you can make assumptions that anybody’s going to play anything.” So what happens when triple j rejects the song or record you’re pitching them? “Well, you kick the wall, the client gets shitty and says, ‘you didn’t rep it properly’. You break up, and that’s the end of that!” he laughs, clearly joking.

    Like Green, Megan Reeder Hope places a high value on including triple j in her marketing plans. As general manager at Secret Service Public Relations, Reeder Hope works regularly with the Brisbane-based record label Dew Process, whose roster includes Mumford & Sons, The Grates and Seeker Lover Keeper. “triple j is essential,” she says. “It’s probably the crux of my plans of how we work at Dew Process.”

    “That’s not to say that we don’t value the rest of the media: community radio is really important, as is commercial radio when you get to a certain point,” Reeder Hope says. “But I think triple j is that centrepiece that needs to be in place to be able to do all of the other ones, as well. From our perspective, triple j has a high level of integrity. They really do things in a way that’s uncompromising of their own editorial policy, while still always putting the music first. It really is all about the music for them. They support artists, and they support them throughout their careers.”

    Back at the station’s Sydney studios, music director Richard Kingsmill is clearly proud of the station’s success, and unapologetic to its critics. “If anyone’s got any complaints and arguments against us, or thinks that we’re in some ways trying to monopolise the Australian industry….” He pauses. “You get damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If we sat back and went, ‘Well, we shouldn’t monopolise the Australian music industry, we should sit in this corner and do our little job and not try to do anything,’ we’d get criticised for being negligent and not proactive. If you’re proactive, then you tread on toes a little bit, I guess, but we’re not meaning to tread on toes.”

    “It’s not supposed to be 100 per cent,” Kingsmill continues. “No one can be 100 per cent, and no one should expect triple j to be 100%. We do what we do to the best of our abilities, and we try as hard as we possibly can, with the best of intentions. But at the end of the day, we’re all humans. So we’ll take chances and we’ll take risks, and sure, we’ll piss people off, but we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think there was a section of the community out there who was actually enjoying it.”

    Further reading and discussion:

  • The Weekend Australian album review: The Necks – ‘Mindset’, November 2011

    An album review for The Australian, reproduced below in its entirety.

    The Necks – Mindset

    On their 16th album, this Sydney-based trio opt for two 21-minute long tracks rather than the singular instrumental piece that characterises most of their past releases.

    The opener, Rum Jungle, is a claustrophobic jam laced with menacing bass notes, jarring piano chords and insistent cymbal-tapping.

    It’s a consuming piece of work; from the initial five-minute mess of noise emerges some flighty piano progressions and, later, a fiercely strummed electric guitar – a rarity among the Necks’ overarching modus operandi, which is best captured in the title of their 1998 live album, Piano Bass Drums.

    Rum Jungle is thematically similar to their previous release, 2009’s Silverwater, in that its sustained creepiness invokes a sense in the listener of being constantly on edge.

    Track two, Daylights, marks a distinct shift in mood; its gentle, noir-like atmosphere is a breath of fresh air. Its gradual uncoiling has more in common with the soothing perpetual motion of their 2003 release Drive By, which won the trio an ARIA for best jazz album.

    This contrast between light and shade works well, and the absence of a narrator invites listeners to fill in the gaps themselves. Mindset is a fine addition to one of the most consistent catalogues in contemporary Australian music.

    LABEL: Fuse
    RATING: 3 ½ stars

    This review was originally published in The Weekend Australian Review on November 26. It’s my first album review for the paper. For more on The Necks, visit their website.

  • The Vine festival review: Harvest Brisbane, November 2011

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Harvest Festival
    Riverstage and Botanical Gardens, Brisbane
    Saturday 19 November 2011

    Harvest Festival is not above flattery. “Congratulations on your good taste and adventurous spirit,” reads the first line of the 36 page colour program I’m handed upon entry. This psychological ploy makes me smile. Which music fan, anywhere in the world, does not believe that they have the finest music taste? To argue otherwise suggests a lack of self-belief, or false modesty. And the rest of us? Our taste is fantastic. The best. Thanks for asking, Harvest. For AJ Maddah to align his festival with that sort of stroked-ego sycophancy exemplifies tact, and more than a little self-belief of his own. After all, he booked the bands.

