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Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

LAU are taking Scottish folk to the music to the world. But their success is causing some consternation among the traditionalists in Scotland.

The Edinburgh-based three-piece add “loopheads, distortion and other electronic tools” to their core instruments of fiddle, accordian and guitar.

The trio of Aidan O’Rourke, Kris Drever and Martin Green have just played two sessions at WOMAD in New Plymouth, on New Zealand’s North Island, which followed their appearance at the same, global festival in Adelaide, South Australia.

Speaking before their first performance, O’Rourke said their style hasn’t always been welcomed, with various online forums describing their music as a betrayal of traditional music styles.

When we started what we are doing we knew some people would disagree and certainly there’s people who don’t like what we’re doing. And they make that clear online. But we expected that and we appreciate that some people want the traditional form to remain as it was in the 1960s and 70s.”

Green – from hails from Cambridge – says there is room for the purism of the long-established traditional artists such as Kenneth McKellar and Jim MacLeod.

None of us mind the traditionalists, we all have a great love and respect for tradition and you need a certain number of people that want to continue a certain idiomatic way of playing this music otherwise you’ll lose some of that style, so in a way we’re grateful there are people who aren’t doing what we are doing. What we’re doing suits the WOMAD festivals and other such events,” says the accordionist, who now lives in Pathhead, Lothian.

As an outsider I find the Scots extremely confident about their music and therefore free with what people are prepared for people to do what they want with it. There doesn’t appear to be a particularly preservationist society, it seems to be quite forward-thinking.”

Lau on the Shell Gables Stage (Craig Stephen)

Lau on the Shell Gables Stage (Craig Stephen)

Lau, who released their third album Race the Loser at the end of last year, have worked with Karine Polwart, and Cream’s Jack Bruce; have appeared on Later … with Jools Holland and performed at many diverse festivals in Britain and Europe. Their love of the tradition is matched by their inventiveness, and they focus on writing their own songs rather than play a series of standard Scottish folk songs and reels.

There’s a whole set of different things, I suppose songs that I write tend to have a humanist element but then Aiden uses landscape a lot as an inspiration,” says Orcadian Drever.

At WOMAD New Zealand their set list included the abrasive Save the Bees, containing a fairly obvious environmental message and Horizontigo, a song written by Green that explores his fear of mountains.

The first night sees Lau play to an audience that stretches from teenagers at the front to the Over 65s seating area tens of metres back. On the second night of WOMAD they find new friends, and an equally rapturous reception. They head to Japan in June, for their fifth visit to the country. Lau say the people there have no trouble understanding them.

The language thing doesn’t appear to be a barrier, not in the way that, say a Japanese artist signing in their own language might experience in the UK,” says Green.

People think our music is quite filmic so we don’t really need to explain what it’s about to the audience. They can make up their own minds,” adds O’Rourke.    

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World music is the final untapped form, the last genre to be fully developed and explored. There is no limits to its potential, with hitherto unknown musical forms from obscure corners just being discovered by the west, and the ability of traditional forms of music to be welded into other variants.
That can’t be said for what we regard, in our myopic western society, to be traditional genres – rock, hip-hop, indie, folk, punk, country, etc have all drained the well for so long there’s little to sustain it.
Which is part of the reason I have come to WOMAD in New Plymouth. The city, and the region around it, Taranaki, are not renowned for music of any denomination, but the people have warmed to this extravaganza since it was moved from Auckland a decade ago. WOMAD is a world-wide event, and had just come from Adelaide, but the New Zealand version remains distinctive, and this year features the Human Library where ‘readers’ borrow a book, ie a person, and leaf through their internal pages. Books on the shelves included an ex-street kid, a rape victim and a singer with Aspergers.
I will come back to day two, the busiest day for this writer, later, but will start this review, at what was effectively the end of the festival for me, on Sunday lunchtime, due to time constraints.
The Melbourne Ska Orchestra kicked off a rain-soaked afternoon on the main stage which is surrounded by a ‘moat’, that would certainly prevent anyone stage diving. I’m unsure quite what to make of the Orchestra, which comprises at least 24 people on stage at one time. They went down a storm the previous evening and they’re equally popular on Sunday afternoon, with a version of ska that owes more to My Boy Lollipop (which they played) than to Ghost Town. Lead singer/ conductor Nicky Bomba says the band were brought up on the ska revival of The Beat, Madness, The Selecter and, most of all, The Specials, before they launch into Rudi, A Message To You.
All of those bands were heavily political drawing on experiences, both of their own and of the young people in Britain at the time, of unemployment, racism, social tension  and the rise of Thatcherism. The Specials’ Ghost Town is one of the most potent protest songs ever, on the devastating impacts of such monetarist policies. None of that has rubbed off on the orchestra which prefer to be a fun-packed band, the kind you could hire for a wedding.

