Archives for category: Dunedin Pop Underground
Photo credit: Alex Lovell-Smith

“VIC” is the latest single from Asta Rangu, ahead of an epic-sounding first album “ENTRTNMNT” due out at the end of May. The song is a reflection on Western society’s “fascination with celebrity, legacy and progress”.

“VIC” is the least fidgety, most poppy (in a New Wave kind of way) song Asta Rangu have released so far. It’s also their best. Sometimes with popcraft less is more, certainly in turning a hook-filled song into a sing-along classic.

Asta Rangu is the latest music creation entity of Richard Ley-Hamilton, since 2017. Prior to that he led helium-powered Dunedin surf-pop band Males, who combined their first two EPs and single on a release called “Run Run Run/ MalesMalesMales” in 2013 then followed that with an album “None The Wiser” a few years later, both of which are essential listens if you want to tune into Dunedin music in the mid-twenty-tens.

In addition to Ley-Hamilton (who also plays in Space Bats, Attack! and Bathysphere) Asta Rangu also features some heavyweights of the noisier end of contemporary Dunedin music scene with guitarist Julie Dunn (Bathysphere), drummer Josh Nicholls (Koizilla, Space Bats, Attack! Dale Kerrigan) and bassist Angus McBryde (Bye Bye Fishes).

The first great new release of 2022 is upon us, in the form of an unexpected album “Silicon Pink”, the first music from Port Chalmers, Dunedin duo Thorn Dells. Here’s “Dark Taste”.

Thorn Dells is Nikolai Sim (Élan Vital, Kolya) and Lucinda King (Death And The Maiden, Bad Sav , Floating Island). “Silicon Pink” is a fantasia of dark hybrid electronic pop, each song a shift in time and space, mixing light and darkness, electronic pop and more exploratory sounds.

There are echoes of 90s dubby trip hop in places, as well as crystalline radio-friendly pop (the sublime “The One I Fear” with vocals from Sean Patrick Donald), and the gloriously sinister “Orlando” somehow channels an imaginary post-grunge Breeders mutation.  

The whole album all feels majestic and epic, the kind of album you would expect to hear on a major independent label (Mute, 4AD, etc.) but this is 2022, and self-releasing through Bandcamp is where you will find the sound of today’s essential exploratory music underground.

Happy New Year…. well, here’s hoping. One thing’s for sure, as with the past two years, it will be music that help us get through the unknown ahead. Two things actually; music and Bandcamp. To prepare us for the unexpected of the unknown here’s Vanessa Worm and Danny Creature with their “Untitled“:

“Untitled” is an abstract dance meditation improvisation. It was “jam made just hours after seeing you on the street” but as with everything on the extraordinary unique Vanessa Worm album Vanessa 77″ this goes off-piste in the most unexpected ways.

Danny Creature (Thought Creature, Death and the Maiden, Élan Vital‘s Danny Brady) provides the slinky acid-adjacent groove and bassline, weaving in chintzy analogue rhythm machine tones and a little breakbeat snare sample to spin the wheels. Vanessa Worm does Vanessa Worm over top of this compulsively danceable groove, which is to improvise unexpected exploratory sounds and vocalisations.

“Untitled” is one of 24 tracks on a compilation of electronic-themed music from Dunedin artists released on Christmas Eve called “Music for Christmases”: “A fun, fast project, and an odd Christmas gift. Originals, or deconstructed Christmas covers, made on machines. But nothing too Christmassy, eh.” say the compilers.

Continuing our theme of soundtracks to ‘escape from Dystopia’ with here’s something a bit closer to home, the now Dunedin-based duo The Melancholies and “Cool Magic” from their recent self-titled 4 track EP:

“Cool Magic” is all decelerated minimal bass and drum-machine post-punk, as gloomy as it is exotic. It has a bit of that languid time-stretching cadence of HTRK and the dark energy spells of Young Hellions mixed in too.

