Archives for category: Rants about music etc.

Moeraki Skyline

‘Tis the season for gratuitous, infuriating, pointless, reductive “Best of the Year” lists. So here’s PopLib’s list contribution.

It’s not a “best of…” but just a most-played/ favourites list. Mostly stuff you may not have heard (unless you check this blog regularly) but worth a few minutes of your time to check out over the “festive” season. “PopLib Recommends…” might be a better description.

  1. Day Ravies – “Liminal Zones” (Strange Pursuits/ Sonic Masala)

“Liminal Zones” has been thrashed around here this year; at home and in the car for months on end. I know every song intimately and still get a thrill when it’s playing. Keyboards and synths duel with swooping, restless guitar lines on this wondrous mix of honest, gritty self-recorded contemporary Australian post-punk/ New Wave.

2. Leaf Library – “Daylight Versions” (WIAIWYA)

Just bloody beautiful: an album of melodic, meditative anthems to the sea and natural world from a London band using hypnotic repetition, a few chords and drones to remarkable effect through the ebb and flow of song dynamics and instrumental and noise arrangements. I hear echoes of Broadcast, Stereolab and Tortoise in their sound and unconventional approach but the end result is a distinctive Leaf Library soundworld.

3. Death And The Maiden – “Death And The Maiden”  (Fishrider)

I’ve broken my own golden rule of not posting stuff here I release on the label I run, but I can’t ignore this album because it has been one of my 3 most-played albums in 2015. It’s part electronica – slow dance/ trance arpeggio synth lines and clattering percussion – and part futuristic post-punk guitars and bass. But it’s the human heart of the voices which bind it all together into something special and unique. It helped me through a dark time in the first half of the year and I’m eternally grateful to the songs and the people involved for creating a world in which it is possible to lose yourself for 40 minutes in music that is dark and melancholy but also mysterious, coolly beautiful and, ultimately, positive and uplifting.

4. Sam Hunt with David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights – “The 9th” 

“The 9th” is legendary New Zealand poet Sam Hunt orating his – and others – poetry, set to a backing of atmospheric psychedelic guitar music. The album gives David Kilgour (The Clean) and his band The Heavy Eights freedom to explore free of song structure, although some songs do have a chorus of sorts. The atmosphere of the music is a perfect combination for Sam’s words and voice, providing more than just background.

5. Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus – “beauty will save the world” (Occultation Recordings)

An extraordinary album of lush, sometimes unsettling and ghostly “apocalyptic folk” mixed with arcane religious/ spiritual laments and incantations, some industrial electronic sounds, and spoken word samples. It’s a haunting, misty and compellingly beautiful album listened to in its entirety, a soundtrack to an imaginary European art film.  This Liverpool collective have been creating occasional intriguing multi-media performances and a handful of album since the 1980s. This is their best yet.

6. Knife Pleats – “Hat Bark Beach” (WIAIWYA)

There’s an easy familiarity about the frantic-paced pop on “Hat Bark Beach” – all 12 songs are in the 2 minute to 2 & 1/2 minute range. Sometimes Knife Pleats channel the kind of primal 80s indie-pop frenzy of The Shop Assistants, other times perhaps the pulsing sophistication of early Stereoloab. The upbeat/downbeat songs here are bursting with fuzz & jangle pop, propelled by insistent simple drumming and topped with glorious pop melodies and engaging vocals.

7. Shunkan – “The Pink Noise” (Art is Hard)

Los Angeles musician Marina Sakimoto, with a full band version of Shunkan, recorded The Pink Noise in Lyttelton during two years in NZ, most of that time based in Invercargill.  The album is a fully-formed fuzzy pop masterclass that moves away from the DIY bedroom recordings of her 2014 “Honey, Milk & Blood” EP. The songwriting, vocals and all-round performance by the band is sensational. Even though Marina has recently relocated back to LA, there’s a case for continuing to claim Shunkan – and certainly The Pink Noise album – as a product of NZ’s lower South Island for a while longer.

