All posts tagged aus

  • The Monthly story: ‘Only The Lonely’, August 2013

    A story for the July 2013 issue of The Monthly. The full story appears below; illustration by Jeff Fisher.

    Only The Lonely

    After midnight with ‘Psychic TV’

    On a dark and stormy Thursday night, broadcasting live from a TV studio in northern Sydney, clairvoyant Francis Bevan “reads” one viewer after another, using their birthdate. Margaret, born on 24 June 1961, wants to know whether she’ll ever fall in love again. Laura (12 December 1986) wonders whether she’ll have more kids. Janelle (6 December 1964) asks whether her mother is happy “on the other side”.

    Bevan next turns his attention to Eileen, the night’s oldest caller by some margin. She’ll be 70 on 15 July. In a voicemail message broadcast on the studio’s speakers, Eileen asks what the future holds, “whether there’s any money coming, and will I move?”

    Staring straight into the camera, Bevan tells Eileen she will move, in six to 12 months’ time. She’ll sell her property and end up close to water. Meanwhile, two men, one a father figure, the other closer to her in age, will watch over her.

    “We’re going to get the lovely Mal to use her psychic fingers to pull you out two tarot cards,” says Bevan, as the producer rings a bell to indicate that 90 seconds have elapsed. Malvadee McIver, the smiling, sprightly host, selects two cards from the deck. Bevan glances at the cards.

    “Definitely the sale of the property is going to happen,” he continues. “We’ve got the High Priestess here, and the Knight of Swords. This tells us there’ll be sudden decisions, but positive ones. I hope you’ve enjoyed the reading. Have an absolutely fantastic 2013.”

    This is the format of Psychic TV, a two-year-old program filmed in Frenchs Forest and screened nationally Thursday to Sunday, between 11 pm and 2 am. Queries are raised by Australian viewers and answered by a rotating cast of psychics – tonight, two men and two women – who take turns sitting at a desk beside McIver.

    Bevan, a former police officer, was 2007 NSW Psychic of the Year. He wears a dark suit with a bright pink shirt, and rarely smiles on camera. Fellow psychic healer Christian Adams wears a suit jacket over an open-neck shirt, showing off his crystal pendant, and reads auras by closing his eyes, tilting his head and gesturing wildly.

    While the men could pass for car salesmen, the two women are dressed more suitably for astral travel. Tarot reader Amira Celon wears a striking white caftan with gold accessories. Psychic medium Kerrie Erwin wears a floor-length leopard-print dress and red lipstick. All four are middle-aged.

    The three psychics not directly addressing the viewers remain visible in booths, taking live phone calls. Names, birthdates and star signs are read in a background blur. Time is money, after all. Psychic TV charges $5.45 per minute, or $4.75 for those who have registered their credit card details and authorised $100 in credit. Text messages cost $5 apiece.

    But the night – the crew’s first on the newly constructed, purple-hued set – is not without technical difficulties. At one point the show’s graphical overlay, which displays three phone numbers as well as the command prompts to reach the three psychics in their booths, suddenly disappears. Production manager Danny Stocker runs frantically between the studio and the bank of broadcasting technology stacked in the next room. On the phone to tech support, the 38-year-old barks: “It’s very urgent because we’re not making money!”

    It’s 34 minutes before the graphics reappear on screen. In the interim, McIver enthusiastically repeats the phone numbers every few minutes, but the pace noticeably slows.

    Exactly who watches Psychic TV is not clear. Free-to-air viewers find it on the digital channel TV4ME; Austar subscribers via the Aurora channel. The show’s Facebook page has 12,000 fans, 9000 of whom are women. “A large percentage of the population hasn’t heard of us,” admits Michael Charlesworth, who owns Interactive Media, the company behind the show. He yawns – he’s not usually on set this late. “That’s what we want to change.”

    An hour into the show, at midnight, the production team – uniformly youthful, some still studying media at university – ask whether I’d like a live reading. My details are sent through as a text message. “Andrew was born on 10 February 1988 and requests a general reading. He loves the show!”

    Kerrie Erwin shuffles her cards. “Put your seatbelt on, because you’ve lots of changes ahead, Andrew,” she says, specifying a new career and a move interstate, both of which are news to me. Then she switches to a picture message from Gina, 25, who asks what Erwin “can see happening in the next three months, particularly in romance”.

