All posts tagged city

  • Why it took nearly three months to remove offensive graffiti from my street in New Farm, Brisbane, October 2012

    “FUCK NIGGERS,” read the graffiti in large, white, spraypainted letters.

    I know the graffiti well because we lived on the same street in New Farm, an inner-city suburb of Brisbane – population 12,500 – which, up until recently, I’d understood as one of the city’s most socially progressive neighbourhoods. Yet there they were, two words utterly incongruous with social progression painted onto the brickwork of the ‘Bowen Gardens’ apartment complex, 484 Bowen Terrace, right beside the eight mailboxes that its residents check daily.

    When I first saw the words on 2 August 2012, I stopped and pondered the paint. It was unsettling to see it displayed so prominently, on a highly-trafficked road that runs parallel to Brunswick Street, the suburb’s main thoroughfare. I was compelled enough to take a photo on my phone. This wasn’t right.

    As a fan and student of hip-hop, I’m familiar with – and fond of – both words being used in abundance. Expressed in these terms, though – one word followed by the other, in isolation – I encountered a feeling of deep discomfort. Of shame.

    After I took the photo, I walked home and told myself that someone else would deal with this problem. I thought about the broken windows theory, which posits that the best way to deal with vandalism and anti-social behaviour is to fix problems when they’re small, lest those small problems become large. Surely, the residents of Bowen Gardens would band together and paint over the graffiti, or at least cover it up. Surely they were embarrassed to see those words every day.

    It’s impossible to know whether the words were written with hate in mind, or whether the graffitist was being playful, or ironic. In the absence of context, the imagination of the passerby fills in the blanks. I chose not to see a playful joke. I saw no irony. I saw a statement which jarred with my reality of life in New Farm, Brisbane, circa 2012.

    The phrase “FUCK NIGGERS” doesn’t belong anywhere in my life, hip-hop appreciation aside. I don’t want to read those words as I walk down my street. From the moment I first saw the graffiti, I was disgusted. Yet the longer the graffiti lived on, the more it consumed my thoughts; the more it became a part of my life.

    Weeks passed. I walked by the words several times each week; to and from the local basketball court, to and from the supermarket. Each time my eyes passed across the text, I asked myself why nothing had been done.

    My thoughts turned to buying a can of spraypaint and modifying it myself; perhaps by replacing the second word with “BIGOTS”. I questioned what the ongoing display of these words said about New Farm, about the residents of Bowen Terrace.

    I questioned what the words said about me, for I was similarly to blame for this ongoing broadcast. I’d done as much as anyone else: namely, nothing. Since my inaction had formed a kind of tacit acceptance – I’d acknowledged to myself that the graffiti existed, yet I chose not to intervene – I wondered what the graffiti said about my own cowardice.

    I thought about the nature of offence, which cut to the heart of why the graffiti unsettled me so: in base terms, it offended me. I found the tag offensive because I read it as a targeted, malicious comment toward a group of humans. I did not sympathise with the sentiment of the comment – “FUCK NIGGERS” – and so I was offended. Again and again.

    One afternoon, it all became too much. While practicing basketball at the local court, after walking by the text for perhaps the thirtieth time, I drafted a letter in my head to the residents of Bowen Gardens. It read:

    “Greetings! I am a journalist who lives further up Bowen Terrace. I’m writing to enquire about the graffiti that’s been spraypainted onto the front of Bowen Gardens. You may have seen it. You might even have glanced at it today before opening your mailbox to find this note. I would like to ask you a few questions about this graffiti, at your earliest convenience. Please call, message or email me using the details below. ”

    I printed and signed eight copies of this note – seven for the residents, one for the body corporate – and pushed them through each letterbox at 3pm on Wednesday, 19 September.

    I didn’t expect a reply from any of the residents, as I had effectively drawn attention to their tacit acceptance of the statement. This would undoubtedly cause embarrassment to all who read the note, as it reminded the reader that other locals, too, had eyes and were unimpressed with the graffiti: its content, its permanence, their inaction.

    I did, however, expect that the words would be removed by the body corporate, or at least covered up, soon after I’d mailed those eight notes.

    I was wrong.

    ++

    On the morning of Wednesday, October 3, an acting detective sergeant with the Queensland Police Service (QPS) knocks on my front door. He’s here because I’d emailed a request to the executive director of QPS media and public affairs the previous morning, stating that I was writing about this particular piece of graffiti. In the email, I wondered if I could show it to a police officer and interview them before the Bowen Gardens brickwork.

