All posts tagged thevine

  • ‘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.

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

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Soundwave Festival
    RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
    Saturday 22 February 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Laneway Festival 2014
    RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
    Friday 31 January 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Kingsmill remains unmoved throughout the performance, often deferring to the smartphone kept in his left jeans pocket. He remains still as a statue even when the crowd around him erupts for ‘Riptide’. Perhaps he, like I, finds nothing of value in their music. I wonder at that feeling, though, of being at the centre of a love-in for a performer and a song that, without triple j’s support, nobody would have heard. Without certain decisions being made by triple j staff, this crowd of thousands certainly wouldn’t be singing along to every word while waving a can of imported Mexican beer in the air.

    I can’t wrap my mind around this last point: the only mid-strength beer on sale is a brand I have never seen or even heard of before today. It’s called Alegria, it’s in a bright yellow can, and its contents are best summarised by a friendly guy I meet late in the day, “It tastes like 50% Corona, 50% Mount Franklin”. (He said this after drinking six of them and right before tipping half of number seven over his head without provocation). I respect the Laneway organisers for bucking the overwhelming festival trend of selling tinnies of Carlton Dry, but how they settled on this piss-poor home-brand swill as a replacement is beyond me. Must’ve gotten a sweet bulk deal from a likeable Mexican exporter.

    Matt: What the fuck is Vance Joy doing here? Not at this festival, but on this stage, at this time. I ask myself this despite actually enjoying the Melburnian’s set. It’s just that there’s really not much to it. Simply Vance out front singing sweetly while drums, keyboards and bass propel him along. Every song’s a winner — particularly ‘Red Eye’, ‘Perfect Teeth’ and a new cut called ‘All I Ever Wanted’ — but every song also goes on for too long. Vance is fine, the band is fine, it’s all just fine. There’s no intimacy and no electricity, and you soon start wishing you were in a club at 10pm rather than on a massive apron of bitumen. It’s a pleasant way to start the festival, I guess, but this just doesn’t seem the setting for Vance.

    My mind wandering, I turn around towards the sound booth and catch a glimpse of what I think is Richard Kingsmill and behind him a blue t-shirt. Quality stalking, A-Mac, you fuck.

    We stay for the Hottest 100-winning ‘Riptide’ — which at least partly answers the stage question — and it means we get to watch a healthy crowd lose its collective shit. But it also means we miss most of Daughter, which I feel is a mistake. When we get to the Carpark Stage, the London three-piece is blowing everyone away with a peerless take on ‘Winter’. Diminutive singer Elena Tonra’s lyrics can barely be discerned from the noise but it hardly matters: most interest can be found in the great washes of sound being swapped between guitarist Igor Haefeli and a touring multi-instrumentalist.

    We’re there long enough to witness cracking renditions of ‘Candles’, ‘Human’ and ‘Tomorrow’ – each an exercise in precise control over Daughter’s surging song craft — before Tonra icily coos her way through ‘Home’, the audience going apeshit. And then they’re done. Haefeli thanks the audience profusely and then Daughter disappear, leaving us feeling like dickheads for getting there so late.

    Andrew: Upstart American electronic producer XXYYXX plays an interesting set at the energy drink stage, though he tends to shy away from a consistent backbeat, leading to some equally interesting interpretive dances. A young girl is passed out on her side out on the edge of the room, not far from the speakers. A caring photographer stands guard while a security guard seeks medical attention and I look on, concerned. An idiot in a singlet runs up and takes a selfie in front of her prone frame, before returning with some mates for a group shot. Taking in this scene, it’s tough to imagine a better image of the selfishness and callous indifference for which my generation is supposedly renowned. Ten minutes later, she’s helped to her feet by a stranger; she runs unsteadily for a few metres before falling into the arms of two paramedics, who ask her name and lead her gently toward the exit.

    It’s not until I join the horde crowding the main stage at Alexandria Street for CHVRCHES that I realise how crap this space is to watch bands. It’s essentially a flat bit of bitumen flanked by two small grandstands; one side is slightly raised, thanks to some thoughtfully-placed woodchips, but when the area is busy – as it is from Vance at 3.45pm through to headliners The Jezabels – it has about as much ambience as the average suburban garage. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by recent experiences at natural and manmade amphitheatres at Falls Festival and the Big Day Out, respectively. All of this detracts from the otherwise serviceable set that CHVRCHES put in, though the thinness of their live sound – due in large part to the programmed drums, I think – reminds me of Sleigh Bells, another act with strong songs on record that fall flat before an audience. To their credit, ‘Lies’ is one of the best songs I hear all day, though.

