All posts tagged the weekend australian review

  • The Weekend Australian Review story: ‘The Hardest Hit: Bliss N Eso and Johann Ofner’, May 2017

    A feature story for The Weekend Australian Review, published in the May 13 issue. Excerpt below.

    The Hardest Hit

    Since a tragic incident during the filming of a music video, hip-hop trio Bliss N Eso has changed its outlook on life and music

    'The Hardest Hit: Bliss N Eso and Johann Ofner' story in The Weekend Australian Review by Andrew McMillen, May 2017

    On Monday, January 22, a 28-year-old man named Johann Ofner left his home on the Gold Coast to go to work in Brisbane. Muscled, tattooed and quick to laugh, Ofner was thrilled by the role he had landed as a stuntman in a music video for an upcoming single by Sydney-based hip-hop trio Bliss n Eso. He called his friend and business partner as soon as he was picked for the part, and learned that his hulking presence was required for a scene ­involving a poker game that is disrupted by armed robbers.

    Ofner’s life was large and full, with key scenes, achievements and affirmations posted to his Instagram profile, where he had 19,000 followers. Many people knew him as Yogi, a nickname that had stuck with him since high school. An actor, athlete, stuntman and co-owner of a fitness training and lifestyle clothing business named AMPM, Ofner had recently recorded an appearance on the Nine Network television program Australian Ninja Warrior. It had not yet been broadcast, but he quietly hoped it might serve as the key to unlocking another level of his flourishing career in front of the camera. Ofner’s seven-year-old daughter, Kyarna, was an extrovert keen to follow in his athletic footsteps, as her own Instagram profile — set up by her dad — showed.

    The music video appearance was for a song titled ‘Friend Like You’, the second single from Bliss n Eso’s sixth album Off the Grid, which this week went to No 1 on the ARIA charts. Built on a message about being able to rely on the support of your loved ones during tough times, and a powerful vocal hook by American soul singer Lee Fields — “Is there anybody out there feeling like I do?” — its optimistic motif was in ­harmony with the trio’s overarching lyrical themes. Such positivity has long since struck a chord with Australian audiences: Bliss n Eso’s previous two albums both debuted atop the ARIA album charts in 2010 and 2013, and both achieved platinum certification of more than 70,000 sales. The group’s last major national tour was seen by more than 55,000 fans across the country.

    After a week-long production, the video’s final scenes were being filmed downstairs in a Brisbane city bar called Brooklyn Standard. From the closed set, Ofner posted media on his Instagram of the weapons that were being used in the poker robbery scene. “Our Asian gangster props today!” he wrote alongside a video of the firearms in their packing case.

    During the afternoon, however, troubling reports emerged. Later, detective inspector Tom Armitt addressed media gathered near the bar and announced that a man had died as a result of wounds to his chest. Soon his identity would be confirmed as a 28-year-old stuntman who lived on the Gold Coast. Johann Ofner would not be coming home from work.

    To read the full story, visit The Australian.

  • The Weekend Australian Review story: ‘Dazzling Dress-Up: Icelandic artist Shoplifter’, November 2016

    A feature story for The Weekend Australian Review, published in the November 26 issue. Excerpt below.

    Dazzling Dress-Up

    The 10th anniversary exhibition at Brisbane’s GOMA is enveloped in a remarkably bright installation by Shoplifter

    The Weekend Australian Review story: 'Dazzling Dress-Up: Icelandic artist Shoplifter at GOMA Brisbane' by Andrew McMillen, November 2016. Photo by Glenn Hunt
    Affixed to the glass above the entrance to Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art is a large decal depicting a curious meeting of blue and orange. At first glance, the nature of the bright substance in the image is unclear: is it smoke, paint, fairy floss, or something even weirder? Positioned in the centre of this combination are some words –”GOMA Turns 10″ –and on walking through the doors, another great bloom of colour reveals itself, positioned high up on the right wall, as if a psychedelic shagpile carpet has been transposed to the vertical plane.

