Saturday, October 8, 2016

New Zealand Made

Image result for new zealand made


Transit of Venus - Bitter Sweet Love

I discovered Transit of Venus when they played at the Wellington Fringe Festival in 2012. They performed an 84 minute long, rock-opera style live show in accompaniment to a screening of Nosferatu, the German expressionist silent horror film created in 1922. I bought the one EP they had on sale, Bitter Sweet Love, and it's been a regular accompaniment on any road trip I've gone on ever since.

ToV have been described as a mutable project band driven by Auckland based composer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kristie Addison. Unfortunately their output appears to be limited over the last couple of years, but I'm hopeful Kristie and the guys keep delivering their brand of up-tempo, raw and creative indie rock to NZ audiences.

The album is free to download on Bandcamp.

The All Seeing Hand - Clot

I've seen Wellington avant-garde threesome The All Seeing Hand several times live. Typically they put on a very extravagant live show - just have a look for videos of "The All Seeing Hand blob" to get an idea. Comprising of a drummer, DJ and throat singer, these guys are unique by any country's standards. Definitely an acquired taste, though very popular in Wellington (fitting in well with the arty, hipster scene of the city), they're well worth a try. This track is from their 2013 album, Mechatronics.

The album is 'name your price' on Bandcamp


Concord Dawn - Say Your Words (Ft Hollie)

Wellington used to have a truly fertile club scene, back in the day. Ahh yes, links with major London clubs saw luminaries of break beat, drum and bass, house and techno play to very small, yet equally ecstatic dance floors (Andy C, Stanton Warriors and Nick Warren to name but a few). Sub Nine and Sandwiches were bastions of the beat. Times have changed, and tastes, behaviours and attitudes are different. This tune was selected as an ode to those happy nights.

Hollie Smith is a Wellington based soul singer, with a lush and powerful voice. She's still releasing solo albums, but in 2005 she was lending her skills to the mighty Concord Dawn - an NZ based drum and bass duo that had their dub plates included on the best compilations and record bags of the day. I chose Say Your Words from the magnificent album, Chaos By Design. It's got soul, groove, emotion, a feckin massive drop, gnarly bass and mental breaks. Whoop!


 Rueben Bradley Trio - Clay Horror

You cannot live in Wellington without engaging with Jazz in one form or another. It doesn't matter what the response is, it's just everywhere! Busking on Cuba, In the corner of bars, On stages, On the Radioactive Jazz Show when running Sunday errands, Eating lunch, Drinking cocktails. Everywhere! The music school plays a big part in this rich syncopated tapestry. So, it seemed more than fitting to resolve this piece with a flourish from Rueben.

He's a drummer that fronts a trio and teaches percussion at the local music school. I've seen him play a number of times and enjoy his take on standards, but I love this album from 2015. It's a work of dark genius -a gothic jazz noir outing that hits the right spots. I love the addition of spoken word elements. The themes all come form Lovecraftian tales (the album is called Cthulu Rising) and are redolent of the mysterious forces that shaped an occult Victorian imagination. Love the artwork on the cover, too.


What is the better choice for a homegrown band than a group that has “Aotearoa” in its name? Well, I’m sure that music club members will bring heaps of exciting choices, but for now I’ll stick with “Latinaotearoa”.  This Auckland-based group writes and plays Latin music of various sorts – mostly happy and cheerful sunny rhythms to remind all of us that all we need is a long-long hot-hot summer!

You can see this musician every week smiling and playing music in all the different bars of Wellington. Pop in Afrika, Havana, Hashigo Zake, Viva Mexico, or Pan de Muerto – chances are high that Carlos Navae will be playing there. He is one of the friendliest persons I’ve ever met and I think this characteristic of his is well reflected in his music, the way how he performs, and his attitude towards people in general, and.. well … towards his audience.  Latin rhythms again –  experience life in all the different ways it presents itself,  keep smiling, be happy, and listen to Latin music!


In June 2009 Christ Knox suffered from a stroke. Knox is a key figure in New Zealand music, having been there at the founding of Flying Nun records and driven the vision of independence and weirdness that infuses a lot of the canon. An angry young man who sliced his arms up on stage and crafted beautiful pop songs that were then buried in a DIY maelstrom of fuzz and jangle, Knox grew into a cheerful yet angry middle-aged man who continued to bury beautiful pop songs in a DIY maelstrom of fuzz and drum machine loops. His 1995 album Songs of You and Me was the first New Zealand album I ever owned, bought for me by my brother, and I still credit it as a foundational album in my personal history of music appreciation: not because of anything to do with its New Zealandness but because it's one of the places where I learned that music doesn't have to "sound good" to be great.

