The Penthouse

Also known as: Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, Level 5

Location: 135 Cashel Street, Central Christchurch

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Current Status: Demolished post-earthquake, replaced by commerical buildings

Active as a live music venue: 2005 – 2011

Capacity: 250

All-Ages: Yes

The Penthouse (sometimes just referred to as ‘Level 5’) was a venue name given to the 5th floor of Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti School in Central Christchurch, above the old Hallensteins building in Cashel Plaza.

The school was originally used as a venue for All-Age shows promoted by Unlimited Paenga student Jeremy Barribeau, and was quickly established as a suitable spot for shows for AA community group Red Panda, plus several others associated the school such as Will EdmondsOut of Kilter and a series of Raves organized by teacher and DJ Brent Silby.

We started with a couple gigs called Citizen Jam. The Glasson family owned it and leased it to the school – so getting permission for an alternate usage was not the easiest. Lots of planning with the fire department and security/risk analysis plans – Rose Jenson Banner helped a lot with that stuff.

– Jeremy Barribeau

Funding initially came from the city counsel and school board in the form of seed capital to start a radio station (Metropolis Radio) with the intent of fostering a local all ages community. (Early headliner) The Shocking Pinks charged what we all thought at the time was an exorbitant NZ$1000 to play haha!

– Jeremy Barribeau

The Shocking Pinks at the 1st Citizen Jam show, June 2005

 I organized several alcohol-free raves up there under the Audiodreams brand. We called the venue “Level 5” for our raves.

Audiodreams was a company started by myself with some students. White Elephant helped with supervision and marketing of the raves.

– Brent Silby

Every show had a strictly no-alcohol policy and security was provided at the ground floor.

The floor was a large, open plan space, and Red Panda shows utilized a decent PA (provided by the White Elephant parent group), plus the schools facilities such as a film projection screen.

Red Panda had connections to A Low Hum and as such a handful of A Low Hum’s touring parties put on AA shows at the venue – the highlights including So So Modern‘s show in September 2006 with Australian act Alps, popular Christchurch electro-pop duo Frase+Bri and youthful indie-pop trio Black Market Art.

Another fun event put on by the group was the Red Panda Prom, held at the Penthouse in both 2008 and 2009. I had the pleasure of playing in a couple bands (including a ‘super-group’ made up just for the event) and dressing up for the occasion.

Last AA show we did was the weekend before the quakes with Parking Lot Experiments in the basement of Unlimited (under the Crossing). I remember it vividly – was 48 hours before the Feb shake. Last normal weekend in old Chch. It was a WE show I think as RP was officially wound up into WE and I was working at WE. A local AA band supported (Die Robotor).

– Netta Egoz (Red Panda / White Elephant)

The venue was in heavy use right up until the 2011 Earthquake – in fact AudioDreams had a rave planned for March 2011 that was cancelled due to the February Quakes:

Poster for Earthquake-cancelled rave

However the Earthquakes unfortunately brought a particularly active period in Christchurch All-Age shows to a close, with the Hallensteins building eventually demolished and the school moved.

History

  • 2005: Students from Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti move into the Northern Tower – i.e. the Hallensteins building, after 2 years in the smaller Southern Star Building. In June the first Citizen Jam gig is held.
  • 2010: Building is damaged in September earthquakes, however it remains open until February 2011 Earthquakes.
  • 2011: US group Parking Lot Experiments are the last headline act to play with a show in the basement, an AudioDreams rave planned for March is cancelled after the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2011 close the venue for good.

Links

Metropolis

NOTE: This post probably contains quite a few errors and an inaccurate timeline – there is very little info online about old Christchurch venues, so I welcome all corrections and additions!

Also known as: The Green Room, Hofbrauhaus Restaurant, Honeypot Pizza Bar

Location: 112a Lichfield Street, Central Christchurch – Above the Honeypot Cafe

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Current Status: Demolished post-earthquake

Active as a live music venue: Early 90’s (Metropolis), 1997 – 2000 (The Green Room)

Capacity: 50?

