Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Guest Post: 1977 and all that … Turning Rebellion Into Money?

It’s time for another Guest Post, where we welcome our good friend Porky to the everythingsgonegreen pigsty. Porky tries to claim he was “too young” for the first outbreak of punk, but he still has some thoughts about the legacy of 1977 and all that …

This year is the 40th year of punk, if you take your starting point as 1977, rather than 1976 or 1969, or even 1956.
Punk’s origins are less important, the essence is. The Sex Pistols’ anger, The Clash’s passion, the Slits female revolution, the Saints and Radio Birdman’s honest, upfront bad attitude, the Suburban Reptiles’ uncomfortable Auckland abrasiveness and Bad Brains’ fusion of hardcore punk and roots reggae. These and many other bands shaped music in a way that still has some authority today.
Punk was the kick up the backside music needed in the 1970s, the swift sweep of the broom to prog, American MoR, cockrock and novelty guff that permeated the airwaves and Top of the Pops at the time. Music had become the mere background to lavish costume designs, puerility and daft dances as style supplanted substance.
 It wasn’t just angry; it was political: whether from 1977 (Pistols, Clash, Adverts) to its younger siblings (Crass, Dead Kennedys, The Exploited), on through the ongoing revivalist acts such as NOFX and Rancid, punk has been resolutely anarchist, socialist, feminist, reggae-loving, anti-racist, eco-warrior, and opposed to conservatism. It’s the voice of the disaffected.  
And yet, four decades on, I feel a cold breeze feather my skin as I think of what punk has become. What exactly does punk mean anymore? Is it about rebellion or has it become a nostalgia it’s okay to like? Was it even radical in the first place, and just another phase that the music industry soon latched on to and exploited? Oh my, I never wanted to have these questions floating around in my head. I was too young for the first outbreak, but you didn’t have to live through the Punk War to know what it fought for, daddio. 
So now we have the ungainly sight of John Lydon becoming John Liedown. The antagonistic rebel typified the movement in 1976 when he reflected the views of millions of bored British teens, beaten-down by the threat of rising unemployment and austerity, with Thatcher’s ghastly ‘I’m all right Jack’ vision just an election away.
John Lydon
 Now, Lydon is happy to reveal he thinks ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage is fantastic, Brexit is good for the working class and that Donald Trump is a nice chap and not racist at all. Always an enigma, Lydon carefully crafted himself an image of the apolitical warrior, the man on the street who just wants to stick two fingers to the man. His latest comments seem to suggest he is part of the establishment, happy to promote New Zealand butter.
He is only one, of course, and I’m unaware of any other punks that have drifted to the right. Joe Strummer’s final gig was a benefit for striking firefighters, Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers remains resolutely anti-fascist, and most new punk bands retain some semblance of that bolshy youthful angst.
But what of one of my original questions, has, in the Clash’s words “turning rebellion into money” become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Perhaps the answer lies in the actions of Joe Corre, the son of ex-Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.
On a barge on London's River Thames late last year, the businessman set fire to his ₤5 million collection of punk memorabilia in protest against the commercialisation of the once-feared movement.
Joe Corre
Corre didn’t have anything to lose, he’s already rich, so the excessive worth of his pile of bondage trousers, bootleg recordings and trinkets would never have made a dent in his bank balance.
“Punk has become another marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need,” he said before striking a match to some Sid Vicious posters.
Who indeed is making money from the many punk special publications, the compilation albums and the books reflecting on the productive period from 1976-79 when anything seemed possible? I’d bet my prized copy of The Clash’s self-titled 1977 debut that the people that many punks hated are banking that filthy lucre.
But strip away all the exploitation and murky views and punk remains the one true musical revolution, when hating the British monarchy, opposing the fascist National Front, and wanting a riot of your own was not merely two fingers up to the establishment, it was the voice of an angry, youthful working class.
Now, fuck you. 

