Skin Deep

I used to be scared of looking in the mirror.

I used to duck under it when I washed my hands. Sometimes I would close my eyes.

It wasn’t for metaphorical reasons after committing an awful crime as a toddler, and it wasn’t because of underlying vanity or superficiality.

It was because I couldn’t stand to see just how bad it had gotten.

From I very young age I suffered from eczema.

For most eczema is either an inconsequential joke, or a go-to phrase for any skin ailment that may befall them.

For me, eczema was years of pain, discomfort, hospitalizations and awkward staring.

For something that is commonly regarded as a joke, it can be a very serious and life-affecting issue for some, and one that needs to be addressed more in general society.

For most of my childhood I was itchy. As a young and careful little rascal I didn’t have much control over my impulses. So I scratched.

Eczema can be a debilitating problem, and for much of my childhood I was unable to wear shorts or short-sleeved shorts, for both comfort reasons, and for fear of displaying my condition for all to see.

This proved especially problematic during the hot Summer months at school. During a particularly bad spell in Year 11 that happened to coincide with a typical Melbourne heatwave of a week of 40+ degree days, I persistently had to wear long pants and a long sleeved white shirt underneath my school uniform. After the excuse of “Oh I just lost my shorts” started to wear thin, I adopted the “Oh I’m so sunburnt I can’t even show my skin to the cruel mother earth” line whenever I was questioned about being dressed like an apiarist during these sweltering conditions. And that was a lot.

I got used to strange looks, almost of fear, during school, especially during the earlier years. Nobody except for the bravest of kids would ask about my skin, which would sometimes resemble a bright red, bumpy desert, but most of them would stare.

I became well acquainted with all the various brands of creams and ointments, with most proving to be only mildly soothing and not at all helpful in the long run. We even ventured into experimental leaf treatment (at least that’s how eleven year old me remembers it), and had to endure numerous news stories proclaiming to have apparently found the “ultimate cure” to eczema.

My family was always incredibly supportive, putting up with the traumatic ointment times and never once treating me as the disgusting outcast that I sometimes felt like.

At times we tried a “wet dressing” technique, which basically involved mummifying me with ointment and wet bandages at night time, ensuring I wouldn’t scratch myself to pieces in my sleep. A valiant cause, but one that mostly resulted in my lying awake at night, trying to pretend I was a cool Egyptian mummy, but mostly just resisting the urge to rip those damn bandages off and get that brief relief through scratching.

There were also the oil baths, which mostly saw me staying in a slimy bath for extended periods of time, often too afraid to get out. This mostly resulted in me resembling Betty White with much worse skin.

I eventually gained high priority status with my dermatologist, a useful perk that meant I could get an appointment pretty much whenever, when other commoners would have to wait up to a year.

After being put on some serious big boy medication I got to first name basis with the blood testing lady at my local clinic. Leaving school for a couple of hours and returning with a bit of tape on my elbow was a regular occurrence.

At the worst times, I struggled to move. It would prove to be almost impossible to move my neck and other joints, so at times I would just curl up into a ball on the couch, trying to hide from the outside world.

With this came infection, and with infection come hospitalization, sometimes for weeks on end. The nights spent in the hospital were probably my darkest, covered in oily ointment, surrounded by children that were obviously much worse off than me.

I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I was young, otherwise healthy, and after all, didn’t I just have a measly skin condition?

Around three per cent of the population have eczema in some form or another, but its still regarded mostly as a novelty. The butt of jokes or a way to describe a heat rash. Children suffering it will continue to endure hurtful stares and comments until it is properly identified as a serious problem.

I’ve been virtually eczema free for about three years now.

All I’ve got to show for these younger years are a few, barely distinguishable scars and an ingrained ability to resist scratching mossie bites.

I’ll always be appreciative of being able to get out of the shower and just put my clothes on, without having to entirely cover my body with creams and subsequently ruin my clothes.

