Venus Cafe

Location: 76 Lichfield Street, Central Christchurch

Loading
Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit

Current Status: Demolished post-earthquake, replaced by bus exchange

Active as a live music venue: 1990’s – 2000’s ?

Bar Manager: –

Capacity: Around 60?

All-Ages: Yes

When Cafe Culture exploded in Christchurch in the mid 1990’s, I was a student at Christchurch Polytechnic, surviving on a $14 a week student allowance (and living at home). Due to my modest means I marveled at how people could spend what seemed like a fortune on fancy new coffee’s and cafe food.

However, Venus Cafe was the kind of place where you’d see students hanging out all day nursing an extra-large hot chocolate – getting their full moneys worth. The place was one of a few in the central city (most notably Java Coffee House) that had a hippie vibe, and was often involved in the promotion and support of local raves and dance parties.

The Cafe itself was up a handful of steps in an old building on Lichfield Street, above the Lick er Lounge (later to become Carbon) and next to the notorious upstairs Danz Nightclub. Long and narrow, and quite dark at the back – more than a few live shows were put on within the Cafe itself (noted on the Barnard’s Star poster below as taking place in ‘The Pluto Room’), though the capacity can’t have been more than 60 or so people – usually sitting on the floor.

The shows I remember attending were:

Barnard’s Star bringing out their debut EP supported by Le Mot Cafe (making their debut) – Helen spent the show sprawled out on the floor playing bass, whilst every Le Mot Cafe song went along the lines of “This song is… how do you say? An instrumental! It has no words…” – funny stuff from a bunch of the Puffins (who were my favorite band at the time).

Poster for Venus Cafe show with Le Mot Cafe, from http://flamingrednz.blogspot.co.nz/

Early shows by The Dialtones – this local group had a whole swag of great songs, but it took the best part of a decade before Fleur De Lis saw fit to record and release them.

Lastly, the mighty rock’n’roll experience that was The Black Panthers – who were obviously far too loud to play in a cafe. Singer and guitarist Matt Alien spent a period of the show jumped up on tables, whilst their bass player Vaughn had his usual cadre of groupies throwing Marmite-stained women’s underpants at him…

First there was The Vic, then there was Caffiends, then there was Java, then there was Venus. Was that a Helm Ruifrok mural? I remember lots of James Robinson’s paintings. I remember hearing Ornette Coleman there, In All Languages for the first time and remembering it from the John Zorn versions on Spy vs Spy. I remember seeing the James Last Appreciation squad blow up Here Comes Jack Thompson’s amps there, before it was even dark outside, before we even to a chance to play. I remember seeing Kaylo walk past in the Winter sun with a freshly shaved head. I remember regrouping there with the Spook billstickers crew. I don’t remember the coffee. I do remember the muffins.

  • Jason Tamihana-Bryce

The Cafe can’t have last too long as there are scant all details at all about it on the web, though I have heard about further shows such as Auckland punk group Sommerset some time in winter 1998, kRkRkRk recordings ‘foremost avant-garde collaborative project’ DiS towards the end of 1999, plus Rhian Sheehan, Jolyon Mullholland, as well as Matt Bullimore and Dave Murphy’s group SeaWorld.

 

History

Contact Details

Links

The D4 – 6Twenty

2001, Flying Nun, FNCD449

The garage rock explosion of recent times has given way to the world again discovering rock’n’roll outside the borders of the United States. After Japanese outfit Guitar Wolf got everyone pumped up all those years back, the Hives have shown that even without the hype, great rock’n’roll can sell, with their lead-off singles entering the charts worldwide backed by the truly American sounds of the White Stripes and latecomers the Strokes. Meanwhile in New Zealand, the garage rock scene has been prominent since the early 90’s. In Christchurch, bands like the Hi-Tone Destroyers, The Black Panthers and Thee Strap-Ons had already formed and released a substantial body of work before The D4 and the Datsuns (of Cambridge) had even penned a song.

But that’s just made their impact seem more explosive. In a short period of time, both bands have been trust into the limelight of the New Zealand rock scene, and have earned their reputations as New Zealand’s best live acts.