You want more Porky? ... you can find him here.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Overground/Underground

Following on from a more expansive EP release of a few months ago, former Wellington producer skymning, who I believe now works out of a London base, returns with another Bandcamp single, 'Overground/Underground'. Again it’s an exercise in creating sumptuous instrumental soundscapes that don't really take you anywhere too specific. I’m really enjoying this work, and it's another name-your-price download.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Classic Album Review: Stone Roses - Second Coming (1994)

Whatever the hype, whatever the sense of disappointment, whatever they try to tell you about this album, contrary to popular critique and the court of public opinion at the time … Second Coming rocks. It really is as simple as that.

But I do understand why so many critics took the hard-line approach with the album given that the Stone Roses self-titled debut (of 1989) was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all-time. Yet that seems a harsh stance to take when assessing this belated follow-up solely in isolation.

 When the Stone Roses released that debut, unquestionably an album of real quality, it could never be replicated. And even if the Roses had attempted to do just that, I’m quite sure the same critics would have condemned the band for being a one-trick pony. What didn’t help the cause, however, was the five-year hiatus between releases.

During that period of downtime, the band was beset with a whole range of “issues”, collectively and individually, but the sense of expectation from fans and critics alike became perhaps the biggest burden of all. The great shame is that this one was not only the follow-up, it was – give or take a random recent release or two – also a swansong.

Second Coming is a fine album in its own right. It certainly has a much harder edge to it than anything the band had released prior, with guitarist John Squire being far more prominent than ever before. Squire’s contribution is immense, and in many respects he’d taken over from Ian Brown as the key individual within the foursome by 1994.

Perhaps it’s in a lyrical context that Second Coming falls a little short, but the trademark/signature musical reference points remain firmly intact, with flowery retro Sixties influences still very much evident throughout.

In fact, the basic modus operandi of the band is essentially the same; guitar rock for the E-generation. Music to dance to, music to drink (and sway) to … music to get wasted to. That familiar, almost hip-hop-lite, slightly off-beat drumming, with tight and solid basslines, warm vocals, and layered harmonies, are all present and accounted for. Yet, if the MO was similar, its execution saw the rock’n roll factor cranked up tenfold, thanks to mainly to Squire’s axemanship.

If there is a criticism, it would be that the production rather pales in comparison to that found on the crisp debut effort … which, it could be argued, was ahead of its time regardless.

That, and the feeling that the album does drag a little through the middle stages.

Second Coming probably was a major myth-busting let down to the band’s massive fanbase, or those who expected the world with bells on, or the moon on a bloody stick, but it's also the sound of a harder, less naïve band, that had understandably moved on.

Highlights: ‘Breaking Into Heaven’, ‘Ten Storey Lovesong’, ‘Tears’, ‘How Do You Sleep’, and the single, ‘Love Spreads’.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Album Review: Aldous Harding - Party (2017)

Often, the very best art, is that which is the most confronting. Or that which challenges our sensibilities about what is “normal”. Or that which tests our ideas about how things “should” be presented. And of course, even the notion of there being something called the “best art” is something of a stretch, or a misnomer in itself. Every piece of “art” is unique, and what appeals to one man, might be a steaming pile of dog excrement to another.

We’ve seen it countless times, across multiple generations, and only Old Father Time allows for real perspective, or an assessment that ultimately sticks long after the critique or initial hyperbole dies down. Occasionally, ground-breaking works have been shunned by the general masses upon arrival or release, only for another generation to fully embrace the beauty or importance of it, years or decades later. And vice versa. More frequently, work hailed as extraordinary (or such) at first reveal, fails to stand the test of time.

I often think about bands like the Velvet Underground in that context; pretty much always in the shade (and in shades!) during the period when the band was an actual going concern, and performing regularly. A New York/niche thing, loved only by Warhol and an assortment of (visionary) weirdos, scarcely embraced at the time by a wider public intent on lapping up the mainstream sounds of The Beatles, the Stones, and the Beach Boys. Yet today, 50 years on, the Velvet Underground is frequently cited as some kind of hugely influential year zero phenomenon.

