Saturday, September 23, 2017

Album Reviews: Celt Islam - Sufi Dub (2017) / I Am Electronic (2017)

Celt Islam is an extraordinary artist. I’ve been following his work closely ever since being blown away by an album called Baghdad, which was released online back in 2012. His music fuses together a range of different genres and influences, and he’s been fairly prolific over the past decade, releasing music under a number of different guises, across multiple platforms, not the least of which is his own Earth City Recordz label. During the same period, he’s also managed to establish a reputation as a compelling live/soundsystem act at Festivals and shows across the UK and Europe.

Thus far in 2017 we've had a couple of albums from Celt Islam, each one showcasing a specific strand or sub genre within the artist's wider musical repertoire. The first was a compilation album of older stuff, called Sufi Dub, which released back in February. More recently, last month, a collection of new material called I Am Electronic (or I Am Electronik, depending on where you look) surfaced on the Urban Sedated imprint. I thought I’d offer a few words on each release …

Sufi Dub
Sufi Dub is exactly as the title suggests it might be. 15 tracks of hybrid world music/dub/reggae crossover fare, full of skanky FX-laden drops and spaced-out atmospheric sticky goodness. It’s been a long time in the making, and the album showcases a quality pick and mix selection from a variety of past releases, including material from albums, EPs, and one-off releases. A sort of “best of”, if you like. Sufi Dub features a number of collaborative tracks, including a couple with like-minded regular co-conspirators such as Inder Goldfinger (on ‘Earth City Rockers’) and the Renegade Sufi (on ‘Fakir’ and ‘Mevlana’). As a fan, I’m very familiar with a lot of it, and tracks such ‘Light Within Me’, ‘Lantern of the Path’, ‘Irfan’, and ‘Freedom’ have become firm favourites and wider playlist highlights on my pod. I really love this blend, almost as much as I love the Baghdad release, which is remarkable given that it’s been pooled together from a wide range of original source material. I can thoroughly recommend the hugely inclusive holistic energy of Sufi Dub as a wicked starting point if you’re looking for an introduction to the music of Celt Islam.
Go here to pick up a copy of Sufi Dub from the Earth City Recordz Bandcamp page.

I Am Electronic
The second, more recent release, I suspect, is rather more niche and will perhaps be a little less accessible in terms of the mainstream. If that’s even a consideration, because this is unrepentant hard-edged industrial-strength electro/IDM of the highest calibre, and the overwhelming sense is that these tracks have been pieced together without any regard for compromise whatsoever. If Sufi Dub is the work of a man seeking universal acceptance or appeal, which it may or may not be, because I think his musical philosophy extends far beyond such simplistic analysis, then I Am Electronic sets its stall out in an entirely different stratosphere altogether… one where the listener is confronted by a much more frightening vision of the planet we live on. And just quietly, it probably presents a far more accurate assessment of where the world is at in 2017. Seldom can music without any form of what might be called “orthodox vocals” or lyrics, portray so much. On one hand, this work is reminiscent of a superb album called Worlds We Know, which was released by Celt Islam under the guise of The Analogue Fakir a few years back, in that it combines traditional (world music) instrumentation with much newer technologies, yet on the other hand, I Am Electronic takes things to a whole new level entirely. I’m not keen to single out favourite tracks, but if pushed, highlights here include ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘Electro Dervish’.
Go here to pick up a copy of I Am Electronic from the Urban Sedated Bandcamp page.

Here’s ‘Lantern of the Path’ from Sufi Dub:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Album Review: Lord Echo - Harmonies (2017)

Following on from Melodies and Curiosities, Harmonies is the third album in a Lord Echo trilogy which spans more than a decade for ex-Black Seed multi-instrumentalist and producer, Michael August, aka Mike Fabulous. And while it would probably be technically correct to call the 10-track release a “solo” work, Harmonies is all about collaboration, with the album being all the richer for the key contributions made by Electric Wire Hustle’s Mara TK (vocals), Fat Freddy’s horn man Toby Laing, with Lucien Johnson on sax, and cameo appearances from Leila Adu and Lisa Tomlins. Which is something close to a mini “Who’s Who” of the local funk scene, and all have featured on previous Lord Echo releases. Naturally enough, the whole thing oozes warm vibes, as a hybrid disco-meets-reggae-meets-afro soul concoction of knee-buckling sweetness, with all manner of instrumentation on hand to keep things fresh and always interesting. Recorded and produced at August’s Gracefield (Lower Hutt) studio, and released on the London-based Soundway label, it would be no stretch to contend that this is the best offering yet from Lord Echo. Mara TK’s vocal gymnastics on the sublime 'Just Do You' is one of the more obvious highlights, while Tomlins’ star turn on the Philly soul classic 'I Love Music' breathes new life into a much loved old banger, and it works as an ideal album closer. In addition to standard forms, the release also comes in a double vinyl edition specifically for the discerning club DJ.