P1050093

The Melbourne Ska Orchestra (Craig Stephen)

The rain of the final day was in contrast with the sunshine the large crowds enjoyed on the previous day. Porky’s day began with Nici d’Arac on the main stage. They were mainly dressed in black and, although singing in Italian, gave the impression of being a folk version of Radiohead. I was taken more by VulgarGrad, a Melbourne band doing a very good impression of Russian thieves, and playing some excellent Eastern European style music.
WOMAD is a festival in which it is quite feasible to turn up a few songs in and still get near the stage but that didn’t apply to those performing, or talking, at the Pinetum stage. Due to being elsewhere at the start of Sam Hunt’s show I was unable to get to the start of his performance, and was left trying in vain to listen to his recitals, not even at the back of the crowd, but beyond it. Alas I had to give up, but from what I did catch, this veteran was very much on form.
Often it is the performances you stumble on that are the most pleasing. A brochure can’t always describe an artist fully, and this was the case for Grace Barbe, an artist I was left unsure about from the festival notes. But when I came round the corner to the Shell Gables Stage I heard a glorious fusion of African and Caribbean melodies that reminded me of a Zouk album I bought in 1987 that contained fantastic sounds from mainly Francophone Caribbean islands. Equally, there are artists hyped to the heavens you feel obliged to see, but I didn’t stay long for Salif Keita. While I very much appreciate African music my head has never been able to comprehend the particular sounds of Mali, though this is not clearly a problem thousands of other festival goers had. The feedback from other attendees was that he was brilliant and I trust their judgement.
* If you have a WOMAD festival experience, from any year or location, please tell us about in the comments box.
Keep watching this blog for my interviews with Lau, and Norwegian/ Sami singer Marie Boinee.

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Those good people at Powertool Records deserve an Outward Bound badge without doing the course for their tireless promotion of all things Kiwi and obscure in this dismal climate for independent record labels.
The latest release out of New Lynn in Auckland is by Transcendental Learning Collective. With that name I guess I won’t be telling you anything new by describing them as guitar-heavy psychedelic noiseniks in the same vein as Suicide, HDU, and perhaps even Spacemen 3. You will have a picture of TLCmultiple guitars, maximum repetition and minimalist vocals. Just what your local DJ, bored of Rihanna and Lady Gaga, is looking for. There’s only five tracks on their debut Shift, and the first one is eight minutes long. There’s a touch of dub as well to alleviate any suggestion it’s one never-ending cacophony of anti-rhythm. I’m pleased to say it’s also quite excellent, and best played in the car with your windows open while stuck in a traffic jam as a boy racer and a National Party voter sidle alongside in the other lanes.