As with both of those musical outfits sparse guitar and chunky bass riffs provide the textures over the electronic percussion, while synths, drones and other sonic treatments are the atmospheric wash over and through this hypnotic song and throughout the EP.

The duo is Holly Coogan and Tom Young and the other standout track on this strong 4 song EP – “Cute Aggression” -was apparently released 3 years ago. Good things take time. The 4 songs on this first EP are all Good Things. Perfect soundtracks for your escape from Dystopia.

Following on from the previous PopLib post, Ghosts of the Dunedin Music Scene, Auckland/ Hanoi melodic guitar rock band The Roulettes have released a new album of intriguingly undercooked (in a good way) home-recorded demos called “Demosphere”, which includes two unreleased early 1990s Andrew Brough (The Orange, Straitjacket Fits, Bike) songs. Here’s one of them: “Something’s Changing”:

The Roulettes Justin McLean explains: “We  included these 2 previously unreleased songs by Andrew Brough, which we had demos of, provided by Andrew’s brother Don. Andrew taught these songs to me in 1992 when I played in the first version of Bike,” says Justin. “They recently resurfaced on a clip on YouTube of the first gig we played, and I got to relearning them. I always loved these songs, and wanted to share them with a wider audience. I recorded them using Andrew’s guitar.”

Andrew Brough was Justin McLean’s stepbrother, and a musical mentor for bassist Ben Grant and McLean in their first band Funhouse in Dunedin in the 1990s, producing recordings and giving them invaluable advice. There’s something immediately distinctive and transporting about Brough’s song-writing and these two covers of his early post-Fits songs certainly create a haunting goose-bumps reminder of Brough’s soaring legacy as part of that band, from the guitars to the vocals.

All the recordings for the album were done at home in Auckland by Justin McLean or at home in Hanoi by Ben Grant. The idea was to capture the freshness of the demo recordings before they become overworked. Despite – or perhaps because of – those modest constrained origins “Demosphere” is a strong and cohesive collection of Beatle-esque harmony-filled guitar rock well worth your Bandcamp download dollars.  

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.

The New Existentialists are the Auckland ensemble of George D. Henderson (The Spies, The And Band, Mink, The Puddle). They have just released an album called “Poetry is Theft”. This one’s a proper album, as in, recorded in a studio. Last year they released an album called “Didn’t Have Time” which was a collection of works in progress rather than a proper, planned album release. Not that you would notice. Anyway, here’s the wonderful “Flavor of Love”:

Flavor of Love was an early 2000s reality TV dating show series , in which Flavor Flav (of Public Enemy fame) chose to not marry or date any of the winners from any of the three seasons over which twenty different ladies competed for his heart as they live together in a California mansion. It seems the unlikely inspiration for a gloriously wonky piece of underground NZ lounge pop, yet here we are.

Clearly songwriter George D. Henderson has been a committed viewer, investing emotional energy in the romantic outcomes of Series 3, episode 15 (“Parlez-Vous Flavor?”), but managing to turn the narcotic of reality television into a work of wonder; tender, romantic, and funny, from it’s opening refrain “She forgot how her love had been tested/ When he showed her the streets where he’d been arrested”.

The New Existentialists on “Poetry is Theft” are George D. Henderson (lead vocals, guitars, keyboards), Jamey Danger (bass, backing vocals), Ned Bycroft (drums, percussion), and Chris Heazlewood (synth). “Flavor of Love” here also has a beautifully melancholic brass contribution by Don McGlashan (Blam Blam Blam, The Muttonbirds).

When Bruce Russell (The Dead C/ Xpressway Records) explained in 1991 in a review in NZ music weekly Rip It Up: “that since the mid-70s George Henderson (poet, nutritional theorist, connoisseur of the esoteric) has been constantly engaged in an obscure but utterly uncompromising investigation-cum-pilgrimage through the ‘secret’ side of music, thought and the fine arts in this country” he could not have anticipated the investigation-cum-pilgrimage of this “connoisseur of the esoteric” would lead to “Flavor of Love”. But it has.