(note – this review was originally intended for publication on the NZ Musician platform (magazine/website). Usually I try to give NZM a period of some exclusivity on the album reviews they ask me to write, before publishing the review on the blog at a later date. Given that on most occasions the chance to review comes courtesy of a CD sent via the post, it feels like the right way to go about things. However, this was written and sent to the magazine for publication ten weeks ago, so I can only imagine it has somehow disappeared into the ether … hence sharing it here while it still has some degree of “new release” relevance).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Classic Album Review: Barmy Army - The English Disease (1989)

This won’t fit the common definition of what a classic album is, but given that your blogger is a fully certifiable On-U Sound nutter, what passes for “classic” at everythingsgonegreen towers, and what counts as a “classic” elsewhere, is always likely to be two (or more) different things …

The English Disease is something of a novelty item for those familiar with the bass-heavy dub sounds of the On-U Sound posse, and it features several of the artists who produce output for Adrian Sherwood’s legendary label.

The Barmy Army was effectively the loose collective otherwise known as Tackhead and friends, and here they combine a couple of their shared passions – sampling and football – to create a body work unlike anything else heard before or since. It won’t appeal to all, but it does have some curiosity value, and will be well worth a listen for anyone who has previously enjoyed Tackhead, Little Axe, Dub Syndicate, Mark Stewart, or indeed fans of experimental dub or eclectic lightweight cut-and-paste style hip hop.

When this was initially released in the immediate aftermath of the Heysel, Bradford, and Hillsborough tragedies, English football was at its lowest ebb for several generations, and the game was awash with hooliganism, also labelled the “English disease” by those oblivious to its widespread international reach. Attendances were low, safety concerns high, and the family-friendly all-seater environment we see today was still some way off in the future. The Taylor Report of the early Nineties and the influx of cash generated by the subscription television boom of the mid-late Nineties changed the face of English football forever, but that’s not to say that the “product” offered today is any superior.

What it has become, in truth, is a far more sterile and palatable “entertainment” option for the masses. Something has been lost however, and here the Barmy Army unashamedly celebrate a little of what went before, throwing into the mix a splattering of politics, terrace-style humour, and a fairly transparent love of West Ham United.

It’s hard to define the sound in an orthodox sense, but file this one away under: dub, reggae, hip hop, or that extraordinary one-off category created especially for this album: Terrace and voiceover (commentary) samples with some heavy beats holding it all together. Or something.

Those familiar with the On-U compilation series Pay It All Back, will already know of the Barmy Army’s ‘Billy Bonds MBE’, and ‘Blue Moon’ … well, here is some more material of that nature.

Best tracks: ‘Sharp As A Needle’ (tribute to King Kenny Dalglish), ‘Devo’ (Alan Devonshire), ‘Leroy’s Boots’ (Leroy Rosenior), and ‘Brian Clout’ (Brian Clough).

Apparently all crowd samples were recorded by the editor of a West Ham fanzine, but check out the additional credits for this album – it’ll help you recognise just who you’re dealing with here: Doug Wimbish (ex-Sugarhill house band, Tackhead, and various), Skip McDonald aka Little Axe (ex-Sugarhill, Tackhead, and various), Al Jourgensen (Ministry), and Jah Wobble (PIL). Among many others.

All done under the watchful and somewhat critical eye of the UK’s foremost master dub producer himself, Adrian Sherwood.

Recommended for the open-minded, plus football fans of all clubs and creeds …

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Magazines of my time Part 4: The 1980s … Trouser Press, Blues & Soul, and The Face

So far I’ve looked at a childhood obsession with football magazines, including a comic, a brief flirtation with a commercial pop music glossy, and an early love of newsprint-based music papers. But I’ve only got as far as the early to mid-1980s, and my desire to actually collect magazines, rather than to simply buy them for reading purposes only, is really just starting to take hold ...

