It’s hard to comprehend a record label lasting 35 years in a climate of never-ending change and technological breakthroughs.
That Jayrem Records, a small outlet based in Masterton in rural New Zealand, is celebrating three-and-a-half decades in the business is testament to the breadth of the music it covers, and the quality, of course, of that output.
The label’s website lists all the categories of available releases, with rock, reggae and Maori featuring prominently, but there’s also a fair bit of jazz, blues, country and comedy. James Moss, who first released the Maori Myths and Legends albums on cassette in 1975, remains at the helm and has been invaluable to the Kiwi music scene, bringing many artists to the public’s attention.
Changing the label name from Record and Cassette Distribution to Jayrem in 1981 heralded an era of innovative and intriguing music. To celebrate the label’s longevity, he’s released a number of compilations and rarely heard albums. Of these, the most enthralling are two by The Tin Syndrome, who came from Wellington in a time when each of the four main centres had its own little scene. The Dunedin Sound is synonymous with the Flying Nun label and The Clean, The Chills and many other acts with some form of international interest, but Wellington, had an equally invaluable scene, with many acts favouring a more experimental, avant-garde sound.
Artefacts Which Reason Ate, 1980-83 contains demos, live recordings and an EP recorded by the Tin Syndrome and its predecessor Boots and Sneakers.
I have a personal love of the late 70s and early 80s in New Zealand, although I was living in Britain at the time, but due to a prolific trawl of the past bands like Toy Love, The Newmatics, Blam Blam Blam, Danse Macabre and numerous others have been given a second wind. The punk tornado that had engulfed much of the western world had left in its wake some dynamic, invigorating, and occasionally politically-charged bands and records that continue to influence many today.
The Tin Syndrome released very little during the four years this compilation covers so alongside a four-track EP are innumerable live tracks such as Random Wellingtonian, Conversation and The Tin Syndrome, with the quality remarkable clear. They were a five-piece but used more musicians, and that expansive sound is fairly audible, with a largely post-punk ethos incorporating ska, prog and even goth, although that particular element didn’t surface until later on.
Their sole album release was 1985’s No Ordinary Sickness which has also been given a release by Jayrem. The edginess and energy of the early days had largely vanished, with writer Mark Austin and co creating something more akin to the many New Order and Factory records spin-off and wannabe bands of the mid-80s. Lyrically, it is equivocally diverse, ranging from the anti-Muldoon The Right-Wing’s Going to Pieces, Orwellian visions, the Americanisation of New Zealand and anorexia.
She Sings, She Plays, a collection of feminine songs recorded over Jayrem’s lifetime, begins with a vaguely post-punk track by Naked Spots Dance and some obscurities by Putty In Her Hands, Freudian Slips and Turiiya from the 1980s before diversifying completely with contributions from the former New Zealand Poet Laureate, Jenny Bornholdt, Maori songstress Mahinarangi Tocker, ‘60s icon Shona Laing, the much-underrated Jordan Reyne and Donna Muir, whose contribution, Fall Down is from an album Porky reviewed in January, Beauty In The Ashes.
This compilation reveals the country’s remarkable female input into music, and another band on Jayrem’s roster, Unrestful Movements, contained bassist Pam Curreen, at a time when women were rarely seen holding a bass. Both their EPs, First Movement in E B (1982) and Q: Are You A Fireman? (1983) are included alongside four demo tracks that were untouched by a producer or engineer.
Originally from Rotorua, they had a political nous often lacking in provincial bands, and one that would have fitted in perfectly on moving to Wellington, the renowned habitat for all sorts of lefties, pacifists, greenies, anarchists and peaceniks. Unrestful Movements may well have had a love of Killing Joke or Dunedin’s The Gordons, the legendary, but short-lived act that churned out some spine-tingling, intense, tuned-in noise. They had the outlook: questioning the government and the system it uses to control the country, on Started To Wonder, and the misery of being unemployed.
Among other releases are metalheads Confessor’s The Anthology 83-93 and He Kohikohinga Waiata by Miharo, but, alas, time and space prevents me from going into them deeper.