Review: Thom Sonny Green – High Anxiety

Published at:

If you’ve never heard of Alt-J, the Leeds-based indie rock outfit and one time darlings of the alternative UK rock press, then knowing that Thom Sonny Green’s day job as drummer for that band will be of little consequence.  The band are festival headliners after just two albums (2012’s An Awesome Wave or 2014’s This Is All Yours) and a series of hipster interviews on all the right channels.  Green’s debut solo album, High Anxiety, comes as a result of three years of stolen moments on tour with his band, recording in hotel rooms, parking sombre digital-ideas that were unsuitable for the main act.  The final product collects up 21 cinematic instrumentals, named after cities (perhaps in honour of the locations they were created in) or one-word associations, ranging from slightly alarmed to full-on paranoia.  This is entirely intentional given that Green himself suffers from anxiety and a hearing disorder.  The most obvious example of the latter is on the intentionally distorted and muddy Large, which sounds like a 80’s synth song, slowed down and played backwards through an 8-track.  Quite frankly, it’s bloody awful and the closest to Green’s conditions that I ever want to get.

The melodies that stand out most are Vienna, which very loosely references Ultravox’s big hit from the 80’s, and Oslo, which is a little lie a Boards of Canada out take.  Ping might be lush and orchestral but, like much of the content here, seems incomplete.  Several tunes here are no more that short repetitive samples without any reason to be here – not as an introduction to a longer piece or a bookend to a series of connecting dots. I want tunes like Preach, that rely of a loop of 4 keys to break into something, anything more than just an over later MPC sample.  But it never did. The dense murk and sinister beats behind Cologne might have been created to resemble the imposing stone walls of a medieval city but just seem to be a 2 ½ minute trip up a dead-end alley.  Green’s main condition it seems is not those above but that of self-editorial. And so, it goes, with none of these really don’t seeming to fit together beyond the artificial confines of their track listing.  Play these on ‘shuffle’ mode and you get the same effect.  Overlong, and meandering, these are soundtracks for an unfiltered movie, with no script or dialogue.  sounding a little like a lot of other things.  Many of our own beat ‘beat-meisters’ – Pacific Heights, for example – have a better grasp on how to deliver the perfect mix of digital composition with a story; a beginning; a build-up; some drama and above all an enjoyable journey.  High Anxiety is mostly just a collection of sketches and ideas, unfinished stories, that one day might become a novel.  Sadly, they were rushed to print without proper editorial controls in place.

Leave a comment »

The Mission (UK): The 13th Floor Interview

As published at:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Mission (UK) return to New Zealand for just the second time in their 30+ year career with shows in Wellington and Auckland in November. With a new album due out on Friday, The 13th Floor’s Tim Gruar spoke to Mission frontman Wayne Hussey about the past, present and future of the band.

Back when I was a student DJ my heroes all wore black.  Sisters of Mercy and The Mission were big names.  Their music was cinematic, imposing and above all absorbing.

Borne out of ‘creative differences’ and arrogance The Mission was formed by guitarist and front-man Wayne Hussey and bassist Craig Adams in 1986, originally The Sisterhood, having jumped ship from The Sisters of Mercy, soon adding drummer Mick Brown (Red Lorry Yellow Lorry) and guitarist Simon Hinkler (Artery and Pulp).  Over 30 + years The Mission’s catalogue stretches to nine main albums  They were a band with a distinctive presence with Hussey’s jangling guitar sound and desperate vocals and Hinkler’s bombastic bass lines instantly recognisable.

During the latter half of the 80s, songs like Tower Of Strength, Deliverance and their remake of Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane were almost always on every party playlist.  And despite disappearing from the mainstream the band has continued in various forms producing over 9 albums to date (God’s Own Medicine, Children, Carved in Sand, Masque, Neverland, Blue, Aura, God is a Bullet and The Brightest Light).

Usually I’d write up my interview into more concise form but my Skype session with Wayne today proved to be such a rewarding experience, and Wayne was so generous, that I felt it would work better to produce it verbatim.  Here it is:

Hussey: Hi, Tim.  How are you?

Tim: I’m good.  Are you in Brazil?  San Paulo.  That’s where you’re based now isn’t it?

Hussey: I’m in the UK, right now, at my parent’s place.  It’s in Bristol.  We have a tour starting in a couple of weeks.  Yeah, Yeah.  Staying with mum and dad, like the old days.  (laughs)

Tim: It’s good that they are still going strong.

Hussey: Yeah, yeah (laughs) Indeed.  I live out in the Brazilian countryside.  They bought the plot of land next to us.  They had a house built for them, had it for about 10 years, and just sold it.  The bureaucracy in Brazil is pretty horrendous.  I had to smuggle a big bag of cash out of Brazil on a plane and into England for them.

Tim: It sounds like a drug deal or something.

Hussey: Yeah, it does.  No lie.  It was certainly interesting.

Tim: You said you live out in the countryside now.  Quite different from where we’d expect an English Goth Rock God to live.  No cold, damp apartments with bats in the belfry.

