Das Phaedrus in Dunedin 1991 – Andrew Spittle, Victor Billot, Piers Graham

Das Phaedrus “Ghosts of the Dunedin Music Scene” is the title track from an unexpected new album from Dunedin 90s band Das Phaedrus. Unexpected because Das Phaedrus burned briefly in Dunedin 30 years ago from 1990 to about 1991 or thereabouts, and this was recorded & mixed at Chick’s Hotel July/August this year:

Das Phaedrus is another band associated with prolific Dunedin underground musician Andrew Spittle. Since 1990 Spittle – under his own name and with bands Dating Godot, Das Phaedrus, All Red Cables and more recently Charcoal Burners – has independently released over 40 albums of original music as well as a handful of singles and EPs titles. The earliest releases were cassettes, progressing to Compact Disc and eventually digital releases via Bandcamp.

I’m not sure where the boundary lies between the music of the various bands. I suspect the boundaries are in time or personnel rather than sound because this album is another bewildering exhibition of Spittle’s heady amalgam of hardcore-post-punk-via-shoegaze (part Hüsker Dü, part Ride, part Velvet Crush, part Swervedriver), all as re-imagined from the overlooked, long-forgotten less-celebrated alternative scenes to Dunedin’s celebrated alternative scenes:

“Ghosts of Dunedin’s music scene

Hang your black arches over me

Broken like a rainbow’s light”

The title track is one of the more subdued and reflective songs on the album, imbued with the dreaminess of Cocteau Twins style guitar, and the angelic Beatle-esque psychedelic melodicism of Andrew Brough of Straitjacket Fits/ Bike. Maybe he’s one of the ‘ghosts’ acknowledged here.

The album re-unites the original trio line up of Andrew Spittle (Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Percussion), Victor Billot (Bass Guitar) and Piers Graham (Drums), with the addition of Jeremy Taylor (Vocals, Guitars).

Music made in Dunedin has tended to be invisible to the world – and therefore to much of NZ. There have been rare exceptions – the 1980s and early 1990s saw a scene based around the Flying Nun Records label celebrated around the world. Then, in the 1990s Bruce Russell’s Xpressway label provided a conduit to Dunedin’s yeasty underground scene, and again in the 2010s there has been a further modest interest, facilitated by the accessibility of the internet and perhaps some post-FNR/ Xpressway curiosity.

Spittle is regarded as an ‘outsider’, but most independent NZ music is made by ‘outsiders’, following rules of their own making, or a local spin on a particular overseas style, producing original results along the way. The music on this Das Phaedrus redux recording though would have sounded well at home on the Matador, or Big Cat labels in the 1990s. While it sometimes wears its Hüsker Dü influences loud and clear it is also as timeless as a lot of Dunedin music, which exists in its own alternative universe.