Archives for category: Dunedin Pop Underground

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.

Finally, an end to 31 Days of May Madness for New Zealand Music Month, posting a New Zealand music track a day throughout May. Ending the way we began, with an appropriately-titled song from Dunedin post-noise-rock (or maybe we could call it Dun-gaze) newcomers Bathysphere called “See Ya”:

Bathysphere released their first album just as May started. That’s wonderful news because their first song “Window” and then this song – which is from the recent Dunedin compilation “…And It Could Be Right Now – New Music From Ōtepoti​/​Dunedin” – were the kind of thing there ought to be more of in the world.

Bathysphere is made up of a who’s-who of the Dunedin music underground, including Trace / Untrace Records founders Julie Dunn (Asta Rangu, Mary Berry) and Richard Ley-Hamilton (Asta Rangu, Space Bats, Attack!, Males), with Josh Nicholls (Koizilla, Space Bats, Attack!, Asta Rangu, Fazed on a Pony) and Peter McCall (Fazed on a Pony).

Our Day 30 song for 31 Days of May Madness, attempting to post a New Zealand track every day of the month of May, is Negative Nancies with “What Would John Say”:

Some of the Dunedin songs posted this month have had a hint of anarchic anything-goes punk and Weird Dunedin, and Casio-powered Negative Nancies are another from that realm. “What Would John Say” is from the Dunedin trio’s not-quite-fully-released-yet first album “Heatwave”.

Its full release may have been complicated by uncertain pandemic manufacturing and freighting logistics, but almost everything else about the band and the album is unconventional and unpredictable so dive in and weird out. Check their thrilling 2018 12” EP “You Do You” as well.

Negative Nancies are Tess Mackay (Casio, vocals), Emilie Smith (drums, vocals), and Mick Elborado their wired guitar+feedback sonic alchemist. They are an intergenerational amalgam of musical explorers from different scenes, with Mick part of many great bands like The Terminals, Scorched Earth Policy and The Shallows released on Flying Nun Records in the 80s.

Our Day 29 song for 31 Days of May Madness, attempting to post a New Zealand track every day of the month of May, is “Reed Replacement” by Robert Scott & Dallas Henley:

“Reed Replacement” is from a very limited edition CD album called “Level 4” with an original artwork cover from Robert Scott (The Clean, The Bats, Magick Heads). Scott and his partner Dallas Henley recorded the songs at home during “Level 4” during NZ’s nationwide Covid19 Level 4 lockdown in 2020.

Scott’s two most recent solo albums – “Ends Run Together” and “The Green House” – are two of the understated highlights of NZ music in the past decade.   

This low-key unpolished set of songs is an audio scrap-book of songs that, in normal times, would end up being developed for albums by The Bats, or The Clean. “Reed Replacement” here would make a perfect song for any future (but highly unlikely) album by The Clean.

The guitar and voice is Scott’s of course. His unavoidable influence on bassist Dallas Henley is clear throughout the album, as she provides the most Robert Scott-esque basslines imaginable, using the instrument as a melodic counterpoint to Scott’s guitar and vocal melodies.  

If you are in Dunedin and pop out to Port Chalmers on Otago Harbour you will find their gallery and art supplies shop Pea Sea Art on the main street. Pop in, view and buy the art works, and check the bins of local music on LP instore too.

Our Day 24 song for 31 Days of May Madness, attempting to post a New Zealand track every day of the month of May, is “The Four Seasons” by Tidal Rave:

“The Four Seasons” is a new song from the Wellington band, released in March this year, and following their first album “Heart Screams” released last year just as the pandemic lockdown commenced in NZ. That album demonstrated Tidal Rave do the dark garage guitar and keyboard thing that New Zealand is world famous for really well.

Anyone into those peculiarly dark and brooding Christchurch bands that were on Flying Nun Records in the 1980s (Pin Group, The Terminals, Max Block, Scorched Earth Policy, and their later post-FNR offspring Dadamah) would have recognised the uneasy listening claustrophobia lurking in Tidal Rave’s music on last year’s album. 

“The Four Seasons” seems a step up in the short disrupted year since the album, and the band here sound less like those NZ antecedents, and more like Vivian Girls with urgent its urgent pulsebeat drumming, three-guitar+keyboard density, those vocal harmonies, and a killer chorus.