    “You are about to witness an amazing collection of great artists and memorable performances.” No minced words there. He then bangs on for a few short paragraphs about a vaudeville tent named Le Boudoir, a Secret Garden full of “world renowned DJs” and “specially designed seating”, and the festival’s Australian art installations and “troupe performances popping up from nowhere”. (Maddah’s emphasis on the nationality of the art is interesting, given that of the five Australian acts on the main stages, just one (Gung Ho) is not from Sydney and all are confined to the smallest one – The Big Red Tractor Stage. His other festival, Soundwave, traditionally has but a couple of Australian artists each year.) AJ’s program spiel ends with the line, “We know that you have come for the bands but hope you will return year after year for the experience!”

    In the lead-up to the event, an emphasis was placed on how Harvest is “a feeling, not just a festival”. That’s a fairly airy-fairy thing to say while attempting to make a mark in an already crowded festival market; let alone in the notoriously cutthroat live music industry. What could this statement mean, exactly? Clearly, Harvest is pitched slightly left-of-centre. It is, apparently, for the more discerning punter. More mature, perhaps; not just in age, but probably in terms of “good taste”, too. I think about this statement all day. Though it’s probably marketing-speak not worth the scrap of paper it was scrawled on, perhaps there is some truth to AJ’s spin.

    Those words flit across my mind while I watch Portishead. What feeling might they embody, then? I think ‘isolation’, then ‘boredom’. Cruel, perhaps. After an hour drinking in their enormous sound, though, I settle upon ‘empathy’. You’d have to be a hard bastard to not believe that Beth Gibbons was in a dark place, hurting, when she wrote these songs all those years ago. Even if she’s putting on a mask, 17 years later – who could sustain real sadness and hurt for so long, and still function as a performer at this level? – it’s a very convincing act. I fall for it, time and again. Right up until she thanks the crowd, and then lets out a nervous little laugh, just before the encore break. The spell is broken then and there, but I like her – and her band – a lot more after that tiny reveal of real human emotion. Earlier, I was put in mind of Interpol’s headline performance on this same stage in January. That, like this, was technically brilliant but delivered from a position of icy disaffection. The overwhelming enormity of a song like ‘Glory Box’ reduces these kinds of complaints to cinders, though, thanks particularly to its cutting, perfect guitar solo. During the encore break, two of the band members return to stage to thank AJ by name. “It’s tough doing festivals at the moment,” one says, “but I think this has got a really good vibe.”

    For the full review, visit The Vine, where you’ll also find a gallery of photos by the always excellent Justin Edwards. He took the photo used above, too.

  • A conversation with Ryan Holiday: blogger, former marketing director of American Apparel, soon-to-be author; October 2011

    Ryan Holiday is one of the most influential people in my life.

    His blog, RyanHoliday.net, is one of the most valuable online resources I know of. This is a statement that I know will make him blush, because Ryan is a modest guy. I know this because when I first approached him for an interview in January 2010, he deflected my questions – which were extremely detailed, potentially to the point of exhibiting stalker-like behaviour. He wrote that when he felt he deserved an interview, he’d give it to me; he also said that mine was “the most in depth, investigative email I’ve ever gotten”.

    At 24, Ryan [pictured right] is a year older than me. I’ve viewed his blog as a kind of counsel since I first became aware of his work. His thinking and writing has, in turn, shaped my thinking and writing. It is fair to say that I wouldn’t be on the path I am now if I hadn’t been closely studying another young male on the other side of the world, fearlessly kicking down doors in search and pursuit of his goals. For a couple of years, Ryan’s ambition, persistence and confidence all directly influenced my day-to-day thoughts and actions. Which is another statement that will make Ryan blush, because it’s a pretty fucking weird thing to type, let alone think.

    Ryan first attracted my attention by attracting the attention of someone who I was closely studying at the time: Tucker Max, the American blogger-turned-author who is best known for his 2006 book I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell and the 2009 film adaptation of the same name.

    Ryan wrote a review of Tucker’s website – which, at the time, was a collection of stories about Max’s drinking and sexual exploits – for his college newspaper, and sent the link to the author. Soon after, Max posted the review on his message board, which was a fairly popular corner of the web; it was deleted a couple of years ago. I immediately became interested in figuring out who Holiday was.