I’ll always be appreciative of being able to wear shorts and a t-shirt during Summer, of being able to wear the right uniform when playing sports, and of being able to go to sleep without being turned into a mummy.

And I’ll never again be afraid to look in the mirror.

Originally published in Catalyst Magazine. 

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The problem with Australian music festivals

“There was fuck all out there.”

It may be in A.J. Maddah’s typically blunt prose, but it’s probably the best summary of Australian festival lineups in 2014.

Describing the reasons behind the demise of Big Day Out, Maddah said there was a distinct shortage of headliners for festivals this year, going on to say: “We can’t continue to go ahead with a substandard line-up and damage what’s already a fragile brand, a fragile event”.

If only other festivals followed his refusal to deliver a substandard lineup.

The Australian music festival scene has grown stale, repetitive, and wholly unoriginal in terms of the bands performing, both international and local. The quality and profile of headlining acts has drastically reduced, and most festivals now seem to be selecting bands from a very limited pool of acts that tend to tour the country at least once a year.

The festival scene has been proliferated with new upstarts, with many holding their first festival this year, and this has only added to the problem: the already small selection of bands now have to be spread even thinner.

It could be due to the extremely high costs of bringing bands all the way to Australia, meaning that most tour as part of a festival instead of alone, the most popular of which come at least once a year.

Another problem for the general festivals has been the growth of genre-specific events such as Soundwave Festivals, meaning there are even less bands on offer.

These issues are compounded by the mutually dependent relationship between the festivals and music websites, with writers being unable to criticise lineups for fear of losing accreditation to the festivals. Lineups constantly escape criticism and scrutiny for this reason, and seem to be untouchable for most of Australia’s music journalism.

The recently-announced Falls Festival lineup consists of 16 bands that have already toured Australia in the last 12 months; that’s over half of the whole lineup. Jamie xx was here for Laneway in February and will be returning for New Year’s, while Parquet Courts have even a quicker turnaround, having just played Splendour In The Grass in July. Headliners Alt-J will have toured Australia three times in the past year after their whirlwind mini-tour in October before gracing the stage at Falls.

International acts such as Chvrches, Action Bronson, and Grouplove have also played at least two festivals in Australia this year.

Many festivals are also recruiting bands that have already played there before, with Bluesfest seeming to be the worst offender of this. Although you could argue with the amount of bands that seem to play Bluesfest, it’s unavoidable to have some overlap. The recently announced Bluesfest 2015 lineup includes five acts that played the very same festival last year.

2013 was undoubtedly a dark year for the Australian music festival scene, with the cancellation of Harvest Festival, Pyramid Rock, Peats Ridge Festival, Playground Weekend, Future Music and Supafest. There were simply too many festivals targeting the exact same demographic, offering tickets at exorbitant prices with lineups that didn’t reflect this price.

It’s little wonder that Australian festivals seem to be constantly in turmoil, with dwindling ticket sales and general interest, with little effort put in to produce creative and appealing lineups.

Festival lineups now seem almost like anagrams of all the other festivals that year, perhaps with the added drawcard headliner: Outkast at Splendour, Big Day Out had Pearl Jam, but not all can afford to get these huge acts.

There’s only one shining light in this, with Meredith Music Festival managing to remain interesting by bringing a diverse range of bands to our shores, some that have never visited before.

This year Aunty Meredith proclaimed that “it is a totally fresh cast, all brand new to The Sup’ – bar one special case”. And that special case is Augie March, who haven’t played a festival in eight years.

The lineup features many that are touring Australia for the first time, and only two that have been here in the last 12 months: the War on Drugs (Falls 2013) and Cloud Nothings (Laneway 2013).

This is a very impressive effort when compared to other festivals this year, with Big Day Out boasting six acts that had visited in the last year, Laneway featuring eight, Groovin’ the Moo with five, and Splendour with nine.