8. Totally Mild – “Down Time” (Bedroom Suck Records)

Queensland label “Bedroom Suck Records” continues its hot run of form, releasing a heap of gems over recent years. “Down Time” was my pick of their 2015 releases. It’s a beautifully constructed collection of wryly wistful pop featuring twangy guitars and soaring vocals.  There’s nothing ‘slacker’ about Totally Mild’s Aussie guitar pop. It’s bright and airy, sharply focused, deliciously melodic and its simple perfection will take your breath away.

9. Heather Woods Broderick – “Glider” (Western Vinyl)

Heather Woods Broderick accompanied Sharon van Etten on her March 2015 tour of NZ on keyboards and vocals. SVE mentioned Heather – a multi-instrumenatlist and regular contributor to others’ recordings and tours – had her own album coming out, so I tracked down “Glider” from her US label. It’s another album to lose yourself in. These woozy, drifting soundscapes of lush and dreamy reverb and delay-drenched atmospheric dream-pop sit somewhere between Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star.

10. Wormstar – “Turning Red”

Wormstar is an Auckland based DIY artist/ band and “Turning Red” channels the spirit of so many of my favourite bands – notably The Pastels (Scotland), Pavement (US), The Stevens (Australia) and The Clean (NZ) – so it’s no surprise it’s wormed it’s way into a starring role on this list. Fuzz and jangle guitar pop with heartache melodies and plenty of fresh and weird excursions for good measure.

Honourable mentions – Nadia Reid – “Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs”, Ela Orleans –  “Upper Hell”, The Shifting Sands – “Cosmic Radio Station” “Cosmic Radio Station”, The Granite Shore – “Once More From The Top” , Jay Som – “Untitled” “Untitled”, Anthonie Tonnon “Successor”, Chastity Belt – “Time To Go Home” Salad Boys – “Metalmania”, Space Bats, Attack! – “Space Bats, Attack!”, Govrmint – “Pipe DRM”

Here’s the second unnecessary list from the mid-way point in PopLib’s year of music discovery 2015. This one is PopLib’s favourite 5 songs posted so far this year.

OK, it’s actually 6 songs, but the two songs sharing 5th equal on this list total just over 3 minutes together. Anyway, these are the songs played the most, loved the most so far in 2015. Pretty simple…

5 = Jim Nothing – Raleigh Arena

Christchurch 4-track portastudio cassette tape mangler Jim Nothing encapsulates the spirit of fuzzy lo-fi guitar pop in 1 minute and 18 seconds with “Raleigh Arena” from his “Zig Zag Blues” cassette.

5 = Shunkan – Our Names

The first single in advance of a debut album due later in 2015, “Our Names” is a different sounding Shunkan to the name we were first introduced to a year ago via the self-recorded cassette EP “Honey, Milk & Blood” and the following electronica excursions on シュンカン I . The Shunkan of “Our Names” is now a 5-piece band (one of the best live bands around the south of NZ at the moment) and the song a stirring 2-minute fuzz-pop anthem full of melodic hooks.

4. Jay Som/ Melina Duterte – Forget About It Kid

From that Cure-inspired chorus guitar to the epic chiming guitar parts and synth wash, the combination of elements of 80’s post-punk with dreamy synth-pop gives this fine song by young Californian Melina Duterte (also going under the name Jay Som) depth and substance.

3. Ego – Moon

These Sydney youngsters have delivered an unlikely space-rock anthem that sounds contemporary while also unwittingly recreating some 70’s style soft-rock magic through those reverb-washed harmony vocals. Supple, under-stated drumming and earworm guitar melodies give a hint of a band with much potential.

2. Birdation – Hen’s Teeth

Within the murky overblown distortion and submerged vocals of “Hen’s Teeth” lurks a brilliant song. But the structural murk itself contributes so much to the mood struck here. Hard to believe something as massive sounding as this is performed live by just one person. But anyone who has seen Hope Robertson play as Birdation (or in her many other guitarist guises) knows what she can conjure with a jumble of pedals, ancient drum-machine and sundry electronic devices, including the unexpected sonic properties of an e-cigarette.