Though I have no experience of 112a Lichfield Street when it was in its prime as a venue – i.e. when known as Metropolis – I did see a couple shows upstairs from the Honeypot Cafe when the venue was known as the Green Room.

112 Lichfield Street from Kete Christchurch

In fact my debut as a performer was here in 1998, playing Bass guitar in Mysterioball – a grotty punk band that at that stage was just a duo (along with guitarist/vocalist Kyle Denovan). We had been invited to perform by our pals the Davidson Collective, in a show that was part of Christchurch Art Week – somehow we came on after a stage-play!

The Green Room (and presumably both Hofbrauhaus and Metropolis before it) was a tiny upstairs Cafe/Bar, with a small area in the corner allocated for performers. Eventually the Cafe would become the Honeypot Pizza Bar before being claimed by the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010/2011.

The live music performance that sticks out in my memory was that of Nick Hodgson (later Harte) in his pre-Shocking Pinks group The Incisions, absolutely TEARING THE ROOF off the place by double-amp’ing his guitar in such a tiny space. Needless to say The Green Room had noise complaint before the first song had even ended, presumably from the Honeypot downstairs.

History

  • ?: Hofbrauhaus Bar
  • ?: Metropolis
  • 1997: Venue becomes The Green Room.
  • 2000: The Green Room shuts, becomes Honeypot Pizza Bar / Hofbrauhaus Restaurant.
  • 2010: Building damaged and eventually demolished after the Canterbury earthquakes.

Links

The Brunettes – Mars Loves Venus

2004, Lil’ Chief, LCR007

Over the course of the last two years, The Brunettes must surely go down as one of New Zealand’s most productive bands, with a series of long-stay live tours flowing across New Zealand and stories of their international travels. along the way they’ve had trials and success, line-up changes (including a little controversy) and the odd bit of exposure and critical response, spiked by the release of their debut-following EP ‘Boy Racer’ last year.

Boy Racer was a little sloppier than their tightly constructed Holding Hands, Feeding Ducks, and maybe showed a bit of initiative towards diversifying their 50’s/60’s pop-schlock referencing sound – not that their debut wasn’t a marvel in genuine catchy pop.

Despite accusations of regurgitating long-dead music styles, the Brunettes (full-length) debut posses a level of panache and intricate song-play that even their influences (Phil Spector, Jonathan Richman and Shadow Morton springing to mind) would be proud of.

Compared to Holding Hands.., Boy Racer was the darker side of the tracks. Suddenly the ‘Leader of the Pack’ / ‘Out in the Street’ side of the band was shining through, a pop group with dark themes – much akin to Mortons’ Shangri-Las, the production on Boy Racer’s ‘I Miss My Coochie Coo’ / ‘Don’t Neglect Your Pet’ cut back the gloss to show a beating heart at the center of the band.

My immediate impressions on the new album have been that it sounds almost claustrophobic compared to what has come before. Musical influences are less obvious (with the exception of ‘record store’ – a catchy mix of the modern lovers and what sounds like a Tex Pistol guitar lick), the band now concentrating on a more lyrically focused, vocal-heavy mix with guitar, hand claps and percussion making up the majority of the sound. Secondly, its probably the most addictive, catchy album I’ve heard in a long time, particularly Polyester Meets Acetate, which i’m continually finding myself singing along to after just a few listens. Jonathan (Bree) takes a more active role as vocalist on the album, leading a fair portion of the tracks or fueling duets with Heather (Mansfield) with the kind of quirk and honest edge you’d normally only hear from such song-writers as Lee Hazelwood (and his greatest chanteuse, Nancy Sinatra), or early Richman minus the naivety.

After the shiny burst of the opening trio of songs comes ‘Too Big For Gidget’, the first track to really emphasis the presence of erstwhile ex-member Nick ‘Harte’ Hodgson, now having a particularly rough time with his own band, The Shocking Pinks. Harte’s drumming is to the front over what is one of the albums musically somber tracks, constructed from a reverberate organ, emphasizing piano and guitar flourishes and Harte’s double-timed drumming. A downbeat but fairly throwaway lyric pretty much spoils what could have been one of the albums finer notes.