    Matt: Pro tip: if you like CHVRCHES, maybe don’t see ‘em at a music festival. The Glasgow three-piece bring plenty of firepower to the Alexandria Street Stage, but much of the mystery that surrounds these electro-indie rockers is lost in an odd late-afternoon setup that has keyboardists Iain Cook and Martin Doherty on a couple of risers that flank an already tiny Lauren Mayberry. From this distance she looks like Chloë Moretz. It’s pretty hilarious. You couldn’t accuse these guys of not giving it 100 percent, but in this wide-open setting it feels like they’re shooting blanks. Still, songs such as ‘Lies’, ‘The Mother We Share’ and the Doherty-sung ‘Under the Tide’ have an impact — the latter providing a much-needed mid-set injection of energy. I was already lukewarm on CHVRCHES, and this set has done nothing to help my appreciation. Still, if it was more 11pm and less 5pm, my opinion would probably be different.

    Andrew: Kurt Vile at the Carpark Stage is nothing less than sensational: opening with the ten-minute title track from Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze, his winning album from last year, Vile and his three offsiders work through several of the best songs from that record, including its sleepy closer ‘Goldtone’. No pretension; just skilled musicianship and singular songwriting. Haim’s set at the main stage is similarly pleasing but for the overpowering slickness that permeates every second the three sisters – accompanied by two blokes up back, on drums and keys – spend going through the motions. Their act is so polished and compelling from the very first note that it takes several songs for my critical faculties to catch up. This is a very good trick, I think to myself. But try as I might, I can’t pick a fault: they’re great performers with an album’s worth of clever and interesting songs. ‘My Song 5’ is a wondrous thing, both live and on record; that lead guitar break is perfect. 20 minutes in, I text Mr Shea – who is closer to the stage – three words: “This is great!”

    Matt: There was a point in my Laneway preparations where I was considering skipping Haim. Now, I can safely say that would’ve been a cock move. The three sisters from Los Angeles, along with drummer Dash Hutton (and a touring muso), absolutely nail their twilight set on the Alexandria Street Stage, having a massive audience eating out of the palm of their collective hand. It’s hard not to when you line up a succession of pop hits as pristine ‘Forever’, ‘Don’t Save Me’, ‘Falling’ and ‘The Wire’.

    Of course, Haim’s shtick is super slick and there are times today when I wonder if I’d prefer to be watching them in a velvet-curtained club with some coked out Solid Gold Dancers as back-up. But every time things are in danger of getting a little too perfect Danielle shreds the shit out of her Gibson SG, or Alana jumps down into the snapper’s pit and high-fives the creepy dudes in the front row. The only misstep is Este talking about how she’s wants to hit the beach with some fans after the show. Don’t you have some ungodly redeye to catch in the morning, lady? These people might be high, but they’re not idiots. Regardless, it will be Haim tunes running through my head the day after the festival. Kudos, ladies.

    A generously sized German sausage later and it’s time to catch Lorde. I stand towards the back, telling myself that this is more social research than review, and Lorde pays me back with an appropriately studied performance. Seeing the 17-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor a week after she won a Grammy award has a slightly anti-climactic feel. Hers was the story of 2013, but it’s a story that suddenly feels like it has a full stop behind it.

    As it is, the performance is fine, but with band members Jimmy MacDonald and Ben Barter all but obscured by the lights and smoke, it’s totally down to Lorde. And while she sashays back and forth across the stage, flicking curls in all directions, it gets old quick. The songs are classy — ‘Glory and Gore’, ‘Tennis Court’ and ‘Ribs’ all standing out – but the minimalist music is ultimately there only to brace Yelich-O’Connor’s phenomenal pipes. In the darkness it’s all very ominous, but then you remember she’s just a teenager and it becomes both a bit more amazing on the one hand, and a bit more callow on the other. When ‘Royals’ arrives, it’s greeted with an air of inevitably that probably says a lot about why it was knocked off for the top spot in the Hottest 100.

    At this point, you wonder what’s in future for Yelich O’Connor. Surely a bigger, badder live show is top of the list.

    Andrew: Lorde has a lot of work to do up on the main stage: the songs from her debut record – the singles aside – lean heavily on introversion, both in music and lyrical themes. As a result, she struggles to connect with the crowd for at least half of her set, at least from where we’re standing on the mound of woodchips amid hundreds of talkers who seem only interested in the singles. They’re performed competently, without fanfare or adornment; a keyboardist and drummer are confined to the shadows, leaving the heavy lifting and body-jerking theatrics up to the star. It makes sense to me that experiences such as this, playing before crowds of thousands, will influence the scope of her future songwriting from small rooms and small thoughts to big, universal ideas. What I see tonight isn’t entirely convincing, but I’m interested in where Lorde goes from here.

