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King Loser


This is a fairly brief history of one of New Zealand's more significant groups. For a more detailed account, check out AudioCulture's excellent biography on the group.

King Loser is the kind of band I’ve always wanted to form. More of a loose collection of friends (with an almost comical approach to drum-throne rotation), yet somehow managing to get it together enough to release 3 brilliant albums and a number of inspired singles, King Loser put the scuzz in scuzz-rock.

Like some kind of evil take on Nancy Sinatra and Lee Heazlewood, the domineering front of Chris Heazlewood and Celia Mancini (nee Patel, then later Pavlova) trade off vocal barbs (him – rugged and biting, her – sultry and fork-tongued) over a bed of surf-guitar, jungle-grooves or just good-old american Lo-Fi hiss-rock.

The duo formed King Loser after meeting in Dunedin in 1991. Mancini had previously been in a handful of influential underground Christchurch groups (The Stepford 5, The Axel Grinders and a lounge group called The After Dinner Mints) and had managed Into the Void. This connection to Christchurch was highlighted by their first release (an ‘official bootleg’ cassette) on Homebacon Tapes; connected to the likes of Brother Love and the Homebacon Gang; of which Duane Zarakov was a one-time member.

In 1993 the groups official debut album came out on Turbulence Records – a low key Belgian label that had previously put out Heazlewood’s ‘The Slaughter Small Children‘ 7″ single, along with release from other obscure New Zealand acts such as Sandra Bell, Trash, and the excellent ‘Killing Capitalism with Kindness‘ compilation.

They spent the next couple of years developing a fearsome live reputation and playing up and down the country, with an EP on US label 18 Wheeler (who also put out an album and an EP by Zarakov’s Space Dust) and the DIY cassette ‘A Bitch on Heat‘ before Flying Nun Records finally gave them official label representation in New Zealand, releasing the groups ‘Stairway to Heaven‘ single and first 2 albums in quick succession, along with solo releases from both Heazlewood and Mancini.

The groups popularity would reach it’s apex with the release of the ’76 Comeback’ video; a single from 2nd album ‘You Cannot Kill What Does Not Live’. Featuring Mancini as a Femme Fatale ass-kicking spy (of sorts) the clip is a low-budget riot, set to a killer instrumental track.

With the solidified ‘prime’ lineup of Mancini, Heazlewood, Lance Strickland and Sean O’Riely, King Loser would reach their artistic and critical peak with ‘Caul of the Outlaw’, their 3rd (official) album. Featuring a strong selection of songs with huge stylistic variation – highlighted by Heazlewood’s opening track ‘Troubled Land‘, Mancini’s ‘Cyclonic Vibration‘ (originally an Axel Grinders track known as ‘Cosmic Love Vibration‘) and the terrific group effort ‘Lazenby’s Folly‘.

After an exceedingly prolific few years King Loser faded from view, disbanding in late 1997 – internal friction and drug dependency was likely a major issue within the group at the time:

(Chris Heazlewood’s) only just clawed his way back up the cliff, following a descent that began 25 years ago.

You may have seen him on the news last year, talking about the life-saving Hepatitis C drugs that he had imported from India for a fraction of the price they are available for in New Zealand.

He spoke candidly about the band being paid in drugs, and the dirty needles that he contracted the disease from. He was in a pretty bad state, his liver was about to give up.

Nine months later, he’s feeling much better. His head is clear, and he’s finally off the Methadone.

Radio New Zealand Music article on Chris Heazelwood / King Loser’s

A live performance of a reunited King Loser surfaced in 2016, with the group going on to play a handful of reunion shows up and down the country. The next year experienced music video producers Andrew Moore and Cushla Dillon announced a documentary of the group, including footage of the reunion shows along with archival footage and various interviews. The documentary took a while to get off the ground, and took on an extra dimension when Celia Patel passed away in September 2017.

King Loser (Super Sonic Free Films, 2023)

The Documentary would finally see the light of day in 2023, making it’s debut at the New Zealand International Film Festival, to rave reviews.




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