Hussey: (Laughs)  No.  We have an apartment in San Paulo because my wife’s work keeps us in the city most of the time and then we have a house out in the country, a non-working farm, that’s the way they describe it.  No roads, but idyllic, above a little village.  But there’s a price to pay.  The internet is terrible.  And the power goes out quite frequently whenever there’s a thunderstorm in the summer but it’s a great place to go and hide when I want to.  I’m mainly there because my wife is Brazilian.  When we first met I was living in California, overly enamoured with Americans.   I like to tour there but living there was a totally different thing.  My first wife was American, for my sins.  Should have known better, really (laughs).

Tim: Gets you out of ‘Gloomy England’ I guess?

Hussey: I haven’t lived here (the UK) for 20 years.  I get to come back 2 or 3 times a year so it’s not like I get homesick.  But every time I come back I’m more resolute about never living here, to be honest.

Tim: You must be looking around at BREXIT and thinking this is just like Thatcherism all over again?  Can you cast your mind back to the early 80’s when the airwaves were clogged with syrupy synth bands peddling optimism at a time when there were miners strikes, mill closures, the Hillsborough incident?  Goth rock (or ‘alternative’ as we called it here) was a complete reaction to all that…..

Hussey: I think most music movements are a relation to what’s around you and what’s gone before.  I was discussing this with (producer of The Mission’s last two albums) Tim Palmer.  He’s got a daughter who is really into One Direction.  He was saying ‘It’s not like it was in our day.  There’s no ‘teeth’ now, no fight in this band.”  But I said ‘of course it’s not like our day.  Every generation wants to avoid, shun what went before.  And every generation has to fight through the dross.  We had Wham! and Bros to content with.  One Direction has no opinion on Donald Trump or the Syrian crisis.  Bros wouldn’t have given a toss about Reagan or Gorbachov.

To her, to his daughter, One Direction means as much to her generation as The Beatles meant to our parents or T-Rex meant or Bowie meant to another generation.  There’s a need for each generation to have their own heroes and revolt against the next generation, even their older brothers and sisters.  They need their own heroes.  We can sit here and pontificate how music doesn’t have the same value.  How can an MP3 have the same value as a vinyl LP or single.  There is argument there.  But I think it still means as much, it’s just different.

Tim: Is music is still as vital?  Is it still vital to see bands?

Hussey: With the Internet it’s so instant.  You can get everything you want at your fingertips, you don’t have to import those 12 inch singles and wait 3 months any more.  We never had that when we were kids so we’d have to go out and find that information on our own.  Maybe an interview in Melody Maker or read the credits on the back and with that there’s a mystic that builds up a mystique and I think what’s happened is for kids there is no mystique any more.  So I’ve noticed that bands these days are a lot safer and more conformist.  They look good on YouTube but they don’t have much to say in an interview.  I think we’re waiting for the next Punk Movement in terms of something that will come along and shake up the whole industry.

Tim: Speaking of provocative interviews, I was trolling back through YouTube and came across a segment on BBC with your old band mate (from Sisters of Mercy) Andrew Eldrich and his new band mate Patricia Morrison.  I think he was deliberately trying to be as controversial as possible, and look as cool with his aviator sunglasses and dark black overlord appearance.  They were talking about the split (when Hussey and Craig Adams left  to start up the band that eventually became The Mission).  It just had an air of ‘fake’ drama about it all.

Hussey: Andrew was being as pretentious as possible.  That was in the days when bands had to create their own drama to get to be noticed and what Andrew was very, very good at was self-perpetuating his own myth.

Tim: Do you ever see him anymore?

Hussey: No (sighs). Well, let me ask you this question – do you ever see people you worked with 30 years ago….

Tim: Well, I live in Wellington, small population so…

Hussey: Oh, shut up (laughs). Wise-arse answer!

Tim: But It is interesting how many acts from the mid 80’s have been touring this part of the world of late.  Which raises the question about what’s been happening for The Mission since the mid 1990’s when the band seemed to fade away off the radar.

Hussey: Well, we’re still around.  We’ve made a 9 albums in total and we still tour regularly.  Some of the original band members are with us on this tour – new drummer, though.
When it comes to big exposure we had our moment in the sun for 6- years but like most bands unless you get to that level where you transcend fashion, the fickleness of the music press then you lose momentum.  So we did.  We lost band members, etc.  Our star waned a bit.  But you know this is what we do, so why am I gonna change what I do just because we’re not enjoying the same degree of success as we once did.  It doesn’t mean what we do is any less valuable to us or our fans because there’s not a big label behind us.  It’s a relief, to be honest.  Less pressure.  Now days there’s something of a symbiotic relationship with our audiences – they get some new, some old and some favourites.  We demand from our audiences exactly what they demand from us – participation.

Tim: This new album has a range of well-known artists from your bigtime 80’s era – Another Fall From Grace was produced by yourself and Tim Palmer and features guest backing vocals from Gary Numan, Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), Ville Valo (HIM), Evi Vine and Julianne Regan (All About Eve).  I haven’t heard from Julianne for years.