So anyway, we now come to Aldous Harding, the New Zealand-based “artist”/musician, and her new album, Party, her second full-length release. And no, I’m not about to say that the so-called gothic folk musician is some kind of once in a generation messianic pop culture figure that we’ll all “get” half a century from now … but I do think she is one of the more challenging or confronting local artists in recent memory.

Certainly her vocal style – she sings as though she has hearing loss or a slight speech impediment – and her unusual tortured-soul facial expressions can be a little cringe worthy at first. Cringe worthy in the sense that personally, both of those things make me feel a little uneasy, and they fly in the face of what I’ve come to “expect” from a young artist launching a pop career. Therefore, essentially, it’s my problem, not hers.

There was some uproar in social media circles (okay, my social media circle) recently when one of the country’s more high profile blogger/reviewers dared to publicly dismiss Harding’s work in a rather cruel way – by posting a YouTube clip labelled ‘Funny Goats Screaming Like Humans’ (as the review itself), before going on to say that Harding had “no songs”. A view that was, and is, completely at odds with the international profile and success she’s enjoying, but nonetheless a view from a popular blogger long noted for his no-holds-barred willingness to express an honest and frank opinion come hell or high water. He attracted a lot of flak on that social media platform, an unfeasible amount really, given that it is little more than one man’s assessment. But equally, there were a lot of people who agreed with his position.

The net result was that Harding and Party received a lot more attention than might otherwise have been the case, and although I had been aware of her (and the amount of praise she’d been the recipient of), it was only the controversy or discussion surrounding her worth that ultimately prompted me to download the album. Who said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity? She should put that blogger on a retainer.
 
 
Listening to Party, which was released on 4AD, via Flying Nun, I was confronted by that highly unusual singing style, and forced – thanks to comments I’d read on that social media thread – to weigh up just how “real” she was in terms of the overwhelming sense of loss/grief she exudes. Or the levels of existential angst she outwardly portrays. It had been implied that this part of her art was somehow fake, and therefore some kind of exploitative ruse.

In the end, I concluded that none of that last part really mattered one bit, any more than it matters when Robert Smith howls demonstrably during any number of Cure tunes, when Peter Murphy gets all Bauhaus on Bela Lugosi’s arse, or when, god forbid, the hair metal rocker removes his top in front of 50,000 screaming (and clearly deluded) fans. If he effectively gets his cock out and struts across the stage, then Harding seeks to accentuate or express her own inner demon by widening her eyes and pulling a funny face.

It’s confronting and it’s challenging. So what if it’s an act? … it’s merely part of her art. And what do these people expect, for Harding to produce a set of razorblades or go full fury Ian Curtis solely in order to prove her authenticity?

And I can’t agree that she has no songs. She does, it’s just that they’re highly unusual, formula-need-not-apply, stripped back, dark affairs, that aren’t easy to classify. With stark piano and acoustic forms, instrumentation that somehow leaves you wanting more. Part of that appeal, admittedly, is surely down to the studio talents of Bristol-based producer John Parish. There’s also couple of cameo appearances from Mike Hadreas, see Perfume Genius.

I’m several listens into Party, and I’m enjoying it to the extent that the only cringe factor I now endure is the one I feel when I think about how close I came to missing out on the album altogether. Where it stands in the wider pantheon of New Zealand music, beyond now always being used as a reference point in social media arguments about what constitutes an album review, is totally in the hands of our veritable friend, Old Father Time.

Highlights include the title track, plus ‘Blend’, ‘Horizon’, and ‘Imagining My Man’ (clip below) ...



 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Art-X meets Roll & Record

I’m always quite keen to post snippets about bits and pieces of music I pick up from Bandcamp, and as a firm blog favourite, French melodica ace Art-X has enjoyed plenty of everythingsgonegreen love a few times already. Last month he was back with a single release, ‘Digikal Connection’, where he takes a riddim produced by Roll & Record and adds his own very distinctive melodica magic over the top. A simple but very effective formula, and it’s yet another name-your-price download.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Album Review: Coldcut & On-U Sound – Outside the Echo Chamber (2017)

It is, of course, a very logical collaboration – two parts Coldcut, in the form of Matt Black and Jonathan More, and one part On-U Sound, courtesy of Adrian Sherwood. As producers of some of the finest electro and dub music to come out of the UK over the course of the past three decades, these guys are experts in the art of collaboration. They also know a thing or two about sonic possibilities.