    Three hours of psychic television pass surprisingly quickly. There are plans to add Wednesday nights to the schedule, which would take the total to 15 hours of live advertising each week. When Bevan ends the night’s final call, the automated telephone system reports that the four psychics, plus a few others listed on-screen as working from home, have clocked 1231 minutes – a gross taking of about $6000. (The call times are rounded up, as technically the four psychics have potentially 720 minutes between them.) A producer tells me that 1400 minutes makes for a “good night”.

    It’s just past 2 am. The crew are outside in the chilly air, smoking. Amira Celon kindly offers to drive me to my destination. Her silver Toyota Yaris is making a strange noise. We travel south, along State Route 29, for ten puzzling minutes before she determines the cause: it’s the bottom of her white caftan, trailing out the door.

  • The Vine story: ‘The benign threat of using mobile phones on planes’, August 2013

    A story for The Vine. Excerpt below; click the image to read the full story.

    The benign threat of using mobile phones on planes

    The Vine story: 'The benign threat of using mobile phones on planes' by Andrew McMillen, August 2013One Tuesday afternoon in April, the Attorney-General of Australia, Mark Dreyfus, was sitting on a Qantas flight bound for Brisbane. While the aircraft taxiied to the runway, Dreyfus used his smartphone to check and reply to emails. His posture was a familiar sight of the modern era: head down, hands low, eyes trained on a rectangular cluster of LEDs, while fingers and thumbs silently fondled a touchscreen.

    A nearby passenger took issue with the Attorney-General ignoring the instructions broadcast throughout the cabin to switch off personal electronic devices prior to take-off. A flight attendant reminded him of this obligation. Dreyfus eventually complied, pocketing the device, but the flight attendant informed the captain of the incident and as a result, Dreyfus was met on arrival in Brisbane by an airport security manager who again reminded the Attorney-General of the rules. These events were reported nationally; some commentators wondered whether a non-politician would have received the same treatment.

    “I am a very, very frequent flyer,” Dreyfus tells me over the phone – maybe the offending smartphone in question – in early June. “I probably know by name half of the Qantas attendants; that’s how often I fly. It was a courteous, very quick reminder in accordance with the protocol that they have, of the rules – which I know.”

    Dreyfus says he’s now a changed man. “I regret the incident,” he says. “For the avoidance of error, I now switch off my phone before boarding. But I do switch it on when the plane has landed. I can recite to you all the flight attendants’ instructions, and this one is: ‘If your mobile device is within reach, you may now switch it on.’ And I do!”

    In this incident, Dreyfus acts as a stand-in for those always-on wage slaves who view air travel as an impediment to productivity, rather than a break from the demands of an era where the ability to communicate with anyone, anytime is no longer an aspiration but an expectation. RIM’s flagship smartphone has long been referred to as a CrackBerry, and there might be no greater symbol of modern technological addiction than witnessing the speed at which those tiny screens are illuminated once humans inside an aircraft return to terra firma.

    Our national airlines have relaxed their policy on mobile phone use in recent years to the point where the devices can be used until the cabin doors are closed, and switched back on shortly after the wheels hit the tarmac. Yet according to some surveys, up to 30 per cent of passengers simply ignore those incessant warnings that electronic devices may cause navigational interference, surmising that if smartphones, laptops, tablets, and e-book readers were a true menace to aircraft, there’s no way in hell that any airline would allow them in the cabin.

    A well-known Australian musician tells me that he never turns his phone off on planes. “I don’t really believe that my smartphone is going to interfere with navigation equipment,” he says. “I think it’s just a power trip from the airlines to make you stand in line.” This personal ethos has never caused any in-flight drama, though my source is always unimpressed when asked to turn off his Kindle e-book reader – a device which lacks any wi-fi or transmission capabilities. “So I have to read your shitty in-flight mag?” he sniffs. “Or I have to buy a physical book? Give me a break, fuck!”

    This particular musician – who wishes to remain anonymous, to avoid being hassled on future flights – is a self-described time management freak. “If I’m running late, I like to turn my phone on before I land to check who’s picking me up. When we’re in a holding pattern, I’ll try to get a signal to check emails and Twitter, to see what’s happened since I’ve been on the flight.” Not one of these planes has ever dropped out of the sky as a result of one phone seeking a connection to the nearest terrestrial tower; it’s unlikely that several hundred devices doing the same thing at the same time would make a difference, either.

    To read the full story, visit The Vine.