And so to my discovery of The Face, Blues & Soul, and to a lesser extent, Trouser Press.

I’ll deal with the New York-based monthly, Trouser Press, first, because it was the most short-lived, and given that less than 100 issues were ever published (between 1974 and 1984), surely the most collectable in the sense that copies would now be relatively rare, and I presume, highly sought after. Regrettably, I have no idea where my own small Trouser Press collection may have ended up.
It’ll certainly be far more collectable than the monolith it was up against in its home market, Rolling Stone (yawn), which, despite being hugely popular, was never able to adequately represent the more alternative or post-punk genres I was most keen on. Which is something that Trouser Press specialised in – all of that left-of-centre stuff that existed outside the realm of FM radio and the Billboard charts. Not by any stretch was it exclusively American, but it was definitely far more sympathetic to home-based “alt-rock” and all things “new wave”, than any other US-based publication I ever came across.
In later years, across the last couple of dozen issues (roughly), Trouser Press offered a “free” flexi-disc to supplement issues of the magazine. Acts like Altered Images, Berlin, Buggles, Japan, Joan Jett, OMD, REM, and XTC, all had flexi-discs released via the magazine. And after it wound up its magazine format, the Trouser Press brand continued as a series of “record guide” books, five in total – three under the title of the ‘New Trouser Press Record Guide’ (1985, 1989, 1991), one as ‘The Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records’ (1983), with its final publication being ‘The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock’ (1997).
In early 1986, I decided it was time to move to Wellington. I’d been feeling trapped in Palmerston North for far too long … I was unhappy in my job, and I’d been on the painful end of two relationship break-ups. The capital city offered a number of new challenges and attractions, not the least of which was a comparatively vibrant nightlife. The fact is, nightclubbing had become, if not an obsession, then pretty much my main hobby in life. In so far as it was something I spent almost as much time doing as my fulltime job – which was soon to become, conveniently enough (from a “body clock” perspective), a night duty manager at a large Wellington hotel.
Naturally, with that kind of lifestyle choice, I was being exposed to (and loving) a whole raft of new and exciting music – electro, hi energy, rare groove, hip hop, and before too long, new genres like house and techno. And as anyone who knows anything at all about that scene at that time will tell you, there were two “bibles” for the discerning nightclub patron (or DJ) of the era – Blues & Soul magazine, and The Face. I started to collect both.
(As an aside, although Mixmag was established in 1983, it remained underground for much of the decade before emerging, and um, peaking, during the acid house years. The other more high profile dance music publication of recent times, DJ magazine, didn’t emerge until 1991).
Blues & Soul is basically an institution, established as far back as 1966, and still active today, 1000-plus issues later. A few years back it had a brief spell as an online-only publication before reverting back to its original print format.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Blues & Soul was compulsory reading – what key contributors John Abbey (founder), David Nathan, and Roger St. Pierre, didn’t know about disco, funk, and soul, really wasn’t worth knowing. The magazine’s list of features and interviews through the latter decade in particular reads like a Who’s Who of every genre ever heard inside a club.
Prominent contributors during 1980s included the likes of Pete Tong, Paul Oakenfold, and Tim Westwood, before each man would eventually go on to establish a successful career as a DJ in his own right. Tong wrote an industry gossip column under the guise of ‘The Mouth’ – a “fortnightly foray into fads, fax, fallacy, and fun”. Oakenfold contributed a regular column called ‘Wotupski’, and Westwood is credited with establishing the first ever hip hop-specific column at the magazine.
The nature of club music is that it can be very fickle, very scene-centric, and at that time there seemed to be an unwritten “freshest is best” rule. To that end, I can recall religiously trawling the magazine’s various charts on a regular basis, obsessing over what I’d heard and what I hadn’t, what I “owned”, what I could potentially get my hands on, and what I’d clearly have to wait for a long time for. For better or for worse, these things seemed important for a few years in the late 1980s. In fact, Blues & Soul had a chart for just about everything – singles and albums, for the UK and the US, the magazine’s own ‘City Slickers Hip List’, ‘Groove Control’ and other assorted club charts, and later in the decade, an RPM (raps per minute) chart.
The Face magazine was a slightly different beast in that it wasn’t really a music magazine. It was all about style – fashion, film, art, design, trends, identity, and politics. Naturally, a lot of music content aligned itself with that. From memory, its main rivals in that (relatively broad) market during the era were i-D, Blitz, and Arena magazines, but I think The Face was the quintessential 1980s style guide. Or at least it was for a certain demographic, one that I skirted around the periphery of due to my interest in clubbing, and the small fact that my partner between 1987 and 1990 was a committed fashionista studying textile design at Wellington Polytech.
Nick Logan, a former editor at the NME, who was also prominent in the establishment of Smash Hits, was the driving force behind setting up The Face in 1980. Logan was able to tap into the pool of outstanding journalists he’d worked alongside previously – most notably Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill (see part three), and the guru of them all, Jon Savage, who had worked for Sounds, Melody Maker, and the NME. Savage would later go on write ‘England’s Dreaming’ (1991), the seminal tome about the Sex Pistols and the punk era.
It wasn’t just about words though. As a glossy, published monthly, The Face was also renowned for its great photography and experimental/cutting edge design. Neville Brody was the magazine’s art director through the first half of the 1980s – he later moved to Arena – and much of the mag’s reputation was forged on the back of his ability to bring together all of the separate elements (fashion, film, music etc) into one cohesive whole. Brody is also noted for his album cover designs, and his CV includes work for Throbbing Gristle, Level 42, and Depeche Mode. In the case of the latter, the single sleeve for ‘I Just Can’t Enough’.
I think my own interest in The Face had started to fade by the start of the 1990s, but not until I had amassed a fairly decent collection (again, currently awol). I broke up with the aforementioned partner, who would go on to establish her own label and set up shop in Wellington’s bohemian Cuba Street before disappearing from my life completely.