In fact, if you removed the output of the Ninja Tune label, of which Black and More were founders, and the On-U Sound imprint (ditto Sherwood) from the rich tapestry of the aforementioned genres, not to mention the wider dance music and roots reggae scenes, you’d be left with an awfully big hole. One the size of several giant speaker stacks, even.

Yet, oddly enough, rather than engage the Ninja or On-U handles on this occasion, the trio have released Outside the Echo Chamber on the Ahead Of Our Time label, which previously served as the vehicle for Black and More’s earliest forays into production.

The collaboration goes well beyond that of the album’s three key protagonists, naturally. Throw in, just for starters, uber producer Lee Scratch Perry, onetime Black Uhuru vocalist Junior Reid, UK hip hop legend Roots Manuva, plus a couple of guys from the industrial dub heavyweight Tackhead; guitarist Skip McDonald (aka Little Axe) and bass player Doug Wimbish … and, well, you start to get an outline sketch of just what Outside the Echo Chamber is all about.

Look out also for the contributions from the comparatively low profile, or youthful, likes of Chezidek, Toddla T, Ce’Cile, Elan, and Rholin X (phew!).

There’s also a brief but nonetheless fascinating excursion into what I can only describe as Bollywood-soul, in the form of ‘Kajra Mohobbat Wala’, courtesy of Hamsika Iyer, the tune being an update of an old Hindu/Urdu love song.

We end up with 16 tracks in total; ten core tracks, plus six dub versions. The highlights of which include the distinctly political roots-drenched Perry/Reid/Elan offering ‘Divide and Rule’, the Roots Manuva-narrated opener, ‘Vitals’, and ‘Metro’, which, rather unusually, skirts around the outer limits of synthpop.

See also: genre-bending, hybrid flavours, immaculate production, all manner of special FX, bottom end, and echo … sugar, spice, and all things nice.

The bottom line is you’ll be hard pressed to find another album released in 2017 with as much emphasis on hybrid dub or big fat slabs of beefy bass.

The whole thing is really quite wonderful.

But, as a longstanding fan of the walks-on-water Adrian Sherwood, and as a long-distance admirer* of the Coldcut boys – I probably would say that, wouldn’t I?

* I don’t have a huge amount of Coldcut work in my collection, but I do have the early Sherwood edit of their ‘Stop This Crazy Thing’ from nearly 30 years ago. And as a certified hip hop-sceptic, I’ll stop short of suggesting that the Coldcut remix of that early masterclass example of rhyme and flow, Eric B and Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full’, is one of the greatest 12-inch singles ever made. But, between us, it just bloody well might be …
 
Here's 'Divide and Rule':
 
 
 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Album Review: Seva HiFi – Cosmic Matakau (2017)

Cosmic Matakau is the second full-length release for the Auckland-based collective Seva HiFi. It's a follow-up to the group's 2012 album 'Early', and has been released on the same Sugarlicks imprint. The 10-track Cosmic Matakau follows a similar funky template to that well-received debut, with the core group - Baz Suamili, Levani Vosasi, and Gmuva - once again drawing upon a hybrid of influences and cultural reference points to come up with a pacific-styled variation on old fashioned disco. Albeit a slightly more contemporary housed-up version of that genre, cross-pollinated by an assortment of world music vibes and rhythms. There's a generous helping of psychedelic trip hoppy moments, plenty of soulful harmonies, and frequent use of strings (thanks to guest collaborator Stephen Hussey). Other co-conspirators include backing vocalist Tyra Hammond, and Isaac Aesili, who added synths and horns, with the whole thing being held together by the sumptuous sticky production techniques of Gmuva himself. Moreover, Cosmic Matakau is a little slice of dancefloor sunshine in a box, and it might just be the perfect antidote to those long winter nights ahead. Close the curtains, dim the lights, turn up the bass, and let yourself glide.