As Flying Nun has had its influence in the US, so has Chris Knox. After the stroke, his friends got together and released a tribute album of covers. In addition to a shopping list of New Zealand musicians, Stroke got together luminaries from the States, including Jeff Mangum and the soon to be deceased Jay Reatard. A standout track, both because it reveals Knox's songcraft while sounding as if it were penned by the man covering it, is Bill Callahan's version of Lapse.

New Zealand music often seems to get reduced to either the national identify affirming adult oriented pop of the likes of Neil Finn, Bic Runga and Dave Dobbyn or the Flying Nun oeuvre that sits at odds with that tradition. Of course these are pillars of New Zealand music, but there are others. One of those is bogan rock. From the early days of Shihad to the pub anthems of the Exponents and the parody that crossed the line of Deja Voodoo, there is a New Zealand music that revels in being loud and not all that clever. Rather than being influential on American college radio, this is New Zealand music that looks towards the States, and reflects it back in a way that doesn't quite fit. Head Like A Hole is very much a part of this tradition. Here, all sideburns and cowboy hats, they cover Springsteen's classic I'm On Fire.


There’s not much background available on the song however there is information on the band. Hailing from Christchurch, where I grew up, the Feelers were the pioneers of the kiwi music industry.
They were formed in 1993 and started out busking on the streets. Today they have sold more albums locally than any other NZ band. Some key members of the band include James Reid, who is one of New Zealand’s most successful song writers and musicians. His debut performance was at age 4 on his father’s knee. He has written over twenty Top 20 hits and ten Top ten hits. Andrew Lynch is another key member who is an awarded-winning instrumentalist who was born in London in the same room where Jimi Hendrix passed away. His dabbling in the occult can be seen from his shamanistic tattoos, his signatures on press-shots and has also mastered the secret Freemason handshake which may be attribute to his success.


Dane Rumble started out with a band called Fast Crew and then went solo after the group disbanded in 2009. 3 of his songs made the NZ Top 10 and 6 songs were in the Top 20. Cruel was certified platinum with sales over 15,000. It is a rather cheerful breakup song. Why his music isn’t more widely listened is a puzzle to me. Dane’s style is influence by Kanye West and he even has his own line of jewellery!


'Block of Wood' by The Bats

I lived far away when the Dunedin Sound got going, and knew very little of NZ pop music. But I did get to hear The Bats and The Clean on uni radio, and Rodney Bingenheimer played them both on his KROQ radio show. (Digression: the doco "Mayor of the Sunset Strip" about Rodney is essential viewing for music fans.) This particular song is catchy and features the jangly guitar I associate with The Bats, with an unusual violin part to give it texture. Still sounds fresh to my ears. Beach Boys meet drone meet alienation?

'Finders Keepers' by Troubled Mind

I'm not old enough to remember the psychedelic era, but have enjoyed heaps of music coming out of San Francisco in the sixties and seventies. A lot of it sounds pretty dated, I admit, and it probably helps to be stoned to listen to much of it.  But I love the organ-heavy sound and songs with a strong groove... as in: groovy, man! The sound spread around the world, including to NZ. I can imagine people in NZ back then finding psych records in the shops and saying, "Why don't we have a go at that?" Far away from the cultural churn, they could focus on the sound and DIY impulses. This song takes a silly child's saying and transforms it into a dance number that needs no chemical accompaniment. I know nothing about the band, but they contribute two of the best tracks to the first NZ psych compilation "A Day in "y Mind's Mind", which is really good. There are four volumes in total... surely there isn't enough material for more?


I don't often explore NZ music, so was keen to see what surprises this music club would throw up. I was so keen for surprise that I chose first a song suggested by a colleague, a song I had never heard before. A nice Wellington take on the recent (last few years) electropop trend.

My second song was another NZ imitation of a popular international style. In this case, we're talking new wave/post-punk, that sort of thing -  pure 1981. I've always preferred Don't Fight it Marsha, It's Bigger than Both of Us to their other big single, There is No Depression in New Zealand, mostly because of the supreme danceability of the beat and jangly guitar.