  • FasterLouder story: ‘Urthboy – The Storyteller’, July 2013

    A story for FasterLouder; a profile of the Australian hip-hop artist Urthboy. Excerpt below; click the image for the full story.

    Urthboy – The Storyteller

    Andrew McMillen charts Tim Levinson’s rise from petty criminal to one of Australia’s most important musical voices.

    FasterLouder story: 'Urthboy - The Storyteller' by Andrew McMillen, July 2013

    The middle child began acting out in his teens. Spurred by small-town boredom, a desire to test the boundaries of authority, and an absentee father, a fascination with petty crime took shape. The adrenaline rush of “bombing” public property with spraypaint cans, breaking into empty buildings, and shoplifting were all par for the course among his friends. The more audacious would steal cars and nearly run over their accomplices by accident, or go “searching” – their innocuous euphemism for the serious transgression of popping store tills, grabbing the money, and fleeing.

    Stints in juvenile detention followed for these boys, yet Tim Levinson was in awe of the wits that crime demanded. “Those graffiti artists and crims were the sharpest thinkers and quickest responders to nerve-wracking situations,” he says now. “I feel like I was never really that way inclined.” A voice at the back of his head told him, as the age of 18 fast approached, that soon, these boys would no longer be tried as children in the court system. And so the middle child and petty crime parted ways.

    Tim Levinson tells stories. His preferred medium is the song and verse of hip-hop, where he performs under the pseudonym Urthboy, a name which has no greater significance other than sounding cool, an all-important factor for a teenager registering his first Hotmail address. Levinson’s skill in this field has developed to the point at which the 35 year-old finds himself in mid-2013: surrounded by a strong national audience, critical plaudits (three of his four solo albums have been nominated for the industry-polled Australian Music Prize) and widespread respect among his peers of all musical stripes.

    For a genre that was largely derided and dismissed at the turn of the century, this country’s hip-hop culture has slowly but surely moved from the fringes to the centre. And at the centre of that culture is this particular storyteller. His father left the family home in the small Blue Mountains town of Wentworth Falls, NSW – population 5650 – when Levinson was nine, owing to issues over drinking and domestic violence.

    This separation shook up their lives considerably: suddenly, his mum became the breadwinner through necessity, working up to 14 hours a day to support her three children. Levinson processed this abandonment as best a child could, but would still find himself out on the front lawn some nights, alone, watching cars on the highway and wishing that the tiny headlights of his mother’s beaten-up Corolla would come home.

    Music became a refuge during this formative time. His elder brother, Matthew, introduced a raft of influences by sharing his CD and cassette collection. At first, Britpop bands like Blur and Pulp appealed, before his ears attuned to Leonard Cohen. Run DMC’s Tougher Than Leather was the first hip-hop record he truly loved. His own rhymes scribbled on pages would eventually be coupled with beats, and recorded. His first band was named Explanetary, a hip-hop six-piece that featured Levinson and two others on vocals.

    Staying in Wentworth Falls never appealed; he moved to Sydney after completing high school. His musical aspirations slowly shifted from a hobby – something done with friends, and not taken seriously – to a full-time career. Explanetary would only record one EP together: In On The Deal, released in May 2001. Twelve years later, Levinson has released four solo albums, five with influential Sydney-based nine-piece band The Herd, and worked with dozens of hip-hop artists to release their music on Elefant Traks, an independent record label that Levinson co-founded in 1998, and where he still works as a label manager.

    Despite the widespread enjoyment of this once-niche music genre nowadays, it’s worth remembering that it took quite some time for the nation’s ears to attune to Australian accents backed by synthesised beats. “Because hip-hop was such a strong Afro-American music, it was hard to hear it another way,” says Paul Kelly, who Levinson is supporting on a national tour this month. “But to me, hip-hop is like soccer: it’s very portable, adaptable, and can work worldwide. It just needed to seed for a while here, so that our own blooms could grow out of that. It’s well-suited to local vernacular, so once people get their own style, it’s going to work well, wherever it goes.”

    To read the full story, visit FasterLouder.

  • The Global Mail story: ‘Unchained Melodies: streaming music in Australia’, June 2012

    A story for The Global Mail, published in June 2012.

    Excerpt below; click the image to read the full story on The Global Mail website.

    Unchained Melodies
    by Andrew McMillen

    What are you listening to? Chances are you accessed it from a streaming music-subscription service. Who wins and loses from the surging popularity of such sites as Rdio or Spotify?