In fact the entire second side of the album is far darker than the first, tracks like ‘Don’t Hit Your Head Honey’ and the two-part ‘Your Heart Dies’ new-wave pastiche add an intimate and conversational element to the album, often full of hipster pathos – which oddly seems to be the defining element in Bree’s song-writing here. Very modern, post-ironic cool lyrics distinguish Bree (along with some fine touches from Mansfield with ‘These Things Take Time’ and even guitarist James Milne’s rather off-beat ‘You Beautiful Militant’) as fairly removed from their name-checked influences, creating quite a distinctive style throughout the album.

A pretty fine follow-up to one of the most intriguing debuts in recent memory, Mars Loves Venus is the maturing of Holding Hands, Feeding Ducks’ carnival candy-floss and ferris-wheel naivety, showing the cracks of regular life, and presented in a charming blend of a plethora of musical influences, distilled into the Brunettes own, and surely by now unique sound. Even their throw-away and catchy numbers (‘Loopy Loopy Love’, ‘Whale In The Sand’) stick in your head like the intro to ‘Da Do Run Run’ – though maybe not in the same capacity as their slick all pop first album. Though Boy Racer showed a band in transition, they haven’t quite settled yet, and thankfully that makes for an eclectic musical mix and a dynamic sophomoric album.

Coal

Biography

Coal are energy in another form.

Long-lasting groovy Christchurch noise-rock cum post-rock band based around the core guitar duo of Andrew Hensley and Jeremy Symonds.

Despite the best part of 2 decades as a live act, the group has yet to record, and have been through several ‘phases’ in their lifetime with an evolving sound and band line-up.

The group have connections to several groups, with members of A Flight to Blackout, The Pickups, Smith the Alien, and The Shocking Pinks forming the base of the group over the years.

Circa 2016/2017 the group are now a tight 4-piece with a huge sound – bolstered by excellent bassist Gareth Heta’s shear volume and the confidence the group now posses. Hensley in particular has come on in spades, with a great snarl and caustic lyrics (ala Mark E Smith) added to his guitar attack. ‘Peter Mead’ is a live favorite.

Members

  • Andrew Hensley (Guitar/Vocals, 2004 -)
  • Jeremy Symonds (Guitar, 2004 – )
  • Lachlan Beban (Guitar, 2004 – 2006?)
  • Scott Butcher (Drums, 2004 – 2006?)
  • Jared Kelly (Drums/Bass, 2006 – 2008?, 2014 – 2015)
  • Cam Walker (Drums, 2006?)
  • William Daymond (Bass/Organ, 2006 – 2007)
  • Fleur De Lis (Guitar, 2006, 2007)
  • Matt Craw (Guitar, 2007?)
  • George Gossett (Keyboard?, 2007?)
  • Paul Kidd (Electronics, 2008)
  • Danny Knight-Bare (Drums, 2008? – )
  • Gareth Heta (Bass, 2015? -)

Discography

Links

 

House Party w/ The Shocking Pinks, Tiger Tones, Ed Muzik, Frase+Bri [09/02/07]


At the Muzik Farm, Cashmere [09/02/07]
see more photos from this show at flickr

The Incisions

Biography

Nick ‘Harte’ Hodgson’s loud rock’n’roll outfit.

Started life as Tony Valens and the Incisions in the mid 90’s and were mostly concentrated on harsh primal dirges and noisy guitar flourishes – creating some absolutely brilliant sounds far outside the commercial scope of rock’n’roll.

Band competitions, a short-lived lead singer and the rock’n’roll revival brought changes to their sound, reverting to a more pop (but still incredibly loud) rock format, but Nick was unhappy and soon the band was changing again.

The result was the manic Let Terror Rain – Nick’s first attempt at adding vocals to his old blend of sonic mayhem, and it worked.

Thick guitar-dirges and sound-checking The Velvet Underground was the order of the day, and it looked like the band was onto a promising direction before Hodgson split the band (and Christchurch) to seek his fame with Auckland-based popsters The Brunettes, eventually settling with his own new band The Shocking Pinks.