    That review led Tucker to hire Ryan as an intern at his company, Rudius Media (now defunct). It led Ryan to work with the acclaimed author Robert Greene as a research assistant on the strategy book The 50th Law, co-written with rapper 50 Cent and released in 2009. And it led Ryan to be hired by the clothing manufacturer American Apparel, where he worked as Director of Marketing for a couple of years. He still works as an advisor to American Apparel, but moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans in mid 2011 to work on a book project of his own.

    Since January 2007, Ryan has consistently used his blog as a platform for discussions about writing, running, online PR, media, philosophy, and stoicism, among other topics. I’ve consumed every word that he has written since his first post, ‘The Business Of Running‘. I often re-read his posts multiple times, which is something I rarely do online. That first post remains a valid starting point for understanding Ryan’s way of thinking and writing. I’ll quote the opening paragraph below.

    “I run 5 miles every night. It’s where I go to digest my day, hash out the multitude of information that’s been poured into me in the last wild six months or so, and to try and condense it down to some sort of cohesive strategy to live my life by.” – Ryan Holiday, January 31 2007

    When I visited the United States for the first time with my girlfriend Rachael in September 2010, I asked to meet up with Ryan in Los Angeles. We met at a burger joint on Melrose Avenue and talked for an hour or so. It was a huge thrill for me to meet a guy who’s been something of an internet hero to me for nearly five years. Rachael didn’t really understand why it was so important to me at the time.

    Neither did I, really, now that I think about it. All I knew then, and know now, is that Ryan Holiday is one of the most influential people in my life. It’s an honour for me to publish the below email interview.

    Andrew: When you wrote that review of Tucker’s website, what was the intended outcome?

    Ryan: I’m not sure if I ever told anyone this, but I’d noticed that Tucker tended to link to or write about any press he got (at least back then) and so I thought, “I’m a writer for a college newspaper, why don’t I try it”? It didn’t really go much further than thinking about it at that time. Then a couple weeks later I had the opening line of that piece floating around in my head: “If Hunter S Thompson had read this site, he probably wouldn’t have killed himself.” I figured I had something and eventually sat down and wrote it.

    So the intended outcome was that I’d send it to him and he’d link to it (I reposted the article on my blog) and that would be it. But the reaction totally blew my mind. Within about 20 minutes he’d responded and… I went back to my Gmail and found it:

    From: Tucker Max

    [November 28th, 2005]

    “Jesus Christ. Dude, that is fantastic. Seriously, I am awed by your grasp of me and my material. I am going to post this as THE example of a great review of me and my work.”

    It’s funny to me now because that reaction has become a pretty routine occurrence for me since then. I obviously thought I wrote a pretty good article but I was still reluctant to send it off. Is he going to like it? Did I go overboard? What are the chances of it getting a response? Turns out I had nailed the target and didn’t quite understand the extent. That seems to happen a lot to me. You’d think I’d anticipate it by now, but still other peoples’ reaction (positively, anyway) tends to catch me by surprise.

    What did that response change for you? Was that one of those ‘Fight Club moments‘ I remember you writing about years ago?

    I think it was the opposite of one of those moments. I think of a Fight Club Moment as something that breaks you down and demolishes the pretense and bullshit entitlement you have in your life. This wasn’t that. It instilled a lot of confidence in me. It was like, “ok, I am better than I knew. That’s awesome, maybe I can build on this.”

    What happened next between you and Tucker?

    I think after he had the publisher send me a copy of his book to review, which I did, and after it was published I asked for his thoughts on the writing. He went over it on the phone with me about ways I could improve my voice and tone.

    I stayed in touch—I think in my post about advice a couple weeks ago I called this ‘staying on the radar’, and that’s basically what I did. I would pop in and ask questions, for advice, send links etc. Any excuse I could think of to keep that connection alive. Only an idiot would waste that chance.

    A year or so later I was in New York, where he was living and I told him I wasn’t looking for a job, or a salary or a handout but I had some thoughts on ways I could contribute to his company, Rudius Media. After the meeting, he offered me an internship, which 6-8 months later become a job. But it was all a very fluid thing, like I was saying.

    [Andrew’s note: that post he mentionedAdvice to a Young Man Hoping to Go Somewhere (Or Get Something From Someone Successful)is an absolute must-read.]