    Matt: Now comes Laneway’s leap into the unknown. Instead of finishing the night with its biggest draw cards — Lorde or Haim — the festival locks down its outside areas and turns into a three-hour club party. And why not, when you have Danny Brown, Run the Jewels and Earl Sweatshirt in your arsenal; pound for pound, they’re arguably three of the biggest acts of the entire festival.

    If nothing else, it’s led to a noticeably different, more dudebro mix in the crowd, which comes to the fore as the clock strikes 9pm and Danny Brown erupts onto the Zoo Stage in a fit of demented testosterone.

    Seeing Brown perform since the release of Old, his schismed, highly personal third album, is an odd experience. Split, as it is, into a grim first side and a riotous second allows Brown to compartmentalise his personality, but you can no longer watch one of his infamously juiced up live shows without the ghost of his tortured self hanging about in the background. It leaves this performance feeling like a riotous, dark-edged party — one perhaps best consumed with a side order of drugs, but which makes a sober person feel a jittery, paranoid high anyway.

    As expected, Brown largely eschews the fist stanza of Old, reaching into the album’s molly-addled back stretch, as well as cuts from his 2011 sophomore release, XXX. People start frothing at the mouth. Dudes pound against each other. Girls get it on. It’s a heaving, sweating orgy, all conducted by an imp in a leather t-shirt. Brown barely breathes for 45 minutes, ending, as he was destined to, on the ferocious single, ‘Dip’. A muscled bro in front of me turns to a buddy and bites him fair on the bicep. That about sums up Danny Brown at Laneway 2014 — arguably the performance of the entire festival.

    Andrew: Closing the Carpark Stage is Warpaint, a band from Los Angeles who have yet to disappoint me in the live environment. They keep that clean sheet tonight, though stiff competition from Danny Brown’s punishing beats clanging around the tin shed of the Zoo Stage means that the deck is stacked against them from the outset. Their music is delicate and complex; material from their recently-released self-titled second album especially so. They lean heavily on those new songs, and it’s clear that the intricacies of performing these synth-heavy numbers are still being ironed out. The closing bracket of ‘Love Is To Die’, ‘Disco//Very’ and ‘Undertow’ – the latter which includes a jaw-dropping extended outro that culminates with Stella Mozgawa gradually accelerating into a warp-speed drum solo that ends with broken sticks –ensures that they finish strongly. In sum, though, their set isn’t as convincing or powerful as the last time they played here three years prior.

    Matt: Compared to Danny Brown, the darkness is a little more obvious with Run the Jewels, even if Atlanta’s Killer Mike and New York’s El-P tend to think of last year’s self-titled debut as the breakout party from their gritty solo work. Either way, when the duo wander onto the stage it’s with their faces split by massive grins. On their own, these guys are icons; together, they’re legends.

    A Run the Jewels show feels like you’re part of an inclusive club holding onto a diabolical secret. It spans from El’s garrulous soliloquies, Mike’s late-set incursion into the crowd and a genuine affection for one another, right through to the regular acknowledgement of Trackstar, the duo’s touring DJ, who at this point feels like an elemental part of the show.

    During a set of fire and charisma compiled from both the self-titled Run the Jewels record of last year as well as Mike and El’s recent solo albums, R.A.P. Music and Cancer For Cure, I watch two MCs at the top of their game and an eager audience soak it all up. This is a different crowd to Danny — less insular and pill driven, more community weed-smoking — but it goes bananas anyway. Two dudes high-five each other after every song, another grabs me by the shoulder after ‘Banana Clipper’ to confess a deep man love for Mike, while to my left I get to watch the conversion of a trio of Run the Jewels n00bs within the space of three quarters of an hour. (I see another guy in tears: could be unrelated to the show but, y’know, probably not) I expected to love this set, and I hardly walk away disappointed.

    I won’t front, I’m exhausted by the time Earl Sweatshirt rolls onto the Zoo Stage with Odd Future crew-mate Domo Genesis in tow. Earl seems to understand the marathon the punters have been through and works hard to re-light the fire. For the most part it works, but for every punter going bonkers at the front of the stage, there are two or three standing back, nodding in appreciation.

    If this show illustrates anything, it’s Earl’s natural charisma and ferocious ability as a rapper. But his set is too bits-y and shuffling for more fair-weather fans to engage. It’s impressive without being exciting, and the appalling sound of the Zoo Stage — in one of the Showgrounds’ older pavilions — means the vocals echo back towards the performers and drown out the subtlety of the beats. Earlier it could be forgiven, but after three sets worth it’s just tiresome. Earl, Genesis and DJ Taco are fun and often very funny, but I want to enjoy this more than I ultimately do.