    My request was passed through a few hands until it landed with the detective sergeant, who works with the Brisbane City Council’s cutely-acronymed Taskforce Against Graffiti. Over the phone that afternoon, he had asked me whether the graffiti was painted on public or private property. I told him that I wasn’t sure; the brickwork is part of a private dwelling, but it extends onto the footpath and is displayed prominently.

    The last question he asked me was, “Do you find it offensive?”
    “Yes,” I replied.

    While the detective sergeant and I walk down Bowen Terrace together – he isn’t authorised to give media interviews, so I won’t identify him – I think about how bizarre it is that this seemingly simple concern has now drawn the attention of a high-ranking police officer.

    This is a privilege afforded to me as a journalist, of course: any request from the news media is dealt with seriously, lest an error, inaction or omission land QPS in hot water. We arrive at the graffiti, which has now stood loud and proud before Bowen Gardens for over two months, broadcasting its residents’ apparent bigotry to all and sundry.

    If the detective sergeant is shocked by the words, he doesn’t show it. I tell him about the note I wrote to the seven residents and their body corporate two weeks ago, inviting their comment on the graffiti. I tell him that I haven’t heard back from anyone. He writes “FUCK NIGGERS” in his notebook, in quotation marks.

    “I don’t like it, either,” he says. He explains that the brickwork is indeed private property; the Brisbane City Council is responsible for the footpath, but not the brick structure itself. He tells me he’ll knock on some doors in an effort to contact the body corporate. The detective sergeant hands me his card, shakes my hand, and we part ways.

    All of a sudden, while walking back up the hill, I feel foolish. I had approached this as a concerned New Farm resident first, journalist second, yet by escalating this concern to the Queensland Police Service I’ve leapfrogged the ordinary council graffiti-removal process available to New Farm residents: namely, to fill out an online complaint form and wait for a response. Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.

    The detective sergeant calls me soon after, saying that he’d spoken to a female resident of Bowen Gardens. She said that the residents had asked body corporate for some chemicals to remove the graffiti. Their attempts to do so had evidently failed. He tells me that he’ll put a removal request through to the council, and that it’ll be gone within 24 hours. We thank each other, and say our goodbyes once again. And that, it seemed, was the end of that.

    ++

    Not quite. Sadly, it took another fifteen days for the tag to be removed. I followed up with the detective sergeant via email on October 10, one week after we’d met and inspected the graffiti together. “From memory, you told me last Wednesday, 3 October, that the incident had been reported and that the graffiti would be removed within 24 hours,” I wrote. “Is this correct, or did I mishear? As of 12pm today, the graffiti is still there.”

    I got a reply on October 15, five days later. “I was informed that the Graffiti is usually removed within 24 hrs of reporting if the material is deemed to be offensive which of course it was!” he wrote. “I will take up with the Brisbane City Council and see where they are with this job that was logged that very day that I spoke to you!”

    I offered for the detective sergeant to put me directly in touch with the council graffiti removal team. He wrote back: “I will get a response Andrew and let you know as I was of the opinion that it should have been done!”

    Three days later, just after midday on Thursday, October 18, another email from the detective sergeant arrived. “Good afternoon Andrew, I have been informed that the Brisbane City Council removed that graffiti this morning and the wall is now clean. Thankyou for bringing it to the attention of Police and the Council.”

    I walked down the street to fact-check. He was right.

    I’m glad that the graffiti is gone, but my eyes will be drawn back to that spot on the brickwork as long as I live on Bowen Terrace. Every time I pass by Bowen Gardens, I’ll think about those two words and their 80-odd days of existence. I’ll wonder how long they would’ve stayed there if I hadn’t intervened. (Or if I hadn’t followed up with the detective after our meeting, even.)

    I’ll look at the bricks and I’ll wonder why I didn’t act earlier. I’ll wonder why no-one else made a complaint. And I’ll vow to never again let my inaction bleed into tacit acceptance of a malicious, hateful statement made public, writ large, in my own neighbourhood.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) is a Brisbane-based 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.

  • The Vine: Top Things of 2010 – TheVine Critics Poll, December 2010

    A list of my ten favourite music-related things of 2010, for The Vine.

    Andrew McMillen: The 7 Best Songs and 3 Best Gigs of 2010

    Songs:

    Big Boi – ‘Shutterbugg’ (feat. Cutty)
    Precis: Impossibly addictive; the single standout track from an album full of ‘em.