Hussey: Well we keep in touch.  We made an album of cover versions a few years ago.  Whenever we make a Mission record we get her in.  She’s one of the first people I call.  She doesn’t do much music these days in music. I think it’s criminal that she’s been largely disregarded by people who write the history of popular music in the UK.

Tim: This new album takes you right back to the mid-80s – it picks up from your trade mark bombastic period.

Hussey: Well we’d made a whole range of albums and when I came to thinking of this one Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) had just been in touch and it transpires that he’s a big fan of my guitar playing, particularly on Sisters Of Mercy’s First, Last and Always and The Mission’s God’s Own Medicine. I hadn’t listened to these for over 30 years.  He said I should so I put the CDs on in the car and I must confess I was very pleasantly surprised at how fresh both albums still sounded and I really liked the way I played guitar on both.  The common factor, in terms of my playing, for me was the use of a particular guitar and that informed the sound I wanted to use.  That’s why I got Tim (Palmer) involved.  If you listen to the guitars on First, Last and Always, they shimmer – lovely.  I was like OK, let’s do this.

Tim: And the sound is slightly ‘Middle Eastern’?

Hussey: Yeah.  Because I used a 12 string guitar – it has that double octave thing.  Plus, my style of playing and choice of notes, generally.  Anyway, that’s where I started and I wanted to make something that fell between First, Last and Always and God’s Own Medicine.

Tim: For me.  At that time of my life, in the 80’s First, Last and Always was a very vital album – so dark, obscure….

Hussey: Yeah, and Andrew’s formed a million imitators since.  Like a vampire.

im: I noticed the bass on this new album just comes at you like a firestorm…

Hussey: Yeah, it’s Craig.  I try to encourage him to use fuzz boxes again and use that sound again that we’d use.

Tim: Where do the lyrics come from?  You seem pretty happy these days, so where does the darkness of the lyrics come from?

Hussey: The music just comes out that way.  I think to a degree you can contrive it to fit within parameters.  I used a bass machine to contrive the rhythms rather than the drummer – so poor old Mike had to get his head around that as a concept.  Lyrically, it took me a while to get going.  It proved to be difficult but I don’t think you can contrive lyrics, they come as they are.

Tim: You always ask a song writer about the inspiration.  For instance the title song sounds like a reaction to a relationship gone sour but…

Hussey: This album is my least biographical.  Even though many songs are written in the first person.  There are more songs born out of observations of other people.  And I’m a little bit more metaphorical than before.  I wanted to prove to myself that could still be ‘dark’.

Tim: I saw you in an interview at April’s Goth Festival in Whitby.  Is the ‘movement’ still going?

Hussey: Yes.  And in Germany and Europe.  I’m not really subscribing to that lifestyle, or thought of The Mission as a ‘Goth Band’.   I don’t really mind what people call us.  Being called ‘Goth’ is one of the kinder things I’ve been called….

Tim: You’re coming out to New Zealand for the second time  – 26 years on.  Can you remember much of that gig in Auckland?

Hussey: Yeah.  We had to borrow equipment because we’d just come from Mexico and all our equipment had just been impounded by Mexican customs.  We were all playing guitars we’d never played before, using guitar amps we’d never used either.  And because our 4 track tape machine, which we used to run the backing tracks for Butterfly On A Wheel and Tower Of Strength, two of our most popular songs, was also back across the world we had to borrow this little beatbox and a keyboard. I remember trying to program it.  What a disaster!  One of our roadies had to play the keyboards for us.

We also played 5-a-side football against a rugby team.  We were getting hammered, so at half time our tour manger took it upon himself to captain.  He reshuffled the team.  I scored a second half hat trick and we came back and we won 4-2!  But I couldn’t do it now!  I’m 58 now – it would bloody kill me!  I’m more a Subbuteo fan now!

The Mission (UK) will return to New Zealand for the first time since 1990 to perform in Wellington and Auckland with three-quarters of the original line-up – Wayne Hussey, Craig Adams, Simon Hinkler – along with explosive new drummer, Mike Kelly.

Wellington, Bodega – Friday 18 November

Auckland, Powerstation –  Saturday 19 November

The Mission release their new album, Another Fall From Grace on 30th September 2016.

Watch the new video for Tyranny Of Secrets from Another Fall From Grace here:

Leave a comment »

Teeth & Tongue: The 13th Floor Interview

Originally published at:

Like a dog with a bone, Wellington-based writer Tim Gruar calls up Australia to talk with an expat about getting her molars into a more funky palate of soul searching.   

Wellington born/Melbourne based Jess Cornelius expresses great surprise and joy when I tell her that I’m sitting in the Wellington Public Library reading the back cover of St Vincent’s new album – on vinyl!  “Wow.  I never thought that would happen.  Those days should have been gone.  The Library was always a pretty cool place but now they are even cooler!  I’m going to have to visit the next time I’m in town.  Do they still have those green cardboard carriers?” Yes they do, Jess. Although she has family here it’s Melbourne that Jess Cornelius, founder and the main woman behind the moniker Teeth and Tongue, chooses to base herself – at least for now. Although writing in one place has not been important or even possible for her.