    It’s only upon journeying further into the building –past the fences that surround a towering, under-construction slippery slide –and turning right into the Long Gallery, however, that the mystery substance suddenly makes sense: it’s hair, and there’s a bloody lot of it. Stepping closer to take it all in, the first comparison to spring to mind is that a sizeable chunk of the Great Barrier Reef’s most spectacular section of coral has somehow been transplanted here. Two white walls are connected by a furry overpass that tickles the top of your head as you walk beneath it, and in between the neutral surfaces is an ocean of bright purples, pinks, blues, greens and yellows.

    Named Nervescape V, this immense installation has clearly been designed as interactive art, as the urge to touch the extraordinary arrangement of synthetic hair will be practically irresistible for any attendee, no matter their age. Its prominent position in the downstairs gallery reflects its role as a key attraction of Sugar Spin: You, Me, Art and Everything, an exhibition curated by GOMA’s manager of international art Geraldine Barlow. Next month the gallery celebrates its 10th anniversary, and Barlow has been digging through storerooms to rediscover some of GOMA’s greatest hits since its opening: hence the enclosed, multistorey slide, otherwise known as Left/Right Slide by Belgian artist Carsten Holler, which first appeared in 2010.

    In a decade of showcasing conversation-starters and eye-poppers while becoming the nation’s most-visited art complex –together, the Queensland Art Gallery and GOMA attracted 1.8 million visitors in 2010 –the gallery has never seen anything quite like this. Casting her eyes across the phenomenal field of colour that envelops the space and extends high up the wall, Barlow compares it with “giving the building a bit of a hairdo”, and it’s hard to disagree. There’s nothing subtle about this piece, and that too is by design.

    Nervescape is like a model for the whole exhibit,” she says of Sugar Spin. “There’s a vast collection here: I’ve plucked out popular favourites, but it’s important for me to use those in a storytelling mode that’s not entirely didactic, but which sets up a rich ground that sparks off peoples’ own natural sympathies, interests and curiosities.”

    Barlow is also hopeful that the sights and sensations encountered in these spaces will stick in the minds of visitors long after they have left. “Queensland has its theme parks, and people look to them for a certain kind of pleasure and joy of taking them out of their daily realities,” she says. At GOMA, “we need to do that differently, but still understand that people want a sense of delight and wonder, and a place that gives them an energy back — it doesn’t just require them to read a long, serious text [beside an artwork] to know what’s going on.”

    It is early November when Review visits GOMA for a preview of Nervescape V, whose installation was completed the day before with the aid of two scissor lifts and a dedicated team of assistants. The visual artist behind the work is Hrafnhildur Arnardottir, though given how tongue-twistingly alien her Icelandic birth name appears to the average English speaker, she is happy to be addressed by the nickname Shoplifter — or Shoppy for short, which perfectly suits the Australian preference for proper noun truncation.

    To read the full story, visit The Australian. Above photo credit: Glenn Hunt.

  • The Weekend Australian Review story: ‘In From The Cold: Vivica Genaux’, April 2016

    A story for The Weekend Australian Review, which appeared on the cover of the April 2-3 issue. Excerpt below.

    In From The Cold

    Vivica Genaux: from an Alaskan log cabin to the world stage

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    The Weekend Australian Review cover story: 'In From The Cold: Vivica Genaux' by Andrew McMillen, April 2016For a girl raised in Alaska, traditional gender stereotypes tended to be trumped by practicality. Jewellery, make-up and flashy clothing are much less important than staying warm or, say, learning how to quickly change a car tyre during a nine-month winter. It’s a harsh environment that demands self-reliance and resilience from its inhabitants. So it was for Vivica Genaux, one of the world’s leading mezzosopranos, who spent her first 17 years living in a log cabin in a valley outside the town of Fairbanks.

