Archives for posts with tag: Dunedin
Grant Hart Chicks 2010

Grant Hart outside Chicks Hotel, February 2010.

Grant Hart died last week, aged 56, after a battle with cancer. Through Hüsker Dü, Nova Mob and his solo albums he left an extraordinary back catalogue of songs. Here’s the gorgeous “Morningstar” off his last album “The Argument”, which came out on Domino Recordings in 2013.

“Morningstar” is as perfect as his earlier songs with Hüsker Dü – a simple chord change, a vocal melody that hooks you in straight away, a passionate vocal performance, lyrics combining the personal with the esoteric, that earworm keyboard refrain…

My first exposure to Hüsker Dü was in the 1980s via “Radio With Pictures”, NZ’s Sunday night ‘alternative’ music video show (well before ‘alternative’ was a thing). Specifically this video for “Don’t Want to Know if you are Lonely” which mixes live footage with grainy touring footage.

I remember being fascinated by the power of the song, the the total involvement of singing drummer Grant Hart, and the fusion of punk/ hard rock energy with classic 60’s era style of pop melodicism well before ‘grunge rock’.

I only got into Hüsker Dü from their major label releases “Candy Apple Grey” (1986) and “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” (1987). What stood out then was that Grant’s songs were the ones that resonated most for me. I made a tape of all my favourite songs from “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” for the car. They were all Grant’s songs.

After Hüsker Dü Grant’s solo music and Nova Mob albums made an impact here among those who followed his music. His single “2541” was just as perfect a song for winters in cold houses in southern NZ as it was for Minneapolis, US.

I met Grant in 2010 when I persuaded his NZ tour promoter to add a Dunedin show, by guaranteeing the event (one of a handful of ‘PopLib Presents…’ shows promoted down here between 2009 and 2014). The show – held at a packed Chicks Hotel – turned out to be the best of his tour and he played a 2 hour set, feeding off the enraptured enthusiasm of the audience.

As he was flying out to Australia from Dunedin late the following day the tour organiser asked if I could take care of Grant and his tour manager for the day and deliver them to the airport that evening. I’m always nervous of meeting my heroes – particularly ones with the reputation Grant had, but agreed.

Next day I met him at Chicks and asked what he wanted to do on his day in Dunedin. He had read that Dunedin had one of the best used bookshops in the world – Octagon Books – and he loved books. The older the better. So that was our day – a scenic tour of Dunedin via several 2nd hand bookshops. He loved Dunedin; it’s compact size, old buildings, sedate pace, and low-key, friendly people.

In Galaxy books near the Botanic Gardens a customer and her young daughter were talking to the owner. The girl was carrying a guitar her mother had just bought for her. She didn’t know how to tune it. Grant heard this and offered his help. He tuned the guitar and showed the girl how to form the shape of a few simple chords: “that’s enough for punk rock anyway” he laughed.  Her mother thanked him and asked if he did guitar lessons. Grant laughed and said it would be a long way to go to find him in Minneapolis.

I hesitantly asked about Hüsker Dü as we drove around. There was some resentment about Bob Mould, who had just announced he was writing his memoirs. Grant talked about writing his own so the real story would be told. But Grant seemed more sad that the relationship seemed irreconcilable rather than bitter about Bob Mould. He appeared to be open to talking again – as long as Bob made the first conciliatory approach. He did however have a bit to say about SST Records’ Greg Ginn, and that wasn’t so forgiving.

However, mostly what Grant talked about as we drove around Dunedin, triggered by driving past several Masonic Lodges, was the detailed history of the Freemason movement. He explained these derived from the trade guilds in the Middle Ages which provided the support of collective organisations, independent of the political power of the churches, hence the hostility and distrust from the churches towards Freemasonry. The rituals and symbols we had mocked while growing up in Invercargill and sneaking around the local Masonic Lodges to try to look inside for the supposedly satanic symbols, were initially developed as way of protecting the group from infiltration by spies and saboteurs from the churches he said.  Fascinating stuff, and about the last thing I expected to be hearing from the drummer of Hüsker Dü while driving around Dunedin.

We called in to the University’s Albany Street studio so sound person from the show the previous night could show Grant the studio he worked in. Grant played us the rough mixes of his concept album based on Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in the control room. He talked about how he would love to come back and finish the album there. He had a good feeling about Dunedin; a kind of retreat from the world where he could work in peace.

Before heading to the airport I took Grant to St Clair – Dunedin’s surf beach – where we had a last coffee and watched the surfers. The sun was shining and Grant was smiling. He loved the sea, the motion of the waves, the noise of the surf. He walked down to the railing over looking the steps and listened to the waves breaking against the rocks below. A surfer walked up the steps next to him, recognised Grant and and stopped to talk to him, thanking him for the great show the previous night and for coming to Dunedin.