Powertool records labelmates Gold Medal Famous did a tour of New Zealand tunnels with various other acts, one of which had the ‘hilarious’ moniker The Josef Fritzl Family Jamboree, at the enmd of last year to unleash their second album 100% Pure.
It is a curious beast, swinging from electro lo-fi to lo-fi electro, with slices of goth-rock and experimentalism. Its title is a celebration, if you will, of the now infamous tourist slogan that became a liability, basically on account of the fact that claiming New Zealand is pure, clean and green is a fantasy as anyone who has been told they can’t swim in a river because their genitals will swell up will concur.
100% Pure begins promisingly with the near-singalong Never Get Bored and the theremin-driven We Have Contempt For You, but The Buried Life is so tedious and ear-prodding that I’m tempted to book a holiday to Hawera as part of my escape. If there is anything positive to say about this drone it is that it sets up Everyone Hates Boy Racers quite neatly. It’s true, everyone does hate, nay despise, boy racers, even boy racers themselves, partly because they’re having fun. “Slow down you cunts/ I’ll kick you in the nuts,” is an opening line so good I would fully expect Morrissey to steal it. As standouts go this is pretty excellent, but it’s usurped by I See You At The Point, which easily matches anything by Bowie tribute acts like Suede and Moby have done. It’s a strange mix of unlistenable dirges and great pop tracks, and I can’t help but think that band ‘daddy’ Vorn Coglan has done better, and quirkier, stuff on his solo albums.
Gold Medal Famous AND Vorn album reviews here https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/lowdown-on-the-new-32-pure-s-c-u-m/

 

 

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The organisers of WOMAD have an ear for some truly invigorating music from the four corners, and an act I am particularly delighted to see playing in New Plymouth this year is Lau. It is rare, but not entirely unknown, for Scottish artists to make a breakthrough beyond Berwick-on-Tweed, a perplexing conundrum that doesn’t seem to afflict indigenous acts, or those who claim to be, from the island to the left of Scotland. It is largely to do with commercialism of course and a generic bag of positivity and melancholy isn’t to everyone’s taste.

But Lau seem to bucking the trend. They are a three-piece from northern Scotland, comprising Kris Drever, Martin Green and Aidan O’Rourke, who have so far released three studio albums and a live album. They are named, not as might think after Andy Lau, the Hong Kong singer and actor, but from the Orcadian word meaning ‘natural light’.

I recently saw them on BBC’s Later with … Jools Holland, where they shone among a group of never-wills with their tribute-band brand format. Great bands make fine albums but sound even better playing live, and Lau were intriguing and adventurous despite just the standard two songs being aired, playing a style that mixes traditional influences with virtuoso musicianship, improvisational skills and a sense of the unexpected. Find your Celtic roots by all means but Lau have broader appeal.

 

Much of the attention this year is likely to fall on reggae legend, Jimmy Cliff, Mali’s Salif Keita and South Africa’s Hugh Masekala, among other heavyweights of the ‘traditional’ music world like The Correspondents, Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch, Peru’s Novalima and our own Fly My Pretties.

Personally I’d be inclined to skip where the hordes are heading and find someone you won’t hear being played in a bar in Coroglen. Such as Nidi d’Arac, a quartet bringing a new perspective to southern Italian folk music. “We simply interpret the Meditteranean traditions for how young Italians living in metropolitan realities perceive the culture now”, says singer Alessandro Copolla.

I’d also recommend Newtown Rock Steady from the esoteric suburn of the same name in Wellington, Aoteoroa. With a line-up of 89 people, give or take a dozen either way, the stage is gonna get mighty crowded. Their name doesn’t lie, they do play rocksteady, and if you don’t know what that is, why are you reading this column. And, finally, time should be afforded for Mari Boine, from what most folk know as Lappland, but the locals prefer to be known as the Sami people, a group that transcends borders in the freezing, inhospitable regions of northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. Boine is a pioneer, in the sense that she explored her own culture, a culture that had been kicked under the table for decades. Now, far from being oppressed, Boine’s appearance comes with the support of both the Finnish and Norwegian governments.

* Womad takes place in new Plymouth, Tarankai, March 15-17, go to  http://www.taft.co.nz/womad/tickets.html?gclid=CLmhofCS3bUCFcgdpQodhw0AHg for line-up details and ticket info.

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Irving to be precise, a New Yorker currently on the road in New Zealand, just him, a trusty bicycle (a Surly Lone Haul Trucker cycle cross with 27 gears) with a trailer packed with a banjo, bouzouki, shruti box, Jew’s harp, mbira and a toothbrush. Irving’s playing up to 80 performances on the road, covering about 6000km across this magnificent country. He says his music is an “eclectic mix of song, story and illusion, designed to be shared in intimate spaces.” He will be playing in people’s homes all across the South and North islands over four months.