Things were about to take another turn for me, and while music, nightlife, and er, magazines, remained right at the core of my being, I was about to indulge in that most Kiwi of 20-something pursuits, “the big OE”, and head back to the UK indefinitely. I didn’t really have any specific plans, but my passport was British, my ticket was one way, and my intent was to travel light …

Monday, September 4, 2017

Classic Album Review: Bob Marley & The Wailers - Exodus (1977)

When people think of reggae, Bob Marley is usually the first artist they think of. And with good reason – Marley and his supporting cast have been at the very forefront of the genre for the best part of 45 years, even today, more than 35 years after Marley’s premature death in 1981.

Such was the quality of The Wailers’ output throughout the Seventies, with a succession of fine albums, Marley left a mark on popular culture that can never be denied. Without having the documentary evidence to support such a claim, obviously, I reckon Bob Marley is singularly responsible for turning more people on to reggae than any other artist.

Exodus is the album many believe to be The Wailers’ finest moment (Kaya just shades it in my view, but I know that’s only a personal thing), conceived and mostly recorded in London in 1977 following an attempt on Marley’s life back in Jamaica.

In 2017, Exodus celebrates its 40th anniversary, with deluxe packages of the original coming in a variety of different formats, depending on the amount of discretionary cash you’re prepared to part with. I’m fairly certain there’s double, triple, and quadruple LP options for this year’s deluxe-fest, all including live versions and alternate mixes.

This is the Wailers in its post-Peter Tosh, post-Bunny Wailer form, but the famous I-Threes remain a crucial ingredient, and there simply isn’t a dud moment on Exodus. All of the expected political and social references points are covered and it features many of Marley’s best known tracks.

Highlights: the title track itself is often too readily overlooked but it was surely one of Marley’s peaks, from both a song-writing and performance perspective. The best of the rest include: the beautifully crafted ‘Natural Mystic’, ‘Jammin’, ‘Waiting In Vain’, ‘Three Little Birds’, and ‘One Love/People Get Ready’.

Most people will have a copy of Legend in their music collection, and that works fine as an overview, in a singles context, but Exodus is something else altogether, and for those who feel the need for a little more, this one comes highly recommended. I would also suggest you pick up a copy of Kaya (1978) while you’re at it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

EP Review: Dreams Are Like Water - A Sea-Spell (2017)

Of all the local debut releases I've been exposed to over the past couple of years, few have made as big a first impression (on me) as A Sea-Spell, the highly polished first outing for Wellington three-piece Dreams Are Like Water.

I suspect a small part of that is simply down to a personal genre preference, with Dreams Are Like Water specialising in the sort of dark post-punk your reviewer reserves a real fondness for. But by the same measure, my love of that sound just as likely means I'm going to listen with a far more critical ear than I perhaps otherwise would.