    Today home to a metro population of 97,000, Fairbanks is commonly known as America’s coldest city, where temperatures sometimes drop below minus 50C. “Growing up in Alaska, you had to be useful and functional, more than masculine or feminine,” she says. “You had to be strong and capable of confronting difficult environmental situations.” Old habits die hard: despite a successful and acclaimed career in the performing arts, Genaux still prides herself on an ability to solve problems and fix things — “Duct tape is a big thing in Alaska!” — and carrying a Swiss Army knife everywhere, just in case. Except when carrying luggage on to an aircraft, of course.

    Her home-town climate meant the young girl had to become comfortable with spending most of her time indoors, encased within the warmth of four walls. Genaux was drawn to artistic expression from a young age: she experimented with dance, pottery, stained glass-making, ballet, orchestra and jazz choir. Big band practice was scheduled before school. While some of her friends missed class for days on end due to being snowed in, Genaux’s mother taught high-school English and foreign languages, so absenteeism was never an option. “My mum had to be at school at 7am anyway, so I might as well do something,” she recalls with a laugh. “I’d get up at six o’clock, and there was Orion — which has always been my favourite constellation — smack-dab in front of me as I walked out into the 40-below.”

    One art form that didn’t take with the young performer was opera. She was no stranger to classical music; she played violin for nine years in the school orchestra, and her father — a biochemistry professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks — would listen to symphonies as he graded papers. Opera was where she drew the line, though: Genaux’s vacuuming duties not-so-coincidentally overlapped with her mother tuning into Met Opera broadcasts. “I hated it!” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t know anything about opera. I always completely avoided it when I was growing up. But when I started singing, I learned that it was so much fun as a form of expression. I just loved it. There was an opportunity for expressing anything, and as a nervous, timid, shy girl, I found that I could really get my guts into it.”

    Call it fate or fortune but the music worked its way into Genaux’s heart, and this happy pairing has been humanity’s gain. She studied at Indiana University, where she received a bachelors degree in vocal performance, before spending five summers in Italy with the Ezio Pinza Council for American Singers of Opera. Her career as a recording and performing artist began at age 24, and more than two decades later, this voice from the cold has built an extraordinary repertoire of baroque and bel canto music. She has inspired words such as these from The New York Times in 2006: “Her voice is as striking as her looks: less striking, even, for the light, free upper notes or rich chocolatey lower ones than for the runs of coloratura that she releases with jackhammer speed, gunfire precision and the limpid continuity of spring raindrops.”

    To read the full story, visit The Australian.

  • The Weekend Australian Review story: ‘Artistic Insight: Stephen Nothling’, October 2015

    A story for the October 24 issue of The Weekend Australian Review. Excerpt below.

    Artistic Insight 

    A visually impaired Brisbane painter turns ordinary street scenes into extraordinary works of art.

    'Artistic Insight: Stephen Nothling' by Andrew McMillen in The Weekend Australian Review, October 2015. Photo by Glenn Hunt

    The house on the corner of Louisa Street is designed to catch the eye. It is painted pink, with purple gutters, for the simple reason that he always wanted to live in a pink house, though shocking the neighbours was a pleasant side effect, too. Though largely hidden by greenery, his friends like to refer to it as “the jewel of Highgate Hill”. He walks out the front gate, pausing to shut it so that his two small dogs are confined to roaming the yard and barking at passers-by. Held in his left hand is a white cylinder that he periodically consults while climbing the footpath as it rises to a crest, revealing the skyscrapers and construction cranes of Brisbane in the distance. Since buying the house on the corner in 2001, walking this route has been an entrenched part of Stephen Nothling’s daily routine. Now, this route has become art.

    When unfurled, the cylinder becomes a long sheet of paper that details the gallery layout of the artworks that comprise his upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane. The star of the show is this unremarkable street in the city’s inner-south. On a map, Louisa Street lies at the edge of two suburbs, which is why Nothling has chosen to name it The Last Street in Highgate Hill. The museum exists to capture the people, places and stories of its inhabitants, and when director Peter Denham approached Nothling to present an idea for its ongoing Document series, the artist replied that what he’d really like to do is head out the front gate and paint the street he walks up and down every day.