6Twenty is the fruit of the D4’s past 2 years of relentless touring. It’s a tight, punchy collection of party songs that jump out at you with more venom than the Strokes have even been able to muster. The album jumps out at with Andrew WK style song titles (luckily no reflection on the contents of the album itself) – the bustling ‘Rock’N’Roll Motherfucker’ opens at a hundred miles per hour and the pace never succumbs. Sure it’s cliched, but the d4 put in the kind of energy Iggy Pop would have been proud to front.

The second track, “Party”, rolls off with a manic agility test drum-roll before the killer bassline kicks in. The song fluctuates between twin vocalist breakdowns, and phased guitar attacks to ends the track in a true party atmosphere before their debut hit “Come On!” winds up blasting your eardrums. Another scorching bassline and confident, punchy guitar – you know you’re onto a winner with this album. Only the choice covers of the Scavengers classic “Mysterex” and the Japanese outfit guitar wolf’s “Invader Ace” break the run of great original material.

Probably best compared to the Hives, The D4 have developed an album that sounds like a pounding live performance with a thin mix of guitar and thick bass with simple but deadly drumming propelling the band to near bursting point, the way a rock’n’roll album should sound.

Both Jimmy and Dion are skilled vocalists, choosing the sing-song approach of vocal treatments, and even harmonizing to their wailing guitar sounds and each other on tracks like the dynamic “running on empty”. The album doesn’t give way to slower numbers as the white stripes have recently employed, choosing to go the hard way, but still sneaking in complimentary organ vibes on “ladies man” and “little baby”.

With 12 songs, it’s considerably lengthier than the current crop of garage albums, but the d4 pull off just about perfect the formula with almost 40 minutes of attention-seeking go-getting rock. So, catch them while you can, before the nme gets a hold of them, because they are already garnering praise for their live shows in Britain.

The Black Panthers

Biography

Late 90’s sleaze rockers out of Christchurch and featuring Garden City rocker extraordinaire Matt Alien (aka Matt Johnson also of The Hi-Tone Destroyers).

Made a habit of being even more extreme than The Hi-Tones, with Matt constantly baiting the audience (not having to play guitar freed him up to provoke the surly members of the audience).

Alien was joined by Bob Cadillac (aka Rob Buick), Ayatolla Blitzkrieg (Vaughen Richardson) and Leon Zchvargo (aka Matt’s brother Ben), and put out a small issue self-titled release on the local Kato label in 1998.

Both The Hi-Tone Destroyers and The Black Panthers used the disclaimer ‘No Squares or Hippies!’ on all their posters and releases, though bassist Blitzkrieg was always accompanied by a handful of hippy girls eager to throw marmite-stained underpants at him while he performed.

The group was less prominent than the Hi-Tones, and disappeared once Alien relocated to Auckland forming the similarly minded Slavetrader.

Members

  • Matt Johnstone (Vocals, 1996? – 2003?)
  • Ben Johnstone (Drums, 1996? – 2003?)
  • Vaughen Richardson (Bass, 1996? – 2003?)
  • Rob Buick (Guitar, 1996? – 2003?)

Discography

  • Hey Hey 7″ single (1998, Kato Records, KR79)
  • The Black Panthers (2001, Kato Records, KR003)

Links

 

Into The Void [March 2005]

When a band’s been around a scene a long time, they start to develop a certain aura about them. Into The Void were always something of a notable band, with a vested interest in the local music and art scenes, they rose to national attention in the late 1980’s, released an unrepresentative debut album, then returned to the Christchurch underground.

An Into The Void show is an experience. Over the course of their lengthy existence, the void have crafted sturdy, rhythm driven songs that can explode with tremendous shards of guitar and machine-gun drumming, based on an atmospheric mix of heavy, repetitive bass-guitar and scratchy, scattered gramophone projections and often fronted by a frantic, free-roaming showman of a vocalist.