In fact, it's virtually impossible to listen to the EP - which traverses four tracks - without spontaneous recall of early Cure, Kaleidoscope-era Siouxsie, All About Eve, or the ethereal dark beauty of the Cocteau Twins’ best work. Incidentally, the band name is the title of a This Mortal Coil tune, and TMC was, of course, a precursor act and 4AD label-mate of the Cocteau Twins.

So that’s the general template offered here, or at the very least, the band – Rosebud Garland (vocals, piano, bass), Michel Rowland (vocals, guitar), and Jamie Scott Palmer (synths/keys, guitar) – is able to offer up its own variation on those rather terrific touchstones. While the ethos is perhaps a little derivative, the execution here is distinctly original.

There's a lightness of touch and an unhurried charm about proceedings, best demonstrated on the title track and opener, which features a gentle melody and shared vocals from Garland and Rowland. There’s an immediate sense that this is going to be dark stuff, yet Garland’s almost saccharine vocal gives it a lift, and her voice offers the requisite shard of light amid the wider sense of gloom. It really is a wonderful early example of the subtlety and balance at play right across the duration of the EP.

‘(Thrice) In Blood’ is of a higher tempo, slightly edgy, with swirly post-punk guitar, and intermittent use of piano. Those somewhat haunting keys feature again on ‘Ineffable’, an atmospheric brooding equivalent, which is perhaps best appreciated after several plays. That way you can digest the extra layers of texture, and fully appreciate the way the band is able to skilfully master the delicate art of repetition. Which is key, a hook in itself, and quite a powerful thing.

I initially thought ‘(Thrice) In Blood’ was the best track on the EP, but it turns out I just needed to be more patient with the closer, ‘Feathered Infant Bells’, which becomes an exercise in slow-build and tension; we’re nearly a full four minutes into it before Garland's vocal finally kicks in and the whole thing starts reveal itself in all of its fluorescent multi-layered glory. There’s some superb vocal FX on offer as the powers of light and dark once again start to caress and bounce off of each other, and this nine-minute epic is a perfect finale to what is a truly intense listening experience.

The whole thing is lovingly mixed and produced by Bryan Tabuteau (Molière Recording), and if there’s an EP or album with more fitting cover art this year – a painting by 19th century artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (called A Sea-Spell, naturally) – then I’ve yet to discover it.

You can pick up your copy of the EP at the Dreams Are Like Water Bandcamp page (here)
And here’s ‘Feathered Infant Bells’:


Saturday, August 26, 2017

EP Review: Alice Glass - Alice Glass (2017)

When ex-Crystal Castles vocalist Alice Glass was asked what she finds most surprising about the release of her self-titled debut solo EP, she replied … “that you can hear my voice clearly.” She says this like she believes it's a good thing.

In truth, it's also a bit of a porky. Or at least a stretch. Sure, we get to hear her voice more clearly than we did when her mostly chopped up vocals were key to three terrific Crystal Castles albums, but what she really means is that on this EP we get to hear her very heavily autotuned voice more clearly. Which might be a different thing altogether.

Because that voice is weak. Thin. And there's clearly a good reason Ethan Kath opted to bury Alice's vocal deep in the mix on much of that Crystal Castles work. On those occasions he wasn't slicing it up into tiny little strips and making an instrument out of it, that is. That worked. This doesn't.

So the much anticipated (for some) Alice Glass return, a full two years after her first solo release, the one-off single, 'Stillbirth', is something of a minor let down. Despite production assistance from Jupiter Keyes (ex-HEALTH), who adds the electro-pop flourishes Glass fans will be most familiar with.

But he's not Kath, this feels a little bit like cheap imitation, and there's something missing. It’s just as likely a lack of tunes, and this six-track EP is all a bit ordinary. Even that feels like high praise. The highlight is the pre-release "single", 'Without Love', which opens proceedings. From there, it just becomes a slippery slope.

Monday, August 21, 2017


A few weeks back, I sat down to chat with Ashok Jacob, an 18-year-old Wellington-based arts student who releases music online under the guise of Miromiro. It was for the purpose of writing a NZ Musician/Fresh Talent feature, and it's fair to say I've never before encountered a more articulate or quietly assured teenager. His music has a certain synth-wavey retro-electro appeal to it, and he has a couple of full-length releases available on Bandcamp - the latest offering being Kembe Falls, which was released in June of this year. It's well worth checking out ...