Teeth & Tongue’s new album Give Up On Your Health (available now) came about from a series of extreme experiences and many degrees of separation.  For her, like every songwriter there’s always something of a dilemma, she explains: whether to be so vague that the listener has no choice but to reinterpret the song in their own way or to get so specific that the listener can’t help but form opinions and take sides.  This is particularly true of love songs, she says.  “I wanted to distance my self to some degree because many of these songs a extrapolations of breakups and arguments.  But not with people I know.  Well not specifically.”  I ask if what’s she’s created to equate to tiny ‘kitchen sink dramas’ or mini soap operas.  “Yes a good way of putting it.  I wanted to just observe others this time and transpose my feelings onto those scenarios.”

How could you not miss that.  It’s writ large all over the album.  Take Are You Satisfied, for example: “My sister’s going through a heavy time. Her husband left her for a landmine. She sleeps at Mum and Dad’s every second night”.  Just one of the relationship vignettes crafted in the mode of Ken Loach through to Jarvis Cocker. Jess is a little reluctant to admit how personal these lyrics are.  “Sure, my previous work, which I mainly made by myself, was more personal.  This time I wanted to expand the palate.  I wanted my themes and subjects to have a wider base.  But, you’ll notice, they are all set to a real funky beat.  I like to offset the drama with music you can groove to.  Is that weird?”

Give Up on Your Health grew out of one rogue song. Turn, Turn, Turn, which was originally recorded as an experimental track with a driving, arpeggiated synth sound, drawing on ’70s electronica. The label liked it so much they wanted a full album to go ‘pop’.  But Jess couldn’t just do that without infusing her own special lyrics into each number.  No drippy, lippy love songs for her.  Instead she prefers to be a aural photographer of life and people.

Her penchant for the observation, she’s neither confirming or denying, comes from a recent obsession with US poet Eileen Myles who operates with a very fluid stream-of-consciousness style.  “There’s no no filter with her.  Like a kid that sees someone who’s a bit different and just blurts it all out.  Kids have not social filters because they say it how it is.  They don’t know they’re offending anyone because the truth is just an observation to them.”

You get some of that on her ‘second-person songs’, like Do Harm which is both an instruction manual and a story in the making:  are instructional in narrative:  “Pain can be a strange relief and you think you want it gone but you don’t really mean it. I see you at the pub and I want to talk, but everything I say would make you hate him more”

“The thing about a song is I can write like I’m really pissed right then, but later I’ve changed my mind.  But it’s already locked down and amplified through your speakers or on your iPod so you only know how I felt then – and on record, I still do.  But it’s not like that really.”

If you google the song Cupcake you’ll get an iPhone film of Jess setting up her studio in a barren room, followed by scenes of a cold, desolate winters cape of ice and snow.  This is Skagaströnd, a remote village, located in northern Iceland.  Jess went there as part of a writing fellowship and to escape a crumbling relationship.  It inspired at least one song, Small Towns: “We’ve got unavoidable contact. There’s always email and phone. I went as far away as I thought I could. You’re dying in the heat, I’m dying in the cold”.

“Don’t think Cup Cakes came from there.  It’s too upbeat.  I had that one all ready so I made a film on my phone and emailed it back for the producers.  Small Towns is a response, yeah.  But not necessarily a break up song.  Your Ghost is the Hardest to Kill definitely is.  Initially sung into a iPhone in a tiny bathroom in a Tokyo apartment, so as not to disturb sleepers, it’s just a little possessed and creepy, especially with a distorted guitar chasing the vocal refrain as the time signature shifts uneasily across your ears.

The rest of the album was written in Melbourne, with Jess bringing the material to the band (Marc Regueiro-McKelvie – guitars; Damian Sullivan – Bass; and James Harvey – Drums). This was a completely different approach, she says, from her previous release, GRIDS (2014), which was a more ambient, digital affair with textures and layers of vocals and choruses.  “I was a little bit influenced by Giorgio Moroder, I think,” she laughs, “kind of like anti-disco.”

“This record is different be cause I’m in a band and the sound is instant.  It’s not programmed and built up in layers from files.  I get to jam and get feedback and I can make a really funky, energetic dance-pop record, but with substance but also a little disturbing.  The lyrics don’t match the vibe.  It offsets you.”

Co-produced by Haima Marriott (Banoffee, Architecture in Helsinki), whose knowledge of vintage synths especially when referencing Giorgio Moroder and Daft Punk, Jess got her wish.

Of course, there’s always a moment when you double blink when making art – when it starts to imitate life.  Jess’ moment came when putting the title track together, sacrificing her own health to achieve her vision.  “I wasn’t spewing or anything but I got really run down and drained.  There’s this ridiculous notion that to achieve success in your career you’re supposed to stay on form And you make all these demands on yourself that only you can see, maybe only in your head.  It does you in sometimes, trying to achieve it but it is worth it when you get there.”