    So what to make of Danny Rogers and Jerome Borazio’s baby in 2014? It’s still a great music festival, but is it Laneway? The simple pumping of the numbers mean your instinct is to say, “No.” Like the roiders who plague much of the rest of Australia’s music festival calendar, Laneway’s sheer size is starting to outstrip its original raison d’être.

    The nature of the crowd has changed too. There was less of a community spirit and more aggression — at one point I witnessed a 40-something dude randomly but purposefully shove into a girl half his age. She threw him the bird and afterwards I could only admire her ability to laugh it off.

    Rogers and Borazio made a monsoon-season gamble with the Alexandria Street stage and on this occasion they won. During Vance Joy the rain came down, but it lasted just five minutes and that was it for the entire day (I carry my poncho under my arm for the rest of the festival, copping all sorts of shit from high people).

    What was perhaps not so successful was the skewed playing order, which disposed of the major acts early and turned Laneway into a club party. It’s a great way of working around curfew times, but the festival lost a bunch of punters and therefore a large degree of eclecticism, while the appalling sound of the inside stages eventually took its toll. Then again, it was a long day; maybe I just needed to put my feet up.

    Ultimately, though, Laneway is growing. And with that growth comes change. Some will embrace it, others will turn away from the festival. But as it expands onto ever-larger numbers the event will leave behind a gap in the market, one that another festival promoter will no doubt fill. As it is, this is still one of the best live music experiences you can have for $120.

    For the full review and photos, visit The Vine (at archive.org). Top photo credit: Justin Edwards.

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

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

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

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

    I love music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Vine story: ‘What Was Silk Road? A eulogy for an online drug revolution’, October 2013

    A story for TheVine.com.au. The full story appears below.

    What Was Silk Road? A eulogy for an online drug revolution

    The Vine story: 'What Was Silk Road? A eulogy for an online drug revolution' by Andrew McMillen, October 2013

    Prior to its seizure by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the early hours of Wednesday, October 3, Australian time, a website named Silk Road was the holy grail for illicit drug users of all stripes. Since mid-2011, dealers and consumers had been drawn to the site like iron filings to a magnet. Their reasons for downloading a Tor browser and copy-pasting the complex URL that housed Silk Road (SR) can be reduced to two key motivating factors: cash and product.

    For drug dealers – or, in SR-preferred parlance, ‘vendors’ – the lure of a steady supply of international buyers was enough to motivate the investigation of innovative, stealthy shipping techniques that would see their packages of powders, crystals and pills delivered to intended addresses without raising the alarms of border security. This quickly became a point of pride among the most dedicated vendors, some of whom marketed their packaging options as ‘undetectable’ and cherished buyer feedback that praised innocuous, ingenious delivery methods. Subterfuge was the name of the game.

    It helped, too, that SR offered vendors the opportunity to turn the risky, dangerous job of face-to-face dealing into the ultimate work-from-home gig. When I began poking around the site in late 2011, while researching a feature story for Australian Penthouse, I interviewed several vendors via SR’s plain-text messaging system. One told me that SR was “better and cleaner” than dealing drugs offline. “Customers are more educated and nice, and it leaves you more spare time to study, play with the kids, and clean the house,” I was told. “It’s telecommuting at its finest.”

    This was the defining image of Silk Road: a mild-mannered, sober, white collar professional who casually fielded an order for a gram or two of cocaine, printed the buyer’s address and applied it onto an anonymous envelope, vacuum sealed the illicit product inside and dropped the package into a random mailbox – with the correct amount of postage stamps attached, naturally.

    That image clashed violently with that of the stereotypical drug dealer, who stands on a street corner and controls his territory and product distribution through coercion, extortion and violence. Both operate outside of the law through necessity, since the supply, traffic and use of many drugs remains illegal in all but a handful of countries, most notably Portugal.

    Where once small-time dealers were confined to a few inner-city blocks, or their regular clients within nightclubs on Saturday nights, enterprising Silk Road vendors were limited only by their own ingenuity and imagination. Both online and off, intelligence is what set apart savvy dealers from those behind bars. In February, a 32 year-old Victorian – SR username ‘shadh1’ – was sentenced to three and a half years in jail for importing and reselling drugs purchased on the site, with reckless disregard for anything resembling security, self-preservation or stealth, three of the essential values on which SR was founded.

    It is telling and troubling for long-time SR users, too, that even the man alleged to have established the site was not above careless security slip-ups; he advertised his personal Gmail address on public forums requesting an “IT pro in the Bitcoin community” to assist with the site’s early growth, according to an FBI affidavit.