(This review originally appeared in the Fresh Cuts section of the April/May issue of NZ Musician magazine – in fact, it was the final review in the final print issue of the mag. NZ Musician will continue as a digital publication only).

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Kiwi Music Reading 101: Five essential books on New Zealand Music …

Love it or hate it, May is New Zealand Music Month. I’m firmly in the “love it” camp, and can never really understand the criticism it attracts. Surely there’s a lot to celebrate, and there’s nothing wrong with attempting to champion local sounds and flavours, whatever month of the year it is. Regular blog readers will appreciate that everythingsgonegreen doesn’t need an excuse, and the local stuff has always, and always will, form a large portion of the blog’s content.

Anyway, as part of that shameless balls-out cheerleading process, I thought I’d compile a list of books I consider to be essential reading when it comes to coverage of this thing we call New Zealand music. There’s way more than a mere five “essential” books on the subject, of course, but those listed below are titles that take pride of place in my own collection, and they all offer something of a historical perspective, which is more or less my bag when it comes to reading material. It could be that I enjoy these books most because they’re the ones I wish I’d written myself … cue that old Dad-joke about wanting to be a historian before discovering there is no future in it (boom!):

Stranded In Paradise (1988/2005) - John Dix

Often considered the "bible" of Kiwi music history, John Dix's coffee table tome, Stranded In Paradise, was first published in 1988. A perfectly balanced mix of anecdotal stories, factual accounts, insightful analysis, and photos of varying vintage, the book was unprecedented in its scope or depth of detail, effectively tracing the evolution of rock music and pop culture on these shores from the mid-1950s onwards. An initial print run of 10,000 copies was completely insufficient for the barely anticipated level of demand, but it also helped to create something of a myth around the book - brand new copies were all but impossible to source, while used copies became highly coveted prized possessions. That all changed a little with the publication of an updated 2005 edition which not only sated the long running demand for the original publication, it also updated its coverage to bring us right into the 21st century. Where the first edition took us to the emergence of the Flying Nun label, post-punk, and the Compact Disc, the later volume took us into a bold new world with fresh challenges. One where hip hop was the predominant emerging force, a world where the CD had already reached its use-by date, and one where music was being consumed in hitherto inconceivable ways. And, of course, we’re now more than another decade further on from that … the next edition of Stranded might well need to be virtual. My own version of Stranded In Paradise is the 2005 (expanded) update, given to me as a farewell gift by colleagues in a workplace I never really left. Evidently, they knew me (and my reading habits) much better than I had anticipated. I’m sure I read something in early 2016, hinting that a fresh limited reprint process was underway, specifically to replenish barren Library copies/stocks across New Zealand, but I’m not sure that actually happened.
 
Blue Smoke (2011) - Chris Bourke
 
If Stranded In Paradise takes the story of New Zealand music and pop culture from the rock’n roll era through to the early 2000s, and I think we can safely say it does, then Chris Bourke’s Blue Smoke is the crucial sister publication. Subtitled ‘The Lost Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music 1918–1964’, it’s a book that dares to delve a little deeper, to go back even further, before parking up and concluding its coverage in the mid-Sixties, which is more or less where Stranded launches in earnest. It’s the other half of the story, if not the most important part of the story, because without the pioneering artists, venues, and scenes covered off in Blue Smoke, there would surely have been no need for a Stranded In Paradise. And so it is that Chris Bourke, in meticulous detail, is able to transport us back to an immediate post-colonial, yet still very colonial, New Zealand. Different eras and variations thereof, in fact, depending on your location, your generation, and any predilection our illustrious subjects may have had for the temptations of the devil (and his/her music). But it is about much more than the history of local music; it’s also the most comprehensive account you’ll find of how the people of our previously wild and untamed land evolved in a social context. It’s the story of coffee (or milk) bars, of rural pubs and clubs, of small town cabarets, of big city ballrooms, of the first recordings, the artists involved, the first influential and important performing troupes, and indeed, those of the much less important but still very noteworthy variety. It’s about how we - the collective New Zealand, if you will - found our feet, if not our rhythm, exactly. It’s about styles, trends, and fashion during times when those things were largely - according to mainstream society, at least - considered frivolous and more than a little self-indulgent. Like Stranded, Blue Smoke is built for strategic placement on a coffee table, and is packed full of terrific photos and various odd bits of fascinating ephemera from yester-year. A hugely important body of work.

