Riot 111: Wellington’s “terrorist” punk band

December 13, 2023
4 mins read
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To celebrate the imminent release of a lovely vinyl platter capturing the key moments of Wellington’s “terrorist” punk band Riot 111, here’s a story originally published in 1981.

“We’re not a band, we’re a terrorist organisation!” Void, lead singer with Riot 111, makes this crack during a Sunday afternoon chat with what is arguably New Zealand’s first political band.

Their historic single, ‘1981’, written between the second and third tests against the Springboks during their recent bloody visit was specifically tailored as “music for the tour.”

“We went down to Nelson and protestors were singing ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ as the Red Squad chanted “Move! Move! Move!”, recalls drummer Roger. “There were lots of young people on the marches and they needed something to identify with. Twenty-year-old folk songs don’t mean very much to them.”

So Void wrote ‘1981’ based on the well-known Kamate haka which Riot 111 recorded, pressed and distributed themselves around the country, all in a matter of days. And during the matches against the Springboks, the band and their friends tried unsuccessfully to storm radio stations around the country in a bid to get it played – a fact that was hushed up by the news media.

“Most protesters had radios with them and it would have been ideal for them to hear it while marching,” says Void.

 

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He explains that some of the lyrics to ‘1981’ were written by Te Rauparaha, a militant Maori chieftain who was eventually driven to a stronghold on Kapiti Island last century.

“Few New Zealanders know what the Kamate haka is about. On the field, the All Blacks were doing this haka in front of the South Africans and the rest of New Zealand was trying to get onto the field to stop the game. We have such a hollow nationalistic shell,” he says.

Void calls the song “a piece of history” which brings pictures of the Springboks tour back to him. But he reckons the song just like the tour was negative. “The lyrics say “advance the sun will shine” but you know it won’t. This place is getting worse. I see chaos,” he says.

Guitarist Nick, founder member of Life In The Fridge Exists and one of two tour marshalls in Riot 111 explained the importance of the Zulu chant Amandla Ngawethu (Freedom to the people) which is featured on the single. “When the tour started, we were marching for the people of South Africa but it changed after a few weeks. Suddenly, we were fighting for ourselves and the right to protest.”

Drummer Roger butts in to say that the turning point came with Molesworth Street when police clubbed protestors for the first time. “I will never forget being trapped in the middle of all these good, right-thinking New Zealanders who really believed the worst thing that could happen to them was to be arrested and fined. Then, all of a sudden, those people who were supposed to be helping you or showing you the way home were whacking you or the girl next to you, over the head.”

Gerald Dwyer (RIP) and Void pictured a few years later in 1983. Photo: CHARLES JAMESON

Bassist Mark, who cut his musical teeth with Riot 111, agrees that they are probably the first political band in New Zealand. “That’s how we started and we’re not going to stop,” he says. “I can’t think of any others like us but I reckon we’ve got as much to shout about as any British band.”

“I see 13 and 14-year-old kids getting right into politics in Wellington – something you don’t see in any other city. It’s just so real down here.”

Riot 111 insist that they are not just one-hit wonders and point to new material like DMA (“about Rhys Bassett”) and PR-24 (official police jargon for long batons). They are also raring to play live after a now-legendary set at the Hard Hat Ball where a baton-wielding Void was attacked by confused debutantes.

The boys heap praise on a rock press which deals with “real” subjects like politics. “This is good since there is so much music that involves politics,” they say.

 

The story of Kamate

Everybody knows the Kamate haka. It’s the one you learned at school. Riot 111 warrior Void says he borrowed lines from Maori chief Te Rauparaha’s creation when he wrote the anti-Springbok tour anthem ‘1981’.

The song begins “Is it death, is it death, is it life, is it life?” and later states, “This is the hairy man who caused the sun to shine… advance, the sun will shine, the sun will shine…”

Legend has it that wily old Te Rauparaha invented his haka while hiding in the kumara pit from his enemies. A friendly chief from the Rotoaira tribe offered him refuge in the pit and asked his own buxom bride to sit on top and hide the fugitive.

Chiefs from the pursuing tribes called at the Pa and in the darkness, Te Rauparaha felt the evil spells they were casting on him. But the mysterious power in the genitals of the chieftainess above absorbed the bad magic that was whirling all around him.

As he heard his enemies approach, Te Rauparaha was dead scared. “Aha, Ka Mate, Ka Mate” (Aha, I die, I die) he muttered. But then as he heard his ally assure them he had already fled to the Rangipo desert, he murmured, “Ka Ora, Ka Ora” (I live, I live). Then hearing the disbelief in their voices he repeated “Ka Mate, Ka Mate”.

But after the pursuers had finally left, convinced that their prey had gone to Taranaki, he exclaimed, “Ka Ora! Ka Ora! Genei te tangata puhuruhuru nana nei I tiki mai whakawhiti t era!” (I live, I live, for this is the hairy man who fetched the sun and caused it to shine again). And as he emerged from the darkness of the pit he shouted, “Hupane, Kaupane, Whiti t era” (the sun shines) and went on to perform the whole thing in the courtyard of the Pa.

+ Originally published in the December 1981 issue of In Touch magazine. There’s no writer credit, so if you wrote this story, let me know and we’ll add one!

+ The new compilation can be purchased at Bandcamp. The vinyl edition will hit the shops this Friday, 15 December 2023.

https://riot111.bandcamp.com/album/1981?fbclid=IwAR0b7tpwbPk0eFuDGWa8YLntsYgYIzTcKljZwTsYefQEiSIz2aLCL2bc4FM

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