    Cash aside, the motivating factor for users was always the product. Cocaine, heroin, LSD, MDMA, cannabis, methamphetamine, psilocybin; Silk Road did not synthesise any of these compounds, nor discover the natural substances. It simply revolutionalised their distribution. My interview with a newbie SR buyer for Australian Penthouse was emblematic of what the site offered buyers.

    “I’m interested in taking drugs casually, but I hate the process,” the 24 year-old Brisbane resident told me. “I don’t know any dealers. Even if I want to get weed, I don’t know anyone, so it always becomes this drawn out process of finding someone who knows someone who knows someone. It’s a real pain in the arse. Whereas this way, it’s so direct and private. I didn’t leave my room, and then nine days later there was something in the mailbox that was for me. It’s discreet and exciting. Imagine the fun of shopping on eBay, but then you can also get high.”

    While Silk Road’s days are numbered, and its founder seems set for a long prison sentence, the cat is certainly out of the bag. The site was a brilliant intermediary between drug dealers and users right up until it wasn’t. But to imagine that humans will suddenly cease synthesising, cultivating, pursuing, distributing and ingesting substances that alter mind and mood is at least wishful thinking; at worst, high folly.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Homeland Security and associated organisations can today congratulate themselves for a job well done in seizing Silk Road and its significant stockpile of assets and intelligence. It is their job to catch criminals. Although the plug has been pulled on the most open illicit drug marketplace that the world has ever seen, tomorrow is a new day.

    The seemingly infallible Silk Road has been beheaded, but two heads will appear in its place, hydra-like. Right now, its competitors will be quadruple-checking their security practices and managing server loads, while new registrations and orders pour in. The mail won’t stop. At the heart of this conversation is the fact that humans like to get high, and they’re willing to pay for that privilege. This is but a stumble on a very long walk. Absolutely nothing has changed.

    Further reading: Australian Penthouse story: ‘The High Road: Silk Road, an online marketplace like no other’, February 2012

  • The Vine interview: Gareth Liddiard of The Drones, February 2013

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    The Drones: “I’m not addicted to love”

    Gareth Liddiard of The Drones, interviewed by freelance journalist Andrew McMillen, February 2013

    It’s a busy time for Melbourne rock band The Drones – or so I thought. When singer/guitarist Gareth Liddiard (main photo, far left) calls in early February, their sixth studio album I See Seaweed is less than a month away from release, and the second All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP) festival to take place in Australia – curated by Liddiard and his bandmates – is but a fortnight away. Yet the singer is lazily strolling around at his home in the Victorian bush, oil can in hand, searching for strong mobile phone reception. A picture of calm.

    I’m being slightly disingenuous in this depiction, of course. Late in our half-hour interview, it emerges that Liddiard’s had little time to himself lately. While their ATP curating duties have long since finished – judging by what I hear today, it seems there’s little more required of The Drones beyond showing up next weekend, shaking some hands, plugging in, and playing some songs – completing I See Seaweed has been a full-time concern of late.

    It shows in the songs. I’ve played the eight-track album perhaps 25 times by the time Liddiard and I speak, and I’m convinced it’s a contender for their best yet. Our conversation contains in-depth discussion around songs that, at the time of writing, you won’t have heard. Album spoilers aside, Liddiard offers a typically expansive conversation that touches on space-bound canines, alternative ideas to programming festivals, The Drones’ newly-confirmed fifth member, and experimenting with topless photography.

    The lyrical themes of I See Seaweed are as varied as ever; it seems that nothing’s out of bounds for you. How do you decide what to write about?

    It’s more what not to write about. Some things are boring, and they’re done to death, so I steer clear of them, really.

    For example?

    Any sort of clichés. I don’t pick cotton; I’m not addicted to love. You know what I mean? Some things have been done before, so I try not to do that.

    I’m just trying to think whether I’ve ever heard a Drones love song before. I don’t think I have.

    There are love songs, but they’re not really obvious. It would be retarded if we did love songs, because I’d either get into trouble from the bass player [Fiona Kitschin, Liddiard’s partner] for being in love with someone who isn’t her, or if I wrote a love song about her, imagine me showing her the chords and telling her how to play it! That’s really wrong.

    Point taken. You mentioned avoiding clichés; has that always been something you’ve aimed to do? Has this changed since [2002 debut album] Here Come The Lies?

    I’ve always tried to avoid it, but I wasn’t always successful. I wasn’t always aware that some things were clichés. It’s self-awareness, that’s all. And being self-critical, I guess. Everyone has their blind spots, but you’ve got to work on those. Some people go, “check this out, man!” as if it’s some amazing thing, but they’ve just copied someone else. They have this enormous blind spot.