We can’t travel far in Dunedin right now, but we can explore outer space with Space Bats, Attack! thanks to a brand new release of timeless 5 year old recordings called “Oort”. Here’s “Suns”:

“Suns” is a relentlessly heavy psychedelic monster of a track, melting together hot sparking guitars with an old analogue mono synth to stretch the fabric of space and time. It’s in the same kind of league as those fabulously heavy psych jams created by the combination of Kandodo McBain.

The whole album – recorded 2016 but unreleased for 5 years – is a deep well of psychedelic space-rock, futuristic astral surf rock, and, well, just joyfully inventive noise. There’s so much to explore here, and so much exploratory wigged out energy, insane riffing, and pulverising bass and drums, it will give your stereo (or heaphones) a good workout.

To recap briefly – Space Bats, Attack! are also a discovery point for a swathe of other noisy Dunedin guitar bands. As well as guitarist Lee Nicholson (Thundercub, and Lightning Wave effect pedal guru) you have guitarist Richard Ley-Hamilton (formerly of Males, now Asta Rangu), and the Nicholls brothers – Josh (drums) and Zac (bass). Zac is also a brilliant guitarist and along with Josh is in  Koizilla. Various members are also present in current noisy Dunedin bands Bathysphere and Dale Kerrigan.

Dunedin noise-band Dale Kerrigan, led by guitarist and vocalist Shlee Nichols, have released their first album “Noise Bitch”. It’s a punishing blast of full-fury noise rock, as “RipGirl101” demonstrates ably:

“RipGirl101” is a great introduction to the album. Typical of the songs on the album it’s monstrous, in a Sonic Youth meets Slayer kind of way.

The band tag their sound as “noise rock” and “emo” on bandcamp but there’s also elements of punk, sludge metal, avant-garde dissonance and goodness knows what else going on in the chunky riffage, and loud-quiet dynamics of their particular style of noise rock.

Dale Kerrigan (a band, there is no-one called Dale Kerrigan in the 4 piece group) is the brainchild of Ōtepoti/ Dunedin musician Shlee Nicholls (Mary Berry, Flesh Bug), another from the noisy Nicholls family production line of musicians, alongside hyperactive drumming brother Josh Nicholls (Koizilla, Fazed on a Pony, Asta RanguSpace Bats, Attack! et al.) and friends Joel Field (Porpoise), and Connor Blackie (Koizilla, Adelaide Cara).

“Noise Bitch” will be available on cassette tape with art book soon. In the meantime, treat yourself to the download.

From the darkest corners of Dunedin’s experimental music underground, the“Rag & Bone 2018” album by Odessa managed to avoid detection by PopLib until April of this year. It’s an extraordinary slice of industrial lo-fi darkwave with a soulful heart. Here’s “Potential To Kinetic”:

Back in April we shared a haunting track “to a place” by Ana Moser from the Dunedin compilation …And It Could Be Right Now – New Music From Ōtepoti​/​Dunedin. Moser’s previous music was with duo Odessa, so “Rag & Bone 2018″ required further investigation, and turned out to offer some similar darkly wonderful music.

The stand out tracks are the opener “Cool Breeze” and “Potential to Kinetic” here. Moser’s vocals provide an enthralling heart of soulful jazz-blues stylings to contrast with the industrial grind, effects, disorienting lo-fi samples, and mechanical rhythms.

This track in particular sounds like a kind of hybrid of some of the elements of the music of Massive Attack, Portishead, and HTRK, but created on a Dunedin underground musician budget, and sounding all the better for that. The track creates a menacing sense of dislocation, electronic sounds eroded by the glitch and decay of digital artifacts, vocals moving in and out of focus.

Elsewhere the album tracks alternate between pummeling distorted pulses and minimalist soundscapes of artfully decelerated, brutally primitive dark-wave industrial dance music, some of which feature more of Moser’s magical vocals.