1. Day Ravies – Under the Lamp

The whole “Under The Lamp” EP – and the 7″ single preceding it – is wonderful. Can’t stop playing it. Every song is a favourite but “Under The Lamp” is just so perfect. The sonic churn and swoop of the guitar evokes My Bloody Valentine, but the vocal melody would shine on a Broadcast album and the whole thing is wrapped up in a Stereolab-esque keyboard swirl, without sounding derivative of any of these bands. A second Day Ravies album is out in July. Can’t wait.

Every Day is RSD
I usually try to avoid any comment here on the annual commercial circus that record Store Day has become. Everyone’s sick of that griping right? And the IDEA is noble – “hey, let’s celebrate and draw attention to independent record stores by having a day that gets people into the shops who might not otherwise visit them.”

But when the effects appear to be more and more detrimental to both smaller independent record stores and to smaller independent record labels and those people start voicing their concerns… well, let’s just say it’s all getting interesting.

The issue was summarised in an excellent commentary on Twitter recently from Repressed Records in Sydney, Australia – which is both a small Independent Record Store AND a small Independent Record Label. Here’s a summary of their comments:

Limited Edition Record Store Day pressing = 1000 copies
Ambitious run for majority of great current day bands = 500

There’s a serious problem with attention given to most great music of today. It is less likely to be considered ‘relevant’ unless it has a legacy.

True Independent Music Culture is getting squeezed out of its own habitat.

Record Store Day could be done better & foster true independent Music Culture better as Independent Record Stores are, or can be, so important, creating an alternative dialogue & visibility for untainted music.

I agree with all of these. So do Howling Owl Records in this splendidly Quixotic venting. Not sure what to do about it though. I have enjoyed spending previous Record Store Days at my local record store. They couldn’t afford to be part of the official day or order any of the official RSD titles but they had the shop full of customers enjoying the day for the sake of it. That’s something more small stores seem to be doing – an ‘Anti-RSD’ movement. Which will probably be just as effective (and a lot more fun) than the speculator-led crush at RSD stores.

My own experiences over the past few years have caused me to be concerned about what RSD has become. I run Fishrider Records, a small independent record label. The most recent release – an album from Dunedin electronic dance/trance post-punk trio Death And The Maiden – initially expected late December or early January – was held up due to pressing plant delays in the UK contributed to by high priority RSD jobs. LPs were finally delivered in March. That put us (it’s a co-release in the UK with Occultation Recordings) in the difficult position of deciding whether to schedule the UK release prior to RSD on 18 April or after.

We knew stores reduced or stopped ordering regular releases prior to RSD, particularly smaller stores with financial and space constraints. But we also knew stores took a while to recover financially after RSD from non-returnable payment up-front RSD stock purchases. We didn’t know how long we would need to wait for stores to recover and return to ‘normal’. This well-researched and balanced article from the For Folk’s Sake website explains the issues small stores face around RSD.

We opted to release the album in the UK pre-RSD in early April. Store orders to the distributor were way down on previous releases. Understandable when credit limits are tight and a store is faced with a choice between a new release from a new band and hyped RSD ‘limited editions’ from established or ‘legacy’ artists that will hopefully have customers queuing down the street on RSD.

As an aside, even without the pre-RSD hype circus dominating music media, it is more difficult now for true independent labels to get access even to online media, competing for attention against well-funded establishment PR campaigns. That’s one of the reasons you see mostly the same releases and names across all the main online media. And that’s one of the reasons I do PopLib. In its insignificant way it it may help draw some attention to worthwhile music people are unlikely to find out about otherwise.

Fishrider LP banner 3

The label I run releases an album roughly every 6 months. Over the past 3 years each release has taken a month longer to get pressed than the previous one. This has a huge effect on small labels for planning releases (including timing promotion, publicity and tours) and on cash-flow. The delays between paying for vinyl and receiving income from their sale is lengthening with each release. That in turn makes it harder to fund future releases or assist bands with recording or touring.

Ever-increasing delays resulting from demand out-stripping production capacity are a sign of success for the vinyl music format. However, half the year now is dominated extra delays caused by pre-Christmas and then pre-RSD (2nd Christmas!) pressing runs. As a consequence, minimum pressing volumes (many plants are now turning away jobs under 500 copies), release date planning uncertainty and the stretched out cash-flow implications of ever-lengthening turnaround times all make it more difficult for new labels who want to release music in the preferred physical format to start up or survive.

