Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Surrounded by indifference / I had to let it out

Around twenty years ago (or maybe it was more..make that 24) The Car Crash Set created what can only be described as a gentle buzz around Auckland. I was always a bit of a fan but missed some of it, as I was living in London for a couple of years in the middle of it. My connection to CCS came from both my very close buddy Trevor Reekie, producer, sometime guitarist and mentor to the band; and from Nigel Russell, who was not only a long standing friend, but half of the band (with Dave Bulog, whom I’d didn’t know well at the time but ended up sitting nights talking our mutual obsession with early house music a couple of year later..and we’ve stayed friends too).

ccsI released the first CCS track on a compilation of mine, We’ll Do Our Best, in early 1983 and at the time there was a real groundswell around the inner city for early, post-punk, post Class of 81 era, electronica. Centred around clubs like A Certain Bar and Cream, there were dozens of bands playing, or attempting to play, this sort of stuff in garages across the city, and if any sound could be said to have been the sound of our inner city in early late 82, early 83, it was this raw, early (often cheap although CCS had an advantage as Nigel worked at Kingsley Smith's gear shop)synth-punk. Early Human League, Mute releases, Wellington’s Body Electric, and Gary Numan were at least as influential as Toy Love and The Velvet Underground in the Queen City. Probably much more so. The feeding frenzy on the imported electronic 12”s down there at Sounds Unlimited in Queen Street each week was something to witness. It was exciting stuff.

Most of the acts never made it to a recording studio (although the mighty Ballaré, featuring Eric Roulston, now a chef in Melbourne, also made it onto the We’ll Do Our Best album) and the era has largely overlooked in the rush to incorrectly hail Flying Nun as the sound of independent NZ in the eighties (although The Skeptics, Children’s Hour, and Jed Town’s Fetus / ICU bands, all of whom were seen as out  of step with their label at the time, sat somewhere in the middle..and its not unfair to say all those bands had their more traditionally minded vocal detractors).

Those of us around at the time are aware of an obvious, perhaps unintended, but lazy nevertheless, rewriting of history in recent years.

All of which is worth noting, but it’s rather fine to have witnessed a slow growth in the stature and reputation of The Crash Set in recent years. B-Net stations have started playing the increasingly rare CCS 12”s, and Roger Perry is remixing The Outsider for release in the near future. Those 12"s command increasingly large sums.

The music, well its of its of it's time but it works, still, after all these decades, and indeed, there is quite an international fan club of sorts out there. People beyond NZ’s shores are rather obsessed with The Car Crash Set, so much so, that they’ve paid to remaster the catalogue, or at least parts of it and an ccs2album is out later this year in Germany, on vinyl, and, later, CD.

Waiting for that, I’ve done my MP3 blog thing again and decided to post a couple of tracks.

Firstly there is the original Toys, from We’ll Do Our Best, sounding very raw (it was) and still stunningly lovely 24 years on.

That’s followed by the slightly more sophisticated Another Day, from 1986, which has Nigel’s voice in fine form.


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Monday, November 12, 2007

Everybody had a hard year / everybody had a wet dream

I don’t normally pay much attention to those silly best dressed type lists on E! or in the magazines. Really, who gives a toss and who in gods name are these people?

But I had the recent NZ best and worst dressed list pushed in front of my nose last week, primarily because a friend of mine found himself on the worst dressed list. Look, my friends said, and then I had to deal with his long face…

I found myself rather bemused by the compiler of said lists in New Zealand. Surely it was an arbiter of high fashion, a designer, a style guru, Francis or Denise from World, or someone vaguely credible, or at least with a suitably contemporary eye.

nicenurlichBut, sadly no, who does the NZ Woman’s Weekly ask to supply such a list, sad old David Hartnell, whose own dress sense makes him look like some sort of reject from Liberace’s museum, and a person who must attract his own smirks each time he swaggers his bow-tie down the road. The best dressed list was almost enough. It includes men that our David has clearly placed there because of some sort of self obsessed fantasy about their ill fitting tight shirts. Parts of it are very, shall we say, buffed….

But the one that drove me to keyboard, was our very own Peter Urlich, and his placement by the wannbe noter in the worst dressed list. Now, I have my issues with Peter’s style at times (actually only once, it was the Warriors uniform he worn on stage with Nice’n’Urlich once…no, no, no Luigi…..) but, having known the man well since about 1975, its fair to say that once he got out of those tight Dudes jeans, he’s been perhaps the best dressed male I know. And for many of those years he was seen, and perhaps still is (I’m not there) as a minor fashion icon. I've always looked at his ability to look incredible with rather a green eye.