Members

  • Nick Hodgson (Guitar/Vocals/Drums, 199? – 200?)
  • Ben Johnstone (Bass/Vocals, 199? – 2003)
  • Tim MacDonald (Drums, 199? – 200?)
  • George Gossett (Keyboards, 200?)
  • Karl (Bass/Vocals, 200?)

Discography

  • Tony Valens and the Incisions Lathe-Cut 7″ EP [High Tension House]
  • All the Greatest Hits of.. cassette [High Tension House HTH015]
  • Tony Valens and the Incisions [Kato KCD3]
  • Let Terror Rain [2003 self-released] [Review]

Links

 

Leper Ballet

Biography

Christchurch 4-piece with a heavy Birthday Party flavor comprised of Mark E Smith-channeling vocalist Janus Currie, Nick Cave look-a-like guitarist Herbert Palmer, drummer Kris Taylor and bass-playing Karate enthusiast Rush Jopson.

These guys exploded onto the local scene in late 2004, claiming an unlucky 3rd place in the annual RDU Round Up band competition at the Dux de Lux behind excellent wall-of-sound propagators Happy Palace in 2nd and under-performing victors Chickenyard, before anybody had ever heard of them.

Somehow they managed to emerge fully-formed, with a tight and effective rhythm section, some killer guitar and top notch off-kilter vocal spasms (say Mark E Smith meets a kiwi accent). I wrote a length piece on them for A Low Hum back in 2005.

Basically the band started when some friends of ours came to NZ after living in Europe for a few years and decided to put on a country gig.

Stupidly drunk last Christmas, Janus and I said we were in a band and we would play, so we had 2 weeks to write a few songs and perform them.

At first we had a different drummer but he was shit so Kris joined and after playing a bit, Rush (who used to be in another band called Spankdirt) asked if we wanted a bass player. So the full band has only really been together for a few months.

– Herbert Palmer

The group spent a couple of years garnishing a loyal local following before the various members splintered off to different cities – on a couple of occasions Chris Andrews (i.e. me) filled in for Jopson on bass whilst he was overseas.

Their last shows were fund-raising events that packed out both Creation and Wunderbar – terrific events and a testament to the popularity the group had built in such a short time.

The group made a couple of reunion appearances at Wunderbar and Goodbye Blue Monday in 2009.

Members

  • Janus Currie (Vocals, 2004 – 2005, 2009)
  • Herbert Palmer (Guitar / Accordion, 2004 – 2005, 2009)
  • Kris Taylor (Drums, 2004 – 2005, 2009)
  • Rush Jopson (Bass, 2004 – 2005, 2009)
  • Chris Andrews (Bass, 2005)

Discography

  • Soft Machine (2004, Self-Released)

Links

 

Leper Ballet [April 2005]

The Leper Ballet burnt so brightly and so quickly that it’s astonishing they didn’t garner wider acclaim. Like Iggy and his Stooges during the epochal hey-day, the group were a writhing, for-the-moment ball of energy, engulfing rooms with pulsating sound and an engaging, contagious enthusiasm – i have never seen audience take to new bands like they did they Leper Ballet, they just drove the kids insane.

Basically the initial idea came about one night when Janus and myself were at the Wunderbar watching this punk-metal band called Fisting Mary. I pretty much thought they where a whole lot of messy shit, and hardly anyone was watching them, but still the good folk at the Wunderbar where dishing them out free beer after free beer. I was still at school at the time and didn’t have all that much money to buy beer, so i said to Janus that we should start a band just for the purpose of getting it for free.

For a year the only thing that came of that was the band name, we thought it was great and celebrated by buying beer (still not quite understanding the concept of ‘getting out what you put in’, or whatever it is).