Leave a comment »

Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox – Shed 6 Wellington September 2, 2016

Originally featured at


When I was a kid, variety shows were all the rage on the telly. It seemed that TVNZ had unlimited green to waste on The Billy T Show, Howard Morrison specials and endless features with Prince Tui Teka and Ray Wolf. I hated them, mainly because most of the material tended to lean toward Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. I was more into punk at that point. Poor TV show band knock-offs were definitely uncool.

Of course those fading entertainers once had great careers in show bands like the Howard Morrison Quartet or the Volcanics, and if you care to look up their archives you’ll find some stunning performances – mainly covers of current top hits but all done in their own style, with just a hint of local flavour.

In exactly the same mould, but with a heapin’ helpin’ of New York chutzpah, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox project redoes the contemporary repertoire with vintage flair. Once again they return to our shores with an audience positively brimming over with glee and excitement to have them back. The last time this Youtube sensation played in the Capital was 12 months ago at the Bodega, essentially a harsh concrete box more suited to hard rock acts than an American-style orchestra playing 1920’s rag time, swing and Lounge versions of the top forty. But the word has spread wide across Wellington’s hip community and they have booked out the town’s premium seated festival space Shed 6. There was a fair amount of respect in the room with many punters decked out in Betty Page dresses, bouffants and 1940’s hairdos, fox furs, blazers and porkpie hats, and plenty of tweed and cheese cutters. Clearly, these people were here to party. And what a jam. PMJ are first and foremost a SHOW BAND, baby!

MC’d by the charismatic and super talented LaVance Colley the ensemble rattle through a radical mix. Any other time a covers band tried this they fall flat on their tushies. But not PMJ. When you hear Creep done as a Kurt Veil torch song or Casey Abrams delivering Sweet Child O’ Mine performed like a Joe Cocker impression performed by Andrew Strong you know this is different. Even Colley’s own interpretation of Celine Dion’s abomination My Heart Will Go On works when its rearranged as Motown soul song. Who knew?

Colley has the sweetest voice, reminding you instantly of Ceelo Green, of whom he pays homage to by wiping the floor with him on a very righteous interpretation of Forget You. He also nails Rhianna’s Halo, which definitely works better with the Barry White treatment.

The PMJ ‘family’ now boasts over 70 singers and players who jump in and out of the bill depending on commitments so you never know you are gonna get. This time interchanging between songs is done by Robyn Adele Anderson, Melinda Doolittle, and Christina Gatti who blow the cobwebs off a slew of numbers once claimed by Katie Perry (Roar), Queen (Another One Bites The Dust), Rhianna, Miley Cyrus (We Can’t Stop), Macklemore (Thrift Shop) – all ripping with more attitude and sass than Jessica Rabbit, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe and China Phillips put together. Doolittle’s awesome vocals on the Radiohead number, in particular, stopped traffic for sure. But you can’t discount Anderson’s class or Gatti’s stylish burlesque reworking of Ms Spears’ Toxic and or her remake of Womanizer as a vintage Peggy Lee platter.

There are of course some brilliant moments of theatre like tap dance king Alex MacDonald breaking out a tattoo of Vanilla Ice’s famous number, or saxophonist Stephen Spencer killing Careless Whisper or his trombone sidekick wandering off into the Flintstones theme rethought as a Glenn Miller tune. Or drummer Chip Thomas playing ragtime versions of hip hop beats on demand and then there’s a magical Liberace performance from the band’s Scott Bradlee stand-in on piano. Completing the line-up musical director Adam Kuboto get in on the action when he shares his bass with Casey Abrams during a frantic version of Meghan Trainor’s All about The Bass. It’s yet another moment of pure entertainment. Shame that wasn’t a feature of those crappy TV knock offs I sat through in the 80’s.

The whole thing wraps up with another song I detest but somehow it just works – a Broadway take on Sorry, without the bombastic DJ noodlings and the Beib’s syrupy vocals. It works a treat, proving once again that with the right arrangement anything might just fly. Assuming the band has the stuff to pull it off, of course! My only regret: Puddles the Clown couldn’t make it so Lorde’s Royals is left off the set list. Probably best, considering. Tonight had a touch of class and oozed style and real talent. No wonder the all ages audience found their way in. They know a good night. And that’s a fact.

Note: one of my photos featured in the Melbourne Morning Papers:

Leave a comment »

Pitch Black: The 13th Floor Interview

The 13th Floor’s Tim Gruar talks to Paddy Free of Pitch Black about their new album, Filtered Senses:

Celebrating 20 years in the music business, Pitch Black, have been labelled the ‘godfathers of Kiwi electronica’. This month, nine year’s after their last release they finally drop their fifth studio album, Filtered Senses and sees them adopting a completely different working method – one they’ve dubbed ‘remote-control’.  With one in London since 2012 and the other temporarily based in New York, the album was written by swapping files over the web, with an intensive two week mixing session together at a studio in Hackney to finish the job. Tim Gruar decided to Skype one half of the duo, Paddy Free, recently to find out more about all this. 

I’m on my second coffee of the morning when I dial in. So is Paddy, actually, as I catch him putting down his evening mug and re-positioning his smartphone closer to the WI-FI.  He still has his trademark shocking red hair, framed by a halo of late afternoon sun and the outline of a wicker bookcase at the back of his Airbnb apartment.  Apparently it’s very common in the Big Apple to rent these through University contacts.