Approaching twenty years on the live scene and 10 years since their last line-up change, i spoke with newest member, bassist Dave Imlay and gramophone operator / sound manipulator Paul Sutherland, shortly after the release of their 2nd album from their practice space in central Christchurch.

Paul: Jason [Greig] and Mark [Whyte] went to art school together, and they bought a guitar together and they used to come up here. I don’t know what they did

Dave: They must have taken turns [laughs].

Paul: They called themselves the Deaf Mutants. I think at that stage Hamish Kilgour’s drum-kit was up here, as Bailter Space practiced at this space, back when they were called Nelsh Bailter Space (1986-7 maybe). And then at one stage i ended up doing something with them, playing electric recorder or something. At that stage Jason was playing guitar; somehow Ronnie [Van Hout] turned up.

(Dave interjects) Art school…

Paul: Ronnie was just part of the scene, and so he just turned up, but it was pretty obvious he couldn’t play an instrument, so he became a singer and we were a band.

Paul: I was conned into buying an amp and a bass guitar ’cause the others didn’t think an electric recorder would go down in public.

Paul: They bought me a ‘how to play bass guitar’ book by Geezer Butler [laughs]. I was so serious about it – trying to play a riff; it came with this flexi-disc of Geezer Butler playing bass, which made it into a Flying Nun exhibition.

As with vocalist Van Hout’s rise to prominence on local and international art scenes in the early 1990’s, the band themselves started getting attention. The recently Auckland-based Flying Nun committed to the band, though it would take around 2 years for their debut to finally be released (after initially appearing on the ‘Freak the Sheep‘ compilation).

Paul Sutherland quit the bass to play the gramophone full-time. James Greig joined as bass-player but he gave the bassists’ slot to Dave Imlay, so he could work on the guitar. Ronnie Van Hout and James Greig both headed overseas but still continue to work with the band when back in the country.

Thankfully, the band has kept going throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century. With an expanding and retracting line-up, the Void have always had an eclectic and variable sound but one thing has always been constant; volume.

Paul: James Greig’s experience as being our bass player was he managed to make a speaker burst into flames. That was pretty impressive. He tried blowing on the speaker to fan the flames, but that made it worse. Actually we blew up a PA at Warner’s once as well.

Paul: The volume thing is an interesting thing, (in the early days) we had a gig at the Subway were nobody stayed in the room, everyone had to leave the room because it was so loud. That was because our sound-person had just taken some drugs and didn’t know what he was doing.

Dave: I was there at the time; i think i went off to the poolroom.

In the late 1990s the Provincial Lounge on Cashel Street was an active and eclectic place to be. Thanks to Chris ‘The Hippy’ Wilson’s huge PA stacks, this tiny, decrepit venue was able to generate a fair racket, especially when a band so inclined to explode as the Void took the stage.

I have very fond memories of the Provincial, but standing in front of Into The Void, consumed by a wall of guitar, bass, and tom drums is probably what first comes to mind. Already pushed to the limits of volume, with my ears starting to feel every tonal change directly, their drummer unleashed his trump card – an apocalyptic assault of double-kick, heavily amplified through these giant wooden speaker stacks. My ears were ringing for almost 4 days.

Paul: When we started practicing we had like 10-15 watt amps. We definitely were not loud then. Mark was playing Hamish’s drum-kit, which is basically a folk-rock kit. But then a few other things changed, Jason bought a real guitar and amp, i got a proper bass amp.

Dave: Mark bought that drum-kit, which is the loudest drum-kit in the world

Paul: Ex The Androidss

Dave: I think we’re quieter now than we were a couple years ago.

Paul: I think it’s an internal tension thing, too. But i think we’re more intense, the last 2 times we’ve played the sound’s been better, i don’t think we’ve been as physically loud, it’s just more intense. Like Mark’s drums – it’s just a physical element.

There were times like when the Void played on the roof of Dave Imlay’s High Street store, confusing many passers-by. Or the time their full line-up packed the Dux de Lux, with Ronnie spouting his own off-hand take at the Fall‘s ‘L.A.’ to the jeers of the crowd. And of course there was the phenomenal Media Club gig that saw an entire room of normally restrained scensters take to the dance-floor, grooving down to a tight and engrossing Into The Void ripping out ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and familiar Black Sabbath-like riffs, a truly visceral release.