So it went until the Christmas of 2003 when this dude (his name was Delaney Davidson, from a band called The Dead Brothers who are signed to a Swiss label called Voodoo Rhythm; all of which are fucking amazing, look them up on the net) came back to his home town of Christchurch and set up a couple of gigs. Being it the holy celebration of Christmas Jani and I where drunk enough to tell this guy we were in a band and would gladly play at his show in two weeks… And so it went. In those two weeks we managed to write five songs and do a couple of covers and find some pretty nifty looking suits at the salvation army op-shop.
– Herbert Palmer

Though their debut didn’t quite go as expected (as they don’t give out free beer at the Media Club), the seeds were sewn. Over the next couple of years the boys gathered steam, eventually fleeting to Berlin – ‘a city where the beer is only 30 cents for a 500ml bottle and all the homeless alcoholics look like pirates’.

After a couple of fumbling steps the group fell into a tight 4-man permanent line-up. Janus Currie produced warped and slanted rants, sprinkled with obscure references and loaded language, adding to the dark feeling of their songs – a touch of Mark E Smith via Elizabethan-era gutter poetry. Meanwhile Herbert Palmer rushed through a literate, complicated and frenetic set of nasty guitar riffs – sprinkled with his rock-a-billy, old-timey country and gothic-pop influences. Herb’s grasp of guitar styles and approach is hugely impressive, not to mention his song-writing and additional musicianship. Strung together by a fantastic, upbeat rhythm section in the form of Kris Taylor and Rush Jopson, the group was the most unlikely of dance sensations!

My initial impressions of the group seemed to revolve around the visual look of the group – in particular their striking ‘dirty suits’ dress style and Herbs’ resemblance to a young Nick Cave, which was thoroughly appropriate considering the sound his guitar made on their more gothic numbers. Tracks like ‘The Cabaret’ and ‘I’m Ian’ spewed forth the kind of cataclysmic noise and rhythmic orgasms that prime era Birthday Party channeled (though without the heroin addiction and leather pants).

You never knew what you were going to get with the Leper Ballet – their songs swung wildly from gothic poem’s over a slow and dirgy beat, through sea-shanty carnival romps (thanks to Herb’s secret weapon – the piano accordion) to full-on, full-tilt assaults, usually hastening a messy ending to the set. The group wasn’t afraid of covers, choosing to completely destroy ‘these boots are made for walking’ (complete with an introduction ‘This ones’ for Nancy!’, and bringing things to a close with what almost became there theme – a free-for-all take on the stooges ‘I wanna be your dog’. Usually an indicator that Janus was opening up the stage to crowd participation.

Janus was certainly a polarizing front-man – possessing a down-on-his-luck showman look and comical approach to fronting the band, he never really saw himself as a musician in the group, but rather an entertainer in the Tom Waits mold. It almost seemed as if Janus was a host for the groups’ events – and as Leper Ballet performances often divulged into hands-on and frenetic finales, it’s pretty succinct.

Over the course of just over a year the group played a huge amount of shows, often rushed in approach and result – and no wonder! Herb was double-timing as the Shocking Pinks 5th generation guitarist, often leaving for out-of-town sojourns (which included a memorable show up in Auckland; known for the interaction of a certain 8 Foot Sativa member), whilst Rush took a couple overseas holidays – leading to my own hasty initialization into the group as backup bassist. Eventually Herb, Kris and I formed our own retro-rock-a-billy covers group we dubbed Herb and the Spices – supporting the real group proper as the band wound down.

Though hastily produced, they did manage to get some recordings together – a single session in a home studio produced some (admittedly slightly underwhelming) results, but later live recordings and a bit of remixing allowed the group to produce a pretty strong (if messy) parting album. A limited edition CDr with striking artwork in the Ralph Steadman tradition captures some of the feeling of Leper Ballet shows – with all the grandstanding and pomp, not to mention the carnage.

In May 2005 the boys played a series of shows that both defined them as a live force, but also signaled an end to a chaotic 18 months. Raising some funds through their final hurrah, Janus and Herbert left our shores for England and then Germany – taking in the music of their idols in London before settling in Berlin. It’s unclear what plans the boys have for the future, though their partners in crime back in Christchurch have been keeping themselves busy.