Currently in Manhattan’s East Village, where the mid-summer heat can get up to 42 degrees, Paddy’s there to support his partner choreographer Louise Potiki Bryant, who recently won the Harriet Friedlander Residency award. Supported by the Arts Foundation, the Harriet Friedlander Residency sends an artist to New York for as long as $80,000 will last them. Harriet Friedlander was a dedicated supporter of the arts, he tells me. She also loved New York and believed that any young artist exposed to the city would learn and grow in unimaginable ways. This prestigious award has previously gone to film maker Florian Habicht, playwright and actor Arthur Meek and multimedia artist Seung Yul Oh.

Manhattan is a surreal place sometimes, he says. “Just today, we passed a film set with cops shooting, guys with FBI jackets. You know – your typical cop drama.  Then I turn on the TV and there’s shootings in schools and such.”  So on the streets there’s the fiction and on TV there’s the reality?  “Crazy, backwards.  And the Trump Show is just yet another level!  It’s such a long way from Piha, where I used to live for so long.”

True, that. So I can’t help asking about how the landscape shapes his creativity.  Even in its earliest days Pitch Black’s music came from the New Zealand environment, particularly the beaches and the bush around Christchurch, Nelson and Takaka.  “Yeah.  That scenery played a big part in our early albums and our approach to EDM.  Where I am now couldn’t be further from where we started.”

Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free first met at a party in 1996 and started swapping rough files backwards and forwards. After a bunch of singles, they released their debut album, Futureproof, in September 1999 to much critical acclaim.  Despite any marketing it still rose to the top of the New Zealand electronic charts. The single The Gatherer was an organic mix of dub and harsher electro clash.  Their very first gig at Takaka’s infamous Gathering music festival built their reputation of unique genre-bending brand of live electronica.

Their second album, Electronomicon, came out a year later.  It led to a 30-date tour of New Zealand and Australia and spawned remix projects, featuring mixes by International Observer, Epsilon Blue and Downtown Brown.  Their third album, Ape to Angel (2004), also did well helping them to gain traction on the American and European tour circuit.

Their Ape to Angel tour was their largest to date – 42 shows internationally plus a series of remix projects: Halfway: between Ape and Angel (Australasia) and Frequencies Fall (Europe/America).

Their last studio album was Rude Mechanicals, was released in 2007: coming out Downunder on the duo’s own label, Remote Recordings; on Wakyo in Japan; and on Dubmission Records elsewhere.  Possibly their most accessible album to date, it ranges from downtempo dubs and ambient soundscapes to trancefloor grooves and drum’n’bass, and was lauded by Q Magazine as “the sound of the future”!  But aside from a remix collection, Rhythm, Sound and Movement (2009), they’ve been relatively silent until now.

As individuals, both have very different approaches to music. Paddy is a manic groove-merchant – doing it for the crowd. “Mike’s more the dark dub-meister.  He does it to the crowd!  It’s a good example of how we work, we go from A- B, either Mike’s on the controls and I’m on the couch, listening or it’s me on the controls.”

When I ask, Paddy says he goes to the occasion club in NY but he’s not a huge fan. To him it’s too much like being a work.  He likes to separate music from leisure.  “I just keep analyzing dance music when I hear it and thinking about what I can use and how.  So I have to separate myself from it during my down time.”

This month Pitch Black released a new studio album, Filtered Senses, 9 years on and hot on the heels of the single Invisible Chatter. Tracer fire after radio silence?  “Naw!  It’s not like we’ve been totally separated.”  The pair might’ve been living in different cities but they’ve kept the lines of communication open.  They’ve also working on material for a range of solo artists and producers.  Paddy recently collaborated with Moana & the Tribe and Nga Tae on a collection (called in dub), whilst Mike has been producing and remixing under his solo moniker: Misled Convoy.

Paddy says that despite the globetrotting they were able to work up samples to move backwards and forward across the wires. “We had about 18 months of mediocrity before it came together.  We’d throw ideas at the wall to see what really sticks.  Most would just evaporate.  Whatever minerals are calcified became the sea crystals where the magic happens.”

 Invisible Chatter is the first indication that this album is a little bit different from earlier releases. Elements of the duo’s style still remains, though. The tune feels familiar, mixing digeridoos, bop techno and dark mid 90’s bass lines with dub overtones.  Paddy reckons the music is more “graphite than black sands” this time, reflecting their relocations to big cities.  Earlier music had more of a feeling of freedom and beach and sea.  “It came about by virtue of low population because I was living in Piha, which is more remote and windswept than the built up metropolis.  This album is less organic I guess.  Every song is self-contained like a room in an apartment.”  All appropriate, given that with the exception of a two-week stint at Mike’s home studio in Hackney, all the music came together by swapping and refining tracks over email and Dropbox.