    To me, the act of writing the review and showing Tucker is a pretty solid example of figuring out what you want, and pursuing it accordingly. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t that lead to him offering you a job, you quitting college and moving to LA, and then working for American Apparel?

    Haha, I mean you pretty much figured out exactly what I was doing or trying to do with the last question, probably with a better sense of clarity than I really had at the time. But yeah, it was the door that ultimately led to the opening of all the other doors. I have him to thank for all of it. When I see a path to an opportunity–like a lane in basketball–I sort of put my head down and the next thing I know I’m through it and it took me somewhere I didn’t totally anticipate.

    With the Tucker thing, I knew I wanted to one day be a writer like the kind of writers he was working with at the time – I’d known this since I first saw his sites in high school – so I did that article, and then I was working for him, and then I was working for the people he was working with, and then the people they were working with, and so on. I don’t think any of them every solicited me for a job either so much; it was just that I was around all the time, doing stuff and offering to do stuff, and then it eventually became official.

    How did you come across Robert Greene’s work? Was it Tucker who first showed you?

    Yeah, I’d heard of the books obviously but I think Tucker recommended The 48 Laws of Power so I read it. I marked up my copy so much and had a million questions to ask Tucker.* Then the first time I met him, Tucker walked me to a bookstore and bought me The 33 Strategies of War and said, “if you’re going to work for me, you’ll need to have read this.” I think that’s how I found out I got the job. All I took from that exchange was: “I better read this book on the plane ride home and know it backwards and forwards.”

    * Ryan’s sidenote: that copy of The 48 Laws is priceless to me. Someone stole it out of my office at American Apparel. I was fucking distraught. It makes no sense because Dov [Charney, AA chairman and CEO] has a million copies laying around. Why would they want my marked-up personal copy?

    How did the opportunity to work for Greene arise?

    The three of us – Tucker, Robert, and I – had lunch in L.A. a few years ago and it kind of arose from that meeting. Although it almost didn’t, because I was so nervous I accidentally messed up when I gave Robert my phone number.

    I have a suspicion that working on The 50th Law might have inspired a sense of validation, given your regular documentation on your life via the blog, and your personal reading and research via your Delicious account. Am I right, or way off?

    I mean, it was very cool to have the privilege to be allowed to peek inside of project like that. But I don’t think validating is the right work. What it was was educational, from top to bottom. Researching for someone–particularly someone like Robert–is crazy because you get pointed in all these directions that you’d never have gone by yourself, given a very firm objective to gather from that direction, and a tight deadline with which to do so. When you read or research for yourself, it is kind of this wandering, directionless thing. For the book, it was like getting a crash course in a million different subjects. I was interested in all of them so I would mark down the stuff I would want to go back and look at later.

    So it’s funny, when I see the book, it reminds me of loose ends I still need to tie up for myself and am interested in looking into.

    Your stoicism guest blog for Tim Ferriss in April 2009 attracted a lot of attention. What did you get out of it? What did you learn from the experience?

    More than anything, it helped me clarify my thoughts. Tim is awesome and he’s got a very impressive commitment to expanding the scope of blog all the time. He starting writing about productivity and got all these people hooked and the next thing you know he’s totally revolutionized how they think about health and science. I was lucky that he gave me the microphone for one of those digressions.

    I got quite a few new readers out of it and he also was gracious enough to give me two more chances to write about similar topics. [The Experimental Life: An Introduction to Michel de Montaigne‘, October 2010; ‘Looking to the Dietary Gods: Eating Well According to the Ancients‘, July 2011]

    What you learn in a setting like that is how to tailor your message to different mediums. When I write for my site, I can be as self-indulgent as I want. When you write for someone else or on a bigger platform, you have to be much clearer and you have to catch them right from the beginning. They’re not YOUR readers, so you have to meet them where they are if you’d like to bother listening to your message. At the same time, it taught me that I don’t want to have to perform like that all the time which kind of freed me up to not have to chase acquiring that audience for myself. If didn’t learn that, I’d be spend all my time working to build something that at the end of the day, would make me miserable to have.

    Could you tell me about your working space?

    When I was in LA, I had a big office with 5-10 employees at any given time at the American Apparel factory. I had an office at my house at well.

    Now, in New Orleans, I sort of went in the completely opposite direction. I’m in a studio apartment so I don’t work much there. I like working and reading and writing out of the library at Tulane or, I belong to an old school athletic club in the French Quarter that has like a library/parlor work space that I use.