Rush Jopson has spent some time trying to get his own project up and running, along with a reunion of his old band Spankdirt, meanwhile Kris Taylor has made a tremendous impact on eclectic locals the House Of Dolls; filling out their sound with some punchy, rumbling drums and turning them into one of our cities finest almost over-night.

I still anticipate a triumphant return for the Leper Ballet – though i can imagine Janus and Herbert fit in perfectly in the bizarre Berlin underground. When they eventually return they’ll come back to a strong all-ages environment that’s developed in their absence – a scene they helped spark.

Lome

Biography

3-piece Christchurch rock outfit in a fairly Unwound-style vein with dramatic guitar tension and vocals that veer between hushed and dramatic.

Danny Bare and Gareth Heta of Lome

Lome is a three-piece comprised of the ex-Substandard duo of Danny Bare and Gareth Heta along with Bare’s flatmate and successor in the rolling Shocking Pinks line-up of the mid-2000’s, Matt Craw.

Matt Craw of Lome

Made their live debut in July 2004, however never released any material with this line-up.

Members

  • Danny Bare (Drums, 2004)
  • Gareth Heta (Guitar/Bass, 2007)
  • Matt Craw (Guitar, 2004)

Discography

Links

 

Michael J. Brassell: A Memorial [Mar 2004]

Michael John Brassell was a revered and cherished man. As a central figure in both the Christchurch and Dunedin underground rock scenes, Mike (known to many by his stage pseudonym, Mike Hex aka Mike/Whitey Hiss) developed a distinct creative style unhinged from his commercial surroundings. Mike championed the DIY spirit, performing, recording, producing and releasing an abundance of beloved recordings with little regard for mainstream success, but full of such beauty, it would be hard pressed for any true music fan to find merit. Highly prolific, Mike bounced around a handful of bands in the 90’s and 00’s – making his name with a noisy Christchurch-based troupe of madmen called Squirm.

Formed with Brett Lupton and a drummer known as ‘Hat’ in 1992, Squirm thrashed around Christchurch for some 18 months, releasing the ‘Feeding the ground’ full-length in tiny numbers before disbanding – only to regroup late in 1993 with Darryl Kirk on drums. This line-up would produce Squirms defining releases ‘whip me honey’ and the ‘mister mistake maker’ EP on Rob Mayes’ vaunted local indie Failsafe Records, but the Squirm boys wanted to push on for bigger things. Though the EP, recording under former Jean-Paul Sartre Experience and later Stereobus front man Dave Yetton, had interest from the in-a-state-of-progress Flying Nun label – they ultimately failed to find their mark.

The late 90’s brought about a change in line-up, with Peter Mitchell (formerly of New Zealands’ great underground sun-stained country legends The Renderers) now on drums, with former Pumpkinhead bassist Vaughan Watson solidifying the line-up for their last couple of years.

With aspirations to cross over to an american audience, Squirm took the unusual step of going it on their own, Mike forming his own recording label (Noseflute Recordings) and rechristening his Christchurch flat recording space as ‘Hex Central‘ – now a well-known spot for local muso’s. Though the DIY approach never saw them reach their goal of hitting it big overseas (and Squirm actually dissolved with the release of Mike’s first solo release), it did cultivate interest in the Hex philosophy to recording.

Mike’s low-fidelity, hiss+ recording style (all future Hex recordings would be free from the threat of any kind of crystal-clear and septic digital clarity) seemed custom made for his quirky and explorative approach to guitar playing and vocalising. Suddenly other bands were joining in on the act – Mike playing particular attention to The Centre Will Hold, a melodic local outfit of friends determined to produced the ultimate 1 minute pop song. In D Flat.

Mikes’ music (he had soon released his solo debut ‘Johnny Horse’ in small quantities, spreading a short distribution to independent pockets of Europe and the states, along with a keen – though small local following) was now sounding almost fully formed. After the release of the albums follow-up ‘the hiss explosion’, he took the step of moving to Dunedin. Taking a coordinating position with the fledgling Arc Life Recordings label – which had succeeded Flying Nun as the centre of all things low-fidelity in Dunedin, he joined locals Stephen Kilroy and Thom Bell.