When looking at local bands, the problem is only exacerbated. There seems to be a group of only about 20 Aussie bands that festivals are willing to recruit, and there are some acts that play virtually every festival in the calendar year.

Chet Faker has played six major festivals in the last year, just pipped by Flume who played seven, while Vance Joy is playing quite possibly every festival in the country (at least seven).

Even large Aussie acts like The Jezabels and The Presets have played three festivals just this year, while relocated Sydneysiders Jagwar Mar appeared at Laneway and will be back for Falls later this year.

Nearly every festival in the year constantly attempts to cater to the Triple J demographic, and perhaps this is why they’re so dour and uncreative. It’s little coincidence that the two festivals that don’t do this, Meredith and Soundwave, consistently sell out in minutes, while many others are struggling or folding.

One of the great joys of music festivals is combining the experience of seeing your favourite bands, while also discovering your new favourite band, but if festivals continue to bring the same tired bunch of acts, this will become impossible.

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The new face of independent Australian journalism

“Independent media can go to where the silence is and break the sound barrier”

Amy Goodman

Independent journalism has never been more important in the Australian media landscape.

With an increase in corporate interests in the mainstream media, and a steady decline in profits amongst traditional mediums, independent and thorough investigative journalism has never been as necessary.

A week ago the Guardian broke the story of how Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s daughter, Frances Abbott, was granted a slightly dodgy scholarship at the Whitehouse Institute.

The vast majority of the follow-up, scrutiny and persistent investigation did not come from any mainstream source in Australia however. It came from a site once described as an “experiment in how cheaply a news outlet can be run”, an underdog in Australian journalism: New Matilda.

New Matilda’s coverage of this story has illustrated just how important independent journalism is. In the past week, virtually the entire site has been devoted to the Whitehouse story, something that more mainstream sources cannot afford to do.

New Matilda is a brave, stubborn journalistic organisation, one that demands answers and won’t stop until it receives them.

Since the story broke, they’ve posted numerous exclusive stories investigating this situation extremely closely, including testimonies from insiders, leaked documents, and the revelation that Francis Abbott was chosen “on merit” to help lobby federal government regulators.

All of these stories were exclusive to New Matilda, and hardly covered at all by mainstream sources, even the Guardian.

It is crucial, long-form investigative journalism, something sorely lacking from the Australian media world.

We’re lucky that New Matilda is even still around, with Chris Graham coming to the rescue after former editor Marni Cordell announced the site would be closing down as it couldn’t compete financially with larger organisations.

New Matilda’s recent performance proves why it was so important that it survived. This sort of scrutiny and demand for accountability is what defines good, influential journalism, and in many ways, these stories could only be covered by independent organisations. There are many other independent sources in Australia too, with the likes of Crikey, the Conversation, and the Stringer.

New Matilda describes itself as “independent journalism at its best”, and after the last week it’s almost impossible to argue with this.

(Photo: New Matilda)

Nine reasons why Buzzfeed is a real news source

Under a veil of cat gifs and endless listicles, Buzzfeed has real journalistic potential, and to ignore it would be to overlook what may prove to be a financially viable model for future journalism.

Mumbrella reported yesterday that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) will be rethinking what online content classifies as ‘news’. Buzzfeed is currently categorised under “search engines, portals, and communities”.

Australian editor Simon Crerar says the site is just as newsworthy as others, and would be the tenth most popular in the category.

“We consider ourselves a news and entertainment company in the same way that NineMSN, news.com.au and the Mail Online have a mix between hard news and entertainment content.”

Buzzfeed began in 2006 as a resource for viral content, built around a model of ‘sharing’. But now it’s making very real efforts to be viewed as a genuine source of quality journalism, hiring the likes of Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Schoofs to head an investigative unit.

Buzzfeed Australia hosted a launch in January with the Walkley Foundation, immediately signaling its intentions to move away from the viral content and towards the news.

