Every Day In May – Day 18: What Is Music?

May 24, 2016
2 mins read

The idea? Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month and 38 years of his own rancid opining and reportage, Gary Steel will present something from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. This story, which discusses the exploratory music scene around the Wine Cellar and nascent Audio Foundation, appeared in Metro, October ’05.


_alumbra-tides_-music-video-production-still-copy-2NOISE. IT’S A sharp, unlovely word to the conventionally minded musical mainstreamer. But to Sam Hamilton – organiser of the surprisingly successful recent Allelujah Noise Festival – it’s a catch-all word inclusive of a vast range of musical styles.

DIY folk song, free jazz, guitar drone-scapes, laptop glitch, traditional indigenous, sinewave symphonies, avant punk, and even modern classical fit within his definition of the term.

It’s an underground movement that’s about community, not celebrity; exploration, not cliché. And it’s gathered a surprising head of steam in Auckland over the past year. Hamilton’s noise festival featured 60 musicians over a two-week period in several venues, and many were sell-out events. This no-budget, un-funded, scarcely promoted festival’s success, says Hamilton, came down to the fact that all but two of the musicians involved were from Auckland.

“We had no international acts. I had no money for that, and I wanted a large festival. In Auckland everything’s traditionally been really separated, lots of little pockets of things happening, but not much intermingling. I wanted to get that started by having a festival which was an umbrella for all of Auckland’s fringe musical communities.”

Rosy Parlane
Rosy Parlane

Hamilton is addressing an endemic problem: while many of our more exploratory musicians are revered in other parts of the world, they’re ignored at home. Internationally regarded underground icons like Dean Roberts and Rosie Parlane command respect, have record contracts, and get decent performance pay packets in America, and throughout Europe. But when they return home, says Hamilton, “the Auckland City Art Gallery pays them a $50 food voucher! The home of modern art!”

This glaring status discrimination between the rarefied world of the visual arts and its poor musical cousin is one of the issues noise music’s current facilitators are addressing. While funding is thin on the ground, there’s a cacophony of activity, along with networks and support mechanisms cropping up.

Dean Roberts
Dean Roberts

K’Rd gallery Artspace mounts its own irregular international Alt.music festival, and provides a venue space for aspiring music makers; the Wine Cellar in St Kevin’s Arcade hosts a weekly gathering called Vitamin S where odd groupings of musicians perform in spontaneous freeform aggregations; Jim Gardner’s modern classical ensemble 175 East is back on the scene after a year in which its leader was the inaugural Composer-In-Residence at Wellington’s Victoria University; and Zoe Drayton’s Audio Foundation project provides an invaluable resource in a vibrant website with gig guides, forum, artist index and a whole lot more.

Ultimately, there may always be a small, brave audience willing to turn up and be accosted by a 20-piece instrumental improvised orchestra one minute, or a 45 minute high-pitched oscillator solo, but it’s good to know it’s happening, and it’s happening here.

For more information, go to: www.audiofoundation.org.nz

Notes: Although I generally shy away from live performances now (tinnitus from the thousands of shows I attended in the ’80s and ’90s saw to that), if I was still going to gigs, I’d be spending most of my time at venues like the Wine Cellar or the Audio Foundation. It’s a no-brainer to me. Why would I go to stadium gigs performed by nostalgia acts or see dirty rock acts at some pub when I can get up close and catch genuinely exploratory music happening – to paraphrase the great Jesus Jones – right here, right now?

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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