HDU (High Dependency Unit)

Every Day In May – Day 26: HDU

May 28, 2016
3 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 appeared in the Sunday Star Times on December 6, 1998.

HDU (High Dependency Unit)
HDU (High Dependency Unit)

LIFE COULD BE  weighing heavily on Tristan Dingemans and Dino Karlis. Along with the bassist Neil Phillips, who is absent from our brief encounter, they make up the hugely acclaimed trio, HDU.

Believe it or not, unanimous acclaim can weigh down the human spirit. But HDU also has a couple of other potential problems.

The last of the great Dunedin bands in the Flying Nun tradition, HDU find themselves with a level of audience and media expectation that’s ridiculously high. And their new album, Cross Channel Multi Tap, is ridiculously good.

The problem, then? It’s an album that, while nodding to their past as big guitar noise boys, is a unique and subtle multi-layered masterpiece with an abstract beauty which could elicit the indifference of incomprehension.

But it’s not as though HDU fans haven’t received their warning. Earlier this year, they re-released their Higher EP with a bunch of remix treatments by electronic musicians.

Ensconced in the Flying Nun boardroom, guitarist-singer Dingemans and drummer Karlis betray no signs of fatigue. Awkwardly intellectual one minute, and boyishly jocular the next, there’s a sense this duality is part of the picture.

a2963169625_16It’s an attitude noticeably different from the strict guitar aesthetics of so many Dunedin bands, and regimented ideals epitomised by the recent rock vs. dance music debates. HDU, however, see no reason for boundaries.

“It’s a media thing… that treats each band, each creative unit as a separate thing. But secretly, all these musicians are in touch with each other and respect each other’s work. It’s something that never gets discussed,” says Karlis.

Hence Cross Channel Multi Tap, which plugs into contemporary electronic manipulation as much as it does into towering inferno guitar riffs and the still vital spirit of adventure epitomised by early ’70s prog rock.

“The way music is being made today redefines the way you think about music,” says Karlis. “So you’re expressing cinematic vibes or philosophical ideas, things which in the format of rock music can be pretentious, like ‘prog rock’. Johnny Rotten was so necessary. But we wouldn’t be here without David Gilmore (of Pink Floyd) either.”

Recorded in an intense four-week period, Cross Channel Multi-Tap utilised the creative engineering skills of sound recordist Dale Cotton as it involved a kind of recreation of the HDU sound, every song constructed from the ground up, taking on strange and alluring, experimental shapes, but never totally forsaking form and melody.

“We don’t really feel like we’re creating a new language here,” admits Karlis, “whereas people like Stockhausen or Xenakis are creating a new language, starting from scratch and creating something completely alien. We’re just expanding on it, taking ideas from it.”

2000-hdu-schallblute-500x372They acknowledge their position as challenging traditionalists, but the new album is light years from the well-marked territory of their first singles and album. These records, which staked the HDU reputation, had an epic granduer that was their own, but could never quite escape their role as a kind of composite of their influences, notably the best Flying Nun groups, especially Bailterspace and Straitjacket Fits.

Having finished a successful nationwide tour with dance group Soundproof, HDU are thinking of taking it all further afield but are playing the future close to their chests. For now? “The only rule is that we like it, and that we’re enjoying what we’re doing and that it’s interesting and moving us.” GARY STEEL

Notes: The Flying Nun office on Queen St was always a strange place to hang out. There was an air of not-quite-friendliness about it which I probably interpreted as a cooler-than-thou attitude, or perhaps a response to the fact that more often than I was up there to interview a band, I was heading to the back room to buy mostly electronic albums for the shop I was running at the time, Beautiful Music. Flying Nun had started an import arm, Flying In, which brought in music from related labels overseas, but also, oddly, dance music. And the indie rock vs. dance debate had gotten a bit overheated around this time. The HDU interview was hellishly hard to transcribe because the background music – pumping experimental techno – was too loud.


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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