Soundtrack (2007) - Grant Smithies
 
Subtitled ‘118 Great New Zealand Albums’, Soundtrack is another coffee table offering, but one that looks specifically at those albums author Grant Smithies considers to be all-time Kiwi classics - 118 being the seemingly random number which met Smithies’ criteria. As a long-standing journalist within the pop culture realm, what Smithies doesn’t know about the local music scene really isn’t worth knowing, with the bonus being that he’s also able to provide a very entertaining and frequently amusing narrative. Along the way he recruits a variety of friends, luminaries, and experts to contribute their own take on specific albums, and those alternative voices - including those of musicians - ensure genuine diversity (of perspective) is on offer throughout. As a result, we end up with Flying Nun classics nestling comfortably alongside hard rock/metal albums, post-millennium poly-soul and hip hop works featuring alongside seminal albums from a bygone era - see self-titled albums from La De Da’s (1966) and Space Waltz (1975), for example. For the most part Smithies and co avoid the bleeding obvious, with just two Split Enz albums, only one from Crowded House, and rather surprisingly, nothing from Seventies giants Hello Sailor, or Th’ Dudes. If anything, and it’s not really a criticism as much as it is a highlight, it does feel like Smithies has scratched something of a post-2000 itch with his album selections … which works well if, like me, you missed out on many of the musical gems released during what was clearly a hugely productive (2000 to 2007) period for local albums, and thus need some insight into what is what, or what was what. In that respect, Soundtrack makes no claim about being definitive, in fact, Smithies makes it clear right at the outset … “you hold in your hands a book crammed with blind prejudices, foggy memories, rash declarations, unsubstantiated assertions and, quite probably, lies” … and that’ll do quite nicely, thank you very much.    

On Song (2012) - Simon Sweetman
 
I’m probably a little biased here, because the author is known to me, and has in the past helped me out a couple of times with complimentary gig tickets, and on one occasion even allowed me to contribute a fanboy piece (on On-U Sound) to his widely-read but now defunct Stuff-published Blog On The Tracks page. That said, there’s a lot of musical matters we disagree on, and I sometimes wonder why a guy who is often highly critical of NZ music-related issues (his dismissal of NZ Music month, and of NZ Musician magazine, being just a couple of examples) set out specifically to write a book about, umm, New Zealand music. Whatever the case, On Song was, and is, a superb read, thanks to Sweetman’s boundless knowledge and an inherent understanding of his subject matter - regardless of whether or not he thinks NZ music is an actual “thing”, he writes like a genuine fan of the “genre”, with his passion and sheer enthusiasm fair dripping off the page at times. More than any of that though, it’s the way the book is pieced together that makes it far more essential than most - Sweetman selected 30 songs and then set about interviewing each song’s key protagonist(s). So the author provides the framework, adds the context and/or some historical perspective, but the really good oil comes direct from the artist, which makes the whole reading experience a lot more in-depth and intimate than it otherwise might have been. It is key to providing On Song with a real point of difference. I’m not sure that the 30 songs featured are meant to be any sort of definitive guide to NZ music, they’re mostly popular and important, and they may just be the songs that matter most to the author, but each one offers something about who we are, or where we’ve come from, or in the case of a couple of one-off hits, they serve to highlight or offer a reminder of a particular time and place in our history. And that’s a pretty cool thing.