On the way to the airport I asked him if there was anything I could send to him from Dunedin to remind him of his visit. He knew that Dunedin had woollen mills and explained he was a collector of Canadian Blankets from the Hudson Bay Blanket Company (cue another fascinating history lesson). I later found an old Roslyn Woollen Mill blanket in perfect condition and sent it to him. It was a large check pattern alternating crossed bands of pink and blue. Perfect.

We exchanged e-mails through to the end of 2011 over the album which was eventually released as “The Argument”on Domino Recordings in 2013. He sent me working mixes of the album, discussing plans for completing the final mixes and the difficulties he was having finding a label in the UK to release the album.  I’m glad Domino released the album, doing such a wonderful job of presenting it, and helping get him the attention and respect for the work he had devoted so many years to creating.

Although Grant returned to Dunedin last year and played again at Chicks Hotel – with a band this time –  I didn’t get a chance to talk to him in the crowded venue afterwards. I hope he had time to go to St Clair and watch and listen to the sea again.

When we exchanged those e-mails between 2009 and 2011 he always asked about the surf around Dunedin. He remembered that afternoon at St Clair watching the sea and the surf. His last e-mail to me finished: “THE RATTLE OF THE STONES IS A WILD THING TO HEAR . I WON’T FORGET IT.”

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Thought CreatureDay 27 of our 31 Days of May New Zealand Music Month marathon is a lost classic from 5 years ago by Wellington-via-Berlin band Thought Creature that not enough people have heard. Time to rectify that with a trip to their “Paradise” (play this L O U D)

“Paradise” is a guitar-heavy psychedelic dance groove celebration which would have sounded at home on a late 1980s Julian Cope album when the 1980s psychedelic pop revival was morphing into rave culture’s transcendental dance music.

Thought Creature’s Berlin sojourn in the early 2010s and their transformation into a noisy psychedelic electronica+guitar outfit led to the formation of two of Dunedin’s best genre melting electronica+ bands today – Death And The Maiden and Élan Vital. Both Dunedin bands trace their formation to Berlin around the time this song was released and the common denominator to all three bands is Danny Brady.

There’s another common denominator too: Erica Sklenars, who appears in this live video of “Paradise” from a Berlin house party and is a regular collaborator with Death And The Maiden and Élan Vital for music videos and live performance visuals.

Elan Vital_Black and White_small

Élan Vital – Photo by Phoebe Lysbeth K http://www.phoebelysbethk.com/

Day 13 of our 31 Days of May New Zealand Music Month marathon comes from Dunedin trio Élan Vital. It’s the closing track of their “Shadow Self” album and the song is called “Dreams”

“Dreams” has been a fixture in the Radio One Top 11 in Dunedin for the past 3 months. It’s not hard to work out why: it’s a great song with a compulsive kind of rhythm and lyrics most people can relate to.

“Dreams” stands out on “Shadow Self” for a couple of reasons. It’s the singing debut of Élan Vital (and Death and the Maiden) synth and electronic equipment alchemist Danny Brady.  It’s also the most human of the seven tracks which make up “Shadow Self” – a love song even.

When I first heard “Shadow Self” in its entirety the order of the tracks seemed a very deliberate progression from the harsh mechanical world of the opening title track, through worlds (each of the seven songs is a “world” in my imagination) which progressively incorporated more human elements from the voices and lyrics and emotion.

The album is a fantastic dark and richly textured exploration of scientific and human themes, incorporating lyrics and soundscapes inspired by dreams, nightmares, and horror movies. The music features an unusual combination of contemporary electronic dance music with more diverse influences from 60’s garage psych-rock (the swirling hypnotic keyboard parts by Renee Barrance), post-punk and muscular distorted bass playing a kind of mutant disco rhythm.

The closing track on the album, “Dreams”, conveys the clearest human connection of the seven experiences. It’s a song about release and freedom, love and hopefully even redemption.

From the cha-cha analogue drum machine at the start through to the breakdown and the echoing reprise by main vocalist Renee Barrance coming in at the 3 minute 30 mark the whole song is a seductive dance-floor classic. Danny’s morose yet caring vocals are the perfect understated voice for the song.

If you are in Dunedin there’s an extra chance to catch Élan Vital live at the Pioneer Hall in Port Chalmers tonight, Saturday 13 May 2017 along with another PopLib favourite Bad Sav.

