Carb on Carb are the Auckland-based Indie-pop duo of Nicole Gaffney (Guitar and Vocals) and James Stuteley (Drums) – an outgrowth of former group Mammal Airlines (which also featured Giles Thompson). Friday’s show at the Darkroom featured the group supported by top-notch local emo group Coate and Dunedin trio Males.
Coate have settled in to regular performances at the Darkroom, their intricate songs catching many a keen ear. With front-man Will Roud delivering melodic, driving vocals and exchanging guitar lines with 2nd guitarist Taylor Welsh, the 4-piece are one of the most technically accomplished groups in New Zealand.
2nd group Males are new to Christchurch, the poppy trio wearing their hearts on their sleeves as they flew through a selection of indie-rock numbers. Bassist Sam Valentine caught some flack for his haircut, one particular punter pointing out the young guy’s resemblance to Blur bassist Alex James. Their songs push the low-frequencies to the front, and the trio displayed an infectious enthusiasm throughout their set.
Both Carb on Carb members have been heavily involved in the Auckland all-age music scene – Gaffney’s previously played guitar, synth and sang with popular Auckland teen group Moron Says What?!, whilst Stuteley is partly responsible for Papaiti Records, an independent record label that compiled and released the excellent ‘Pressure to be’ album (distributed in the United States by Calvin Johnson’s legendary K Records). I was impressed by the groups catchy, shuffling songs, noisy guitar and Gaffney’s subdued vocals – they’re well worth tracking down on BandCamp.
There’s a short film from 1981 by prominent Christchurch multi-dimensional artist Ronnie van Hout that’s been well-circulated on Youtube recently.
The film opens with an evocative poem by (Pin Group contributor and early member) Desmond Brice, backed by guitarist Jon Segovia. The footage eventually cuts away to the equally evocative bass playing of the Pin Group’s Ross Humphries, running through the opening rumble of the brilliant ‘Ambivalence’, which is of particular note as it was the very first single distributed by Flying Nun Records.
In a general sense I think it was the accumulation of hard-to-get DYI punk, post-punk and obscure 60s vinyl coming from the UK and the US shared amongst a handful of folk committed enough to fork out large amounts of cash to pay for imports that led to a realisation that if no-one else was going to back the equivalent energy and garage aesthetic here then we had better put up or shut up.
– Roy Montgomery
A young Roy Montgomery bites his lips as he builds the intensity in his guitar playing, carefully looking over his shoulder at Humphries as drummer Peter Stapleton brings the song to full velocity. The sound is muffled, but Montgomeries husky baritone still powers through the murk – “I don’t know how to react to you, or even if I should” goes the opening line.
I think the lyrical content from Peter Stapleton and Desmond Brice was very filmic and atmospheric albeit rather bleak and fraught in a psychological sense. Desmond made no secret of his lyrics as recriminations or self-recriminations and used to refer to himself as Jim Despondent at the time – a not-too-subtle Doors reference.
– Roy Montgomery
The film gives a glimpse of a defining era in Christchurch music; free from the hype that would be thrust upon the Dunedin scene within the next few years.
Montgomery had been a keen purveyor of British and American Rock’n’Roll since his teenage years, avoiding the “oompah, thigh-slapping ‘schmaltz’ music” of Germany (he lived in Cologne with his British Mother and German father till the age of 5) and formed his first, in-name-only band – the Psychedeliks.
The only one with an actual instrument was me. I had a Diplomat six-string electric bought from Sedley Wells as a package with an amplifier that dated back to the late 1940s and which took about a week to warm up. I couldn’t play guitar at all at the time but I did come up with the band name and the spelling of it and I decorated the drum kit made out of crates with “crazy” lettering. We were as influenced by the Monkees as we were by anything really countercultural.
– Roy Montgomery
However at this stage in his live Montgomery was more music fan than musician, a regular at local non-pub gigs at venues like the Caledonian Hall and English Park where he can remember “an Epitaph Rider bailing me up in a toilet to scrutinise the Maltese Cross I had hung around my neck”. The Pin Group didn’t start taking shape until around 1980, pre-cursor groups ‘Compulsory Fun’ and ‘Murder Strikes Pink’ uniting Montgomery with Ross Humphries.
I was still learning to play guitar so three-chords/three minutes/buzzsaw music was the norm. The Saints were a big influence for me at that time. But we had a few atmospheric, brooding, plodders that anticipated the Pin Group modus operandi a year or two later.
– Roy Montgomery
The early Pin Group recordings were not particularly well received – mostly due to the crude murky quality of the recordings and pressing, a teething issue of the fledgling label. To add to that their live shows ended up a little odd, to say the least.