IAB’s task is unenviable: to define what does and doesn’t constitute ‘news’. All it takes is a look at today’s Buzzfeed front page to see the issues it will be facing.

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It features few, if any, traditional ‘news’ stories. Most is light entertainment, and there’s little evidence of the serious journalism they are now endeavoring to create.

One click on the ‘News’ tab reveals a different story.

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There are very real, serious news stories, without any gifs or pictures of cats. This contrast exemplifies the challenges IAB will face in determining what sites are ‘news’.

If the likes of news.com.au is classified as a ‘news’, then Buzzfeed must also be included in this category.

While critics comment on pointless lists and clickbait headlines, it is undoubtedly a successful model.

The listicles provide the vast majority of revenue for the site, but this is a necessary means to provide genuine and important journalism.

Buzzfeed has found a way to survive financially and still create some journalism.

Whatever you think about their method, Buzzfeed may well have demonstrated a viable model journalism in the future, and could lead to a complete rethink of what constitutes ‘news’ in the meantime.

Outsourcing the news: how far is too far?

“The photographers are the eyes, the witness to history in the making.”

Tamara Dean, Fairfax photographer.

Last Wednesday, Fairfax announced plans to cut up to 70 full-time newspaper positions, including 75% of their entire photographers. This led staff to go on a 24-hour strike and to post support for those facing the axe.

Staff were told their work would be outsourced to Getty Images, an American stock photo agency.

Fairfax newspapers are well known for the quality of their photography, but as discussed on Media Watch last night this calibre of visual content is now in danger.

In a brilliant article published by the Conversation yesterday, Andrea Carson, a journalism lecturer at the University of Melbourne, also questioned how far companies can outsource elements of journalism before the quality is impacted.

I had the pleasure of working at the Age for two weeks earlier this year, and one of the main things that stuck with me from this experience was the importance and unique talents of photographers.

It was a slight shock to me that most of my work was done from the comfort of my desk, rather than out in the field. For the most part, it was the photographers that went out and actually observed and documented the events, not the journalists. Due to a shortage of writers and time constraints, it’s simply not feasible for journalists to be at every story when interviews can be done from the office.

I also spent time at the Border Mail, where a photographer accompanied me in the field, finding the artistic, visual side of the story while I found the written side. Many times, the photographer would also discover important information, with the interviewee often being less guarded around them rather than someone they know is a reporter.

Taylor Glascock runs a blog comparing the pictures used by two papers in Chicago: one that sacked all of its photographers last year, and another that retained theirs. The blog provides a damning illustration of the decline in visual quality when photography is outsourced.

This quality and commitment to telling a story and making a real difference cannot be maintained if photography is outsourced. Outsourcing and taking shortcuts to save money is inevitable in the 21st century, but there must be a line drawn at some point to prevent a drastic decline in the quality of journalism.

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Battle For Melbourne’s Live Music Scene Has Just Begun

In a clear example of the sheer force of practically unlimited money taking absolute precedence over a city’s cultural heritage and artistic foundations, Melbourne’s Palace Theatre is set to be demolished.

Its loss will leave a gaping hole in Melbourne’s live music landscape, and more must be done to protect our other iconic venues before they meet the same fate.

It was recently announced the historic theatre has lost its long fight to maintain its operations following its owner’s, Chinese property investment firm Jinshan Investments, application to demolish the building and build a boutique hotel and apartment complex in its place.

The impact of this will be wide-ranging and hugely detrimental, but will hopefully inspire Victorian music lovers to unite and act now to stop this gentrification from destroying other crucial venues.

A dejecting and honest statement from the Palace Theatre’s management read: “Effective from the 31st May 2014 this building and its previous incarnations…which started trading in 1860, will cease trading to make way for a proposed apartment and hotel development”.

The new owners have continually refused to renew a short-term lease to allow live concerts at the Palace, and the last notes will fade through the towering theatre in less than two months.