Elan Vital LP playing

Asta RanguAfter what seems like (but probably wasn’t) a quiet few months in the never-ending production-line of left-field underground pop-craft from Dunedin, NZ there’s been a bit of a buzz of activity of late. Last week we introduced you to the mysterious strathcona pl, and now it’s Asta Rangu, with “Skip on Trak One”

“Skip On Trak One” is fidgetty pop with almost psychedelic glam-rock feel to the darting twisting guitar runs, the expansive layered guitars in the chorus and the intriguing lyrical flights of fantasy.

Asta Rangu is the solo brainchild and solo recording and performance project of Males‘ guitarist and songwriter Richard Ley-Hamilton. It’s a further progression from the more complex, layered, progressive pop of Males’ recent “None The Wiser” album, which was in turn a progression from the infectious helium-powered guitar-pop of their much-loved debut “Run Run Run/ MalesMalesMales”.

Even more exciting (and “Skip on Trak One” is pretty damned exciting) is that this is the first release on a brand new Dunedin label called trace / untrace records. The label plans to provide a collation and discovery point for a collection of new bands and musicians, and intends to offer digital and cassette releases initially. Bookmark their website – I have a feeling we’ll be revisiting their catalogue a bit over the coming years.

 

 

toy-love-live-at-the-gluepot“Pull Down The Shades” closes Toy Love‘s “Live at The Gluepot 1980” album, which first saw the light of day as a Record Store Day release in NZ in 2012. Now it’s available as a digital album via Bandcamp and Goner Records, who were responsible for the initial release along with Auckland record store Real Groovy Records.

Dunedin’s proto-punk band The Enemy – who feature on the cover and inside the recently published photo-book “The Dunedin Sound – Some Disenchanted Evening” – disbanded in 1978 after a move to Auckland.

Three of The Enemy – Chris Knox, Alec Bathgate and Mike Dooley – went on to form Toy Love, adding Christchurch musicians Jane Walker (keyboards) and Paul Kean (bass).

Toy Love called time in 1980. Kean subsequently went on to join The Bats, a band which lasted a bit longer than Toy Love (over 30 years now and they are still releasing fabulous albums, with a new one out soon).

Knox acquired a 4-track reel-to-reel recorder, recording the infamous “Dunedin Double” EP which helped kick-start the careers of a handful of Dunedin bands and their Christchurch label Flying Nun Records.

Knox and Bathgate formed Tall Dwarfs and the rest, as they say, is now history…

 

 

koizillaKoizilla is another supercharged band from the guitar-drum axis of Dunedin brothers Zac and Josh Nicholls along with bass accomplish Connor Blackie. They’ve provided stellar progressive guitar-based music since high school through their bands A Distant City and The Violet-Ohs, but in Koizilla they’ve found their most natural and most explosively adventurous spark to date. Here’s “Child” from their “Blunder Brother” debut EP:

The EP – and especially the opening track above – channel perfectly the imaginary Dunedin version of Amon Duul II which was my first reaction to seeing Zac Nicholls playing guitar in A Distant City four years ago.

It wasn’t just the long hair but his guitar playing style, which combined serious technical skill with what seemed to my ears a real early 1970’s feel for fluid psychedelic adventure and melodic improvisation. That stood out as unusual in Dunedin in 2012 and he’s only refined that impression since, particularly with Koizilla.

While A Distant City maybe took the proggy post-rock soundscape thing a bit too far in one direction, and The Violet-Ohs perhaps pushed the guitar-driven pop a bit too far the other way, Koizilla seem to have these two elements in balance and have injected a bit of cartoon-colour-saturated fun into the equation (like the over-exuberant “Krill” for example).

Highly recommended for lovers of psychedelic power-trio music which dares to fly higher than the limits of the earth’s atmosphere.

dinowalrus“Tides” is the opening track from brand new, just-released album “Fairweather” from Brooklyn, NY based Dinowalrus.

Dinowalrus describe themselves as psychedelic synth punks. There’s certainly a lot of psychedelia and synth but not so sure of the punk bit.

It is however a harder-edged psychedelia than 60’s era cosmic exploration and seems to take its inspiration from the late 80s early 90s UK fusion of psychedelic pop and dance music. Think early Shamen and Stone Roses stirred through with a bit of Screamadelica era Primal Scream perhaps.

In other words, it’s a great collection of sparkling danceable psych-pop, blending human and machine. It’s also a sound in tune with the latest album from NZ psych-texturists Ghost Wave so if you loved their “Radio Norfolk” then check out “Fairweather” from Dinowalrus too.

Dinowalrus will be playing with Dunedin cosmic psych rockers The Shifting Sands at Bar, New Haven CT on 12 October.