I suspect that direct-to-customer mail-order sales keep most small labels going now. Ironically, that is something Independent Record Stores complain about. For the other 364 days of the year those independent record stores rely on a steady stream of customers seeking new releases (and new re-issues). Some of those customers now prefer to buy direct from labels – better prices, better deals. Unfortunately some (a disturbingly significant percentage I believe) prefer to buy from Am*z*n. Sometimes because the shops don’t stock those releases (see my comments above). It’s a vicious circle of cause and effect.

Independent record labels (and self-releasing artists) are releasing the most interesting and risk-taking new music, and developing new artists, a few of whom will carry on to be the ‘legacy artists’ of the future. When that symbiotic relationship between small labels (including self-release artists) and independent record stores is damaged the ecology of the independent music culture sector is damaged. As Repressed Records said: “True Independent Music Culture is getting squeezed out of its own habitat.”

I’m not sure what the answer is. What is happening is just a supply and demand capitalist business thing. RSD represents a chance for stores and some labels to make some money. That’s business. But it is unfortunate that something created with noble intentions of supporting independent stores has been manipulated into an artificial supply & demand scarcity trick. It has turned what started as a good idea into a major commercially-driven music industry event which has grown so big and ugly some now believe is causing damage to the wider independent music culture sector.

Time for a re-think if those behind RSD truly care about Independent Record Stores and the wider Independent Music Culture they are part of. That’s my RSD War Dance.

Le Sigh II Casette Compilation
Here’s a timeless piece of dead-eye post-punk called “Sweetie” by Tomboy on “The Le Sigh Vol. 1” from Brooklyn cassette label Birdtapes.
“Don’t you think I’m Fine? And don’t you think I’m nice? Well don’t fucking touch me. Let me give you some advice”

Who are the “arbiters of taste” in music these days? What even is an “arbiter of taste”? Surely we like what we like but we have to hear it first to make that decision. So anyone who can turn us on to something we will like, someone who we trust as a source of music recommendations, becomes that thing.

The internet has democratised the process of music discovery. Anyone can be an “arbiter of taste” and share recommendations. The internet, blogs and social media also neutralise the so-called “gate-keepers” of previous eras (those whose commercial label decisions or editorial music magazine decisions or radio programming decisions regulated most of what we heard or could find out about). Well, those gatekeepers are neutralised as long as we care to look and explore beyond what the mainstream media spoon-feeds us.

The most valuable thing a person can do with music doesn’t involve commerce/ money. It involves TIME. More important than buying it (which is still mighty important) is talking about music and persuading others to listen to music. We can do this through ‘social media’ (sharing links) or through a blog which cultivates followers and regular readers. Or we can formalise that dedication and passion and apply it to achieve a goal over time – an online music discovery website, a ‘zine, a record label. Or all of the above.

We can complain about what others are doing or not doing or we can do something ourselves. Blogs & websites are no/low-cost publishing options. And labels can utilise DIY/ DIT platforms like Bandcamp and low-cost, scale-able physical media like cassettes and CD-Rs.

It’s not EASY (or quick) to establish and maintain something others will value. It never was, and the internet just makes the production/ distribution part easier. It still requires TIME – dedication to the cause over time, a passion to communicate and engage interest with a community of readers/ listeners worldwide. And it requires that elusive matter of taste – having something others share and judgement others trust. It also requires an element of good luck and good will.

The Le Sigh is a great example of what that kind of dedication can produce. The Le Sigh is “a blog that highlights women in music and art” and the Le Sigh cassette compilation series released by Brooklyn cassette label Birdtapes is packed full of excellent grainy lo-fi DIY underground ‘pop-punk’.

Other highlights on Le Sigh Vol. 1 for me which highlight the quality and diversity of the music and artists here are:

r.l.Kelly – “see you soon”

Lizard Kisses – “Little Things”

Morgan Spaner – “Being Cool Is Super Hard”

“I’m stressing because you’re so underground and I just want to hear a song I know”

Peter Gutteridge – 1961 – 2014

I had a bad feeling when I heard Peter was on a plane to New York last month. He’d never been out of the country before, only got his first passport days before. Peter wasn’t well, although much better in the past few years than he had been most of the previous few decades. He had recently been diagnosed with diabetes and was often tired, although prone to bursts of energy. His physical health was obvious. His mental health less so. He’s always been an original, a maverick, and it’s hard to tell when someone does something out of character when their whole character is out of character.