    On Mondays, I try to do all my administrative stuff—conference calls with employees, meetings, paperwork and then during the rest of the week I respond to AA emails in the morning and again at night. The middle of the day is mine. I try to write, go to the gym (run, box or swim), and read—in that order.

    I still have the same quote, the one from Marcus [Aurelius], above my desk:

    “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.”

    The other quote above my desk is from Seneca:

    “Some lack the fickleness to live as they wish and just live as they have begun.”

    In November 2007 , you wrote that “you have to be happy with you”. I understand it’s a work in progress, but are you happy with you in October 2011, nearly four years later?

    Happier for sure. It’s not so much that it’s a work in progress as it is a process. I forget who said it, but someone smarter than me said that “happiness ensues, it cannot be pursued”. And I think it was Aristotle who said that happiness was the result of excellence.

    Either way, I take that to mean that you’re happy when you are doing whatever it is that you’re doing, well. So: are you doing well at your career? Is your relationship the best it can be? Are you handling adversity or a difficult experience with excellence? Are you behaving honorably? Etc etc.

    These are all opportunities to excel in the moment and cumulatively these moments create a sense of happiness. I’m fucking 24, there’s no way I’m doing well all the time at everything but I do feel I am getting better and more consistent.

    I want to close on a cliched question, which I hope you’ll humour me on. What advice would you give to yourself five years ago, when all you really knew about yourself was that you ‘wanted to one day be a writer like the kind of writers Tucker was working with at the time’?

    Fucking breathe. It’s not as precarious as you think it is. There’s no need to be anxious. See, it’s really easy when you’re that young and you don’t have a safety net to think you have to cling to everything for dear life, everything is a crisis, everything is mission critical, nothing else can be the priority.

    When you’re in that space, it’s really hard to have the patience and compassion or even empathy for the other people in your life because you’re fucking fight or flight all the time. In reality, it’s not as dramatic as all that. Taking a more relaxed and accepting approach might mean losing a couple opportunities here and there but down the road, you end up turning down plenty of those anyway, so what does it matter if a couple never arrive?

    If I told myself this and really listened, I feel like I’d have been happier along the way and be able to be prouder of how I behaved and the decisions I made.

    ++

    For more on Ryan Holiday, visit his blog. Hopefully he’ll soon post some news about the publication and release of his first book.

    [Edited on November 18: the first news of Ryan Holiday’s book has been announced.]

  • The Courier-Mail author profile: Melissa Gregg and ‘Work’s Intimacy’, October 2011

    A short author profile for The Courier-Mail’s new Life section, which is included in the Saturday paper. Click the below image to view the version that appeared in print.

    The text I’ve supplied underneath is the full article, which was slightly edited in print due to space restrictions.

    How to leave work at home: Work’s Intimacy by Melissa Gregg

    If the office exists in your phone, how is it possible to claim the right to be away from it for any length of time?

    This question is central to Work’s Intimacy by Melissa Gregg, a senior lecturer in gender and cultural studies at the University of Sydney. Gregg’s book is the result of a three-year study of information workers – including broadcast journalists, librarians and academics – which took place in Brisbane between 2007 and 2009.

    “That question captures the twin tensions in the book’s title: the idea of work being something that we’re invested in, in a way that’s pleasurable, and the way that technology allows that relationship to be available wherever we are,” she says. “Mobile devices are increasingly marketed as this desirable object because it gives us access to every pleasure we could possibly imagine,” she laughs. “The more portable the device, the more intimate the device, right?”

    If we’re to believe the companies that market these devices, that’s absolutely correct. Yet Gregg’s book contains dozens of examples of salaried professionals struggling to draw barriers between their work and leisure. This behaviour extends to checking and replying to emails outside of the workplace, in preparation for the actual workday.

    “That was extremely common,” Gregg says. “It seemed to point to a sense of unpredictability in people’s work days. We once thought of the office as a mind-numbing routine of 9-5, of always knowing what’s coming, and that being part of the problem. This tendency to check email outside of the office seemed to suggest that, individually, people did not know how to cope with the pace and the unpredictability of the workplace today.”