The tracks vary from the ambient wash of A Great Silence is Spreading to the stomping Pixel Dust, and virtually everything else between.  Having made music for both Cinema (including Whale Rider) and the dancefloor it’s no surprise that there’s a real sense of drama – Paddy calls it psychedelic stereo. To flesh out the album, they brought in Londoner Alison Evelyn, who Mike met at his regular a vinyl nights. Her contemplative and observational words merged beautifully into the Pitch Black sound.  “I like to sample lots of speech fragments, like we do on Pixel Perfect.  So she works perfectly in this way.”

Paddy admits that making an album in this fragmented, isolated collaboration has been something of a challenge at times. “Like separate brushstrokes on a painting, one email command at a time.”  The Apple Mac is still his weapon of choice, although he misses the tactile nature of a keyboard and is looking forward to getting out on the road when the time comes. “I still miss the real physical connection to beats.  I have lots of tambourines, shakers, drums and stuff.  I guess I’m a beat maker, but at heart also a bit of a frustrated percussionist.”

Leave a comment »

Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate (Epitaph)

First published on

Descendents Cover

There’s a couple of well read publications that feature on the shelves of my local supermarket sporting CDs of recent released material and endless rehashes of classic rock era bands.  My daughter calls those mags ‘Dad Rock”.  “How many articles about The Smiths, The Doors and Pink Floyd do I really need?” she asks and compares my own obsessions with her mum’s dedication to watching schmaltz dramas like Grey’s Anatomy.

At the heart, she’s referring to the default position we all head to as we get older, to finding our own cultural comfort food.  And it’s a common thing.  Recently Simon Reynolds wrote Retromania, to explain the phenomenon of endless bands reforming, ‘getting back together’, touring their ‘classic lineups’ despite their initial limited appeal.  It explains the endless Fleetwood Mac tours and why Atomic Kitten have reformed.

Someone out their needs that fix one more time.  So it’s no surprise that Californian punk band The Descendents should want to get in on the act, too.  And no doubt I won’t be the first to realise this.  Fighting the ‘Man’, sticking it to society, morality, the church, what ever.  Same old tired messages but they’re always in vogue. It’s there plain and simple in the lyrics of  We Got to Defeat: “Yeah, the world got to kick my ass a gain the new is the same as it always ways again”. The whole song’s only 57 seconds long but it’s effective. Just unoriginal.  A simple piece of aural click bait with a simple message – Fight the power. Play, repeat.  Play, repeat.  Yawn.  Big deal. So what.

Over the years the band’s managed to get by trading on their passive aggressive humour through many albums, coasting around the airwaves, narrowly missing the sale bin relegations. To call them punks is probably a bit rich, not that they’ve ever really welcomed the title either.

The band once ironically tried to pass the baton on that label with their own ironically labeled song I’m Not a Punk.   “Show me the way to conformity Try to be different but it’s always the same.”  But whilst they’ve managed to outlast many of their peers they can’t help acknowledging that this whole thing is really a youngster’s game.  After all, nobody wants to watch a bunch of overweight 50’s blokes singing about isolation and rejection.  Oh, hang on?  Wasn’t that the Buzzcocks show?

Rumours of new Descendents material track way back to a 2010 reunion show but at the time singer Milo Aukerman claimed that these gigs were mere one-off’s, a holiday break from his day job as a biologist.  But eventually he put academia on the back bunsen-burner when the quartet returned to the stage and studio last year.

Hypercaffium Spazzinate is the is the band’s first LP in over 12 years  and like all their material it relies on the same humour, honesty, and personal experience that has always powered their music. Back in the late ‘70s tense four guys from Manhattan Beach were cool, playing cheeky hardcore about caffine highs, girl crushes, and a mandatory hate of parents’, authority.  They were kind of cousins to the more commercially successful Offspring and the way more intense and aggressive bands like Black Flag, TSOL, Soundgarden and Fear.  I always hated Milo Aukerman’s whining vocal style, You’ve got to admire his wit and survival acumen.

Musically, every thing on this album is quick and decisive.  All 16 tracks bound along at pace, with staccato beats and fast, furious guitars but avoid any over-aggression or extensive political chatter.  And I found this particularly disappointing, given how ripe for critique Donald Trump and the whole presidential election climate is right now.  For a band that is so capable of clever ironic lyrics and cutting remarks nothing on this album offers anything of relevance or benefit.  It’s all well played lame duck” Dad Rock”.

Mostly the band keeps to the topics of their earliest days the spastic hardcore of their Milo Goes to College concept and after over thirty years of caffeine-induced shouting and belittling the punk elite Aukerman is still peddling their wares.   So this album picks up where they left off with a continued on food, friends, family, and everything else besides with, perhaps the added perspectives of maturity Informed by inevitable experiences of ageing, fatherhood, death, and responsibility.  But again.  So what?

No Fat Burger Is like part two for 1981’s I Like Foodmusic’s answer to Food Television’s Man Vs Food show.  The 80’s number was primarily focussed on “juicy burgers, greasy fries, turkey legs,” but the new song is like the aftermath of that blue plat special challenge: “Can’t have no m0re juicy burgers/Can’t have no more greasy fries/Doctor took my lipid profile/He told me I’m barely alive.” Morbid stuff, indeed.