    I think the best example for all that is something like American Idol, or Australian Idol. There’s some severe fuckin’ blind spots going on there; people who aren’t self-critical at all. They think they’re good at what they do, but they’re not. If they just rationalised it – or if they used rational thought – they would see where they’re going wrong. But often that’s painful to do.

    I don’t find any clichés in your writing. Certainly not in the last few albums.

    Like anyone, I fuck up. I just try. I like it; it’s fun. It’s interesting. It’s like science. I’m sure a lot of scientists would be a wee bit striking [in their approach] when they initially put their hypothesis out there. People shoot ‘em down. But I’m sure there’s a large part of them that would be excited to see where they went wrong.

    It’s all about the truth; it’s getting close to the truth. They’re trying to find out what the hole is. I’m just trying to figure out what I’m capable of. I mean, I’ve got limits. I’m just using up everything within my limits to make music that’s interesting. Because I want to hear interesting music. That’s all that is.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine.

  • The Vine live review: Soundwave Festival Brisbane, February 2013

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Soundwave Festival 2013
    RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
    Saturday 23 February 2013

    This is the paragraph for the requisite context-setting that precedes every festival review ever. Soundwave is now easily bigger than the Big Day Out. They’ve long since sold out all five shows on this tour. This is where the real money is spent and earned each year as far as the Australian rock festival circuit is concerned. Each year Soundwave drops a line-up that’s more bloated with international talent than the last. Twenty-thirteen is no exception.

    James Hetfield of Metallica at Soundwave Festival Brisbane 2013, reviewed for TheVine.com.au by Andrew McMillen. Photo credit: Justin Edwards

    THE LOSERS VS INDIFFERENT VS WINNERS SCORE CARD:

    The Losers 

    Playing their first Australian show in nine years, A Perfect Circle had a fantastic opportunity to crowd-please in a late afternoon slot. They dropped the ball. We got a languid 50 minute set that drew heavily on material from eMOTIVe, their so-so covers album from 2004. Only one track from their 2000 debut, Mer de Noms (‘The Hollow’) – a disorienting remix of ‘3 Libras’ notwithstanding – and two from Thirteenth Step (a great take on ‘Weak and Powerless’, and ‘The Outsider’, wherein the guitars were barely audible).

    They did play a new song, ‘By And Down’, right near the end, but by this point the crowd’s energy had sapped considerably and most people inside the D barrier just stood there, staring, confused as to why they were choosing these songs. Far too earnest for their own good, this was by far the most disappointing set I witnessed all day. I had way more fun at Puscifer the night before – the other other band of APC/Tool singer Maynard James Keenan – despite that group having far fewer great songs than A Perfect Circle. I get it: Maynard doesn’t give a fuck about conventions or expectations. He’s his own man! Isn’t he rebellious? What a guy! But this set sucked, plain and simple.

    Kyuss Lives! were mixed so poorly that I fled after three songs. John Garcia’s vocals twice as loud as any of the instruments on stage? No thanks. These guys were good when they toured last year (review), so I’m not sure what went wrong today. When they first arrived on stage, Garcia’s mic was inaudible; someone at the sound desk massively overcompensated for their fuck-up. Also, no Nick Oliveri?

    Stone Sour are surely the least offensive band on the bill. Despite the grandstanding of Corey Taylor, who is an excellent frontman with one of the best voices in rock, there’s really not much to like about this band. I heard the majority of their set while waiting for Slayer and I couldn’t recall a single hook or melody. Beige.

    Myself, for losing my sunglasses. I can’t blame this on drink, drug, or mosh-pits, either. Just carelessness. Idiot.

    The Indifferent

    Local band The Schoenberg Automaton open main-stage proceedings as gates open on the stroke of eleven. To my ears their sound like generic hardcore with some highly technical guitar and drumwork tacked on. This formula is generally a win at this festival, though. They sound huge through the PA. These are my observations from the shade of a grandstand as the temperature climbs into the low thirties and we all begin losing litres of fluid hourly.

    I don’t find Anthrax to be especially engaging but it feels like I’m in the minority. They unveil flags bearing the visages of Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrell, which is a nice touch. ‘Caught In A Mosh’, ‘Indians’, ‘I Am The Law’…they cover ‘TNT’ by AC/DC, one of the few heavy bands to not have graced these festival stages (next year?), and it doesn’t scan as a forced attempt at getting us onside — the entire arena already was. “Please remember to always worship music,” says Scott Ian at set’s end. OK.

    Dragonforce play all of the notes there are to play during their opening song, which goes for 10 minutes and contains as many guitar solos. Trying to listen to their newest album yesterday in preparation (while keeping a straight face) was hard work, and so is standing in the scorching sun while they shred. I can only stick it out for a couple of songs. I do like Herman Li’s whammy bar trick though: he holds the guitar aloft while it feeds back, then drops it onto his upper thigh with a flourish and continues playing. Dexterity.