    Little-known fact: among David Bowie’s many talents — singer, guitarist, hit songwriter, actor, multi-million record-seller, one-time androgynous alien — he’s also a soothsayer. The English pop star told The New York Times a decade ago, “The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen.”

    Bowie continued: ”Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”

    That New York Times article was published in June 2002. Ten years later, Australian music consumers find Bowie’s out-there predictions have become reality. Music sales have taken a severe dive worldwide; according to the most recent Recording Industry in Numbers report, 2011 delivered the “least negative result in global recorded music sales since 2004″; overall revenue fell by just three per cent, continuing the year-on-year decline.Today only a handful of the biggest artists can successfully earn a living from recording and releasing music alone; the vast majority of singers and players must tour regularly to top up their bank accounts, while simultaneously promoting their latest release.

    And, perhaps most significantly, technological innovation and begrudging record-label cooperation have combined to offer music fans the chance to shun the concept of traditional ownership entirely, in favour of streaming millions of songs wherever they want, as often as they want, in exchange for a regular fee. It’s Mr Bowie’s music-as-utility forecast come true. Streaming music is here, and likely here to stay. For music fans, the benefits are clear. Subscribe to an online service like Rdio or Spotify — the two most popular players in an increasingly-crowded Australian market — for $12.90 or $12.99 per month, respectively, and you’ll have access to almost any song you’ve ever loved, plus a whole galaxy of tunes you don’t yet know. You’ll also be able to hear new music on the day it’s released at the record store and on Apple’s iTunes Store. (Since April 2003 the iTunes Store has sold more than 16 billion songs.)

    Streaming offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of music, on your computer and your smartphone, and no matter how much you ‘eat’, the monthly fee remains the same. (Spotify also offers a free subscription, which automatically inserts audio advertisements into your playlist every 10 minutes or so.) Streaming is the most cost-effective and convenient means to music discovery ever mass-marketed; indeed, the initial enormity of the music library on offer — both Rdio and Spotify host 15 million-odd songs each — will overwhelm even the biggest fan.

    That record labels succumbed to streaming service providers by licencing their artists’ music was no doubt driven by a desperate need to regain some control over their ailing profit margins. Peer-to-peer file-sharing technology like Napster, Kazaa and — more recently — BitTorrent are widely acknowledged to have decimated overall music sales from 1999 onwards. The record industry learned a hard lesson: if the option is available, the tech-savvy will choose not to pay for music.

    Exactly how much this lesson cost the industry in lost sales revenue is impossible to measure, but it’s safe to say that the number in question is a whole number containing many, many zeroes. The labels’ great big hope is that the sheer convenience and relatively low cost of streaming will function as a finger in the proverbial dyke. A month’s unlimited subscription to Rdio or Spotify costs less than the average album does in-store, or on iTunes. Better that people pay a little money to hear their artists’ music, the labels figure, than nothing at all. The recording artists generally can’t choose whether or not their music is streamed, as their record labels usually hold the rights over how and where their music can be sold. Only the biggest fish can swim against the tide: bands such as The Beatles, Coldplay, Metallica and AC/DC all have opted out of including their respective catalogues on streaming services. Spotify won’t be drawn on the amount of revenue that gradually filters down to individual artists; spokespeople have only ever stated publicly that 70 per cent of the company’s revenue from subscriptions and ad sales goes to record labels, which then pass on a small percentage of the per-stream revenue to the artists.

    Perhaps it’s always been true that only the foolhardy would pursue a career in music with the primary goal of wealth in mind. But now it seems that the money-laden scales are tipping further away from the songwriters and performers in favour of those who build and maintain the tech services which enable the sale, distribution and consumption of music.(Just ask Apple’s shareholders.) So, is streaming going to kill the rock star?

    To read the full story, visit The Global Mail.

    Elsewhere: a conversation with Scott Bagby and Carter Adamson of streaming music service Rdio, February 2012.

  • 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.

  • IGN Australia story: ‘A Matter Of Size: The State of Triple-A Game Development in Australia’, February 2011

    A feature story for IGN Australia. Excerpt below.

    A Matter Of Size: The State of Triple-A Game Development in Australia

    IGN AU looks at whether the Aussie scene can still support big studios… and whether it should even want to.