    Nothling, 53, carves a striking figure as he strides up a street he knows better than anyone on the planet. Tall, blond and pale, a white shirt hangs loosely from his thin frame atop blue jeans and scruffy black shoes. Between June 2014 and June 2015, Nothling worked most days on this collection of paintings, which depict the beautiful minutiae of Queensland urban life. With a camera, he captured every house on the street, then used those images as reference points to work from, occasionally dashing back out to inspect smaller details — such as particular colours and materials — from up close, with his own eyes.

    His work reveals a forensic attention to detail, a point influenced by the fact Nothling’s eyes are different than most. He was born with oculocutaneous albinism, a genetically inherited condition that affects around one in 20,000 people worldwide. The vision in his right eye operates at about 10 per cent functionality, thanks to a cataract and deformed nerve endings at the back of the lens, while missing parts of the cellular structure in his left eye means he has a significant blind spot, which he describes as a “black hole of nothingness”. His visual impairment resulted in social isolation while growing up in the seaside Queensland city of Redcliffe; as a child, he was never picked for team sports. “When you can’t be a player, you become introspective,” he says.

    He also wore thick, Coke-bottle glasses in an attempt to correct his vision. It didn’t work. An eye specialist once told him that if he truly knew how other people see the world, he’d be crushed by depression. It is ironic, then, that for three decades Nothling has built a career out of looking at things and painting what he sees.

    To read the full story, visit The Australian. Above photo credit: Glenn Hunt.

  • The Weekend Australian Review story: ‘Clarke & Dawe: In The Line of Satire’, February 2015

    A feature story for The Weekend Australian Review that appeared on the cover of the February 14 2015 issue. An excerpt appears below.

    Clarke & Dawe: In The Line of Satire

    Andrew McMillen delves into Clarke & Dawe, the sharpest two-and-a-half minutes on television.

    The Weekend Australian Review story: 'Clarke & Dawe: In The Line of Satire' by Andrew McMillen, February 2015. Photo credit: Luis Enrique Ascui

    On a Wednesday morning in mid-November, a man picks up that day’s edition of The Age from a neighbouring table in a cafe in Melbourne’s Fitzroy. He skims the headlines and sips a flat white between turning the pages. What is he looking for? “Something I haven’t seen before,” he says. The 66-year-old is a picture of unhurried composure. To outward appearances, he’s an inner-city retiree happily fulfilling a daily routine of caffeine consumed alongside current affairs. On closer examination, however, this man is engaged in the serious, difficult business of turning news into satire, so that his work may make us laugh while also making us think.

    When a girl of about three pauses by his table after spilling sultanas on the floor, John Clarke looks up and greets her with a sonorous hello. The young girl is momentarily entranced by one of the most familiar faces on Australian television. She clocks his bald dome, the unkempt patch of white hair that circles behind his ears, the slight smile and the handsome black overcoat with matching slacks topped by a black bowler hat. Most of all, though, she’s drawn in by a pair of bright blue eyes that sparkle with a tangible sense of knowingness, as if their owner lives in a state of perpetual amusement at life itself.

    His task today is much the same as it has been for the past 25 years. Once a week, he writes and records a short television program that distils newsworthy issues into a satirical dialogue between two men: Bryan Dawe and himself. On camera, Clarke adopts the guise of a public figure in name alone. Dawe queries his guest in the public interest, while Clarke’s character — anyone from the prime minister or a premier, down to a lowly economic consultant — alternately answers and evades questions. The resulting two-and-a-half minute program, Clarke & Dawe, airs nationally at 6.57pm every Thursday, immediately before the ABC’s nightly news bulletin. More often than not, it is the among the week’s sharpest commentary on up-to-the-minute matters relating to Australian politics and public life.

