The Dawn Of Kiwi Alt-rock

Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month, Gary Steel presents something local from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. Today’s surprise item?

From the dawn of the age of the independent record in NZ, my review of that first clutch of self-released 45s, Evening Post, 25 October, 1980.

Capital Presses 45s Of A Different Kind

220px-Section2_29Single-play records, otherwise known as 45s, rarely get a mention in serious rock critiques.
One reason is that an album (otherwise known as a long player) can be more than the sum of its parts, despite the fact that this happens less than once in a blue moon.
Another, more valid reason, is that singles have become in the main mere promotional devices issued dutifully as fore tasters for upcoming LPs.
Yet another, less admitted and more feasible reason for the lack of serious singles consideration is undoubtedly that it is so much trouble getting off your backside to change the platter every three minutes or so. You should be dancing.
There is valid reason for buying and reviewing singles, however, as the first independently made 45s to emerge from the Capital city are currently under release.
These independent releases are of a very different breed to the standard product. They reflect a reason for existence; they are often the hard-won product of initiative, financial courage and risk. They also often express extreme provocative philosophies that flout convention and the status quo.
The old goal of grafting your craft interminably in the hope that a multinational record company will sign you up is fast receding. Musicians are quickly learning that often, bands with advances from big record companies simply end up hopelessly in debt and drained of inspiration.
750px-Howard_011aWellington’s first independent single is ‘Mr Average’/’Out Of Control’ (White Light Records) by The Steroids. It’s strong music by any standards – a relatively well-recorded dark churning sound.
By a strange coincidence, there is obvious political content in the first three independent singles. In The Steroids’ case, ‘Out Of Control’, which was written a year ago, is proving quite prophetic:
“I’ve got no money and I’ve got no job/Hey Bob I’m on the dole/Just tell me about your miracle men/We’re nearly losing control/I can’t go out and walk the streets at night/Hey Bob this can’t be true/It’s not the muggers that bother me man/It’s just your boys in blue/Speak up and call the police… They’re doing nothing for me man/Big Brother’s watching you, and you/So watch out what you do.”
The Mockers have ‘The Good Old Days’/’Murder In Manners St’ (Mocker Music) out next week. It, too, is a very good, melodic and deserving of radio play. ‘The Good Old Days’ is lyrically naïve, but once again shows a concern for the way things are:
“A man in uniform stands at the door/Don’t try to run/He’ll have a gun/These are the good old days/We’ll remember when we get old/These are the good old days/That make us feel so cold.”

Dunedin group The Knobz have recorded their political hot potato, ‘Culture’/’Chipping Away’ (Bunk Records) in our fair city. Musically in the Mi-sex vein, it’s a pointed and humorous jibe at the vegetable thoughtlessness of some of our Parliamentary representatives:
“Don’t give me culture/I’m not hearing you Rob/I could buzz around like a Beehive boy/But I’d like to see you do my job/You couldn’t do it Rob!”

Independent records face big problems. For instance, wide scale distribution for such small enterprises seems an unreachable goal without some sort of distribution network; and then big business inevitably comes into the question.
But aside from these problems, they provide for a very real alternative, one that is not geared to big bucks, but to human expression – without shackles. In other words, it’s an outlet for expressing music of a more controversial, serious nature than conventional outlets allow.
4stars_coverIn a month’s time, look for Wellington’s first independent album, Four Stars (Sausage Records), which will feature underground bands The Wallsockets, Naked Spots Dance, Life In The Fridge Exists, and Beat Rhythm Fashion. The record will not be available in record stores, as each of the 16 people involved in the project will be allotted a set number to sell.
Let’s hope there’s lots more to come. GARY STEEL

Note from the author: I cringe when I read this. I was 21 with the emotional maturity of a 15-year- old. So naïve. What’s interesting, however, is that this is literally documenting the first wave of indie NZ – that is, almost private-press indie. We already had labels like Ripper (with its CBS deal) if not yet Flying Nun.

* From May 31 don’t forget to check out the new AudioCulture site, an incredible repository of Kiwi music history all in one place.

One Comment

  1. Steve Braunias

    Questions. Many questions! Two, actually.
    Fran Walsh or Jennifer Ward-lealand was the “pouty-voiced singer”?
    What are the lyrics to the “Phil O’Brien Song”?
    Thank you!

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