After about three weeks on the road I caught up with Gideon . I asked him first of all how’s he managing to lug all that stuff around:

“I am biking between 20 and 90km a day so far and hauling around about 65 kilos of gear. Aside from everything I need I carry a back-up set of many items in case something should break. People see what I’m doing and they say ‘so how long have you been a cyclist’, I tell them I am not a cyclist. I am just a guy who bought a bike and started pedalling. Maybe by the end of the trip I’ll feel differently. The biking is always very, very challenging for me. And many times I arrive to someone’s home and only have a couple hours before the show starts. It’s a challenge but a wonderful one and I’m loving every minute of it.”

How are you arranging the gigs, homestays?  

“Before I got to NZ I arranged about eight gigs through couchsurfer.org. Then I got some press including an interview with Kirsten Johnstone on Music 101 (on Radio New Zealand) and that brought in about 20 invitations. People providing contacts post-show has probably been the biggest booking tool next to the radio interview. I also put out the word to my network back home for any contacts and that has brought in about five shows. It looks like by the end of May, where I will end with a few shows in Christchurch again, I will play between 50-80 shows. Newspaper articles have helped too.”

I tell some stories that kind of bleed into song. I do some things with a looper. I make some odd and dramatic noises at unexpected moments. There is some backwards singing.

How are the shows being received?

“The shows have been received very, very well. People have seemed quiet and engaged and impressively present. Playing shows in people’s homes lends itself to that kind of atmosphere as well. There isn’t a bar, the music isn’t background. You have an hour where people have come to listen to you. For the most part the audiences have been overwhelmingly warm. They seem to be pretty surprised for the most part.

“My show is a bit on the unusual side. I tell some stories that kind of bleed into song. I do some things with a looper. I make some odd and dramatic noises at unexpected moments. There is some backwards singing. I think people are also struck by some odd instruments they have never seen before. Shruti Box, mbira, Jew’s Harps, bouzouki and even the banjo. Shows are always free, but I put my CD’s out for sale and have my helmet out as well for koha. I tell folks they can pay whatever they like for the CD as I am excited to share it with anyone who would like one, but the suggested price is $20. I also say I am grateful for any donations or koha towards my journey/project/tour. Folks have been very generous.”

What’s the most bizarre one(s) so far?

“Hmmmmm….. they haven’t been that weird, mostly just very lovely. One of my favourites so far was in a kitchen in Dunedin. Nine people cozied in between the sink and the stove and we had ourselves a music show. They were a fantastic bunch. The kitchen turns out to be a great space for performance. The room they were going to do it in was ‘destroyed by cats’.

“Audiences have been between six and 100 (100 was at a school for 8-10 year olds, otherwise between six and 45).  In Ashburton my hosts had been overseas for nine months and used my show as an excuse to have a sort of welcome home party. Played in an artist’s loft in Timaru and my host, with his music mates, did a blues rock excerpt from Romeo and Juliette.”

Irving’s album My Brother Is Isaac is out now, available from his website:

http://www.mynameisgideon.com

It’s a great album, but I don’t have space here to give it justice so will review in a future post.

More info on it from this site:

http://mynameisgideon.bandcamp.com/

and more on the tour here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1303159828/my-name-is-gideon-way-over-there-tour

 

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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.

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Who? Cold In Berlin

Title: Give Me Walls
Label:
2076 records
Tell me more:
A relatively new band from London, who have been touring around the UK for the past two years, gaining a reputation and a following.
The Lowdown:
The opening line from the first track is: “I had a girl and she was perfect, so I decided I would fuck her. And even though she had a boyfriend I knew I had to have her,” sung by Siouxsie Sioux-soundalike My. And herein we find a lot about the band: they like to swear, and are happy being confrontational. “There is no white horse, you stupid little fucker,” from White Horse – and the f-word gets a good airing in virtually every song. Porky approves, it appeals to his mischevious side, and no doubt to millions of schoolboys too. Reminiscent of PJ Harvey, particularly on her corruscating Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, My is an uncompromising frontwoman and Cold In Berlin are a tight-knit unit, producing undiluted music that reminds me of the post-punk era of the late 1970s. But, whereas that movement produced something radical, and with feeling, Give Me Walls is repetitive and there’s a failure to find a formula that expands upon their passive-aggressive approach.