I first met Peter in 1984 when I went to Dunedin to play drums for The Puddle at their second show. It was either at a flat where the famous Great Unwashed 7” double EP paint-splattered vinyl shower-curtain covers were being made or a warehouse loft space above a rental car company downtown with door keys thrown out of an upstairs window to let myself in. Time has blurred time & place. The following year Peter and Christine Voice (later keyboards & voice of Snapper) stayed with us in Invercargill. They turned up again ‘on holiday’ out of the blue in Christine’s unusual looking Borgward car and stayed a few days. I think he was on the run from a Great Unwashed tour. He wrote a thank-you letter later from Flying Nun’s Christchurch HQ, having just arrived in the city to find his dole had been cut off and his flat had burnt down. He said “Great Unwashed are out of action for a while or permanently – I’m not sure which.” He added “I enjoyed Invercargill in a strange sort of way.”

He was back later in 1985 with The Puddle when they played with The Chills in Invercargill on two nights in 1985, the week before the ‘Pop Lib’ mini-album was recorded. I played drums on the Friday night, the first of only two times I would ever play music with Peter. The second was last year.

The Puddle, Invercargill 1985 (from back of 'Pop Lib' sleeve)

The Puddle, Invercargill 1985 (from back of ‘Pop Lib’ sleeve)

I saw Snapper play once or maybe twice in the late 1980s and early 1990s during trips to Dunedin; a terrifying gothic-looking band making a monstrous, exhilarating, abrasive noise laced with melody. While people focus a lot on the noise side of Snapper, they had a gentler side and the ‘Shotgun Blossom’ album in particular has some beautiful contrasts between storm and calm. And then there’s that 1993 B-Side ‘Gentle Hour’…

Christine Voice & Peter Gutteridge of Snapper, 1991

Christine Voice & Peter Gutteridge of Snapper, 1991

I saw Snapper again several times these past two years; something I had never expected. It was a different Snapper, with young musicians Hope (drums) and Danny (keyboards) and either Peter’s nephew Jack on guitar or original guitarist Dominic (or both). It was looser and freer, almost an improvised pulsing distorted noise-jazz, if such a thing exists. Song structures were often replaced by feel and the music swayed.

There’s a great new song called ‘Mother’ captured at practice with Danny and Jack from about 2012 or so which may give an indication of where Peter was heading.

Last year I played drums for Peter and Chris Heazelwood at Chick’s Hotel one night, improvising around drones, playing ‘Mother’ and also playing Snapper tunes. It was a lifelong ambition to play those Snapper beats with Peter. He said afterwards “You should’ve played those Can beats you do. I’d like my music to be more fluid now, but drummers always play those Snapper beats.”

The new line-up of Snapper played a beautiful, moving show at the Wellington music festival Camp A Low Hum in February 2013. The sun was setting and Peter greeted the audience in his pale blue suit, addressing the audience like a New Age spiritualist messiah. The tension in the air was electric. The band launched into the first song… which sputtered out seconds later. Peter hadn’t tuned his guitar. They got underway eventually and it was magical. When they played his Great Unwashed song “Born in the Wrong Time” the whole crowd – most of whom were born after the song was first released – sang along.

Snapper - Camp A Low Hum music festival, Wellington, February 2013

Snapper – Camp A Low Hum music festival, Wellington, February 2013

In the past couple of years I got to know Peter again. I spent a lot of time with him this year, many long and varied sermons on life, love, nature, people & the universe, either sitting in the sun on his front porch, or freezing in his living room while a permanent sound loop of throbbing synths & ambient noise pulsed away around us for hours on end. He was a shaman, a mystic, a spiritualist.

Peter was supported quietly, almost imperceptibly, by an informal network of friends and neighbours and family who kept an eye out for him and helped him with those bits of the reality of life he wasn’t in command of quite as much. Every other time I visited him I arrived to the smell of burning and rescued a smoking, blackened pot from his stovetop. So, with that, and his health problems, the idea of Pete flying off overseas never crossed my mind. I thought it was possible he may not be around for a lot longer. However, this was not the time or the way for it to happen.

