Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Retail Therapy 2: The Soul Mine, Kilbirnie, Wellington

When I moved to Wellington in 1986, my first two flats were in the eastern suburb of Hataitai, with my third in the heart of Newtown. All three “homes” (and I use the word loosely) were a mere stone’s throw from the satellite suburb of Kilbirnie, which is where I discovered one of the best little record shops I’ve ever had the pleasure of stumbling into.

The Soul Mine was owned and run by a guy called Tony Murdoch, who’d moved to Wellington and established the shop in 1985, having previously run Vibes in Gisborne. Murdoch was a musician in a band called Marching Orders and his knowledge of music was (and remains) second to none.

Murdoch was clearly passionate about what he was doing at the Soul Mine. The shop had a sense of family, and of community, as much for its location as for those who worked behind the counter over the years – a close knit team that often included Murdoch’s mum, Doreen (RIP). It was a fun place to visit … you could catch up, get some tips, and hear the latest stuff. Murdoch would put something new on and spend the next five minutes shimmying and grinning from behind the counter, supremely confident that you liked his choice as much as he did; this man loved his work, and his enthusiasm was hugely infectious. It never really felt like it was only ever about the sale.
That ordinarily would be reason enough to visit regularly, but the key element that singled out the Soul Mine as being something out of the box – particularly for the capital’s leading DJ’s of its era – was the massive range of dance music it stocked. From mainstream stuff, to the imported Streetsounds and Upfront compilations, to more early Hip hop than you could poke a stick at – on the freshly established Def Jam and Tommy Boy labels – right across the spectrum to the more specialised DJ-geared high-bpm 12 inch imports. If it wasn’t already in stock, Murdoch would source it for you.

The Soul Mine catered for the DJ at a time when DJ culture needed some catering for, and although it may not have been part of any great master plan, Murdoch quickly became the default “go to” guy for all niche DJ needs. The shop didn’t just sell music, it acted as a rallying point for a growing subculture, taking on what could almost be described as a de-facto custodial role for the capital’s burgeoning Hip hop scene. In the late Eighties, and early Nineties in particular, the Soul Mine regularly promoted specific club gigs or one-off parties, and I think I’m right in saying the shop itself hosted a few very special gigs and DJ performances of its own … (De La Soul? … or is that just an urban myth?)

For me personally though, The Soul Mine was mostly about the dozens of funk and dance music compilations on cassette tape I bought there (lame, I know, but it was primarily for the car), mostly between 1987 and 1990; things like the early House Sound of Chicago comps, various Streetsounds Electro comps etc. I still have a few of them in a box somewhere. But one of the best purchases I ever made there came only on vinyl, and came blindly, directly after a recommendation from Murdoch one Saturday morning. It was a vinyl copy of Pay It All Back Volume 2, an On-U Sound compilation LP, on import. I loved it immediately, and it kick-started something of a love affair with anything On-U. In fact, I ended up collecting the entire Pay It All Back series – volumes 1 to 6 – over the course of the next decade.

Pressures directly related to changes in the way we consume music, the format it took, the presence of non-specialist chain stores, and I’m guessing, its suburban location, led to the shop’s closure after 21 years in 2006. I was briefly present late on at the Soul Mine closing down “party”, some twenty years after I’d first set foot in the shop, and I was blown away by some of the faces present … a virtual who’s who of the local DJ scene across the previous two decades.

I caught up with Murdoch recently and asked him to recall some of the guys who spent a lot of time in the shop during what was – remember – a time of massive change for the musical landscape; as dance music evolved, as funk morphed into house, and Hip hop exploded from a small niche scene into something resembling a massive global phenomenon … and in Wellington terms, the Soul Mine was very much at the heart of that:  

 Tony Murdoch (Soul Man in chief 1985-2006) …

 “(There was) the Lyall Bay collective - cats like King Kapisi (Bill Urale), Ian Seumanu aka DJ Raw, who currently does the Rumpshaker old skool gigs, and runs the DJ school out at Whitireia. Plus Shaun Tamou, who is now based in Oz.