    Shirt slogans spotted throughout the day:

    Tell your boobs to stop staring at me – worn by suss-looking, chubby 20 year old.

    Guns don’t kill people, Ray Lewis kills people.

    We’re just old farts who love music – worn by three 50-plus year-old guys in uniform.

    Fat guy wears Mystic Wolf shirt – worn by same.

    Suck my Richard – worn by tall, pasty redhead.

    It’s all good when you’re the big dude – worn by fat dude struggling to climb stairs.

    A singlet that reads  I’m a Lars Ulrich guy – exact meaning unclear.

    My favourite: You’ve never been drunk till you’ve shit yourself – Fraser Island 2010. Graphic.

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

  • The Vine live review: Big Day Out Gold Coast, January 2013

    A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    Big Day Out 2013
    Gold Coast, Parklands
    Sunday, 20 January 2013

    Big Day Out 2013 Gold Coat review by Andrew McMillen for The Vine. Photo credit:: Justin Edwards

    It’s comforting to walk back into these festival grounds. I’ve barely given this event a moment’s thought in the preceding months, yet I know instinctively that I’m in for an entertaining day. This is what the Big Day Out has been synonymous with for 20-plus years: putting on a reliably good fucking show. In last month’s Rolling Stone, festival co-founder Ken West said that if this year’s tour goes wrong, the game’s essentially over. No more BDO. Was he exaggerating? Shouldn’t that be the case every year: don’t sell enough tickets, don’t make enough money? Yet as the venue fills throughout the day—this show hasn’t sold out, though they seem to have come awfully close—the stakes seem, strangely, lower than ever. It’s an eclectic, strong line-up led by one of the most popular rock bands in the world. What could go wrong?

    Before we get there, though, there are ten or so hours of live music to experience. Some of it good, some of it not. triple j Unearthed winners Jakarta Criers fall firmly into the former camp. They’re not doing anything particularly fresh or original within the confines of rock music, but the songs are good. So’s the musicianship and stage presence. They combine ‘Wicked Game’, ‘Come As You Are’ and ‘Gone Away’ into one mega-cover, which is a kinda cheap tactic but handled well, so the young Brisbane quartet score points. They play before several hundred applauding people today. I think they’ll be just fine. A career rock band in the making; a Birds Of Tokyo with balls, perhaps.

    Melbourne quartet ME are impressive, despite the bad band name. With a debut album out next week, they’re a tight live unit thanks a couple of years touring overseas. (An interesting take on the well-trodden path to indie rock success in this country.) If you’ve never heard of them, you’re forgiven: they’re playing the main stage, yet among the hundred or so initially paying attention to the band, it appears only a few dozen know what to expect. ME are an operatic rock band, essentially: somewhere near Queen and recent Muse — the four-piece write some of the most shameless arena rock you’ve ever heard. It’s awesome. It’s so transparent, what they’re doing, that you can practically see their internal organs. Yet it works so well. Falsetto vocals. Excellent guitar work. Powerhouse drumming. Good songs. I can’t look away from a chubby fat guy in a white shirt near the front, who spends a few minutes playing the most intense, unselfconscious air guitar I’ve seen. That dude sums ME up. You should check them out.

    Evil Eddie sucks terribly; real lowest common denominator stuff. Every Australian hip-hop fan discovers Butterfingers at some stage, and likely has a laugh at the funny/crude lyrics, but that shit’s just like the candy bar the band named themselves after: ultimately, bad for you. Eddie fronted Butterfingers, and he’s pulling the exact same shapes solo. It’s embarrassing; Australian hip-hop has come so far since Butterfingers were first amusing, yet here’s more of the same. He closes with two recent singles, ‘(Somebody Say) Evil’ and ‘Queensland’; the former is by far the worst thing I hear today. Just awful. I’ll note that there are hundreds of people jiving away before the Lilypad stage, so he’s evidently still mining fertile ground.

    Sampology, on the other hand, rules. I walk into the Boiler Room while he’s mashing up footage of the Wiggles in that fucking Coles ‘down down, prices are down’ ad while a much better song plays over the PA. That’s what the dude does: he DJs, skilfully, while cleverly-edited visuals play on the screen behind him. It’s compulsive viewing and listening; worth watching purely to see what he samples and mashes next. We dance while watching looped snippets of Free Willy and The Hangover, among loads of pop cultural touchstones that each get a cheer as they appear. Perfect festival fodder. Deserves a standing Big Day Out booking.