    Judging by the tropical imagery splashed across QueenslandGames.com – in which a solitary human sits, gazing out across the placid ocean toward distant sand dunes – a naïve game developer intending to work for a Queensland-based company might expect to write code while breathing in salty air and wriggling their toes between the sand. The reality, of course, bears no resemblance to this image, which makes its ongoing usage questionable. Especially considering the rather dismal state of the wider Australian game development industry in 2011.

    It used to be that mutually profitable relationships with international publishers saw Australian developers working on console titles that would be marketed across the world. In the past, Australian talent had a hand in working on mega-selling licenses like Star Wars, Transformers and Jurassic Park. This trend continues, in a limited capacity: Canberra-based studio 2K Marin played a significant role in the development of both Bioshock and its sequel, and is the lead studio working on the new XCOM game; Team Bondi is currently putting the finishing touches on the May-due PS3 and Xbox 360 title L.A. Noire, on behalf of Rockstar Games. It will be the first time since 2002’s State Of Emergency that the company is outsourcing development of a Rockstar product to a non-Rockstar studio.

    But locally, these contracts are, by and large, drying up. And with the decrease in work comes the decrease in employment, as seen in the recent collapses of Auran, Pandemic, and, late last year, Krome Studios. All three were Brisbane-based. All three are no more.

    “The big oak trees have fallen; it’s time for the little seedlings to get stuck in there,” IGDA Brisbane coordinator Jane ‘Truna’ Turner told IGN last year in the wake of Krome’s demise. Indeed; much noise has been made about the success of smaller, independent Australian game devs, with Halfbrick Studios, based in Kelvin Grove, universally showered with praise for the remarkable sales of Fruit Ninja, as has Firemint, with its Flight Control and Real Racing games. But let’s not forget that smaller companies, by nature, employ fewer people. While those 40-odd staff who’re housed comfortably under Halfbrick’s umbrella are likely thanking their lucky stars nightly, what of the hundreds of skilled staff shaken loose from the big oak trees in the past few years?

    With few real opportunities to work on big, ‘triple-A’ titles – the kind that sound great on your resume – here in Australia, such talent is left to either shift overseas, or consider alternative careers. Either way, the Australian industry loses out. The dominant mindset – that this country is unable to support triple-A-level development – continues, and everyone involved continues to downgrade their expectations of what Australia is capable of in terms of games.

    What, if anything, can be done to stimulate this process? Are we really headed toward a local industry consisting of a mere handful of bigger, publisher-owned studios – like SEGA’s Creative Assembly and THQ’s Studio Oz, both based in Brisbane – and a galaxy of smaller, agile developers concentrating on mobile platforms? Is Australia no longer a viable market for foreign publishers to invest in game development?

    For the full story, visit IGN Australia.

  • Mess+Noise Critics Poll, December 2010: Tame Impala, My Disco, You Am I

    Each year, the Mess+Noise critics are asked to choose their 10 favourite Australian albums of the year. In 2010, I chose:

    1. My Disco – Little Joy
    2. You Am I – You Am I
    3. The Gin Club – Deathwish
    4. Parades – Foreign Tapes
    5. The John Steel Singers – Tangalooma
    6. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
    7. Washington – I Believe You Liar
    8. Faux Pas – Noiseworks
    9. We All Want To – We All Want To
    10. Halfway – An Outpost Of Promise

    My top 5 Australian songs of 2010 were:

    1. My Disco – ‘A Turreted Berg’
    2. Halfway – ‘Sweetheart Please Don’t Start’
    3. Parades – ‘Marigold’
    4. You Am I – ‘The Ocean’
    5. The John Steel Singers – ‘Sleep’

    I was asked by my editor to write a short summary of three albums that placed in the top 10: Tame Impala (#1), My Disco (#5), and You Am I (#9).

    1. Tame Impala
    Innerspeaker (Modular)

    Following Wolfmother’s success in recent years, Tame Impala’s premise was never going to be particularly risky. By gazing into the past and mining the annals of psychedelic rock, this Perth act – a quartet when playing live – produced a debut full-length characterised by spaced-out guitars, lyrics of social dissociation, and complementary, distant vocals.