Typical audience reception to the Pin Group was bemusement as far as I could tell. I remember Bill Direen doing headstands on the dancefloor of the Gladstone to one of our songs but I think he was making some sort of Dada anti-art statement. On another night two women in bondage gear whipped one another for another number while a vibrator buzzed happily on a nearby beer-soaked table. Dancing and other expressive audience participation was not common for us so we had to be grateful for what we got.
– Roy Montgomery
However over the past 30 years the group’s reputation has grown substantially, partly due to the later success of the groups members (Peter Stapleton and Ross Humphries with the Terminals, and Roy Montgomery in a solo capacity), but also the powerful nature of the songs themselves. When Roger Sheppard was reunited with the Flying Nun label in 2010, creating a definitive Pin Group release was high on the labels list of priorities. Packaged with artwork by van Hout and mastered by Montgomery and engineer Arnie van Bussel, the release (named ‘Ambivalence’ after the terrific debut single) lays bare the gloomy, dark and dynamic sound of the Pin Group.
Over the course of the double-albums 20 songs (compiling all previous releases plus a live recording rescued from Montgomeries Earthquake damaged home) the listener is treated to gloomy, powerful songs that not only evoke a certain vision of Christchurch but indeed New Zealand at it’s darkest.
Tell me about your early exposure to music (both listening and playing). I understand your mother worked for the British Forces Network radio station and that you were in a teenage group called the Psychedeliks?
I lived in Cologne, Germany until shortly before my fifth birthday. Although the “Allied occupation” was more or less over the Anglo-American cultural colonisation of Germany, the condition that many German filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s used as a launching point for their work, was still in full swing. I don’t remember the oompah, thigh-slapping “schmaltz” music that bedevilled popular local music. I remember Elvis and rock and roll when I try to recall Germany. The Psychedeliks were a band in name only and I think I was pre-teen, technically speaking. The only one with an actual instrument was me. I had a Diplomat six-string electric bought from Sedley Wells as a package with an amplifier that dated back to the late 1940s and which took about a week to warm up). I couldn’t play guitar at all at the time but I did come up with the band name and the spelling of it and I decorated the drum kit made out of crates with “crazy” lettering. We were as influenced by the Monkees as we were by anything really countercultural.
What was your perception of Christchurch as a teenager in the 1970s?
It depends a little on which part of the 1970s you are talking about. The early ‘70s felt very exciting. I was a regular, albeit slightly-out-of-place, attendee at local non-pub gigs at places like the Caledonian Hall or English Park. Bands like Butler played regularly and it was like having Hendrix’s cousins living in the same town. I barely noticed the drug culture and was a source of amusement to the core stoners who followed various bands around. I remember an Epitaph Rider bailing me up in a toilet to scrutinise the Maltese Cross I had hung around my neck. That was the happy hippie period for me. Things got weirder as the decade wore on. I remember sitting in the Christchurch Town Hall in what I thought I was a pretty adventurous pin-stripe suit from an op shot waiting for Lou Reed to come in the mid-70s when he was touring Rock and Roll Animal and looking behind me to see several people dressed so outrageously that it made Lou Reed look like an accountant when he finally took the stage. I distinctly remember one Maori gentleman who was dressed in a Hussar’s uniform with an Afro and white make-up. Not long after that I found The Gladstone and the denizens there who seemed bent on carrying on the tradition of Andy Warhol’s Factory irrespective of the bands who played the three-nighters.
What can you recall about the time spent in (Pin Group pre-cursors) ‘Compulsory Fun‘ and ‘Murder Strikes Pink‘? Did these groups have a different sound from the Pin Group?
These were “precursor” bands. I was still learning to play guitar so three-chords/three minutes/buzzsaw music was the norm. The Saints were a big influence for me at that time. But we had a few atmospheric, brooding, plodders that anticipated the Pin Group modus operandi a year or two later. There were also the seminal hangovers from the glamrock and hippy era: Compulsory Fun opened their one and only show in 1980 at the England Street Hall with a cover of Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain, much faster of course than the original, and ended with The Byrds Eight Miles High done in manic overdrive well before Husker Du had experienced their own epiphany on that tune. Murder Strikes Pink used an image of Franz Kafka in posters for its handful of gigs at the Gladstone. Need I say more?
Can you lead me through the events that bought about the very first Flying Nun single? Tell me about the recording and your relationship with Roger in the early days.