I mentioned Retromania earlier and I think I found the theme song. Limiter is saturated in nostalgic  references accenting an ongoing yet tired laments about society’s mounting tendencies to treat conditions like ADHD with drugs and pills (or “limiters,”) instead of proper care: “Whatever happened to drug-free youth?/ What’s to become of our sons, what can we do?” Images from mid-90’s heavy metal videos featuring over crazed teens in straight jackets come to mind.

Elsewhere there’s more of the same – self-hatred (Fighting Myself), toxic masculinity (Testosterone) and the inevitable intolerant Bible Bashers (Shameless Halo).  Sorry folks, move along.  Nothing to see here.

Ok, so the band do pain like they enjoy it.  But again, again.  So what?  Wrapping up hard edges in irony and sugar pop on acid is all very nice but just so tired. Stephen Egerton makes sure  his guitar riffs stay are jagged but melodic, buoyed by Karl Alvarez’s staccato bass beats and Bill Stevenson’s machine gun drumming which switches between cruising 4/4 beats and double time artillery bursts in order to drive home the band’s carefully calculated fury.  But there’s nothing new in all of this.

The album’s closing tune, Beyond the Music is supposed to be a manifesto to timeless friendship of the band rather than a career prospect: “Frustrato-rock or chainsaw pop/or whatever it is we play/This is our family/And it will always be this way.” It can only be read as some sort of preemptive eulogy or a statement for why they refuse to change or experiment with anything new or creative.  So what?  “We ain’t changing, that’s what.”  Shame really.  If you are planning on making a comeback, whether to get more more money, break out of the rut you’ve fallen into lately or just to see if anybody still remembers you, then bring some new material and some new ideas.  Otherwise release a Greatest Hits album and tour that endlessly and live of the royalties like every other has been outfit.  Punk’s Not Dead.  Nah.

Leave a comment »

The Julie Ruin – Hit Reset

First printed in

The first time I heard the title track, Hit Reset, I had to check the box.  I thought I’d stumbled across an unpublished collection by Japan’s Shonen Knife, perhaps recording with Brazil’s CSS under the direction of Julian Hatfield or Kim Deal. I wasn’t too far of the mark.  The Julie Ruin is actually the four-piece vehicle of Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of 90’s punksters Bikini Kill and electro-punk group Le Tigre.  Hanna was something of a Riot Grrrl role model and poster person for the cause.  Then due to media pressures, tour fatigue and late stage Lyme disease, an infectious bacterial disease caused by Borrella bacteria spread by tick bites, she pretty much dropped out of sight.


You may have seen Hanna in the 2013 film The Punk Singer, a detailed documentary that acknowledged her contribution to music.  It also featured her solo effort Julie Ruin, which Hanna made principally in her apartment in Olympia, Washington with future Le Tigre bandmates Sadie Benning and Johanna Fateman.  It touches upon feminism, crocheting, aerobics and resisting police abuse – all the usual Riot Grrrl topics.  When she returned to music proper it was with a band by that name, releasing Run Fast as their debut.  And her voice and presence was still as shocking and unsettling as it was when she first started out.  Hit Reset isn’t any kind of rethink.  It’s more like a continuation of the plan, this time with more fury and fun than the tenser first outing.


The album opener is all awkward tension and attitude, mixing up relationships with life’s potency to self-implode without warning.  It grinds away at societal norms and recommends how to crash them at any opportunity.  Typical punk fodder with a smoother backbone.  It’s a snotty nosed brat of a song, declaring exactly where the axe will be falling on this one, baby!


I Decide has some nice hidden references to a myriad of 80’s digital synth bands like Visage tucked under a very cool digi-drone and an even cooled pile of grunge guitars.  Then you get the opposite on Be Nice, which hovers very closely to early Sonic Youth.  It’s just like their legacy EVOL, perfect songs, artfully destroyed with jagged feedback, smudged amps and distorted lyrics.  Rather Not is a pure saccharine high school crush demo, probably best left off and a bit of a letdown after the preceding stuff.  As is the very Japanese-pop stylings of Let Me Go.  Cheesy, twanging strumming and 2 chord changes held together with sticky tape and tambourines.  It sounds as amateur and professionally lo-fi as possible.  Actually, if CSS’s LoveFoxx ever makes a solo album it could sound like this.


Then, midway, the album takes a turn into cleaner, hook laden pop territory.  Let Me Go is packed full of tricks like waa-waa fuzz pedals, 60’s psychedelic keyboards and indie drumming motifs (think early La’s and Charlatans).  And songs like Planet You, which also has vocals by keyboardist Kenny Mellman, has definite punch sealing this as a youthful, energetic and gleeful affair even when the songs tackle difficult topics.  They’re never too heavy or depressing, more like a sarcasm like on Mr So and So, where she’s making fun of male pseudo-fans in the fast, spoken verses of bile and rhetoric jest and dark humour.  It seems maturity suits this punk madam.  Middle age doesn’t have to all be about a nice house in the suburbs and picket fences.  You can still have a good laugh while you kick against the pricks!

Leave a comment »