Who? Family Fodder

Title: Classical Music
Label:
The State 51 Conspiracy
Tell me more:
The Family were one of the more enlightening bands of the post-punk era, singing about how wonderful Debbie Harry was, while their debut single, Playing Golf (With My Flesh Crawling), was one of the most bizarre yet mesmerising singles of a highly productive period from 1978 to 1983. They left a legacy of radical music but achieved little in light of intense competition.
The Lowdown:
I am delighted to say they haven’t resorted on reformation to recording, ahem, radio fodder, but have the same commitment to esoteric, left-field music, with a soundscape that appears to have originated in Asia folk music or from one of the Kenyan bands John Peel used to play. The man who’s name provides the title to Whatever Happened to David Ze? was a victim of the Angolan military regime’s repressive methods in 1978 although it is also about the many other murders committed by the junta. Suitably, it has an African feel, with touches of the sub-Saharan Rumba style. There’s all sorts of unusual instruments used on Classical Music, such as the mouth harp on Be More Wise but Primeval Pony is a minimalist track building on an imagined nursery rhyme.

Who? The Dunwell Brothers Band

Title: The Dunwell Brothers Band
Label:
Nature’s Little Punchline
Tell me more:
The core of the band is, rather surprisingly two brothers, Joseph and David, a duo for many years before expanding to a five-piece last year. They are the proud owners of strong Leeds accents.
The Lowdown:
Porky generally feels it’s unwarranted to take a debut album and rip it to shreds; if you can’t give them encouragement, ignore ’em and hope they disappear. So, here’s a wee policy breaker, but it’s done so in a good cause. Like an unpleasant disorder ‘downstairs’, action should be swift in order to prevent further infection. And, so to preserve sanity, and the planet even, Porky is beginning a campaign to stop the Dunwell Brothers from developing beyond a cafe chain they are playing. It’s a safe, nice album you could play to your grandmother and her rest home pals, or have on a church stereo. It’s bland, turgid and sounds like a hundred acts from the 1970s and their revivalists. You know, Jack Johnson, that kind of lame-ass. So, c’mon guys, help me out here with the Prevention of Blandness – sign the petition, protest outside record stores, write to your MPs. Together we can beat this.

Anything else? The Dunwell Bros have recorded a jingle for Leeds Utd that gets played at home matches.

Who? The Puddle

Title: Playboys In the Bush
Label:
Fishrider records
Tell me more:
The Puddle made a splash from 1986 to 1993 as one of the many talented acts on Flying Nun. Alas, none of that material is now available so I can’t determine the quality of this period.
The Lowdown:
What I am familiar with is the home-recorded The Shakespeare Monkey, released last year which impressed Porky with its “captivating tone and heartfelt lyrics”. But I also said that George D. Henderson’s voice is infuriatingly frail. That remains the case, especially when he sings “in the country”, but with far better production values through recording in a bona fide studio it means the music is predominant. Rainbow Bridge Airlines is melodic, English Speaking World is articulate, and Valhalla is a nine-minute rock opera, an epic of Lord of the Rings proportions. The Puddle are quite possibly New Zealand’s best-kept secret.

Anything else? London’s Sunday Times and Uncut have both given favourable reviews to the reformed Puddle.