In a general sense I think it was the accumulation of hard-to-get DYI punk, post-punk and obscure 60s vinyl coming from the UK and the US shared amongst a handful of folk committed enough to fork out large amounts of cash to pay for imports that led to a realisation that if no-one else was going to back the equivalent energy and garage aesthetic here then we had better put up or shut up. The first Pin Group recording was technically a Flying Nun distribution deal rather than an in-house recording i.e., the Pin Group paid for the recording, paid for the pressings, paid for the screenprinting and sleeves and Roger marketed it outside of Christchurch. You’ll have to ask Roger but I think he got to starting a label by a process of elimination. If you were not going to be in a band but you were not content to just stand there and watch your friends embarrass themselves in bands what else could you usefully do which no-one was doing? Band “managers” were rated about as highly as car-dealers. Label owner in the mould of Rough Trade seemed worthy to all and sundry at the time.
Peter Stepleton was playing in the Victor Dimisich at the same time as the Pin Group – do you remember other notable groups from the era? Did the Pin Group play at pubs or parties, or other locations, and what was the typical audience reception for the Pin Group?
The Pin Group played all of their ten or so shows bar one at the Gladstone. The other was at a Dada Cabaret night in the Arts Centre. Just prior to formation of the Pin Group the Vacuum Blue Ladder Band, the Vauxhalls, Vapor and the Trails and Stanley Wrench and the Monkey Brothers and were notable groups who played regularly in the late 1970’s. 25 Cents, the Volkswagens, Hey Clint, Mainly Spaniards, Ritchie Venus were local contemporaries of the Pin Group. The first wave of Dunedin bands were making their tentative sorties to Christchurch at this time as well. Typical audience reception to the Pin Group was bemusement as far as I could tell. I remember Bill Direen doing headstands on the dancefloor of the Gladstone to one of our songs but I think he was making some sort of Dada anti-art statement. On another night two women in bondage gear whipped one another for another number while a vibrator buzzed happily on a nearby beer-soaked table. Dancing and other expressive audience participation was not common for us so we had to be grateful for what we got.
Were the groups songs trying to evoke a certain mood, feeling, etc? Your later solo releases often contain a cinematic or landscape type feel, and you’ve been involved with theatre.
I think the lyrical content from Peter Stapleton and Desmond Brice was very filmic and atmospheric albeit rather bleak and fraught in a psychological sense. Desmond made no secret of his lyrics as recriminations or self-recriminations and used to refer to himself as Jim Despondent at the time – a not-too-subtle Doors reference. I think both of them were writing words in a film noir style but it took the music that I was coming up with at the time a while to catch up. I think I was getting there about the time of Pin Group Go To Town and it went off more or less on its own after that. Often black and white but also technicolour or at least glorious Sovkino colour. My work with the Free Theatre in the mid-1980s which involved doing sound and lighting design for theatre before straying acting was to begin with less a deliberate choice about honing a particular scene-making or scene-evoking craft than it was about worrying that my girlfriend was going to make off with bohemian members of the theatre group and having to justify my presence at rehearsals and shows. The fascination with working in experimental theatre, which very few people seemed to understand at the time, and the creative scope afforded by its enforced minimalist aesthetic came a little later.
How did the new ‘Ambivalence’ release come about? I understand you worked with Arnie van Bussell on mastering the release – but where did you source the live recording?
I don’t know how much “pre-loading” or seed-sowing was done by Bruce Russell in this matter but Roger Shepherd rang me at some point in 2010 to announce that having reclaimed Flying Nun one of the prime re-release projects he had in mind was the Pin Group. I thought that this was a chance to correct a minor error on the Siltbreeze compilation of 1997 where a Coat demo had been accidentally substituted for the Flying Nun 003 track. The idea of doing a decent Ronnie van Hout artwork package was part of Roger’s pitch but I thought that it could do with an extra dimension if possible. As it happened our house got turned upside down in the September 2010 earthquake including the attic in which a daunting quantity of old cassettes had been carelessly stored. Some poorly labelled but vaguely familiar tapes had floated to the top of the mound of debris. I recognised these as various Pin Group live mixing desk tapes from the Gladstone which were only really meant at the time as working documentation to learn from for future improvement. I took it as a sign that something would have to be done to tidy up these loose ends. Hence the live recording.
Have you ever considered a reunion?
That ship has probably sailed. It was hard enough to get me on stage the first time around which frustrated Peter and Ross, understandably. And although I have mellowed a little in the ensuing decades and I believe that Peter, at some very and genuine fundamental level just loves making music with others I think that Ross, in particular, would struggle to see the point in it. I don’t think the old songs would be too complicated to reprise and our stage act was hardly athletic so we could probably do a reasonable impression of ourselves but it was more about the recordings than the shows back then so it is not an easy case to make.