Dave: I think it was because i could never follow what the others were doing. When Jason starts playing something, he changes it all the time, so i decided to come up with a bass-line that just repeated over and over. Repetitive riffing, though not all the songs are like that. I play it like a guitar, play chords and use an overdrive and that. Though i guess as time’s gone on i’ve become more like a bass player, more by accident. I’ll play something and (Jason and Mark) will say ‘that sounds like Geezer Butler!’ [laughs]

How does the band get it together with the overseas members when they’re away so often?

Paul: There’s two parts to that. When James visits, it’s pretty intense. He comes and lies on the floor and plays really loud and doesn’t listen [laughs].

Dave: I think we’ve gotten used to playing (with a smaller line-up), but when James comes along it takes a few practices for him to get back into it.

Paul: Where as Ronnie; it’s interesting you read – in the art world of Ronnie referred to as ‘collaborating’ with Into The Void, i don’t know what that means. Ronnie snaps in pretty well.

Dave: We had 3 or 4 practices with Ronnie last year though we didn’t play live, and we seemed to get something out of each one that was pretty good. Still, maybe it’s easier to add vocals to music that’s already figured out than to add new guitar parts.

Some time ago a date was scheduled for a recording session. The then Melbourne-based Ronnie was going to be in town for a few days (James still lived in Christchurch at the time). The album was put together from a 4 day session at John Kelcher’s National Grid studio – which had been recommended by friends, with opening track ‘John Hore’ coming from a much earlier session at Arnie Van Bussel’s Nightshift studio, after initially being discarded.

Dave: It was before i joined. ‘John Hore’ – with Ronnie playing bass.

Paul: I was sick or something, but i went to the mix down and that was really weird.

Dave: Arnie thought it was a kind of 70s prog-rock thing or something, he was trying to make it sound like yes or something.

Later Rob Buick (of the Black Panthers) turned up for a session at Nightshift, found and recovered the tape, giving the band a mix down for a song the band thought they had lost. The National Grid sessions were significantly more productive, as the band were well aware of their time limitations and were aiming for a completed album inside of 4 days of recording.

Dave: The one with John – it was done in a tiny little studio. And there were all sorts of things that weren’t supposed to happen, Ronnie doing vocal backups with himself (due to tape spillage) – it sounds great, but it was just an accident, so there were all sorts of incidents that happened with the equipment at the time. Ronnie was there dancing around for the first 3 days when we laid down the music, he would write things down at the session and work on lyrics overnight. It all came together on the last day when he added his vocals.

In time-honored void tradition, there was a long period before the album finally saw the light of day. Searching for a label proved fruitless, so the band has released it themselves on their A.Void music label.

I can say without any reserve that it’s the best thing they’ve committed to tape. Though no longer connected to a more commercially-orientated Flying Nun, you should be able to find ‘2’ in most record stores in New Zealand – i thoroughly recommend it.

Matt Alien

Matt Alien, ex-Christchurch rok outlaw, ex-Auckland rok-pack leader, now basing himself out of the Sydney wastelands in OZstralia..
Here he fronts up up with his third solo album in the 10+ year period in which he’s been dabbling in solo recording, concurrently with whatever rock rumble gang (Hi-Tone Destroyers/Black Panthers/Slavetrader), he’s been attaching his reckless riffing personality to….rn
All of Mister Alien’s preferred rok legends extend influences here, be it Kiss/T-Rex/Rolling Stones/Dead Moon/Sabbath/ Thin Lizzy/Motorhead..
10 tracks birthed in the bedroom, but could still be easily struttted live in any scuzzy venue in the omniverse..
A touch of electronic twiddling even crops up here…is this a case of such artists as Chrome/Can/Suicide also being imbibed on the Alien Lissening menu??rn– Andrew Tolley of Kato Records

Discography
picks in bold

  • Matt outta hellrn
  • Fuck Blues [2008 Kato]