The noisy library of New Zealand music. Christchurch has long had a reputation as a dull and conservative place, though there has always been a cultural undercurrent that cuts at that premise.
The city has a proud musical tradition, playing a critical role in the development of bands and singers such as Max MerrittRay Columbusand Dinah Lee in the s and 60s. Salmonella Dub, formed in Christchurch in the early 90s, were the progenitors of the dub sound that would shift its centre to Wellington in the next decade, while Shapeshifter took drum and bass from the clubs of Lichfield St and made it a mainstay of the summer festival circuit. My old high school, Cashmere High, produced three very different mainstream successes, with Bic RungaZed, and Yulia all having albums that topped the New Zealand chart.
But in the first few years of the new millennium, Christchurch had a vibrant indie scene that blew against the prevailing musical winds.
At the same time that indie music was moving from the bedrooms and blogs to the main stages of festivals all across the country and the world, artists in Christchurch were putting out some of the best music to come from the city in a long time. A strong DIY and underground alternative scene had been active in the city through the 90s, making use of the cheap spaces on the fringes of the CBD, and utilising recording and distribution methods that would come to democratise music production in the following decade.
Around the same time, dance music was taking over the city nightclubs. A generation who grew up in this time would bring together all these disparate elements, and bands such as The Shocking Pinks, Pig Out, the Tiger Tones, and Bang! Nick Harte from the Shocking Pinks, December While this burst of creative activity had largely petered out bythis period saw the release of some excellent music, the rise and fall of some challenging, electric, unpredictable live acts, and some iconic shows at iconic venues.
When the quakes struck in andwiping many of these venues off the map, it provided a hard end-point for a scene that had already run out of steam. I was studying in Dunedin when the first Shocking Pinks album came out inalerting me to the existence of something special happening back up the road.
Having been away from Christchurch since I was at school, I moved back there, and started to get quite involved in the music scene.
Despite its Garden City image, much of the most interesting art come out of Christchurch has been what some might consider weeds. The home of the Flying Nun record label, there had always been a strong connection with the bands down the road in Dunedin. After a brief stint in Sydney, he returned to Christchurch in the late 80s, and in the early 90s formed Squirm.
If comparisons are called for, try Sonic Youth meeting The Fall in a gin-soaked garage somewhere in central Christchurch. Another group which embraced the lo-fi aesthetic was Space Dust. Formed by Duane Zakarov real name, Pat FaiganSpace Dust was one of those groups with a list of band members that looks more like a phone book.
In they released two albums on two different American independent labels: They were known around Christchurch for their catchy singles and rich organ sound. They released a couple of singles on the Beat Atlas imprint, lathe cut by the legendary Peter King. Michael J Hex moved on from Squirm to play and release music under this name. With his flat-cum-venue-cum recording studio, Hex Central, his DIY recording ethos was a key influence on the next wave of bands.
In he released the album The Hiss Explosiona name that he would go on to use as his own artist name. He moved to Dunedin in the late 90s, and in he teamed up with ex-Squirm drummer Peter Mitchell to record the album 66released by the Hiss Explosion on ArcLife.
He often returned to Christchurch, including playing a show on Waitangi Day, He sadly died later that month, and the two concerts that were put on in Dunedin and Christchurch in his memory showed the influence he had on his peers, with bands such as Into the Void, The Undercurrents, and the Shocking Pinks playing.
While Christchurch would later become known for having a healthy drum and bass scene, at the turn of the century it hosted a variety of dance clubs which played all sorts of underground music.
Clubs including Heaven and Base skewed more towards house, prog house, and trance, while larger venues such as Hybrid and the Ministry would open up for the bigger international DJs. There was a wave of bands that associated more with the dance scene than the rock scene, including Shapeshifter, Verse 2, and Solaa. The latter formed inand developed a strong reputation for their fusion of house, funk, and soul in a live setting.
Tim Baird from Pinacolada recalls them as some as his favourite gigs: There was a lot of cross-pollination amongst musicians, DJs and genres at the time, and these gigs were like a melting pot of all these creative minds and ideas.
Formerly known as Nick Hodgson, he had been dabbling in music since school, releasing cassettes on the kRkRkRkR label as far back as These were mainly free-form experimental releases, recorded either solo, or with collaborators, under his own name or various other monikers, including Montessouri, Crone, CM Ensemble, Hiatus, and others. Around he was in a long list of heavy guitar bands, including the Incisions, the Urinators, and the Hi-Tone Destroyers, as well as a time in Solaa.
Tim Baird recalls that Hodgson got banned from calling student radio station RDU after winning too many prizes. He left Christchurch to join the Auckland-based Brunettesand was part of their tour to England in mid The Shocking Pinks quickly made quite a name for themselves.