A few months ago I called in at his place on the way for a surf at Purakaunui, over the hill from Port Chalmers near Dunedin. Peter wanted to come with me, to get out of the city, find some open sky and some fresh air, to see and hear the sea. When we arrived he left his walking stick in the car, saying “I don’t need this, it just gets in the way and slows me down” and followed me out along the rocky path under the hillside by the entrance to the inlet. He kept up with me along the narrow track and clambered easily over rocks, stopping to take in the air and the sun, breathing deeply. “This is perfect mushroom country” he said, pointing out damp lush grassy slopes in the autumn afternoon light. Peter sat on the rocks and watched while I surfed. Then we walked back to the car, Peter wandering off to examine a patch of interest here and there. He talked about the natural world like it was a person. He knew the hills and land around here. The two things he cared about most were the natural world and people, and I think he felt his music could be some kind of force bringing people & nature together again, against the forces destroying the earth and society.

Peter Gutteridge as The Green Man in 'Secret Holiday' by The Puddle (video directed by Dan Wagner)

Peter Gutteridge as The Green Man in ‘Secret Holiday’ by The Puddle (video directed by Dan Wagner)

Pete was so full of ideas, of music and of life and love… but it was hard for him to find the focus and the help to make those ideas happen, or to communicate his music ideas to those who could help. He seemed to expect people to telepathically know what he wanted, to be on the same plane of thought as he was, to share the same ideas he had. He could talk endlessly about those ideas, but seemed frustrated that others didn’t understand him. I didn’t understand him.

On my last visit in July he was talking about getting some recording equipment and setting up his house to record new music. It was going to involve those looped sounds, but with a band improvising under his lead and feeding off the energy in the room, adding their ideas and voices and creating something spiritual, hypnotic and, well, pure. He wanted it to move people, calm them, heal them, inspire them, bring them together.

Peter's room

Peter’s room

He asked if I’d give him a hand to move stuff around and set up for recording. He said he’d text me the next week, but I didn’t hear from him again. I saw him briefly at The Terminals show at Chick’s Hotel after that. Then next I heard he was on a plane, inexplicably heading to New York. He was there a month, played a show there, and made it back as far as Auckland.

Pete’s gone now. But not the way he deserved to. Not that any of us get to chose. But Pete deserved serenity and to experience the moment. He would’ve known how to do that; how to let go. I prefer to imagine him slipping away while sitting on his front porch in North East Valley, Dunedin, black cat by his side, mangled cowboy hat on his head, serene smile on his face, taking in the sunshine view of the valley and hills, his spirit dissolving into the sunlight and radiating throughout the Universe of Love.

Last year I did a ‘song-a-day’ New Zealand music feature in protest/ celebration of ‘New Zealand Music Month’.

The protest part is that I (and many others involved in ‘New Zealand Music’) live, breath, sleep & dream New Zealand music every day and night of every month of every year.

I just don’t like the idea of a focus on New Zealand music for one month any more than I like the idea of one ‘Record Store Day’ (especially as now captured to benefit the larger labels). NZ Music Month is usually done through one-off events and promotional campaigns funded by NZ Music Commission and sponsors that are not part of the normal day-to-day struggle of bands and musicians playing and touring here.

These events – showcases – have a production budget most bands (and venues) would love to have. That’s great, it’s a help (some of my labels bands have played at these, so I’m not ungrateful), but it does little to sustain New Zealand music for the rest of the year. I understand why it is done this way and the intentions are good. It’s just I’d much rather see the energy and money that goes into NZ Music Month directed in a way that better supports the survival of those things essential to sustaining independent music making in NZ year-round – infrastructure supporting making music, playing live, touring and promoting music 12 months of the year.