    For Gregg [pictured below], being based in Brisbane for the duration of her study was a blessing. “As someone who’s always been a bit of an outsider to any city I’ve lived in, I saw this as a great chance to look, from an outsider’s point of view, at changes that were happening in Brisbane at that time”; namely, the way in which the city was positioning itself within a creative economy.

    This confusing transitional period was reflected in the workers Gregg interviewed. She met a 61 year-old university professor, Clive, who said “I worry that I’m going to miss something” if he doesn’t check his email constantly. “I’m a bit addicted,” he said. “Partly because I don’t want email to swamp me. If I had a weekend off the Internet, then on Monday, I just have a huge inbox.”

    Similar anxieties were expressed by Patrick, a 24-year old part-time radio producer who barely sees his partner, Adam, since their schedules rarely align. Yet Patrick admitted “I do get a pang of sadness” when the pair were home at the same time, but both absorbed in their individual computer screens. The author dubs this being ‘together alone’.

    Gregg says that maintaining an emotional distance in these scenarios is “one of the challenges of this kind of research, because you’re always needing to retain objectivity in the moment of the interview, and to say as little as possible to affect them telling you what’s really going on.”

    She says that “a number of the interviews were quite shocking to me, and did make me feel that there was merit in having people talking about these issues, because they could at least become prominent in their minds for a while, to see just how much they could recognise their relationships had changed within the family structure.”

    Though Gregg says she’s “no shining example” in contrast to the work/life issues raised by her interviewees, she hopes that people “take a little more independent action to refuse the pace of their workplace. Teamwork culture is very coercive because of the rhetoric of collegiality and friendship, so it does make it very difficult for people to resist. But that’s not going to stop me recommending that people do it.”

    Work’s Intimacy can be ordered via Polity Books’ website.

  • Talk: “Team Bondi, L.A. Noire and The Truth: The Perils of Online News”, October 2011

    This is the transcript of a presentation I gave at the Brisbane Emerging Writers Festival on Saturday 15 October 2011, as part of a panel discussion around the topic of “Writing online – How different is writing for an online audience, how can you do it creatively, and what are the challenges and opportunities for writers working in this field?”

    Footage of my presentation is embedded below.

    ++

    Team Bondi, L.A. Noire and The Truth: The Perils of Online News

    by Andrew McMillen

    This is a cautionary tale about online journalism. It’s about learning first-hand how the internet can be a beautiful and terrible place to break news. It’s about choosing what kind of writer you want to be.

    In June, the biggest story of my career was published. It was the result of four months of investigation, based on my interviews with 11 former employees of a company named Team Bondi, who made the biggest, most expensive video game ever made in Australia, called L.A. Noire. These 11 sources all spoke to me on the condition of anonymity. Between them, they’d spent a combined 24 years at Team Bondi. They each alleged that their experiences working there were uniformly terrible: long hours, no overtime pay, a praise-free workplace led by a guy who treated them like crap. As a result of these factors and high staff turnover, the game took seven years to make, which is an incredibly long time in the games industry. I put these allegations to the Team Bondi founder, who did not deny what his former employees had told me, and made no apologies for his style of management.

    My story encapsulated all of this, and was published on the gaming website IGN. Within 24 hours it received over 120,000 hits, and was being reported and analysed by the gaming media around the world. My four months of patient work – including building trust with my sources, and many conversations with IGN’s editors about the story’s final shape – were reduced to a handful of quotes and rushed summaries rewritten by other gaming journalists. To my knowledge, nobody tried to track down my 11 sources and verify what they were saying, nor did anyone seek additional comment from Team Bondi.

    Soon after the story was published, two other former employees emailed me, and provided some more information, including company emails they’d saved from their time at Team Bondi. This new information shed more light on the fact that the company had been stringing their employees along for years, consistently saying that the game was close to being finished, even though it clearly wasn’t. I combined this new information into a supplementary feature that was published on the gaming website, GamesIndustry.biz.

    One of the more interesting comments made by one of my sources in this second story related to the breakdown of the relationship between Team Bondi and Rockstar Games, who published L.A. Noire. You might know them as the guys behind games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. My source said, and I quote:

    “I’ve heard a lot about Rockstar’s disdain for Team Bondi, and it has been made quite clear that they will not publish Team Bondi’s next game. Team Bondi are trying to find another publisher for their next title, but the relationship with Rockstar has been badly damaged.”