    From the album Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, reviewed in July for The Vine: “Built around a compact backbeat and unique usage of the talkbox, Boi’s chorus hook in ‘Shutterbugg’ – “Now party people in the club, it’s time to cut a rug / And throw your deuce up in the sky just for the shutterbuggs” – is irresistible. It’s one of the best singles of the 2010, regardless of genre.” (Link)

    Crystal Castles – ‘Baptism’
    Precis: A gripping vision of an electronic apocalypse.

    From the album Crystal Castles II, reviewed in May for The Vine: “‘Baptism’ is the best thing they’ve ever written, surpassing Crystal Castles I standout ‘Air Wars’ by a considerable margin. On ‘Baptism’, they do everything right. Sheets of urgent synthesisers give way to a dainty, circular keyboard melody pasted over a pulsating beat, before Alice Glass’s pained vocals are met by the synthesised opening phrase cut into staccato triplets. ‘Baptism’ concocts an air of foreboding unlike anything they’ve summoned before.” (Link)

    Foals – ‘Spanish Sahara’
    Precis: Slow-burning pop songwriting perfection.

    From the album Total Life Forever, reviewed in May for The Vine: “‘Spanish Sahara’ sits in the album’s centre; in turn, it forms the beating heart of Foals’ revised artistic direction. In stark contrast to their previously-accessible singles, the epic song’s payoff occurs over halfway into its seven-minutes. Singer Yannis Philippakis urges listeners – and himself, perhaps – to “Forget the horror here / Leave it all down, here / It’s future rust, and then it’s future dust”, as the song slowly builds upon a sparse introduction to climax amid an ethereal lead guitar melody, thundering tom rolls and, ultimately, a somber, circular synth pattern. As an artistic statement, ‘Spanish Sahara’ is peerless among indie pop circa 2010. (Link)

    Surf City – ‘Icy Lakes’
    Precis: The definitive noise pop track of 2010.

    (Listen)

    From the album Kudos, reviewed in November for Mess+Noise: “It’s a saccharine rave so wide-eyed and beautiful that you wish it to never end. While the rhythm section stays pinned to a groove, the guitarists shear off great chunks of the surrounding landscape with abrasive, Jesus & Mary Chain-like chords. Needling lead phrases punctuate each section, while the singer says “When your icy lakes swallow me” in the chorus over and over (or so I imagine; it’s pretty hard to tell through all the reverb). The result is a song more deserving of that idiotically-overused descriptor “widescreen” than any song that came before it. The best part is that the band is acutely aware of the rare musical alchemy they’ve tapped into, and opt to extend the jam to nearly eight gorgeous minutes.” (Link)

    My Disco – ‘A Turreted Berg’
    Precis: Musically ominous; lyrically, even darker.

    (Listen on TheVine)

    From the album Little Joy, reviewed in November for Rolling Stone: “Album closer ‘A Turreted Berg’  – characterised by a subterranean bass hum, a simple backbeat and screaming guitar squalls – is the single best song they’ve released. ” (Link)

    Die! Die! Die! – ‘Frame’
    Precis: Frantic, emotive, timeless.

    From the album Form, reviewed in August for The Vine: “Closing track ‘Frame’ proves the singular highlight. It might be the most satisfying, most perfect song that Die! Die! Die! have ever released. Its sparse verses shiver in anticipation of the release offered by the towering chorus (“Give up the ghost, you can’t escape / We’re too close; I am here now”). ‘Frame’ is a masterpiece in three-point-five minutes.” (Link)

    Tokyo Police Club – ‘Bambi’
    Precis: Clipped electronica and sharp drums, intercut with a killer pop chorus.

    If you asked me to pick a song released in 2010 that best evokes ‘joy’, this would be my first choice. It remains as exciting in December as when I first heard it in August. You should play it five times in a row, at least.

    Gigs:

    Metallica – Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Saturday 16 October (review)

    “For the first hour, it’s exciting enough just to be in the same room as Metallica. Metal bands don’t come bigger than these four men, and since it’s been six years between visits, there’s electricity in the air. From the moment the lights dim and their introduction music – ‘The Ecstasy Of Gold’, the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – plays, we’re transported. We forget we’re in a big, shitty shed 20 clicks from the city centre. This show is about spectacle, and nothing’s done by half. It’s something special to witness a band who still sound fresh in a stadium despite having been in the game for nearly 30 years, and having punched in this weight division for more than half of that. This is their norm. By their standards, playing to 13,000-odd fans probably qualifies as an intimate show.