However, regardless of my feelings about NZ Music Month, I try to celebrate New Zealand (and other) music here all year round, so I will see if I can introduce a new NZ band/ musician or song every day this month…
flower drum

First up is Trick Mammoth ‘Candy Darling’. I said I wouldn’t use PopLib to plug my own label’s releases. Trick Mammoth are on Fishrider Records but this 7″ single is on a UK label so it is not a Fishrider release and I can happily include it here as my first song for the month – and promote a very fine UK label which clearly appreciates ‘New Zealand Music’ from afar.

WIAIWYA (‘Where It’s At Is Where You Are’) is a long-running UK ‘indie-pop’ label from London. They have released a singles club series for the past few years called 7777777. It is obsessively a celebration of all things 7. The 7″ singles (all individual picture discs – seven releases a year) are each released on the 7th day of a month. There are 777 copies, with most going to subscribers and only 77 available for general sale.

Somehow WIAIWYA discovered Trick Mammoth through their early self-recorded, self-released demos and followed their progress last year as they recorded and released a few pre-release singles for their debut album ‘Floristry’. They invited them to contribute two songs for their 7777777 2014 singles club series. These were recorded in Dunedin a few days before Christmas last year. The single itself is officially released on 7 May and features ‘Doll’ (lead vocals by Millie) and this song ‘Candy Darling’ (lead vocals by Adrian).

Trivial fact for train-spotter music types here – the recording was made by Tex Houston in the same venue he has recorded The Clean, 3Ds, Magik Heads, Verlaines and David Kilgour. The amp Millie uses here for those overloaded lead guitar lines is an old Sunn 0)))) tube amp used by the 3Ds.

“There’s something about Dunedin, some unique peculiarity, that has imparted its distinctive stamp on its popular music. Perhaps that sprawling, timeless decay that the city presents to the visitor has manifested itself in the minds and music of its younger inhabitants. Just a notion.”

The second thing I ever wrote (or had published) in my part-time freelance journalist career was a review of a Dunedin fanzine called ‘Garage’. It has typically lurid writing in places, something I am still prone to doing. What was I thinking? Too much reading of the old 1980s NME is what I was thinking.

Southland Times, 'Music Scene' 1985

Southland Times, ‘Music Scene’ 1985

‘Garage’ was published by my soon-to-be-friend Richard Langston. He’s still as excitable & passionate (and prone to Tourette’s-like outbursts of swearing) about music today as he was in 1985. He doesn’t publish a fanzine these days, just occasional books of poetry. He’s a freelance TV and radio journalist & presenter now. He often sneaks outrageous NZ music onto National Radio shows he occasionally hosts as a ‘stand-in’.

There were only 6 issues of Garage fanzine. But those issues capture a big slice of the golden years of Flying Nun records and of music making in Dunedin and elsewhere in NZ.

Thirty years on I’m in an even better position to form some views on the minds and music of Dunedin’s younger inhabitants. I’m trying to write something about it for a compilation LP Fishrider Records will be releasing hopefully around June. I’ll probably just re-use this quote. It’s just as likely to be true now as it was 30 years ago.


I went to a music festival on Monday. There’s only two music festivals I’ll endure. One is Camp a Low Hum. It’s the last one in a few weeks but I won’t be there. The other is Laneway Festival in Auckland. I’ve been to three now and they manage to keep it interesting and bearable enough, with survivable crowds and enough leftfield acts to be worthwhile for the musically adventurous.

Everything on my ‘to see’ list lived up to expectations, and the less well known artists exceeded them. On the smaller side-stage Doprah were ultra-cool to kick things off for me, their trippy slow-mo trance-pop captivating.

I had limited knowledge of Youth Lagoon and their back catalogue but they played a beautifully wonky set of psychedelic fairground pop. Reminiscent at times of classic mid-period Mercury Rev (a good thing) but with a lot more weird adult-child wonderment. So good I bought the recent album ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ on which much of the set was based.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra were another stand-out but I knew what I was in for, having seen them in Dunedin back in July. One of the best live bands I’ve seen. Brilliant ensemble playing and mind-blowing guitar playing if you like Hendrix-in-space acid-rock. Which I do, particularly when UMO do it.

There was a sun-faded familiarity to Kurt Vile’s set that made it enjoyable but less essential and a front row position beckoned for Parquet Courts on the alternate main stage.