Miromiro/NZ Musician feature here

Miromiro on Bandcamp here

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Magazines of my time Part 3: The 1980s … NME, Smash Hits, & Rip It Up

By 1979, my life as a high school student was all but over. I was sitting School Certificate and putting in just enough effort to scrape a “pass” in all five of my subjects except History, which I passed with some aplomb, simply because I loved that subject way more than any of the others. The plan was that I’d do 6th form, my University Entrance year, in 1980, but there were a couple of stumbling blocks in my path that I’d eventually fail to overcome.

The first was that, at 15, all of the things that had shaped my world up until that point, suddenly started to seem less important. I’d more or less lost interest in playing football, and while I was still involved with the school team, I was no longer being looked at for representative team selection. I was off the radar, and in truth, I lacked the physicality to play at any higher level. Shoot! magazine (see Part 2) had started to lose its appeal, and things like Paul McCartney’s Wings, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and this crazy thing called punk rock – an unfathomable mix, I’ll grant you – became far more important distractions to fill my head with.

It was probably around 1979 when I first bought my first music and pop culture magazine. I’m fairly certain it was an Australian publication called Popscore, which enjoyed a brief foray into the New Zealand market around that time. It was a glossy, and I can recall cutting out pictures – one of McCartney stands out – and plastering them all over my school books. I’m still doing something similar on Facebook, and on this blog, today.

I’d started doing after school jobs, and started buying music with my hard earned dosh. I had also started saving money for what would prove to be the second major stumbling block in a forlorn attempt to complete my education (by passing University Entrance) – a family trip to the UK and the USA for several months smack bang in the middle of 1980. The plan had changed, and I was supposed to study from a distance, but it never quite happened.

What that trip did however, was cement my burgeoning relationship with popular culture. Lifestyles, tribes, music, and fashion in London, Brighton, and Glasgow – the places we stayed or visited most while in the UK – were a huge eye-opener for the recently turned 16-year-old me. Punks, Mods, Skinheads, Rude Boys, tartan bondage pants, DMs, the music of The Specials, The Clash, The Jam, and The Police, blaring out from shop doorways and pub jukeboxes … this was all very different to the world I’d known in Palmerston North. And it was at this time I discovered a music newspaper called the New Musical Express, which I started buying as often as I could.
 The late '70s, through the 1980s, was a special time for the NME, which found itself at the vanguard of music criticism during the rise of punk and post-punk. Exceptional writers like Paul Morley, Tony Parsons, and Julie Burchill, were all plying their trade at the paper during this period, and the NME was streets ahead of Melody Maker and Sounds, which were its two main rivals in the market – at least in terms of non-glossy UK-based weekly newsprint publications. In the second half of the decade key writers included the equally entertaining likes of Adrian Thrills, Stuart Cosgrove, and Paolo Hewitt.

The quality of the writing – insightful analysis of ever-changing and quickly evolving scenes, and all of the context around that, plus witty album and gig reviews, etc – from staffers was one thing, but the letters-to-the-editor page (or ‘The Big Bad Read’) was something else entirely, and probably where I spent most of my time. It was clear NME readers also held firm opinions and weren't afraid to share them. Often at the cost of a scathing reply from said editor. I also loved browsing the classifieds, and the charts page, with a special shout out to the history-nut-centric ‘Lest We Forget’ charts of years/decades past. And of course there was always Fred Dollar’s ‘Fred Fact’, a tiny morsel of weekly musical eccentricity to ponder and/or marvel at.

For whatever reason, or reasons, the NME has fallen away badly over the past couple of decades and it no longer commands the same level of reach or influence. If anything, for readers of my generation say, the (now) magazine is something of a joke and a sad pale shadow of what it once represented.

While the NME was the champion of all things indie, political, and cutting edge, fans of straight up unadulterated pop music could get their fix from Smash Hits, a magazine that catered for the pop charts. And that meant for much of the first half of the 1980s, it was very much a synthpop-centric type of publication, which is where I came in.
Published fortnightly, Smash Hits was a colourful glossy crammed full of posters, lyric sheets, and digestible tidbits. It was almost tabloid-esque at times. Something to be consumed and tossed away, rather than studiously pored over and/or collected. It had its own little niche corner of the market. For a while it did have a specialist indie page, and one dedicated to disco, but mostly it was a rock snob’s nightmare and it concerned itself only with whatever was happening on top 40 radio at any given time. To its credit, the magazine survived for nearly three decades before market forces and falling advertising revenues saw it close in 2006.

