Archives for posts with tag: Charcoal Burners
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.

“Tell Me” is the second song of an ambitious 14 song double LP of lost Dunedin music by Charcoal Burners. Choosing just one song to feature was a fraught task. “Tell Me” seemed to best encapsulate in one relatively brief song all the jangling, squalling, cyclical, melodic wonder in his amalgam of 70’s rock (Neil Young & Crazy Horse especially), hardcore-post-punk-via-shoegaze (part Hüsker Dü, part Ride, part Velvet Crush), all as re-imagined from within the hyper-busy, perhaps obsessive mind of sometimes Dunedin musician Andrew Spittle.

Since 1990 Andrew Spittle – under his own name and with bands Dating Godot, Das Phaedrus, All Red Cables and now 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.

Just to confound and confuse, this new release on gatefold double LP called “The Scottish Play”, which is attributed to Spittle’s most recent Charcoal Burners iteration, was initially released as a Dating Godot album in 2002. Spittle was the only remaining member of the band when it was recorded, Dating Godot having dissolved after the release of 4 (!) albums into the void the previous year, so I guess 18 years on he can chose whichever name he wants to release it under.

The album features a few piano based songs, and some acoustic neo-folk, but the predominant theme is overdriven guitar rock, and an unusual but successful blend of traditional guitar rock, post-punk’s hardcore and grunge sonics, appropriated drum loops, and the textured layered soundwalls and submerged vocals of shoegaze. It’s a wonderful album, full of variety, melody, and a lot of mystery and haze.

While the album title references the alternate name used by superstitious thespians for a certain Shakespeare play, this is only loosely a ‘concept album’ and any themes around obsessive ambition and regret appear to be the personal reflections of the songwriter. But, as with the play, the story (lyrics here) sometimes offer coded universal themes.

I’d heard of Dating Godot, and saw their prolific CDs in Echo Records here in Dunedin at the time. But, without hearing them, I didn’t understand where they fitted into the music I liked. So having “The Scottish Play” (re)released in the imposing and enduring format of a double LP 18 years on is a revelation, and the discovery of a seam of ‘lost’ (overlooked) Dunedin music from the past. Having never heard this, or the band, before, there’s no aura of nostalgia. The use of drum loops ‘sampled’ painstakingly from favourite albums also gives the album a curiously contemporary but timeless feel. Like that Scottish castle, this album feels haunted by ghosts.

Spittle has been called an ‘outsider’, but most independent NZ music is made by ‘outsiders’, making music beyond the commercial mainstream, following rules of their own making, or perhaps attempting imitation of, or homage to, a particular overseas style, and failing with original results. The prolific and independent Spittle has also operated outside of any particular scene or label.

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. But in 2002 Dunedin was all but invisible to the world, and a band outside of recognised scenes at the time would be doubly invisible, regardless releasing 4 albums in a year. Here’s an overdue chance to correct that.