The Newtown collective - cats like Kerry 'Aki' Antipas, who’s still doing it week in week out, DJ Rockit V, the Wright brothers, Douglas Swervone Wright and Andrew Kerb 1 Wright, break dancers and graffiti artists of the highest order. True upholders to this day of Hip hop’s finest traditions!

And the Island Bay boyz - Rodrigo Pantoja aka Don Luchito, now with Radio Active, and Danny Mullholland aka DJ Mikki Dee, who has regular gigs round town and overseas.

Then of course there were inner city cats like Kosmo Fa'alogo, now in Sydney promoting Hip hop parties and shows. And Tony 'DJ TP' Pene who was kinda the godfather DJ at Exchequers back in the mid Eighties, now in Colorado USA, in IT, and still mixing it up.

From the Hutt, the legendary Rhys Bell aka DJ Rhys B, big on Active's Famous Wednesday Night Jam (with Mark Cubey) and still phunking it up. DJ Laina Tiata also from the Valley and yep, still mixing it up.

Then of course the next wave featured guys like Jason 'Jaz' Ford, hip hop DJ/upholder extraordinaire. Also Cian O'Donnell, an English DJ who worked for me for a few years in the Nineties, (who was) into rare groove/soulful house/and a lot of tasty mixes. He now owns Conch Records in Auckland. We used to import huge quantities of all that stuff from the UK.

We can't forget of course the one and only Jason 'Clinton Smiley' Harding who was also there at the beginning and who traversed all the scenes and genres in his usual impeccable style. Not forgetting Matthew Poppelwell and Liam Ryan (ex Active breakfast host) who among other gigs now alternate each week at Boogie Wonderland …”

That’s a potted history of two decades worth of Wellington nightlife right there, and your humble blogger is thinking that if a Wellington equivalent of Last Night A DJ Saved My Life is ever to be penned then Murdoch himself might be a resource well worth preserving (place a heritage order on that man, quick).

It seems appropriate then to finish with a clip of something representative of the shop, it might be something I heard for the first time there, I can’t really be sure, but it seems far more fitting for Soul Mine purposes than – for all that it was the recommendation of a lifetime – something from the On-U Sound catalogue! … here’s some Hip hop then, (very) old skool styles … Eric B & Rakim, a masterclass in rhyme and flow:



  1. Great post... Soul Mine used to claim any spare dollars I had during my teenage and early 20s years. Tony played a big part in my musical education, hat tip to him.

  2. thanks for the comment Duncan, and yep, your cash and mine!

  3. Mike, many thanks for this superb post, it is truly an honour to be mentioned amongst such esteemed NZ DJ and Hip Hop legends and of course by the great Tony Murdoch aka Cool Tone, that Man and his legendary store, his Mum, Irene and other staff contributed to a lot of my happiness as a teenage boy with pocket money to spend, a bus and train ticket, a walkman and an obsession with Hip Hop.

    If I can, I would like to add The MVC Posse (Mikey, Vicious and Big Daddy Cam) who handed down the Weds Nite Jam to me in the very early 90's and were big spenders and regular visitors to The Soul Mine.


  4. my pleasure to recall it Jaz, cheers for the comment.

  5. great post, really enjoyed reading it. Love those Pay It All Back comps. Have posted an excerpt of this on my blog, w credit/link. Cheers!

  6. Thank you Peter, appreciate the link to your blog, and your kind words, and being added to your sidebar, have been a long time reader of dubdotdash:

    I will have further posts in the Retail Therapy series and I suspect there will be one or two other shops you'll recognise from days gone by, but getting the chance to write about the Soul Mine was neat because Tony Murdoch is one of those genuinely nice guys whose work (in the background) was pivotal to that early "scene".

    Much appreciated.