My relationship with Smash Hits was only ever intermittent, that whole early 80s synthpop thing being its main draw, but I was still buying it as late as 1983, because I recall having a Tears For Fears poster/lyric page for ‘Pale Shelter’ (removed from the mag) pinned to a bedroom wall in one of my first flats. I can laugh about now, but at the time it all seemed so deadly serious.

Trivia Fact: Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant was once an assistant editor at Smash Hits. Then he released ‘West End Girls’ and the rest is history …

By the time I’d left school, found a job, left home, and established a set of like-minded gig-going companions (let’s say by 1983, for argument’s sake), I had become aware of Rip It Up, a local music paper, a monthly, that was free to pick up at “record shops” (quaint term) across the country.

Rip It Up started life in 1977, the brainchild of local music identity Murray Cammick, and while it wasn’t New Zealand’s first rock/pop culture periodical, it was the first of any real significance for my generation. It wasn’t exclusively about local music – interviews, album reviews, gig reviews – but it was the only place, beyond token coverage in mainstream newspapers, we could read about local bands, local gigs, and everything else to do with “us”. That said, it had a balanced mix of the local and the international, and was fairly widescreen in scope and genre.
Initially, it was quite rudimentary in its design and layout – it was advert-dependent and free, after all – with one-word section headers – “records” (reviews), “live” (gig reviews), “briefs” (short news snippets), and “letters” (self-explanatory, and only occasionally NME-standard for hilarity). It had a genuine fanzine quality about it.

I’d usually start at the “rumours” section, which took the reader on a tour around the country, covering odds and ends, news and gossip, with focus placed on each the four main centres. It offered a summary of what had been happening in each location, and what we could expect in the way of releases, tours, and events during the month ahead.

From 1977, through the decade that followed, Rip It Up was a newsprint publication, mostly black and white, with a splash of colour reserved for the front cover and the occasional advert. But in 1991, the title underwent a facelift and a change in format, morphing into a glossy magazine, with a sale price attached. And while that’s all fair enough, and perfectly logical, something that ensured its longer term survival, it’s fair to say my own interest in the paper/magazine had fallen away by this time. Not because there was a cost associated with it, but because it had become less concerned with the grassroots, and far more mainstream in its approach.

You can find a fascinating archive of classic early Rip It Up content online here 

So far, all of the titles I’ve covered off in this series – with the exception of Rip It Up – have been UK-based publications, but in the next post I’ll expand those horizons just a little. Still looking at the 1980s, but taking a short detour into rather more exotic climes …

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Atlas Shrugged ...

I was going to write my own blurb for the release of The Prophet Motive’s second album, Atlas Shrugged, but somehow the words on the artist’s own Bandcamp page (italics, below) seem more than adequate. I’ve had a quick listen to the album and reckon it’s every bit as good as the debut release of 2014, if not substantially better. I profiled The Prophet Motive (here) when that first album came out, but it’s worth noting that since then, James Fox-O’Connell has been replaced by Matt Billington. Main dude Mitch Cookson is still in place, and the agit-folk-punk duo's modus operandi remains almost identical ... this is acoustic-based political and social commentary which seeks to challenge the collective complacency of a nation raised on the "she'll be right" mantra ... when quite evidently, things are far from right. But don't take my word for it, have a listen for yourself …

The Prophet Motive is back, with the release of their second full-length album, ‘Atlas Shrugged’. After the successful reception of their first album, 2014’s ‘Manifest Density’, and the addition of Matt Billington (Myth of Democracy, Future Theft, 5th Threat, Cheap For A Reason) to the band, Mitch Cookson has relocated Rotorua’s 4th best Political Folk-Punk Duo deep into the ragged heart of the housing bubble in Auckland, paying exorbitant rent and dealing with the harsh realities of life in the precariat/working classes after 9 long years of National-led Governments.

With another Douche Vs. Turd Election upon us, The Prophet Motive release 12 tracks which cast a spotlight on the ramifications of neo-liberal economic orthodoxy on the people and the planet, from the perspectives of two working-class New Zealand men – one Maori, one Pakeha – both of whom are coming to grips with the failures of Western Democratic Institutions and the two impending worldwide disasters created by human beings – Climate Change and Right Wing Nationalism. Atlas Shrugged is a continuation of The Prophet Motive’s fight for progressive, socialist change for all nations and peoples on earth.