    As they rip through the climactic vocal section of ‘One’ with blistering intensity (“Landmine! Has taken my sight! Taken my speech! Taken my hearing!”), I realise what a rare talent they have, to make some these tired-ass songs sound fresh. And then they follow up ‘One’ with ‘Master Of Puppets’, one of the greatest metal songs ever. There’s no-one not grinning, headbanging or fist-pumping. For some artists, reminiscence is a dirty word. Not so for Metallica, who dip deep into their back catalogue tonight, all the way back to their 1983 debut Kill ‘Em All. The house lights are requested for their finale, ‘Seek & Destroy’, during which dozens of Metallica-branded beach balls are dropped from the ceiling and punted around by both band and fans, and by this point, I can’t stop grinning. I’m not alone.”

    Massive Attack
    – Brisbane Riverstage, Tuesday 23 March (review)

    “They wield a back catalogue that makes lesser artists tremble, and they’re not afraid to use it. British trip-hop production duo Massive Attack close out their first Australian tour since 2003 with a commanding performance at the Brisbane Riverstage that delivers on all fronts: sonically, visually, and emotionally. Speaking to The Vine (link) on the eve of their Perth show nearly two weeks ago, Grant Marshall – a.k.a. Daddy G, who forms half of the core duo alongside Robert del Naja (3D) – spoke of how he’s learned that “you’ve got to give people something that’s quite memorable”. Check that box. Take a song like ‘Teardrop’. It’s that rare kind of musical composition whose impact is felt across generations, gender and race. Tonight, it’s performed by longtime Massive Attack collaborator Martina Topley-Bird, whose talented, vocal loop-heavy support slot proved a fascinating precursor to the main act. Their most distinguished tune has been reworked into an arrangement comprising little more than a backbeat and her beautiful voice that sings of love, loss and hope. It’s a touching moment for the thousands stood in silence, and as the song climaxes, I decide that it reaches a summit of human expression through music that few others can lay claim to.”

    Faith No More
    – Soundwave Festival @ RNA Showgrounds Brisbane, Saturday 20 February (review)

    “Immaculately dressed in pale suits, Faith No More immediately establish rapport with the tens of thousands who crowd the main showground bowl to witness the reunited headliners after their 12 year absence. Opening with a full-band lounge version of ‘Reunited’ by vocal duo Peaches & Herb, it’s made immediately clear that their ‘Second Coming’ tour is no half-baked cash-grab; instead, the band are serious about doing justice to what was left behind in 1998. Serious, that is, while maintaining the playful, casual air for which they became known. (During set closer ‘Just A Man’, Mike Patton hijacks a video camera and – mid-song, without dropping a note – forces the operator to film his cock, which briefly appears on the giant screens that flank the main stages – video of the incident.) Any doubts about their reformation were squashed the moment the suits walked onstage.”

    To see the rest of the critics’ choices, visit The Vine.

    Elsewhere: my 10 favourite Australian albums and five favourite Australian songs of 2010, for Mess+Noise.

  • Mess+Noise album review: Surf City – ‘Kudos’, October 2010

    An album review for Mess+Noise. Excerpt below.

    Surf CityKudos

    Kudos is an anachronism. It simply shouldn’t be. It is the antithesis to modern music. While every other band is doing their best to sound like the future, New Zealanders Surf City are stuck in the past. There’s nothing futuristic about it, and yet, like a Magic Eye image, if you stare into their gaping sonic void for long enough, a conclusion reveals itself. Suddenly, it all makes sense: Surf City sound so fresh because they’re not trying to sound fresh.

    From the moment the first glassy guitar notes of ‘Crazy Rulers Of The World’ stream from the speakers, it’s clear that the six years the band have spent working toward their debut were worth it. In fact, just why Kudos succeeds so resolutely could be put down to the band’s patience. Their self-titled EP wasn’t released until 2008; likewise, nothing about Kudos feels rushed. Again, Surf City is antithetical to modern music, and the forever fast-forwarded release cycle perpetuated by tech-savvy musicians. Their social networking sites are neglected. Too busy making amazing music, I guess.

    Full review on Mess+Noise. More Surf City on MySpace.

    I wish I could embed a video or something to show you just how amazing this band is, but there’s fuck-all info about them online. You can stream the album’s best track, ‘Icy Lakes’, via Polaroids Of Androids, however. Do it.