Sorry this has been a long time coming. Epic 5 band night on a Thursday night at darkroom. Coate have to be one of my favorite local groups these days, and Winter were a lot of fun too. Opening act Steven was an uncompromising, impassioned guy, Teke and Craig were as slick as ever and debutant Half Mountain show a lot of promise.
Rhett Copland put together this terrific party at All Plastics studios on saturday night for the album release of his latest project – Shacklock Meth Party.
With performances from the excellent young groups Zen Mantra and Ipswich, Auckland’s former Nevernude vocalist Anthony Drent, debutants Raygun (with Damo Suzuki / Mark E Smith style rhythmic ranting) and the headline act all playing pretty tight sets.
I took a bunch of really cool black and white action shots – which you can see the rest of here.
You can check out a video for Shacklock Meth Party’s ‘This is my Shit, Gwen’ below:
The Physics Room has been at the forefront of Christchurch fringe culture since 1996 – providing a project space for installation artists and performers of various different mediums. Currently located at a temporary site on the corner of Sandyford and Colombo Streets, the space is divided into a light, open gallery and a dark, enclosed performance area with this particular event hosted by Auckland-based ‘Innovative Audio Culture’ organization Altmusic.
Christchurch-based multi-instrumentalist Rory Dalley (aka IRD) opened the evening, creating a clattering maelstrom of sound from broken audio equipment and an assortment of percussive objects. Bending and shaping cassette and turntable noises with traditional maori harakeke (i.e. flax) instruments into a fractured cacophony.
Legendary Dunedin underground figure Michael Morley was next – performing under his solo alias Gate. Known for significant New Zealand underground acts the Dead C, Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos and others, Morley is a huge figure in underground circles. A captive audience was enveloped by Morley’s guitar and effects orchestrations – creating a harmonic, slow moving drone that evolved at the speed of molasses.
Portland, Oregon’s group Yellow Swans were known for creating intriguing, improvised experimental noise built upon Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindel Saloman’s electronics, guitar, drum machines and vocals. After seven years playing around the globe and releasing a huge catalogue of music, including several collaborative albums with brilliant Australian group Gray Daturas – the duo called it quits in 2008. In a solo capacity Swanson’s performance was heavy on the bassy rhythmic pulses, psychedelic and swirling sounds created a frequency overload in my head, rattled my teeth and even prompted a few audiences members to dance.
With Opposite Sex and Ipswich at Dux Live. Saturday July 28th 2012.
It’s no secret that Die! Die! Die! are one of my favourite New Zealand bands. Since the group first morphed from the ashes of Smokefree Rockquest champions Carriage H (initially taking the name Rawer), the formative duo of Andrew Wilson (Guitar and Vocals) and Michael Prain (Drums) have been pushed the boundaries and expectations of what a New Zealand group can be. Now supplemented with former Mint Chick Michael Logie on bass guitar (replacing the departed Lachlan Anderson) the group are now very influential in their own right.
You can see an element of Die! Die! Die!’s fury and passion in opening act Ipswich. The trio have made great strides in the last year establishing themselves throughout New Zealand. Ipswich have releases coming out on excellent Auckland-based independent label Muzai Records and recently won the coveted RDU ‘Round-Up’ band competition – a testament to their power in a live setting. Their songs are built on jagged guitar riffs and overdriven bass, invoking the likes of the Skeptics, the Gordons and other Flying Nun era groups.
Dunedin group Opposite Sex made for an intriguing contrast. With their North Island based guitarist Fergus Taylor sitting out these South Island shows, the duo of Lucy Hunter (Bass and Vocals) and Tim Player (Drums and Vocals) varied between primal drumming and sing-shout songs and melodic, whispered numbers built on Hunter’s extraordinary virtuoso approach to bass guitar. I saw elements of old-school Welsh post-punk group Young Marble Giants in their songs, very cool.
You can tell Die! Die! Die! are a very special group – as soon as the boys hit the stage the audience surged forward, hanging on every word from frontman Andrew Wilson and thrusting back and forth to the military rhythm of exception drummer Michael Prain. Starting their set with a handful of older songs before gradually introducing their new material the trio never relented in intensity. Michael Logie showed he’s no slouch on bass, adding huge crunchy, fuzzy riffs to Prain’s powerful beats and allowing Wilson to freely roam around the stage and into the crowd, leading the audience in anthemic chants ‘A.T.T.I.T.U.D’ and ‘How Ye’. The new album Harmony shows the groups continued evolution and refinement – truly one of New Zealand’s finest bands.
