Monday, July 30, 2007

Like a search for murder clues / in dead men's eyes

I went to New Zealand and came back swamped in music, both new and old. After nine months away my wall of CDs in Auckland became a treasure trove. I looked, I touched and I pulled out a bunch to bring back here to Bali (quite a stack actually, but later trimmed by weight constraints).

My vinyl is another matter. God I miss it, but without ready access to a turntable, or the time to set mine up, all I could do was look and rub my hands and fingers across the spines. I spent a good half a day doing just that in my storage space…it’s an issue I need to resolve soon to stay sane. But that said, simply looking at them gives me real joy.

Yes I know its odd, but there are others out there who understand..not least of those being the staff at Conch Records and the swarm of disreputables (DJs) that I felt the need to gather outside with.

And going into Conch and pulling out kilos of vinyl (my shoulder tells me vinyl should be measured thus) I want but having to tell myself that I need to wait.

fania But, despite that, I came back to this isle with quite a haul. As I type I’m listening to some thumping Roy Haynes, and I’ve got myself a bunch of old Elvis Costello, a bunch of New Order, Carl Craig, Sinatra, John Cale, a couple of those wonderful Miles Davis boxed sets (including the Gil Evans sessions), old NZ garage thingies from the sixties, various early Atlantic collections, and a whole lot more, and now, for a spell, I’m happy again.

And even more so because I did quite well in the need-new-music I’ve not heard before stakes. From Conch came two retrospectively aimed collections that are really doing the trick. Firstly Good God, a collection of very bloody obscure (and I like obscure as much as I like in yer face pop more often than not) soulful gospel and funk tracks, some of which are so relentlessly tough you suspect Satan didn’t let go altogether.

And then there is the Gilles Peterson Fania collection. Somebody at V2 was smart enough to buy the legendary NY Latin label and we can expect a raft of reissues of this glorious stuff in the forthcoming months, to follow those already out. I hate pseudo Latino funk or most Latin rhythms in house, but Fania is the biz and this is so steamy afternoon Bali…worth the price for Willie Rosario’s street grinding take onwillie Rosario that guide to the uses of butter (that Fonterra would rather you didn’t know about), the Theme To Last Tango In Paris.

And then there is the brand spanking new. Well, new to me at least. I love the Justice album….yes I know in pop terms its two months old now, but I’ve mumbled on the single D.A.N.C.E for months now, a blessed mashup best described as Daft Chic, so give me a break please. And there we have it, the inevitable Daft Punk reference, but that’s just daft…this ain’t Musique, this is good old fashioned wave yer hands in the air, hoover rave. For half an hour no prisoners are taken in the cerebral sense…this is nasty synth loud noise for a bunch of kids that are a hell of a lot younger than myself, and aging ravers like me. But who the hell cares. I drove around Auckland with this very, very loud in the borrowed battered Range Rover. It’s fantastic. My peers think I’m odd listening to this one too.

But they might kind of understand The L.E.D.s. Their album came out last year, via a home pressing in Christchurch, in New Zealand’s almost deserted South Island (the isolation helps add the necessary eccentricity to give this its alt-pop glitter), and a lot of people I respected talked about it over the months. But, could I get it in Auckland…nobody had heard of it. Instead I got NZ on Air’s Kiwi Hit Disc 95 in the mail. It was shockingly, gruesomely, awful, and I wondered what had happened to the edge in  NZ’s local industry (nobody is buying NZ records anymore…after tens of millions of dollars spent over the last decade by government agencies, it’s the terrifying truth that no-one will publicly admit to, although they are all saying it in private), until I finally found, via Smoke CDs The LEDsin Wellington, a copy of …we are The L.E.D.s .

I’m in love. I love this album more than I can possibly say, or at least, put into words. This is legacy stuff. I understand this. Any album which references so well early NZ electronica (Car Crash Set and Body Electric), jangly almost early Flying Nun-ish, (although slightly more McGuinn-ish than that) guitar sheen, and yet sounds so absolutely, but simply, contemporary, works well for me. Soft, resigned, melodic and yet, at times, it’s gets resolutely noisy as well. It’s the first perfectly formed pop album I’ve heard from New Zealand this decade. Another album, I understand, is due soon and I’m craving it already.

The L.E.D.S are a garage band, they do it all themselves and almost nobody notices them in the establishment. And then I note that most of those awful records on that Kiwi Hit Disc are getting full signed releases by someone and I understand exactly why, at it's most obvious level, NZ’s recording industry is in such dire trouble, and yet if you dig deeper, it most assuredly is not.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

They said you were bright / had stars in your eyes

“I’ll have a Soy Chai, please”

Hearing that I knew I was back in Auckland. The joys of Ponsonby Road are sometimes every bit as insubstantial as Wellingtonians love to suggest they might be, especially when sitting in Bambina, café de-choice of swathes of young (ish) wanna be designer types who have their designer shades firmly on their foreheads despite the fact that it’s grey and pissing down outside.