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Who? Surf Friends

Title: Confusion
Label:
Powertool records
Tell me more: S
urf Friends (not to be confused with another Kiwi band, Surf City) have only been around since early 2009 but haven’t been sitting on their rears, releasing an EP and four CD singles – that’s right CD singles, not downloads.
The Lowdown:
These Friends are not shy about their influences – in the press release they joyfully profess to blending the “early indie sounds of Flying Nun bands … with new experimental waves of No Age and Deerhunter”. Listening to Flying Nun re-releases all day is a worthwhile occupation and it’s a fairly obvious influence on Confusion with You’re on My Mind in particular sounding very much like The Clean, but there’s also the early 80s rough-around-the edges pre-Blue Monday atmosphere of New Order coming through. While their influences are of a generation ago, that doesn’t mean to say the Friends are retro-obsessed; there’s a freshness to this marriage of the past and the present, and an emphasis on moving things forward, as much as they can.

Who? Deerhunter

Title: Halcyon Digest
Label:
4AD
Tell me more:
No, I don’t think I will.
The Lowdown:
The cover, one of the eeriest and strangest I’ve seen for a good while, suggests some incredibly dark goings-on. And reading the true story in the sleevenotes that accompanies one track, Helicopter, about a Russian under-age gay hardcore porn star who seemingly meets a grisly end after being involved with a crime baron, I have no reason to dispute otherwise. More evidence on Coronado: “I was sick. I was dead. Lay my head on the cement bed.” Yet, it’s all done so pleasantly, Deerhunter are a graceful pop band, the type that seemed to be all over the place in the mid-80s counter-culture. There are harmonies aplenty on Don’t Cry, heavy riffs on Revival and moody effects on Desire Lines. There’s a sense of mystery amid the familiarity that makes Halcyon Digest an intriguing and pleasureable listen.

Anything else? Their debut was entitled Turn It Up Faggot.

Who? Michael Franti & Spearhead

Title: The Sound of Sunshine
Label:
Liberator music
Tell me more:
I always thought Spearhead WAS Franti. I remember him best from the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, a politically-charged hip-hop(ish) band from the early 90s, when rap and politics were synonymous. Songs such as Television: Drug of the Nation were a rallying call for the millions of dispossesed in the United States.
The Lowdown:
Ah, the blissful sounds of summer. It’s not difficult to get hooked on the self-titled opening track, as it transports me to a sandy beach with the rays baking on your back, and bikinis hiding lady’s goodies. Shake It is a perfect way to kick off a party full of nervous faces; and I’ll Be Waiting is a look-at-what’s-really-important kind of anthem. It’s an album from someone who had serious health problems recently and now has an alternative take on life, all played in an up-tempo pop-reggae manner that could offend no-one. This is a long way from a band named after a socialist catchphrase.

Anything else? The illness was a mid-tour ruptured appendix that left Franti in hospital for over a week, and threatened his life.

Who? Devils Elbow

Title: Sand On Chrome
Label:
Hit Your Head Music
Tell me more:
Rock und roll all the way from the North Island’s sun capital, Hawke’s Bay dished up by Alec Withers and Andrew Gladstone.
The Lowdown:
The band description supplied by the label weaves a tapestry of rock’s greatest rollers pummelling Devils Elbow into a fighting stage and recording act with The Clash, Springsteen and Gram Parsons all having a role. However, I hear the spirit of Steve Earle most clearly on Sand On Chrome, a man for whom the term punk-country was invented. There’s a varied pace throughout, with Withers’ vocals dipping and peaking, sometimes sounding a little strained but never far off the mark. There’s no doubt that Devils Elbow – like Fat Freddys Drop there’s a deliberate grammatical challenge – are a duo with an enormous knowledge and thirst for rock, country and whatever else comes to hand. And while sometimes the tracks on Sand On Chrome sometimes appear to blend into one another there’s plenty of good ideas here that should take them beyond way beyond Waipukurau.

Anything else? They are the occasional support and backing band to Husker Du’s Grant Hart.