And as Mr. Hartnell continues to mumble on about a bunch of “celebrities” who have little idea who he actually is, if they ever have, Peter continues to understand more about street style than David ever will and has every year in the 26 odd years that the bizarre best and worst dressed list in NZ has gone to print.

Not sure why I’m wasting my effort on this but Peter’s a buddy…..

life is very different / when you are in a crowd

Its exhilarating being back in Asia again after almost a month in Auckland and simply getting off the aircraft at KL International was enough to feel the rush…the faces, the languages, the mass of it all.

A month in New Zealand is almost enough to dull my senses but you never lose the feeling there that something is missing. I love Auckland, and had a total ball, of which more sometime soon, but all it feels so damned mono-cultural. Not as mono-cultural as Australia, a land in which the non-whites seem only to be allowed entry so the elite can proclaim, self righteously, how cosmopolitan they all are, forgetting that there is an ongoing reason why it’s indigenous souls are in such a sorry state…you, as a people, suffer two centuries of murder, displacement, abuse, and the wholesale theft of virtually everything you sit on of value (or have given birth to) and see how dysfunctional your society would be. A couple of us mused recently that if John Howard announced compulsory protective camps for all Aboriginals “for their own good”, there would be an overwhelming murmur of ascent in the great southern land.

But NZ feels mono-cultural only a little less. For all its Pacifica and Te Reo, New Zealand is a very white, and increasingly so, if not in skin colour but attitude, society, with the common target for almost all races being that perfect white ideal as portrayed by the magazines and the TV. And for all the derisive comments made about the average (who does, of course, not exist) American’s global ignorance, many “kiwis” are, despite still having some way to go, aspiring to the same level of ill-informed xenophobia. Listen to any talkback, or watch TV news and tell me it ain’t so.

Try telling folks you live in Bali and watch the reaction. The world view is perceivably getting narrower in these TV2 times. After a brief, rather exhilarating burst of global curiosity a few years back, the retreat is obvious when you jump back in for short bursts.

All the fuss about terrorism in the Bay of Plenty, whatever the substance of the charges (and lets be real, NZ’s police force has not had a terrifically good record in recent years for being open and even handed..that mono-cultural focus mentioned above often is even more focused, and coupled with narrow bigotry in a force like that, by it’s very nature) was an eye opener, if I needed one.

The swathe of Maori-phobic comments I encountered from middle class New Zealanders, of all races, really shocked me when I arrived a few days after the arrests. The only recent parallel I could draw on was the aftermath of Don Brash’s speech in Orewa, a ramble that could really have been distilled down to two words, for the same effect: “Fucking Maoris”. And of course as a mass, many New Zealanders, good keen men and women all, rose up and screamed “Yeah! Fucking Maoris”. Of course for Mr Brash to couch his rallying cry in the cloak of a “political” speech gave it some mass legitimacy, especially from the media.

But, all that ranting aside, It’s quite a buzz to step back into the world again.

KLs a funny place..caught somewhere between it’s past and trying to figure out what it’s future is. On one hand there are monster malls, hi-tech parks, hi-speed trains and swathes of free hi-speed internet connections; and on the other it’s tear gassing its citizens for daring to have an opinion and actively discriminating against its racially Chinese citizens (many of whom have been there longer than time is able to record) because they control the nation’s wealth. And just to confuse matters more, it now offers its youth, completely free, income assisted education anywhere in the world. It can't quite decide what it wants to be.

And the, even free, cutting edge and absolutely everywhere…which brings me back to Auckland again.

What seems increasingly obvious though is that the pace the planet is changing at is increasing. You can apply Moore’s law to far more than processing power these days. And what is also hits you when one returns is that NZ, as buffeted as it is by its enormous established wealth (only four million people, almost no natural resources and you are moaning about that standard of living???) is slowly but obliviously slipping behind the rest of the developed world (and make no mistake, many of those so-called “3rd World” nations define developed now) as they gallop along doing the Moore multiplication every 18 months or so. You have to ask how Singapore and Malaysia can both offer free public access Wi-Fi almost everywhere when you can't even pay for a decent connection in much of Auckland. New Zealand has gone from decidedly first world to being a technological backwater in less than decade, and it’s quite noticeable…slow internet, no hotspots, ludicrously expensive 3G and GPRS, a real lack of tech retailers, etc.

Lots of nice expensive cars though…..