Hard News by Russell Brown


Music Extra: "Is not a perfect pop song the closest thing to the goal?"

In its survey of media coverage around the All Whites' World Cup qualifier in Peru this week, RNZ Mediawatch found something notable: a thinkpiece about the underdogs that focuses not on football but on Flying Nun.

Francisco Blaha has kindly translated the column from the original Spanish and observes that it's "very typical from Latin American music writers, with a lot of name droppings and referencing cool books, plus giving the feeling that they really know their shit. Obviously the author has done his  research ... yet when you read this sentence: 'The Dunedin sound seems as if it has emerged from the marshy and Crocodile infected waters of New Zealand,' you realise he does not know shite about NZ!"


The birth of rock in New Zealand

A review of the birth and rise of New Zealand rock in the late seventies.

By Percy Chávez Alzamora 

1982 is a year that we all remember now: it was the last time Peru played in a World Cup.

I remember the goal of Panadero Díaz and I remember Lato's bald head. And also that New Zealand was one before last in that tournament. "At least we are not New Zealand," my brother and I consoled.

I was nine years old and after the elimination I began to listen to music on my own, which means that I left the ballads that my parents put. Peru did not return to a World Cup and I stopped listening to Raphael and Camilo Sesto. Triumph and defeat always go hand in hand.

At the same time that the country was preparing to play the qualifiers of Spain 82, New Zealand began to forge what would later be called the Dunedin sound. El Negro La Rosa closed his eyes to score a goal in El Campín de Bogotá and, on the other side of the world, a group of young people from the University of Otago, in Dunedin, gathered in half-empty bars and venues, crowded basements, and stormed old warehouses.

With a battered tape recorder, guitars, old mics and spent batteries, they started that little-known musical movement. Were these college students interested in soccer? I do not know, but it is clear that their stuff was pop songs.

Chris Knox, Alec Bathgate, the Kilgour brothers, Robert Scott, Martin Phillipps and Graeme Downes are not names of the New Zealand football team of '82, but the guys who formed bands like The Enemy, Toy Love, Tall Dwarfs, The Clean, The Chills, The Bats, The Verlaines. They were all young, they were all friends and they all liked punk.

The bands shared the studio, drank and played in the same bars (mainly at The Pitz), lent their instruments, recorded on the same label (Flying Nun), in a kind of community that was not guided by ideals of love and peace, always deceitful and stereotyped, but by something more fleeting and, perhaps for that reason, with more grip in the memory: music.

A music that mixed youth with audacity and self-confidence, with the desire to live at all costs, with the musical referents, with the clothes they wore, with sensations and elements that only exist when you are young and unconscious, ignorant and happy.

Well come on doctor, won't you gimme a shot

I'm feeling cold boy, feeling hot

Doctor said no boy you gotta learn

First don't shoot up and then it's your turn

 ('Anything Could Happen', The Clean).

There is a story that Greg Milner tells in The Sound and Perfection about Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska album. In the basement of his house, on a radio cassette, Springsteen composed and recorded the model of what Nebraska would be. He put the tape in his pants pocket and forgot about it. A few days later, sitting in a canoe in the middle of a swamp, the tape fell into the water. He found it and saw that the tape had apparently not been damaged. When he arrived at the recording studio, Springsteen had one thing in mind: the sound that came from that radio cassette player, stuck in his pants pocket for several days and passed through water, was the sound he wanted to have in Nebraska.

The Dunedin sound seems as if it has emerged from the marshy and Cocodrile [sic!] infected waters of New Zealand. A clearly dirty sound, recorded with an old six-track recorder, in which the margin of error is perhaps the definition of the sound itself. This lack of neatness in the recording was contrasted by the ferocity in the interpretation; for songs full of vertigo, in which the technique gave way to impetus, to dementia, to emotion, to passion, to freedom. The strength of the interpretation, before the tonality. They played in half-empty venues without knowing that years later their music would be an important influence for groups such as Yo la Tengo or Pavement.

Children of the Velvet and the punk

It was 1977 and punk was expanding strongly. It had been eight years since the first record of the Stooges, and the Velvet Underground was in the process of consolidating itself as a referential band among the musicians, making Brian Eno's statement about its first record come true: "it barely sold 30,000 copies, but each of those who bought it, formed a band. " In this context, Chris Knox, a guy with shaved hair, eyes of crazy and dishevelled, appears in the New Zealand music scene with The Enemy, a band that did not record any official record, but whose concerts in university bars were the trigger for the Dunedin sound. 

what the fuck can ya do when no one in your town can stand you?

how d'ya feel like a slug or a rock or a king?

 ("Crush", Tall Dwarfs)

The chaos and fury of The Enemy moved to Toy Love, where the contestatory attitude was mutating little by little towards melodic experimentation. The concerts were still chaotic like street fights, but the songs began to acquire an echo of the Byrds and the guitars of Television.

A year later, they would form Tall Dwarfs, a band that overturned all that irreverence in the musical exploration, setting aside the drums, and using any object they had at hand for percussion. The music of Chris Knox, which starts with a clear punk tendency in The Enemy, mutates four years later towards sound exploration in Tall Dwarfs. What started as chaos and noise and fury ends up appeased in frugality.

If some say that the punk was born in Peru with the Saicos, the indie was born with the Clean (1978). Formed by the brothers Hamish and David Kilgour, and Robert Scott, in 1981, the band released their first single, 'Tally Oh', a song that begins with an irrefutable keyboard sound, an invitation to dance and oblivion. Its first album contains five infallible tracks, influenced by the freedom and chaos of punk and psychedelia. Short songs, between two and three minutes mostly, songs to get courage, for sunny days and beers, addictive, fleeting, that make you want more and more ... What? I do not know, but it does not matter either. Songs that leave you feeling that everything will be fine, whatever happens, everything will be fine.

The first bands of Chris Knox (The Enemy, Toy Love, Tall Dwarfs) and The Clean marked the line of sound Dunedin. There were others that emerged from the path started by them, groups such as The Chills (perhaps the most recognized in the American and British scene), The Verlaines (with the shadow of Joy Division among their songs) or The Bats, heeled to simplicity and the melody, creating perfect pop songs.                                                         

What does it take to create high quality pop?  Bob Stanley wondered in Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!, his monumental book on pop.

Maybe we need to go back to football to answer that question. Because is not a perfect pop song the closest thing to the goal? It is precise, ephemeral and fleeting at the same time; It is idyllic; it is expressed in the outlandish scream; it needs an audience that identifies itself; invites to dance and euphoria; It is addictive and you always want more. And not having it generates frustration. Same as a football goal. 

Playlist intencionada para aproximarse al sonido Dunedin

“Tally Ho”, The Clean
“Nothing is gonna happen”, Tall Dwarfs
“For the love of Ash Grey”, The Verlaines
“My way”, The Bats
“Sheep”, Toy Love
“Stars”, The Clean
“I go wild”, The Bats
“Kaleidoskope world”, The Chills
“Beatknik”, The Clean
“Crush”, Tall Dwarfs
“Anything could happen”, The Clean
“Ache”, Chris Knox


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