The demolition of this historic and beautiful venue is another step in a worrying trend where Melbourne’s once world-renowned culture filled with vibrant, unique buildings, are torn down to be replaced with skyscrapers and high-class hotels.

Developers are gradually encroaching on Melbourne’s live music scene, and actions must be taken now to prevent it entirely eroding what was once a thriving city.

The venue, that has played host to some of the biggest international bands of our generation, will be replaced with a hotel and apartment complex which will most likely play host to wealthy international businessmen.

There is no other music venue in Melbourne like the Palace Theatre. With three levels, multiple balconies, and numerous vantage points, it is a luxurious and near-perfect way to see a band. Most of all, it is has character, something that is sorely lacking from many new venues. It has played host to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Wilco, the Killers, and countless more have been drawn to its distinctive facade.

The Palace Theatre holds a very important place in Melbourne’s live music landscape. With a capacity of just under 2,000, it is one of two venues capable of playing host to mid-sized international bands, ones that are unable to fill Festival Hall or the cavernous Rod Laver Arena, and far too large for the likes of the Corner Hotel or Prince Bandroom, which each hold less than 1,000.

The only other option is the Forum Theatre, another iconic, aesthetically-pleasing building that is in grave danger. It will soon be closed for huge redevelopments that include another towering structure to be built next to it. The similarly sized Palais Theatre in St Kilda is not a viable option, due to its fully seated layout, and lack of alcohol sales making it a less than enticing venue for touring bands.

The State Government, Melbourne Council, and Victorians need to take a stand in order to protect these sacred and distinctive buildings that define a city from becoming towering skyscrapers, blocking the sun and drawing no-one but rich internationals.

More than two million people have supported live music at the Palace over the last seven years it has operated as a music venue. Now the eye-catching facade at the end of Bourke Street will be demolished, replaced by just another hotel, towering over the adjacent Parliament House.

The loss of the irreplaceable Palace Theatre should be mourned. But it should also spur efforts to protect other venues that define our city’s much adored live music scene while we still can.

Best Albums Of 2013

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#10: Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

The drawled, confident ‘Forget about it’ immediately draws you in, and Parquet Courts keep you there for the album’s duration. It’s straight-up, uber-cool garage punk rock from the Brooklynites. It’s effortlessly catchy and instantly enjoyable, and the stoner lyrics suit the laid-back vibes perfectly. ‘Borrowed Time’ is the clear standout, encapsulating everything that’s good about Parquet Courts, while the rest of the album kinda blends together in a brilliant, carefree mess.

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#9: Local Natives – Hummingbird

Following up their stunning debut was always going to be tricky, but Local Natives did it just right. They virtually disappeared for ages, took their time, and wrote a mature and refined followup that kept all the good bits and introduced many more. ‘Heavy Feet’ and ‘Black Balloons’ are just as catchy and infectious as anything off the debut, while the heart-wrenching ‘Columbia’ is by far the most emotional song the band have written, surrounding the death of a band member’s mother.

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#8: Born Ruffians – Birthmarks

Born Ruffians finally grew up. After two (brilliant) albums filled with teen angst and the highly relatable troubles of growing up, Birthmarks sees frontman Luke Lalonde actually dealing with having grown up. On ‘Needle’ he bemoans: “When I was a boy / I wished that I was older / Wished that I was taller, tall enough to see / See the things I see today / Now I wish they’d go away / Now they’ve led me far astray / Stray from what I need”, and is almost directly addressing much of the lyrical content on their debut, Red, Yellow & Blue. Along with this newfound maturity, there’s some damn good songs. ‘Rage Flows’ is impossible to not play on full volume, ‘6-5000’ is a little gem, and ‘Permanent Hesitation’ is the most experimental and interesting song the band have ever created.

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#7: Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Another stellar release from the Brits, filled with their trademark raw, vocal, and catchy sounds. There’s no weak link throughout it, and the likes of ‘For Flotsam’, ‘Selling Rope’, and ‘Avocado, Baby’ rank easily among some of the band’s best work. The latter also contains one of the lyrics of the year: “A heart of stone / Rind so tough it’s crazy / That’s why they call me the avocado, baby”. 