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Who? Tommy Ill

Title: Tommy Ill
Label:
LOOP
Tell me more:
Ill has released three EPs of non-macho rap: Toast & Tea Kettles (2007), Matchsticks (2008) and Come Home Mr Ill (2009), the first on Empathy Recordings before his transfer to LOOP.
The Lowdown:
Tommy boy could be New Zealand’s answer to Welsh hip-hop grates Goldie Looking Chain; a rapper without the hard-man posturing, egotism, chauvinism and opportunism of so many of his contemporaries. Au contraire Rodney, Ill’s debut is full of party tracks, packed with dry witticisms, and cheeky rhymes that drop various samples, including The Carpetbaggers, a sprightly instrumental made famous by the BBC’s Money Programme. Tommy Il the album features a track called A Robot, with a guest appearance by A Robot and is about A Robot (“he goes out at night and takes robot drugs”) . Alas, Tommy Ill seems to think he’s in California rather than Aotearoa judging by the vocal mannerisms and some of the things I’m hearing. Otherwise it’s fine for a rap album.

Anything else? Ill has been known at live shows to climb on furniture, and be given a piggyback around the stage by crew members.

Who? Chris Difford

Title: Cashmere If You Can
Label:
Saturday Morning Music Club
Tell me more:
I was being sent an email a minute by an over-eager promo company telling me about Difford’s new concept, releasing a single a week for ten weeks. Fans would subscribe to the Saturday Morning Music Club and receive a download of a track per week. Shades of the Wedding Present who released a single in every month of 1992 and had a hit in the British charts with each one, regardless of quality. Now Difford’s put all the tracks together on a CD.
The Lowdown:
A wonderfully Squeezy title from a songwriter who keeps the curious English observational style very much alive. With the onus on creating singles rather than album tracks, Cashmere If You Can jumps from one joyous catchy singalong to another, with a few slowdowns tagged on. On Like I Did, Difford tells a familiar parental tale, of how kids do exactly what they did once: “He’s getting stoned (like I did), he plays bass (like I did), he lays in bed like I did, how can I complain.”

Meanwhile, Difford relates a story of a young man, who with some skinheads mugged an old lady, “just because we could” as well as some other stupid things done Back In The Day. Society is awash with vacuous lyrics and music, so it’s refreshing to hear tales of regret, of young men leaving their loved ones to go to war, and the problems of noise in a small house, sung by someone who’s not just observing society, but who has lived some of the tales he puts to tape.

Who? Robert Scott

Title: Ends Run Together
Label:
Flying Nun
Tell me more:
The captivating angle to this release isn’t the artist, who I will get back to, but the label. From 1981 Flying Nun was run on the hoof and despite the manner it operated – on enthusiasm rather than a business ethos – propelled numerous Kiwi bands into the stratosphere, from The Clean and the Chills to my own personal favourite Straitjacket Fits. Thankfully, after years of neglect, founder Roger Shepherd bought it back and has released albums by Grayson Gilmour and Die! Die! Die! (see last Lowdown). Hurrah and lashings of ginger beer and paeroa all round.
The Lowdown:
For someone ingrained in the Flying Nun ethos, being responsible for many album covers, and an integral member of both The Bats and The Clean, it’s appropriate that the Nun revival continues with Robert Scott. Ends Run Together sometimes sounds like an appropriation of The Clean Bats, and on alternative listens appears like it has eschewed Scott’s past, as he performs the role of a man who’s creative urges may not always have got the release they should in previous bands. Now, he has an outlet for his own songs, ideas, loves, hates, instruments, etc. There is, therefore, chugging indie rock – opening track On The Lake – to pastoral folk (Days Run Together) and it all works beautifully as it usually does down in Dunedin.

Anything else? Also features Clean frontman David Kilgour and Lesley Paris, the former drummer of another Otago band, Look Blue, Go Purple.

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Hikoikoi are the kind of band the world needs just now in these unstable, uncertain times; an act that has an unshakeable dedication to peace and equality.

Thankfully, they’re also a damn good band, an excellent self-titled debut album released last year heralding their unique form of roots reggae.

Hikoikoi are heavily involved in the Parihaka Peace Festival in Taranaki, and Hikoikoi, the album, was laced with conscious-heavy tracks like Jah Armour and A Deeper Revelation.

With that in mind it’s a little of a surprise to hear from dreadlocked bassist James Coyle that Hikoikoi’s sound is evolving away from the sounds that has its roots in Jamaica.