100 Essential NZ Albums (2009) - Nick Bollinger
 
I’ve just picked up a copy of Goneville, Nick Bollinger’s memoir/account of growing up in and around Wellington’s music scene of the Seventies and beyond. I’ve yet to make a start on it, but I’m really looking forward to reading it, partly because, for my own sins, I’ve met a few of the characters who feature. But mostly I’m looking forward to it because Bollinger is a terrific writer, someone who I always sought out and respected as a reviewer during one of his past lives with the NZ Listener. 100 Essential NZ Albums does exactly what it says on the spine - it’s Bollinger’s choice of local poison, presented in a slightly more orderly fashion than the Smithies/Soundtrack list, which creates the impression - and it may just be me - that it is somehow a more authoritative or definitive list of albums. Which it probably isn’t. After all, we’ll all have our own opinion about what should be included and what shouldn’t. Bollinger’s list of albums certainly appears to be a wider-ranging set, historically very savvy, with a lot more emphasis on pre-1980 albums - the likes of Hello Sailor and Th’ Dudes are acknowledged, as are earlier works by pioneers like Bill Wolfgramm, Johnny Devlin, Dinah Lee, Ray Columbus, and Max Merritt. On the other hand, there’s something distinctly off-the-cuff (yet still very considered, surely) about the Soundtrack list, something more personal and less generic perhaps, than Bollinger’s inclusions. It feels as though Bollinger deliberately set out to tick boxes and cover all eras rather than simply present coverage of his own favourite local albums. It offers a big picture overview, one that Soundtrack lacks, or doesn’t even attempt. They’re both quite brilliant and absorbing books, covering the same subject matter, but still very different in style and approach. If the Smithies book is one I’d most likely pick up and flick through, Bollinger’s is the one I’d be more inclined to read cover to cover … aided by the fact that, unlike all of the above, it’s a handbag-accommodating soft cover, perfect for reading during my daily commute on public transport.

Ps. I will likely post a review of Goneville on the blog when I’m done with it. I’ll also get around to completing a review of Roger Shepherd’s Flying Nun memoir, In Love With These Times, at some point in the near future. Well, okay, probably not the “near” future. I haven’t exactly been prolific when it comes to blogposts in recent weeks, so we’ll just see what happens …

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Invisible Circuits

When I spoke with Pitch Black’s Paddy Free late last year, just as Filtered Senses was being released, we talked a little bit about the legacy significance of remix albums, and the notion that each of the duo’s full-length releases to date has been given something akin to a second life.

Six months on, and it’s the turn of Filtered Senses to reveal its makeover in the form of Invisible Circuits, a 10-track album, set for release on 7 July 2017. This, from the Pitch Black Bandcamp page, is a summary of what we can expect:

It has long been a Pitch Black tradition to follow up their studio offerings with a complementary remix collection. So 'Futureproof' was followed by 'Dub Obscura', 'Electronomicon' by 'Electric Earth and Other Stories', 'Ape to Angel' by 'Frequencies Fall' and 'Rude Mechanicals' by 'Rhythm, Sound & Movement'.

What makes these collections stand out is the depth and breadth of their co-conspirators and the unlikely avenues they take the originals down: Keretta's math rock mix of 'Bird Soul', Tom Cosm epic version of 'Sonic Colonic' or Youth's psychedelic trance take on 'Melt' come to mind. '

Invisible Circuits' is in a similar league, with collaborators from across the globe and across genres. There are turns from regular remixers dubmeister International Observer and minimal's Simon Flower, techno legend Radioactive Man, cult American downtemple act Kaminanda, Rinse & Sub FM regular Crises, sonic whizzkid Tom Cosm, progressive house's Tripswitch, Berlin basshead Beam Up, new kids on the block Digital Playground and UK dub royalty, Alpha Steppa.

A Pitch Black remix album wouldn’t be a Pitch Black remix album without an offering from International Observer (he holds the ranking record of 4 for 5) and for ‘Invisible Circuits’ he brings his light and playful touch to the deep groove of ‘It’s the Future Knocking’.