    Led by singer/guitarist/conductor/producer Kevin Parker, Innerspeaker is very nearly a solo album – he plays the vast majority of the instruments – but upon hearing the finished product, you wouldn’t pick it. His ear for song dynamics is remarkable, and at no point does it sound like anything other than a full band jamming in a smoke-filled room. The cover art requires a double take to process, but the music doesn’t: Parker’s production is immaculate, and his songwriting accessible. Ultimately, Innerspeaker struck a chord this year not because of the human fascination with revisiting sounds of the past, but because Tame Impala threw themselves so entirely into ensuring a high quality experience. “It’s all we really do at home, think about music or record music in some way or another,” Kevin Parker told M+N earlier this year. Long may they continue.

    5. My Disco
    Little Joy (Shock)

    This Melbourne trio have defined themselves through minimalism, repetition and unrelenting force. On Little Joy, they’ve amplified all of the above to craft their finest set yet. “It was the longest we have ever spent time-wise on a record,” guitarist Ben Andrews told M+N, “and I think it really shows with the finished product”. He’s not wrong. Every sustained guitar sound, every metronomic drum part, every chanted lyric is calculated to precision, yet none of the inherent, confronting bleakness and brutality of their music has been lost (despite their decision to stick Scott Horscroft – best known for his work with The Presets and Silverchair – behind the mixing desk). My Disco adhere to the old-school aesthetic of album-as-document; as a result, cherry-picking individual tracks from Little Joy doesn’t really work: its potency is derived from the mood they conjure and sustain. From Andrews’ first jarring chord (‘Turn’) to the record’s elegant, all-inclusive conclusion (‘A Turreted Berg’), My Disco have bettered themselves in every way, and the outcome is nothing short of joyous.

    9. You Am I
    You Am I (Other Tongues)

    Recorded over “a couple of days” and driven by a mutual desire to impress each other, You Am I’s ninth album is an enduring delight – and it’s largely because the band sounds so at ease. Their role as forerunners of contemporary Australian rock music has long since been assured, and it’s telling they’ve no one to impress now but themselves. In ‘Shuck’, the album’s lead single, Tim Rogers sings of a desire to shuck “the past, my poise, the background noise”, and it’s this insular approach – four musicians in a room, banging it out, fuck everyone else – which has certified the album as a true classic. It’s a genuine anomaly for a band’s ninth record to rate among their best work, but You Am I once again remind us just how vital their contribution to Australian music has been, still is, and will continue to be.

    For the full 2010 critics poll, visit Mess+Noise.

  • IGN Australia story: ‘Krome Studios: Things Fall Apart’, November 2010

    My first feature for IGN Australia. Excerpt below.

    Krome Studios: Things Fall Apart

    It’s the question that’s been reverberating around the corridors of the Australian game industry for three weeks: what causes Australia’s largest video game development studio to close its doors? Andrew McMillen investigates, and discovers that Krome’s current situation isn’t as clear-cut as first reported.

    The Precursor

    “Too often, game companies can fall into a production line mentality, and I think that hurts the morale of the employees who are naturally creative people – and in turn the creativity of the company, as a whole.” –Ex-Krome Employee

    As the annual Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) event drew to a close on Friday, October 15, the local games industry’s mood of inspiration, optimism and enthusiasm was given a brutal reality check via whisperings that Brisbane-based Krome Studios was shutting its doors. Word spread among the industry quickly, and reports began appearing on sites like Tsumea that the developer – established in 1999 – was conducting a round of staff lay-offs.

    Such events were not unfamiliar to the Australian gaming industry, as the studio had been through regular rounds of employee redundancy in parallel to a decrease in development contracts. At its peak in July 2009, Krome employed over 400 staff across studios in Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide; four months later, 60 staff were let go, followed by another 50 in April 2010, and then an estimated 100 in August, which brought Krome Studios Adelaide to an end. The company was co-founded in 1999 by CEO Robert Walsh, creative director Steve Stamatiadis, and design director John Passfield, who left Krome in 2005.

    Read the full story – which runs to three pages, and around 3,000 words – on IGN Australia.

    This is the biggest story I’ve written, both in length and in terms of its scope. For three weeks, the Australian gaming industry had been assuming that Krome was dead. I looked closer, and found something different.

    Thanks to the editors at IGN AU, Cam Shea and Narayan Pattison, for taking a chance on this story. As a sidenote, working with Cam on this story closed a nice little circle: as a teenager, I was a big fan of Hyper Magazine, which Cam edited between 2005 and 2007. Thanks also to the ex-Krome employees and gaming industry contacts I spoke with for this story, both on and off the record, as well as Krome CEO Robert Walsh.

    16 November edit: IGN have also published my full interview with Robert Walsh. Read it here.