    Now, keep in mind that these are informed comments made by a person who worked at this company for a few years. Still, these are some pretty strong allegations to make, about some high-profile businesses. My source has inside knowledge, for sure, but it’s very easy to start these kinds of rumours – namely, that one of the world’s best-known videogame companies has decided to cut ties with the Australian studio that they’d sunk millions of dollars into. In the eyes of every sane and rational person in the world, though, allegations and rumours stay just that until they’re either confirmed or denied by those in the know.

    Over the next couple of days, I was surprised to find that many websites were not exercising caution when publishing these additional rumours. Some sites didn’t even acknowledge the source of these allegations, instead simply saying that, quote “Rockstar have decided not to publish Team Bondi’s next game”. Full stop. It was alarming and disappointing to see my work skewed beyond its original form, purely because other writers didn’t care enough to provide full context.

    To complicate the situation, neither Rockstar nor Team Bondi made any public comments on any of these matters. I learned during this process that their silence bred a kind of quiet acceptance of ‘the facts’ of my stories – which is a really shitty thing. To this day neither company has publicly commented on what I reported.

    This whole experience was simultaneously exhilarating and depressing for me. Exhilarating because it was the first real newsworthy story I’d worked on, and I got a kick out of watching it being passed around the world. Depressing because I also watched commenters misinterpret my findings, and fellow journalists misrepresent my work in their editorials. It made me wonder what would’ve happened if I was less restrained with my own analysis and storytelling. Arguably, my stories would never have been published if they didn’t meet editorial standards, but the manner in which other online publications were loose with the facts made me wonder how far I could’ve stretched the truth and gotten away with it.

    This is an interesting thought to entertain. And I should point out that my two published stories on this topic did not stretch the truth in any way. But hypothetically, let’s say that I’d fabricated a few quotes that were supposedly made by my anonymous sources. The reader wouldn’t know any better, and it’s doubtful that I’d even get found out. The story was re-reported with such breathless enthusiasm, often containing only the most inflammatory and controversial quotes, that it would barely have mattered. The success of the stories, and the additional opportunities that have since been offered to me, might have led me down an entirely different path. I might have become addicted to seeking easy controversy in my journalism, had I made that choice.

    I didn’t, and I haven’t. I’m glad I was thorough and responsible in my reporting, but the alternative is still fun to think about occasionally.

    This experience taught me a valuable lesson, about how quickly people tend to believe what they read online as the truth, especially in the absence of denial from the parties in question. The more the story was reported around the internet, the more true these allegations became to most readers. This is reflected in the comments sections of these articles. I watched the tide turn from acute doubt, to utter contempt for Team Bondi and Rockstar, in a very short period.

    This experience taught me that no matter how thorough and careful I am with my own work, once a story is published online, it’s completely out of my hands. I think that, in the rush to ‘first’, some web publishers are a little loose with their words. This is troublesome, because whoever reads their articles may not have the time or inclination to read the initial source material, and if a website has their facts wrong when re-reporting a story, then the reader’s understanding of a situation may be compromised. It’s hard to shift facts in people’s minds once they’ve come to a conclusion, and I think web journalists, editors and publishers have a more pronounced responsibility than their print counterparts to check the facts and exercise caution before hitting ‘publish’.

    It’s tough, though, because on the internet, there is little incentive for this kind of cautionary, responsible journalism. Inflammatory and controversial stories spread much faster than their circumspect alternatives. This has always been the case, with any kind of news, but the trouble with the web is that the publishers of these kinds of stories are rewarded with traffic, which in turn directly benefits them, as advertisers are more willing to pay them to run ads on their sites.

    A few thoughts to close. Writing for the web, it’s very easy to become swept up in instantaneous, inflammatory, controversial reporting. But I urge you not to go down this road. To do so is to toss away your integrity, to swallow your pride and sense of self-worth in favour of short-term gratification. It is a fucking shame that online journalism appears to be built on this principle, and that it is so ingrained in our day-to-day web browsing that you probably don’t even notice.

    Like I said, there’s little consequence for following the path of ‘publish first, fact-check second’. But if you have even a shred of integrity, again I urge you: do not take the path of least resistance. Always err on the side of caution before pressing ‘publish’. You owe it to your readers, your sources, your fellow journalists and yourself.

    Andrew McMillen is a freelance journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. http://andrewmcmillen.com/