THE DUNEDIN SOUND –
May 2, 2006
Article by Vernon McCarthy for the city of dunedin website. Much lifted off FLying Nun/stranded in paradise, but interesting nontheless
So what then is the “Dunedin Sound”?
The first mention of a “Sound” comes from an interview between The Clean band member David Kilgour and Wellington magazine In Touch. When discussing the possibility of a New Zealand sound, Kilgour replied that he thought there was a Dunedin sound. This comment seems to have captured the imagination of journalists struggling to label or explain the band scene emerging from Dunedin at the time.
Craig Robertson in his thesis “Its OK, it’s all right, oh yeah”: the ‘Dunedin sound’? states that it was ”a label which was initially coined by the New Zealand music media in response to the music of the Dunedin bands released on the Flying Nun record label in the first half of the 1980s.” Ten years later those involved in the Seattle “grunge” scene would have a similar experience albeit on a larger scale.
Arguably the “Dunedin Sound” dates back to 1978 and includes bands such as the Enemy and the Clean, followed soon after by the Same and Bored Games. However, it was the scene that existed in Dunedin in 1981 that caught the interest of the national media. This included The Stones, The Chills, Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings and a reformed Clean.
The term “Dunedin Sound” was being used by journalists to describe not only their musical style but to encapsulate the Dunedin alternative music scene as a whole. This label was compounded by the fact that most of the New Zealand music press was based in the North Island and their perspective of Dunedin was often one of ignorance or, at best, curiosity. The Dunedin scene was at odds with the more international styles of Auckland and the “jazzy” scene of Wellington.
Robertson explains “Although all of these styles existed to a limited extent in Dunedin, and the other musical centres, outsiders tend to notice what existed in large numbers, and label that unique. The guitar sound and it’s ‘jangle’ and ‘drone’ were what was seen as unique to Dunedin alternative bands.”
Another contributing factor was the way in which the music was recorded. With minimal funds available from Flying Nun and many of the musicians unemployed, there was no money to spend on the lavish sixteen or twenty-four track recording facilities that were standard fare for bands on major labels. Instead Dunedin bands embraced the “lo-fi” sound that was born out of four and eight track recordings.
John Dix, in his history of New Zealand music Stranded in Paradise comments on The Clean “Here was this group studiously avoiding hi-tech, and they were amassing the type of sales few local acts could compete with. To add insult to injury, The Clean also extended this toward live performances, travelling the country with just a few basics – no giant PA, no four-man road crew and, as a consequence, only minimal overheads.”
Most importantly the “Dunedin Sound” was fuelled by the bands’ sense of song and their enthusiasm for writing, irrespective of performance ability or recording quality, and this is without doubt what drew their audience.
By 1985 the term “Dunedin Sound” was being applied generally to Dunedin bands.
Stranded in paradise : New Zealand rock'n'roll, 1955-1988. John Dix.
"Its OK, it's all right, oh yeah": the 'Dunedin sound'? Craig Robertson. (University of Otago, Hocken Library)
Compilations including Dunedin Sound bands
Abbasalutely: A Flying Nun tribute to the music of Abba 1995
Arc: Music of Dunedin 1998
But I can write songs okay: Forty years of Dunedin popular music 1996
Disturbed: a Dunedin compilation by IMD 1995
Killing capitalism with kindness 1992
Pink flying saucers over the Southern Alps: A Flying Nun compilation 1991
PopEyed A Flying Nun compilation 1996
Scarfies: original motion picture soundtrack 1999
Shrewd: a compilation of NZ women's music 1993
Topless women talk about their lives: motion picture soundtrack