Cult American downtemple act Kaminanda’s remix of ‘Invisible Chatter’ is in a similarly dubbish vein, but with a fuzzy psychedelic edge and an added squelch or three plus a radical sonic switch later in the track.

A chance meeting at a vinyl night led to Radioactive Man (of Two Lone Swordsmen fame) not only supporting them at their London show in 2016 but also his stripped back acid techno version of ‘Circuit Bent’.

Pitch Black met Brian May back in the ‘90s when they toured Australia with Salmonella Dub and his then act High Pass Filter were the local support. Now based in Berlin, he has provided a cheeky tabla infused rerub of ‘Filtered Senses’ under his Beam Up alter ego.

Next up is Rinse and Sub FM regular DJ Crises who has gone back to the deep dubstep flavours he used to play on his show, ‘Sunshine ina bag’, for his remix of ‘Pixel Dust’.

Minimal technoman Simon Flower (Poker Flat, Nurture, Moonyard) is another serial Pitch Black remixer, and for his remix of ‘A Great Silence is Spreading’, under his peak_shift moniker, he’s gone deep and long, adding skittering beats and bass to the original ambient track.

Sonic whizzkid Tom Cosm took it upon himself to remix of ‘Without the Trees’ live on the internet, via Twich.tv, allowing his viewers to make real time suggestions to the process. 42 hours and countless webchats later, he has created a slow and steady grower of a track that builds to an ecstatic climax.

Moving on to Section Records head Nick Tripswitch, who came to fame with his 'Circuit Breaker' album for Liquid Sound Design back in '05. Pitch Black kept on bumping into him at festivals across Europe over the years and they finally have the pleasure of adding his sonic perspective, via his progressive house remix of ‘Dub Smoke’, to one of their releases.

The penultimate track is a stripped out drum & bass retweek of ‘Invisible Chatter’ by Digital Playground. They are a relatively new electronic act on the Kiwi music scene and have just supported Pitch Black on some dates of their recent New Zealand tour.

Finally. ‘Invisible Circuits’ ends where it started, with another remix of ‘It’s the Future Knocking’, this time by dub royalty in the form of Alpha Steppa. The son and nephew of scene stalwarts Alpha and Omega, his UK steppers style version is set to wobble you firmly onto the dancefloor.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Album Review: Various - Taranaki Music Sessions (2016)

A very regional collection of tunes reviewed specifically for NZ Musician (website only, in this instance). This CD release was probably not something I’d usually pay a lot of attention to, but like most nice surprises, the devil was in the detail, and there were a couple of gems to be found once I dug a little deeper:

Last year, when those learned types over at Lonely Planet rated our beloved Taranaki as the second best place in the world to visit in 2017, outgoing New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd likened it to a “coming of age” for the region. For those of us rather more unfamiliar with the ‘Naki’s worldly delights, it came as something of a shock. What next? Claims that the province was an epicentre for all manner of homegrown musical brilliance? Well, yes actually, if the thinking behind the Doug Thomas-curated Taranaki Music Sessions is any indication. It goes something like this … when passionate Eltham-born and raised sexagenarian Thomas returned to Taranaki from Auckland in 2014, he set about pulling together all of the disparate strands of the local music scene, both past and present, to compile a CD of music quite unlike any other. In early 2016, the fruits of those efforts saw the light of day in the form of the 18-track Music Sessions release, which features a wide variety of genre (rock, pop, folk, chamber, and um, opera), and artists ranging from the still up-and-coming (Stephanie Piquette), to the long established (Brian Hatcher, Gumboot Tango), to the niche (Hayden Chisholm, Krissy Jackson), and all the way through to the outright legendary – see Midge Marsden, Larry Morris, and Dame Malvina Major, who gives us one of the more unique versions of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ you’re ever likely to hear. That old standard also happens to be the only non-original tune on the album. In short, there’s a little bit of something for everyone, with your reviewer’s favourites being Hatcher’s fiery opener ‘Pedal To The Floor’, and Chisholm’s jazzy sax groove, ‘Repetition’.