At the office where he works part-time as an architect in Wellington, Coyle told me more about the new direction and something that won’t change – they’re dedication to just causes

James Coyle, Paul Wickham and Ben Wood

Porky: What’s the plans for the band just now?

James Coyle: We’re recording a lot in the studio just now, and have finished one song that we’ll be releasing in September on a nationwide tour. It’s called Timewalking and signals new ground for the band. Quite often we have been focused on roots-reggae but this album will have elements of rock. A lot of the other songs that we’ve demoed for this upcoming album have a harder edge, they’re less cruisy than previous songs.

Porky: And what of the lyrics and themes on the new material, does that have a harder edge as well?

JC: We have a strong message, that of peace, but also a strong interest in past events, for example, atrocities carried out during World War 2, and also in this land, issues of colonisation. In the past we’ve supported the kaupapa of quite a few information concerts, like one in Tuhoe to support in the struggle of the people there. The police raids (in 2007) and what’s also happening now (the Government’s rejection of the Te Urewaras being returned to Tuhoe) – I like to think that music is part of a solidarity campaign, to push for past wrongs to be corrected.

(for more on Tuhoe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ng%C4%81i_T%C5%ABhoe)

(And for more on Te Urewara and the Tuhoe tribe: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/3677975/Tuhoe-negotiators-told-Urewera-off-the-table)

Porky: Can you give the readers an indication of what to expect on the single?

JC: We have a guy called Kieran Rynhart directing the video and it looks like it will be an interesting one. He’s starting from scratch with an image of a land that has nothing, then develops with mountains growing from the oceans, animals inhabiting the land and it goes through to the early discoverers of New Zealand, the colonisation of New Zealand and looks into the future.

Porky: Any idea when the album might come out?

JC: March next year. We’ll also be touring then.

Porky: Did you pick up some influences from other bands or just decide you wanted to do more rockier sounds?

JC: I think it’s the influences within us. There are three of us in the band with our personalities shaping the band. For example, Paul (Wickham), the singer – his previous band was much influenced by rock. Roots-reggae is something that unites us all but I’m very much into jazz, particularly Miles Davis.

Porky: It’s interesting how you are changing, as the debut album was very much a reggae record with various other influences.

JC: Looking back, we really dig that sound but we also found it quite cruisy and we thought that things should get a bit more intense. We have a pretty intense live show and the album will reflect that live sound. Our drummer, Ben (Wood), who also does a fair bit of producing, has a lot of experience in drum’n’bass so he also adds an interesting dimension in the studio.

Porky: Where are you recording, in the boat sheds again?

JC: We worked in two studios at Hikoikoi Reserve (in Petone) but Paul has since moved his business to Akaratawa, which is that crazy road that goes from Upper Hutt to Waikanae. It’s a beautiful property, the river runs through it and there’s plenty of swimming holes. It’s a great location and the garage where we record has an interesting sound that’s impacting upon on the band.

Porky: You say Paul is a businessman and you’re an architecture undergraduate, so to some people it might be a bit of a contradiction that Hikoikoi is about peace, justice and equality.

JC: I guess the only people who have time to be actively fighting for those things are devoting their whole life to it or allowed the time to do it, which we don’t. But when you talk about business, Paul is a traditional boat builder, so he’s working with his hands every day, and he’s a very humble man so when it comes to writing lyrics and composing music he brings that humbleness into it. He really thinks about the world, and the suffering of people less fortunate than we are in New Zealand. One track from the debut album, Sudan Sun, was projecting ourselves into their shoes and imagining what it must be like to be that hungry and oppressed.

Porky: I was reading a piece on a blog that said you were more of a consciousness reggae band than an activist reggae band, but it sounds like you’re a bit of both.

JC: We’re nothing like some activists, there are some activists who devote their lives to changing the corrupt systems. It takes a lot of commitment to be an activist and it is an aspiration of ours to devote more of our time to that.

http://www.myspace.com/hikoikoi

Hikoikoi playing in Wellington 2007

 

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