    The sum of my notes taken while watching Gary Clark Jr.: “CLASSIEST MOTHERFUCKER”. That’s really all there is to it. He’s a 28-year old Texan singer/guitarist who put out his major label debut in late 2012, Blak and Blu. Clark can sing, but it’s the guitar wailing we’re all here for. Fronting an incredibly tight four-piece band, Clark exhibits perfect guitar tone and phrasing. It’s such a pleasure to watch a master at work, and that’s just what Clark is. People keep throwing around the ‘H’ word in this context, referring to a legendary guitarist. It’s not really fair, but it’s basically true. This is one of the best sets I see today. All signs point to a healthy career shredding for a living, blowing minds like he does mine. If you get a chance to see this man play guitar, don’t hesitate. Please.

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

  • The Vine feature: ‘A Guide To Cannabis Law In Australia’, December 2012

    A feature for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    A Guide To Cannabis Law In Australia

    “Marijuana Use Most Rampant in Australia,” read a New York Times headline in January 2012. Cannabis – marijuana, weed, pot, hash; whichever other name you prefer – remains the most widely used illicit substance in Australia today by a big margin. Approximately 1.9 million Australians aged 14 years and over have used cannabis at least once during the past year; more than a quarter of a million smoke cannabis every day, according to data compiled by the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (NCPIC). Keep in mind, too, that these figures were taken as part of the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey; plenty more users were either unaccounted for, or chose to lie about their drug usage, so the true figures are probably even higher. This reality can be viewed one of two ways, depending on your personal politics.

    Either: it’s great that so many Australians enjoy the occasional puff, as its illegality is an arbitrary hangover from conservative generations past, and its negative effects are significantly less serious than those incurred by alcohol abuse or tobacco addiction.

    Or: it’s outrageous that so many Australians smoke up, as cannabis is a devil weed whose availability should be pushed further underground lest its psychological and subversive effects further corrupt otherwise sensible citizens.

    Illicit drug use is not a topic that attracts moderate views. Weaned on the powerful moralising of media sensationalism, political cowardice, and harsh words from the police force, many Australians are raised to believe that drugs are bad; the province of losers and law-breakers.

    Progressive views are slowly prevailing across the Western world, though, as many realise that the Nixon-led ‘war on drugs’ – which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2011 – did very little to break the cycle of power, violence and addiction that has forever plagued illicit drug culture. (For a succinct primer on the topic, my brother Stuart McMillen recently published a 40-page comic, ‘War On Drugs’, which outlines why drug prohibition hasn’t worked.)

    Immediately following the 2012 Presidential Election results in November, cannabis users worldwide rejoiced at the surprising news that two states in the war-on-drugs heartland, Colorado and Washington, had voted to legalise recreational use under state law. Colorado users will be able to grow up to six plants; in Washington, users will buy from state-licensed providers, and the sale of cannabis will be taxed and regulated, much the same as alcohol and tobacco already is. If you’re over 21, the drug will be legal to sell, smoke and carry – as long as you don’t drive while high.

    Australian pot smokers wondered whether they might see a similar decision – if not soon, then at least in their lifetimes. TheVine snooped around on your behalf, with a view to determine Australia’s current cannabis laws on a state-by-state basis and look to its future legal status.

    Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, points out that Australian states don’t have ballot initiatives like the one that led to the recent weed votes; in fact, most US states don’t. “Australia will not see ballot initiatives on taxing and regulating cannabis like Colorado and Washington states,” Wodak tells TheVine. “Our cannabis reforms started in the 1980s in South Australia. We have had two decades of creeping liberalisation of our cannabis laws at the state/territory level. I think this process will accelerate now, but that it will still take a couple of decades before Australia taxes and regulates cannabis in all states and territories.”

    Legal weed in Australia? “It’s now inevitable,” continues Wodak. “There are so many contradictions and issues undermining cannabis prohibition. Sooner or later, the bosses of one or the other major [political] parties will realise that it is in their interest to get there first. But all social policy reform is slow.”

    To illustrate, Wodak points out that 2012 is the 40th anniversary of South Australia becoming the first state to begin reducing the emphasis on the criminal law in relation to homosexuality. Jailing someone on the basis of the sexuality is a social policy that looks completely abhorrent and archaic nowadays. “I might be wrong,” he says, “but I think taxing and regulating cannabis will be slow to happen in Australia, and we will first go through many stages of watering down our criminal laws.”

    So what is the current state of Australia’s cannabis possession laws? The answers might surprise you. As The New York Times put it earlier in 2012: “The prevalence of marijuana use in Australia is widely accepted, if not openly condoned, and at least three states have moved to decriminalise the possession of small quantities for personal use.”

    For the full story, visit The Vine.