NZ Music Month Strikes Back :: Critic

Critic article on NZ music month


May 2, 2006

This is one of the few websites relating to music in Dunedin. Relatively small number of active participants, but quite lively at times, and actually kept up to date, which is nice.

Useful history of Dunedin Music, and an incredible list of active and inactive Dunedin bands and artists., sourced from the settlers museum, and split into decades. Of much benefit is the Venue guide, which, while a little sparse in places, is a great little resource for those who aren't familiar with the minute details of the venue options in Dunedin. Some venues look so interesting I'd be tempted to put on a show there, just for the experience.

Interesting article about the “Dunedin Sound” from a Northern Hemisphere perspective. Lots of nice quotes from the band members, and Discography selection. Interesting notes about the isolation of Dunedin, leading to a DIY attitude, and a sense of community.
“There wasn’t a Dunedin Sound, except that the bands recorded on the same equipment and possessed the same feel. We all shared a love of good songs and a loathing of stage personas and such.” — Martin Phillips, Southern Skys magazine, 1991.

“The Dunedin sound, mmmm, me and my big mouth!” — David Kilgour, coiner of the term ‘Dunedin Sound’, by e-mail, 2005.

unedin seems to be doing just fine; this is a place whose average rainfall gives Manchester a run for its money, and where the city square isn’t square, but octagonal. Yet, with hindsight, its history of straight-laced conformism was good for something: it gave teenagers something to kick out against, and by the end of the 1970s it was apparent that something was stirring. That something found its expression in Chris Knox.

“Punk was big for sure but in Dunedin we were extremely isolated and it took a long time for musical trends to filter down this far. You have to appreciate the pre-globalisation technological environment that existed back then (at least for us). A record released in the UK may have taken up to two years before a copy of the master was shipped out here and the pressing plant in Wellington produced the record. Case in point, Ian Curtis was dead and buried before any JD records were released here. They were awaited with great anticipation because people had read about the band in NME or whatever, but the actual records took an age to filter through. Being something of a backwater meant there was something of a disincentive to follow trends (why bother when they were moribund at their source by the time we knew about them). This allowed or fostered inclusive listening habits, anything from the 60’s up to punk. (hence my rather conservative record collection was not frowned upon in any way as being uncool).” — Graeme Downes, by email, 2005.

“Radio in Dunedin and throughout New Zealand was terrible in the seventies. We had a few thrills like the Dr Demento’s Show late at night and some DJs who were a little adventurous but apart from that it was relentless top 40 and golden oldies. [They played] New Zealand music only if they really had to, and only if it was very mainstream. The programmers predicted the end of society as we knew it if they were forced to play that terribly amateur NZ stuff.” — Martin Phillips, by e-mail, 2005.
‘The generation that followed, the so-called Dunedin Sound bands, borrowed punks DIY ethos and some of its aggression, but not a lot stylistically. And because the only live music we tended to hear were the other bands in the city we tended to borrow from each other probably more than from outside sources. The Clean were the best band and most of us younger ones used them as a model. This insularity that created the situation where a group of bands absorbed influences from local rather than global influences was bound to create stylistic similarity.’ — Graeme Downes, by e-mail, 2005.
…with NZ being so small you tend to get to know most people eventually, somehow. The late 70’s and a lot of the 80’s were great fun and really exciting. Amongst the camaradery there was (and still is) always a healthy undercurrent of competition in the creative stakes.” — David Kilgour, by e-mail, 2005.


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.

Further reading

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

Staff B, Ashley S “For the Record – A history of the recording industry in New Zealand” 2002, David Batemen Ltd

Comprehensive documentation of the New Zealand recording industry, with an overview feel. Plenty of superb images of record sleves, posters etc. Super resource for checking out what we were actually producing at the time.