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#6: Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze

Never has an album title described its contents as well as Kurt Vile’s latest offering. Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze is a laid-back, hazy, and relaxed jaunt that you wish would never end. It’s perfect to fall asleep too, and that’s not an insult, it’s just so damn nice. There isn’t really a better way to sum it up.

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#5: Cloud Control – Dream Cave

Following in the footsteps of Local Natives, this is how you follow up a hugely successful debut. The Blue Mountains four-piece relocated to the UK for Dream Cave, and produced a unique, polished and highly addictive record that shows the band’s full potential. ‘Dojo Rising’ is a vintage Cloud Control song, filled with Alister Wright’s intimate and personal lyrics, while ‘Promises’ deserves all the praise it is getting right now.

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#4: Arctic Monkeys – AM

An Arctic Monkeys album is always divisive. There’s those that will never go past their youthful, hyperactive debut, those that settle on the more refined Favourite Worst Nightmare, or those weirdos who thought their long-haired, QOTSA-esque Humbug was their best work. AM was as divisive as ever, with some lauding it as what the band has been working towards for their whole careers, and others saying that it’s flat out boring. Well, AM is pretty darn good. ‘Do I Wanna Know’ and ‘R U Mine’ provide the strongest start to any album of the year, while ‘No. 1 Party Anthem’ delivers the biggest shock of the record, not living up to its name at all but definitely providing an enjoyable alternative. ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ follows in the same vein as the openers, while ‘Knee Socks’ sees a much appreciated intervention from none other than Josh Homme.

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#3: The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The National are just one of those bands that will never, ever let you down. They’re absurdly consistent while also reinventing and adding to their sound, and Trouble Will Find Me is no exception. There’s a bit more edge to the sound, with more heavier moments than seen on previous efforts, typified on ‘Sea Of Love’ which builds heavily before quickly stripping it all away for the refrain of ‘If I stay here / Trouble will find me”. ‘I Need My Girl’ displays the Dessner brother’s envious talents, and like every other National album, there isn’t a bad song on it.

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#2: Arcade Fire – Reflektor

It was with great trepidation that many listened to the eccentric Canadian’s fourth album. You never know what to expect with a new Arcade Fire album, with each drastically different from the last. Reflektor is just an hour and a half of extremely talented musicians jamming and messing around, and it’s brilliant. The title track sets the tone early, a jolly and highly danceable anthem with backing vocals from Bowie, while ‘Here Comes The Night Time’ is by far the catchiest song of the year. It’s one of those albums that needs to be listened to from cover to cover and, frankly, it’s records like these that keep the album format going.

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#1: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

It’s pretty rare for the best album of the year to be released way back in February, but the New Zealand-come-American’s second effort is impossible to look past. On II Ruban Nielson consolidates on the fuzzy goodness of his debut and builds on it to create a swirly, melodic and hugely complex record that is as addictive as it is layered. The lyrical content is heavy-hitting and relatable, focusing on the period of time Nielson and co spent touring their debut, where he claims they were “killing themselves”, and focusing on this separation from his wife and young child. There’s hardly anyone that could say they haven’t felt like Nielson does when he sings: “I wish that I could swim and sleep like a shark does / I’d fall to the bottom and I’d hide til the end of time” and “It’s a strange old state of mind / Memories they mess with my mind”. The production is just perfect for what it needs to be, made even more impressive by the fact it was all completed in Nielson’s basement home studio. The guitar work stands out across every track, with the catchiness of ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’ or the Beatles-esque rock of ‘One At A Time’. Unknown Mortal Orchestra made something truly special on II, and it’s one that you find yourself always going back to over the whole year. A brave, interesting and complex release from one of the most talented musicians going round at the moment.