It’s easy to be smarmy and condescending about Auckland. There are the overdressed bright (and as I said above, often no longer, like myself) young things who wear overpriced clothes they can’t afford (unlike me, I wear live in jeans and some old t-shirt most of the time), live in houses they can’t possibly afford (but the bank is happy to lend them money to buy…been there, and perhaps will be again), and drive cars that not only can’t they afford, have no practical day to day use beyond impressing the other clientele at Prego or Blake (ditto). Then there is Metro. I asked myself a week or two back if Metro had improved. Ah, no it hasn’t sadly. If anything it’s worse, much worse, if that’s possible. Fortunately Auckland really is not the vapid, grasping, overly pretentious swamp that you would think it is if that was your only stick to judge the city by. The odd worthy arts and music review aside (and yes Auckland has some of all of that…just remember when Kane Massey’s DeepGrooves was inventing the NZ downbeat that Wellie boasts about, most of the rest of NZ, the capital included, was still producing post Seattle cock rock), there is rarely anything between it’s cover that relates to Auckland in any fathomable way…and never has been.

pu This period, nine months, is the longest I’ve spend away from the city of my birth since, I guess, 1985 when I returned after 2 ½ years in London. I didn’t quite know what to expect, it’s a funny little town (and that’s all it is…where in gods name are all the people, the footpaths are deserted…how do shops pay those rents) but I love big slabs of it a lot. I so love its soul and the spirit and humour that I can find nowhere else in NZ. It’s the only town which doesn’t feel either dour and self important, with no good reason, or like some redneck hick town. It has elements of both of that still and it is far too self important (Fashion Week anyone?), but nothing on this planet feels as good as sitting with a bunch people I’ve known for twenty or thirty years, over coffee or wine at some hole in the wall café (not Bambina) on Pons, or in a penthouse overlooking the urban inner west; or talking shit about obscure German techno, and reminiscing with Nick D until 5am. I did all that and could do it forever. There are lots of people I love in Auckland town.

So Ak07, some thoughts, from an Asian visitor:

· Damn, it’s expensive.

· There is no traffic, get over it. The roads, by any reasonable international standards (and I include the motorways at rush hour) are deserted. Auckland’s traffic problem is the same one that afflicts the nation as a whole…anger. Contact ball sports are my theory...

· Talking of which….moving the school terms for the rugby…that’s truly fucked up….

· I love the infrastructure…unlike much of the rest of the world, everything works. The roads, the taps, the power. I guess you pay for it with stupid sized property taxes and regulations, which brings me to…

· The rules, the regulations, the rules and more rules…there are so many. EverythingNick D is regulated and half the population, when they are not discussing a contact ball sport which encourages young men to do GBH to each other, are, face to face, on the airwaves, and in forums, discussing ways to increase the regulations. Wellington exists for no other reason. I hate the phrase nanny state, but driving along the waterfront seeing signs and lightings for over a kilometre warning me about a looming closed shoulder (which I didn’t notice when I got there) makes me wonder how much all this bullshit costs. There are so many fucking rules. Now, I understand, you need a seltbelt for your dog otherwise your insurance is void. You could not make this stuff up...seriously…..the number eight wire is now only sold in metre lengths with a permit.

· Auckland Airport….when you criticise the unfriendly, over (yes) regulated quagmire that is Auckland Airport people defensively compare it to LAX…when that’s the standard you compare yourself to, you are seriously in trouble. From the smartarse Immigration guy making derisive comments about Bali, to the only in NZ, women who harass you about cabin bag weight on the way out…seriously, in my experience, nowhere else in the world…you feel like you are leaving Wanganui International. Sell it to the Arabs, they could not, and won’t, do a worse job.

· Where in gods name is the wi-fi. Y’know the sort of thing that any café, airport, food-hall, or mall in Asia offers as a free, or ludicrously cheap, service. Not in Auckland though. There is a clear and growing technology gap. Where are the IT stores and malls? And don't tell me it's population...

· Conch Records may well be the best record shop in the world.

· Ahh, the food…the good stuff is fantastic, and the good stuff is almost always at the bottom end of the scale price wise. Little KK in Greenlane offers the best Malaysian outside Malaysia, and indeed is very much better than much of the stuff you find there. And wonderful Indian, Dim Sim (we meet Chinese gourmets in Asia that rave about Grand Harbour), Thai and all sorts of other things found in cheap and cheerfuls across the isthmus. It has to be the ingredients…despite moaning, the nation is so damned clean and green, and its impossible not to taste that. New Zealand, however, does do high end dining very, very badly. Let’s leave that to the twats that put together Metro…..

· The Steak and Cheese Pies; the mussells and the scallops…and the chocolate and the ice cream…

· “Have you seen Sylvia Park??”..uh yes, and why would you bother. Bit sad innit….KL also has a cinema that claims the biggest screen in the (non IMAX) world…somebody is not telling the truth.

· George and 95bFm are the best radio you’ll find anywhere.

· Damn, its expensive.

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