With Mike in line, Arc Life thrived. New recordings from locals Cloudboy and their charming chanteuse Demarnia Lloyd, along with Renderers descendents (Brian Crooks side-project) Bible Black and the involvement of one of Mikes’ heroes – David Kilgour of seminal outfit The Clean, had Arc Life well on their way to bigger things.

In 2002 Mike released what could be his finest release, the awe-inspiring beautiful ’66’ with the Hiss Explosion – the texturally focused guitar-and-drums duo he had formed with former Squirm member Peter Mitchell for his last outing. ’66’ is pretty much a faithful recreation of how Mike and his hiss explosion sounded live – a rush of guitar, thumping drumming and melodic vocals. Based around Mikes’ obsession with a looping guitar foot-pedal (not exactly the height of hi-technology) the primitive sampler made for excellent compliment, and allowed Mike to create walls of transient, flowing sound, flush with soaring highs and lows that Mike caressed with his careful vocal approach – truly mesmerizing.

I had the fortune of organizing Mike’s final Christchurch show on Waitangi day 2004, and in an effort to promote the show, we scammed an interview used in local gig guide the package which i contribute towards, with Mike explaining where he was currently at. He talked about new releases on their way from HDU front man Kahu and perennial Dunedin feature Bob Scott putting out a CD of ‘Lost Folk Music’, along with possible recordings from The Centre Will Hold’s outgrowths’ the (still Christchurch based) Undercurrents. The big news though was that Arc was rebuilding their home-brew studio – with the help of Thom Bell (who was now playing an integral part in the hiss explosions’ sound, being the in-house sound guy) they had purchase a new studio desk from Canada and had set about putting things together.

The Hiss Explosions’ last Christchurch performance was a wonderful occasion. Christchurch has been witness to something of a re-birthing in the local scene in the last year, with more venues becoming regular performance options and the Waitangi day show brought out the kind of crowd you reminisce about, with former scene regulars and underground musicians alike coming out of the woodwork to witness Hex’s triumphant return, along with some starting performances from Substandard, Idols of Eve, Into the Void and fellow Dunedin troupers the International Telepaths.

Sadly Michael John Brassell passed just a few short weeks later, a sad victim of pneumonia; he died quickly and without warning in late February at the age of 38.

With little time to think, Fleur de Lis – a close friend and the front-woman of one of Christchurch’s most under-appreciated rock outfits The Dialtones, and myself set about stringing together a memorial gig for Mike, and with out too much trouble people were soon going out of their way to pay tribute to our fallen friend. On Friday the 12th of march, some 9 bands lined up to pay respect to Mike in their own way – the way Mikey Hex would have wanted it – with music.

Memories and reminds of Mikes past were gathered in a tribute center near the stage, a beautiful image of Mike playing at the Waitangi show, along with posters from Mike’s many bands through the 90’s (including one that was particularly significant to me – a late 90’s show were my own band made just our sophomoric appearance under Mikes lead), and his memorial signing book that was just about overflowing with loving tributes by the end of the night.

With 9 bands and some 300 punters, there was no messing around to be had. Dave Khan showed what a long way he’s gone in the last 18 months – forming an ethereal wall of sound from his keyboards and vocal harmonizing effects as drawing room – the solo moniker that seen him through a decade and a myriad of different styles. Playing out like ambient music at high-volume, Khans’ approach made the perfect melodic introduction to the night, a relaxing low-key performance.

Substandard took the occasion to make some changes – for the first time they had become a four-piece, joined by guitarist Danny Bare’s flatmate Matt on 2nd guitar and the groups first ever vocal performance. Covering Sonic Youth’s epitome of sound ‘Diamond Sea’ – a seething 20 minute song comprised of 2 distinct approaches – melodic vocal parts joined with full-frontal guitar attacks (known as the ‘Sea of Confusion’). Substandard made good on the hardest of covers, Andrew adding his own touches while trying hard to mimic Steve Shelley’s minimalist drumming, Gareth floating in and out with strong bass cues, while Danny and Matt reconstructed the piece with precision.