    The Weekend Australian Review story: 'Clarke & Dawe: In The Line of Satire' by Andrew McMillen, February 2015Pages of The Age keep turning while mid-morning traffic streams by on Gertrude Street. On today’s agenda are several competing topics, which Clarke discusses casually while continuing to take in the newsprint. Throughout the week, he says, “I take notes subconsciously, but I don’t have a piece of paper.” This is how his writing days always begin: with a blank page, as it were, but not with a blank mind. “There’s been quite a lot of that in the media [with regard to the G20]. There are some very big things being discussed. That huge China trade deal, that was a nine-year job. The complexities in that must be colossal, and it’s a bit ridiculous to have it discussed at the level of ‘my dad’s bigger than your dad’.”

    With this, Clarke smiles wryly, as he so often does when he knows he has delivered a funny line. “So there’s that,” he continues. “Domestic politics hasn’t much changed lately because they’ve still not got the budget through, and aspects of that have come apart in their hands a little bit. And then the global economy is always quite interesting, because when I was a kid you could not spend more than you had. Now you can spend whatever you like. Governments have started doing that in order to create what they call growth, which has not been an unalloyed success in parts of Europe” — the corners of his mouth curl upward — “because growth can just as easily go backwards as forwards.”

    To read the full story, visit The Australian.

  • ‘Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs’ extracts and book launch, August 2014

    My first book, Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs, was published by University of Queensland Press in July 2014. Here’s the synopsis:

    'Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs' by Andrew McMillen – book coverOf all the creative industries, the most distinct link between drug use and creativity lies within music. The two elements seem to be intertwined, inseparable; that mythical phrase “sex, drugs and rock and roll” has been bandied about with a wink and a grin for decades. But is it all smoke and mirrors, or does that cliché ring true for some of our best-known performers?

    In this fascinating book, journalist Andrew McMillen talks with Australian musicians about their thoughts on – and experiences with – illicit, prescription and legal drugs. Through a series of in-depth and intimate interviews, he tells the stories of those who have bitten into the forbidden fruit and avoided choking.

    This isn’t to say that stories of ruin and redemption are avoided – they’re not. These celebrated performers have walked the straight-and-narrow path of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and prescription medication, as well as the supposedly dark-and-crooked road of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and methamphetamine.

    By having conversations about something that’s rarely discussed in public, and much less often dealt with honestly, McMillen explores the truths and realities of a contentious topic that isn’t going away.

    Talking Smack is a timely, thought-provoking must-read that takes you inside the highs and lows of some of our most successful and creative musicians, including Paul Kelly, Tina Arena, Gotye, Steve Kilbey (The Church), Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon) and Holly Throsby.

    I worked on the book throughout 2013, between freelance assignments. Seeing it through – from my initial conversation with the publisher in September 2012 to holding the printed product of around 70,000 words in my hands – was the single most satisfying process of my life and career. It took nearly two years and I loved every minute. Writing a book is a great thrill and privilege, and I have every intention of repeating the process again – as soon as the next idea strikes me, that is.

    Talking Smack is available in paperback (RRP $29.95) at bookstores throughout Australia, and as an ebook throughout the world. For more on the book, including where to buy it online, visit its standalone website at talkingsmack.com.au. The book’s trailer, created by Brisbane studio IV Motion, is embedded below.

    Three of the book’s 14 chapters were published as extracts in Australian media outlets, beginning with an edited version of the chapter featuring Steve Kilbey, which was published in The Weekend Australian Review on July 26, 2014:

    The Dark Side: The Church frontman Steve Kilbey reveals his battle with heroin

    At the age of 37, Steve Kilbey found himself at a crossroads. He’d become a pop star fronting the Church, a band whose song Under the Milky Way, the lead single from their fifth album, Starfish, became a worldwide hit in 1988. He’d made quite a lot of money: he had a house and a recording studio in Sydney, a couple of cars, a load of instruments and some cash to spare. He wasn’t filthy rich, but he was certainly very comfortable.