Smashing line-up friday at Dux Live, with a great mix of young, up-and-coming groups from Christchurch, with poppy Auckland group Sherpa headlining.
Youngest of all would be opening trio Zen Mantra. Fronted by the barely 17 year old Sam Perry, Zen Mantra take on a psychedelic approach to clean and concise indie-pop. With swirling guitar, bass and rolling drums their songs are warm, fuzzy and comforting and are simply drenched in melody. A young group absolutely absolutely overflowing with potential.
Dance Asthmatics make for quite a contrast. Brian Feary (drums), Joe Sampson (guitar) and Ben Odering (bass) create a tight, flowing and often groove filled backing with more than a little krautrock style rhythm – but frontman Stephen Nouwens can steer the group in any number of directions. He can take a plaintive but acerbic and poetic approach to singing (like a young Mark E Smith of the Fall), and then the next minute rip into an aggressive rant, gasping for breath between each delivered sentence. Always exciting and always a lot of fun.
Despite lacking practice since previous shows, Bang! Bang! Eche! lived up to their reputation as one of Christchurch’s finest and slickest live acts – with the best reception of all the groups on the night. Particularly on form was bassist T’Nealle Worsely, though the group lock together like a syncopated, pulsing singularity.
Out-of-towners Sherpa have been making quite a reputation for themselves up in Auckland – their album Lesser Flamingo and stunning new video Turtles are unabashed slices of pure New Zealand power-pop. Gleeful and with great dollops of catchy guitar and keyboards. Frontman Earl Ho is a colourful character – leading the group through a sharp set of songs at blistering pace. A lovely way to end the evening.
At St Michael and All Angels Church, Friday July 13th 2012
With the release of his third album under the Lawrence Arabia pseudonym, Christchurch-native songwriter James Milne decided a special opening show was in order. St Michael and All Angels is one of the most majestic Churches left in our shaky city, the walls strong and comforting and formed from great arches of unbeatable wood. The venue itself had an ethereal vibe which suits both Milne’s music as Lawrence Arabia, but also opening act Andrew Keoghan.
Keoghan has been making great strides himself as a songwriter in recent years. His debut album Arctic Tales Divide has received a lot of praise since its release last year, picking up a Taite Music Prize nomination along the way (an award Milne himself won in the inaugural 2010 competition). Keoghan plays guitar, piano and violin – often looping layers of sound to create evocative arrangements that envelop. According to Keoghan the album’s central theme is that of escape and longing for isolation – yet the warmth of his music feels comforting and drew in an appreciative audience.
With The Sparrow, Lawrence Arabia has an expanded sound, utilizing a string quartet both on the album and in this enchanting live show. An excellent live band augment Milne’s charming melodies and dynamic musical arrangements. The show was broken up into parts, Milne labelling the first handful of songs ‘Side A’ of the album (performed in order throughout the show), with a handful of oldies bridging the gap before ‘Side B’ finished off the evening. Milne is witty throughout the evening – the somber Bicycle Riding and album highlight The Bisexual standing out as key songs. I hope we see more shows in this terrific venue.
There was a great buzz around this show, well before either group had taken to the stage. Rumours of an early sell-out end up filling Darkroom’s limited capacity several hours before the show had the begun. With a bustling trade the venue was humming, the room warm with eager music fans packed wall to wall, downing craft beers and sheltering for a chilly night in Christchurch.
It was left to T54 to get things started, and the slick local 3-piece we’re just the ticket, drowning the audience in volume with thick, rolling bass, rollicking, snappy drumming and the soaring guitar-work of frontman Joe Sampson. I caught bassist Sam Hood next store at Galaxy records before the show and he was picking up a copy of the new box-set of rarities from German group Can – the flowing, organic vibe of the 1970’s Krautrock mainstays gives a pretty good indication of where some of T54’s many influences lay.
Speaking of Influences, it’s pretty tangible the impact the likes of the Zombies and other 60s/70s Psych-rock groups have had on Opossom’s Kody Neilson. The former Mint Chicks frontman now envelops his songs in a sunny West Coast of the USA haze that sounds particularly wonderful when you have the likes of Bic Runga and Mike Logie as your support band. Runga surprised me with her immense talent as a drummer, pulling of slinky rolls and driving the groups opening 3 songs. F in Math / Die! Die! Die! and former Mint Chicks bassist Mike Logie has altered his own sound to fit the retro sound of Opossom, gorgeous plucked bass rhythms that had the room jumping. With Kody and and Bic sharing vocal and instrument duties the group flew through an infectious array of songs which I wish didn’t end – thankfully their debut album is a ripper!