The Dialtones (with the ever-present sound supremo Marcus Winstanley making his 1st of 3 stage performances for the night) were absolutely bombastic. Marcus’s dominant drumming drove the band to new heights, Fleur leading the band through one of their most rousing performances and absolutely the surprise of the night. Fleur’s usually sedate vocals seemed to raise with authority above driving compliment, and it sounds like they’re truly in-line to make a welcome return to the Christchurch scene with a new high-power approach to their slightly folky rock.

With the night now pressing on (20 minute sets are one thing, but set-up times had already seen the night stretch out an hour or so) Minisnap had arrived and were inclined to take the stage next. With Marcus returning to the stage to compliment the Rob Scott-less Bats sister band as the supplementary guitarist, mini-snap sounded a little muffled and lacked definition, but still displayed a charismatic approach to their jangly guitar pop.

Arriving from wellington to take the stage as Dragstrip), former Ape Management band mate of Mike’s David Clark displayed humor and a gritty approach to guitar rock. With Darryl Kirk soon filling in on some impromptu drumming (without knowing any of Dragstrip’s stop-start song structures), he brought a smile to an already jubilant crowd. Using the kind of down-and-dirty insights that a beat poet might conjure up, Dragstrip were brash and to the point – and thoroughly entertaining.

The entertainment continued in the form of a short and explosive set from Into the Void – another in the line of bands that appeared with the Hiss Explosion on Waitangi day. The guys were right on forming, pounding away on the gig drum-kit with authority, while guitar and bass interlocked to create dense and highly rhythmic grooves. Things got a little silly late in the set when the drum kit, started inching its way off the stage, the voids drummer continuing to soldier on as his kit fell apart around him, with cymbals flying forward and his double-kick basically giving up the ghost simultaneously.

After a bit of a delay, the other surprise packet of the night – a new look Shocking Pinks took the stage for their debut performance. The Pinks have cultivated a bit of a unusual standing in the Christchurch scene, diving fans and muso’s with their infectious danceable songs, but leader Nick Hearte’s somewhat unusual approach to retaining band members. Needless to say the new line-up looked a little nervous (especially playing to such a large crowd), with new guitarist Kit not really making their new direction – closer to a shoe-gazer sound, all that obvious with some restrained playing. Cutting things short at a mere 2 songs; they ended in a flurry of sound as nick drowned the crowd in bass feedback.

Things took on a more mellow direction as the night passed 2:30 am – the much-vaunted undercurrents showing off the highly soothing melodic pop that had made them such a firm favorite with Mike. Bassist and vocalist Nick (formerly of seminal shoe-gazers Barnard’s Star, along with the guitarist – yes him again – Marcus Winstanley) really drove the band on a number of their songs, his playing adding volume (not to mention groove) to their wistful and contemplative pop melodies. One of my highlights for the night, the undercurrents unfortunately played to a fleeting crowd, weary from a late night.

Finally Eskimo – the new power-trio of Rob Mayes (bass), Michael Daly (drums) and local legend Dave Mulcahy (guitar) concluded things to a diminished, but enthusiastic crowd. Mulcahy and Mayes joked, and ran through a couple of their newly formed songs – that sounded like a slightly harder variation on Mulcahy’s former band Superette. In good spirits (not to mention having consumed many) Mulcahy grew distracted and frustrated in their third song, and quickly pulled the plug – effectively ending a long and wonderful night a little abruptly. Despite such a rough approach to a set, they did sound quite distinctive. After hearing an earlier performance to an uninterested varsity crowd a couple weeks back, Eskimo sound like they are indeed making strides towards the kind of pop gem i know both Mayes and Mulcahy are capable of.

And thus a long night was completed. Special thanks must go to sound guru’s marcus and loki, who made everything flow so beautifully, and of course the many bands that gave their time for such a worthy cause. Michael John Brassell will be remembered as a friendly and encouraging man that meant a lot to so many people – he will always be our Mike Hex.