    By this point, Kilbey considered himself a worldly drug user: he had started smoking pot in his late teens, tried psychedelics soon after and bought his first gram of cocaine after making his first record, Of Skins and Heart, in 1980. Eleven years later, he was recording for a new project named Jack Frost with his friend Grant McLennan, a fellow Australian pop star best known for his work with Brisbane act the Go-Betweens. One night, while out at a bar and feeling an empty sense of unhappiness at the life he’d earned, despite his success, Kilbey was taken aback by McLennan’s proposal: “Let’s get some heroin.”

    To read the edited book extract of my interview with Kilbey, visit The Australian. (Note: the full chapter is around 6,000 words; the Review extract is cut down to around 3,000 words.)

    The chapter featuring Mick Harvey was published on the blog of Brisbane author and journalist John Birmingham, Cheeseburger Gothic, on August 22 2014:

    Mick Harvey extract from Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs, by Andrew McMillen

    Amphetamine is best known as a drug of alertness: snort or shoot a line of speed and you’ll be awake far longer than the body can usually tolerate. The avoidance of sleep is one of its major benefits, especially for creative people who feel compelled to spend their time on this earth productively, rather than being laid out in bed for one-third of every day. But the drug can be used medicinally in this sense, too, especially if you’re in a band where others are burning the proverbial candle for days on end. As Mick Harvey found, using amphetamine was sometimes the only way to keep up with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the band that he co-founded and managed.

    In the mid-eighties, while based in Berlin, the guitarist would look around the studio and realise that his bandmates were invariably loaded on one substance or another. He’d partake in half a line of speed and stay up for two days. ‘I don’t know why they would keep going back and taking another line every two hours,’ he says. ‘There was no need whatsoever!’ Sometimes, the group would spill into a bar at seven in the morning and rage on. All of this was fun to Harvey, then in his mid-twenties, who thoroughly enjoyed being part of a band perceived then – and now – as one of Australia’s edgiest rock groups. Speed was incredibly useful on those occasions, but its medicinal purposes only stretched so far. ‘I certainly never had a desire to continue to take it every day, or to deliberately go and find some and party,’ he says. ‘I just didn’t really do that.’

    To read the full book extract of my interview with Harvey, visit Cheeseburger Gothic.

    The chapter featuring Bertie Blackman was published on TheVine.com.au on August 26 2014, following Jake Cleland’s in-depth interview with me:

    Gotye, Paul Kelly, Bertie Blackman and more talk drug use in Talking Smack

    Her first thought was that she was having a heart attack. One night, on tour on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in early 2009, the twenty-six-year-old had a sudden and terrible feeling: she couldn’t breathe. Severe chest pains were accompanied by shallow breaths. She was scared, and so were her bandmates. Next stop: the emergency department of Noosa Hospital. The diagnosis: inflamed cartilage rubbing against her ribcage. The cause: overexertion on and off stage; drinking too much alcohol too often, and feeling invincible as a result. Yet here was concrete proof that the young musician was doing serious damage to her health and that perhaps it might be a good idea to rethink things.

    Anyone who saw Beatrice ‘Bertie’ Blackman perform in the years leading up to that health scare would have found her to be one of Australia’s most arresting rock frontwomen. Night after night, she’d be slugging from a bottle of Jameson between singing into the microphone, thoroughly inhabiting the loose, hedonistic image that rock history has conditioned us to expect, if not demand. Blackman’s body became conditioned to the abuse: she could drink a bottle of whisky each night, then hop in the van the next morning, inured to the ill effects. And off to the next city she’d roll, to do it all over again.

    To read the full book extract of my interview with Blackman, visit TheVine.com.au.

    Talking Smack was launched in Brisbane on Thursday, 21 August 2014 at my local bookstore Avid Reader, in conversation with one of my favourite Australian writers, John Birmingham. Footage from the event is embedded below, or click here to view on YouTube.

    For more on Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs, including where to buy it online, visit its standalone website at talkingsmack.com.au.