Parquet Courts were probably my favourite band of the day. While most bands had their instruments set up and line-checked/ sound-checked by stage techs, Parquet Courts did their own thing, like they were setting up at a seedy club rather than a stage in front of several thousand festival-goers.

They ripped through an energetic set of songs that bristled with their own odd mixture of apparent influences. The hint of Ramones & Jonathon Richman & The Modern Lovers understandable given their Brooklyn, New York origins. But they also seem to incorporate stylistic elements of UK bands The Fall, Wire and even Dr Feelgood just as much. A winning combination.

Here they are doing the glorious “Borrowed Time” for a KEXP live thing:

After that Savages were compelling – but more for their intense performance than the substance of the music overall. Then, while the more mainstream acts took over the main stages (Haim, CHVRCHES etc.) the smaller side stage held the promise of a Cat Power set after sunset.

I’ve been a fan of Cat Power for years but never seen her perform live. I’ve read a lot about unpredictable performances, train-wreck shows and so on. She played solo – alternating between guitar and piano. Some of the things I’ve read since from experience Cat watchers indicate this performance was shambolic and on the edge of disaster. I thought it was perfect, and whatever demons Chan Marshall struggles with were kept in check by the support of the tightly packed crowd. It might not be comfortable for everyone (Chan in particular) but it was something real, something true. I’ll take that any time from an artist whose catalogue is built around emotions & human frailty. As with shows I’ve experienced from Bill Callahan and Daniel Johnston – each difficult, intense performers – this one was genuine, memorable and at times sublime.


The Clean play a two-night ‘residency’ at legendary Chick’s Hotel in Port Chalmers near Dunedin in a week’s time.

The venue will be limited to 150 people each night & I may well go both nights. The first night will be loose and feral, maybe a bit like that London show captured on In-a-Live that comes with the re-issue of ‘Vehicle’

The Saturday show will be a bit more measured and probably go into the stratosphere as the crowd levitates on distortion harmonics and tribal rhythms.

Thirty two years ago the same three people – Robert Scott, Hamish & David Kilgour – played at the Rhumba Bar in Auckland. Here’s a video of them playing ‘She Goes, She Goes’.

They still look a bit like this only 32 years older. They still sound like this too. But they have elevated primitive melodic guitar rock to transcendental levels.

If you are lucky enough to be in Dunedin on Friday 31 January and Saturday 1 February you can get tickets here. You will need them as they will sell out before Friday.

If you are not in Dunedin you can probably get a flight from anywhere in the world to get there in time. You won’t regret it. And there’s plenty to do and see while you are in Dunedin.

SARAH Records

Sarah Records was a record label based in Bristol UK which ran from 1987 to 1995. It is forever associated with ‘twee’ pop – a term intended as an insult by the music press in the UK, who were more fixated on championing various ‘laddish’ genres (who remembers pre-grunge ‘grebo’?) than sensitive guitar pop. Sarah Records was the home to The Orchids, 14 Iced Bears, The Field Mice and Talulah Gosh but also later to Secret Shine, another of my favourite bands in the early 90s. Secret Shine were more ‘shoegaze’ – another UK music press term initially intended as a derogatory insult.

Sarah Records, as with so many of the smaller independent labels operating in the UK at the time was always much more than ‘twee’ pop (whatever that even was). There was a lot more social commentary & politics (often of the personal or gender kind) going on from bands on Sarah than most of the other noisy genres championed by the UK music press at the time.

Labels like Sarah Records (and The Subway Organisation, another small label also based in Bristol at the time, and 53rd & 3rd from Scotland, all of which had releases by some of the same bands) seemed a natural extension of the DIY ethos from labels like Postcard & Creation in Scotland several years earlier and continued music of that spirit.

A Sarah Records Catalogue. This one came with my copy of Sarah 23 (The Orchids) along with a postcard.

A Sarah Records Catalogue. This one came with my copy of Sarah 23 (The Orchids) along with a postcard.

There’s a documentary called “My Secret World. The Story of Sarah Records” which tells the story of the label. Here’s a trailer for it, just released on 1 January 2014:

The film has yet to be premiered and still has a way to go before it is available on DVD or screened widely. But hopefully it will get the support it requires to become available in some format sometime this year.