Tag: New Zealand


The Fall, and their influence on New Zealand music

by Michael Canning

A few days ago the Australian writer Robert Brokenmouth asked me to put something together on the influence of the Fall on New Zealand music for a piece he is writing so I did, and the results are below this essay.

Ordinarily I’m an early riser – and on the morning of the 24th of January I was outside walking. Around 6:50am the skies opened and started to rain. Just before 7:00am its tempo changed drastically and all of a sudden there was an absolute cloudburst. For about 10 minutes there was monsoon-like conditions with the rain lashing down, a wind from nowhere had blown up, and it was darn cold. My coat was drenched and my trousers were soaked. I’d not been in rain like that for a long while.

I found later that day that Mark E. Smith had died. I knew he had been unwell in recent time and had been a little shocked to see him in a wheelchair at a gig in 2017 but like most people didn’t know how sick he was from cancer. It was a strange experience hearing that he was dead. With Bowie’s departure in early 2016 I felt saddened, and also in May 2017 by the tragic suicide of Chris Cornell. Yet, with Smith I kind of felt blank at first. Its an odd thing when artists die that you’ve known about most of your life, and dug their work to differing degrees. That is the end. No more new work from them. They’ve said/painted/created their bit and now they’re gone.

Yet about maybe two or three days later I started feeling Fall songs come into my head. Songs I hadn’t listened to for a long time. Sometimes lines or words from them, then at other times complete songs. And then I began to realise what an impact the Fall’s work had had on me, and on other people I’ve known over the decades. The Fall’s work surely was at times, a force of nature.

I only saw them once to be fair – and at the time from memory didn’t think much of them. It was at the Leeds Irish Centre in early December 1997. Smith was only 40 then but he looked tired, and somewhat haggard. I didn’t enjoy his stage presence nor the band’s performance, and couldn’t really connect with the material they played on that night and so went home feeling quite underwhelmed.

I can remember hearing ‘Totally Wired’ on late night radio in 1981 as a pre-teen in far-off New Zealand and wondering from what planet that music had come from. It was rough, taut, scratchy and brilliant. That was my Fall baptism. I found their third studio album Grotesque (After The Gramme) for $7.00 in a bargain bin at the Farmers Department store in Hobson Street in central Auckland sometime in 1983. I took it home back to the suburbs wondering what it was all about with the strange cover art and what ‘Gramme’ meant.

I have a memory it wasn’t a favourite record for my family to endure. “Pay yer rates! Pay yer water rates! Pay yer rates so high!” yelled Smith. At that time the UK had public water utilities. Now they are privatized and I guess a heck of a lot more expensive than what they were when the Fall conceived of and wrote that song. I didn’t understand the album on first listen or really get into any of it until the last track ‘The North Will Rise Again’ played. And then this slightly bent groove slipped into my ears – with its attendant decoration and striking imagery – and then again the genius that the Fall possessed at times grabbed my full attention. Then about two years later I heard Ege Bamyasi by Can and certain connections began to form in my understanding of music about the magic within repetition and the usage of space, and tonal colour.

Smith’s passing is a sad event. The Fall created some work that helped define modern music from the late 1970’s onwards. Someone on a youtube thread under a Fall tune in recent time wrote how the Fall represented the most pretentious component of late 70’s and 80’s post-punk music. I thought about that and wondered – “ok mate, I get you don’t like the Fall but how do their supposed pretensions measure up against the fakery and pretensions exuded by the likes of Kiss, Led Zeppelin, and later on by chart darlings a la Kajagoogoo, Duran Duran, or Dexys Midnight Runners?”.

 RIP Mark E. Smith.


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To be fair I can only talk about what I know. I haven’t been embedded in NZ’s music scene for two decades so I don’t know what younger kiwi musicians takes on them would be. As an aside – just after Mark E. Smith’s death – an 18 year old English guitarist recently told me he thought the Fall were like a precursor to Britpop. Maybe his contemporaries in NZ have similar thoughts. I couldn’t say.

I believe The Fall were pretty essential listening to many people in NZ from the late 70’s to maybe the mid/late 80’s. Their influence got there via import copies of their earliest records, the music press of the time – particularly imported English papers, radio play on the University radio stations, and word of mouth.

They were highly regarded in some quarters of the post-punk scenes across NZ in the very early 80’s. I would say early 80’s band’s like Shoes This High and This Sporting Life were keen on them amidst many others across the country. There was a band called Eat This Grenade in Wellington – their name possibly taken from the lyrics to ‘Fiery Jack’.

I remember seeing several Auckland bands in the mid to the late 80’s and you could certainly discern a Fall influence here and there. In 1987 I was playing in a band called the Negative Creeps and there was definitely a Fall influence going on in there. The more minimal the music the better as we were still learning how to play our instruments. From memory our singer, the late Giovanni Intra, enjoyed the kind of word play, thematics, and delivery that Mark E Smith did.

The Fall’s music was always cool to play along with as a teenage learner on guitar  – especially if you had rejected the notion of being able to play the expected covers of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Smoke On The Water’ et al. It really was like that in New Zealand in 1984/85. The Fall was absolutely outsider music. Curiously enough though the Fall got a top 30 ‘hit’ in 1981 in New Zealand with ‘Totally Wired’ reaching #25. Maybe back then that was 600 copies sold or similar? The same thing also happened with Joy Division and the Dead Kennedys. NZ only had a population of 3 million back then. The Fall could have been more influential than Joy Division or Killing Joke were at that time. And the latter two bands combined influence was there in a big way for a long time.

The Hex Enduction Hour album was probably the height of their profile in New Zealand, which came out before their July/August 1982 tour of Oz and NZ. In a phone interview Mark E. Smith did in Australia for Rip It Up in August ’82 before reaching New Zealand he remarked about the Australian music scene, “every band I’ve seen here, all you can f****n’ hear is the bloody bass guitar.”

Fall - NZ 1982

None of my friends or I could go see them on that tour. We were only 13/14 but there was a buzz about the upcoming Fall show. Their Auckland concert of 21st August was recorded by Chris Knox on his TEAC 4-track reel-to-reel machine. The subsequent Fall In A Hole album helped make Flying Nun as an international label but almost bankrupted them after a reputed misunderstanding of release approval from Smith. Did their profile get any bigger in NZ after that tour? Its difficult to say. Possibly not, their audience size was probably a bit limited but they held a special place in many people’s hearts as innovators.

For me – I first heard them play on the late night Barry Jenkins radio show as a pre-teen circa 1980/81. Jenkins show was a popular late night programme for many young people of that era – it was bastion of alternative and experimental music – away from the hideous blandness of kiwi radio at that time. I found something curious and compelling in what the Fall were doing – alongside the strange yet beautiful new sounds of bands like the Young Marble Giants and the Lemon Kittens. It was a world away from what you heard on daytime pop radio or the dreadful talkback shows in the weekends.

I recall a Fall video of ‘Container Drivers’ was once aired on Radio With Pictures around maybe 1983. RWP was a TVNZ programme on Sunday nights that featured music videos, and I understand, actually the conceptual blueprint for MTV. Barry Jenkins was a guest on it and they played that clip of the Fall and it was great, this spikey raw energized clang. And he said “this is from a group who couldn’t care less about visual presentation, one or two lights in a room and that’s it.” He heartily approved, as I think did many others who saw that clip.

Maybe the Fall became a bit more part of the furniture as other new artists emerged in the years post Hex Enduction Hour. Fall records came out regularly over the 80’s and by the early 90’s they sounded quite slick production-wise. Personally I lost a bit of interest after Shift-Work, and Code Selfish, which I found a bit generic and dull but the things they were doing in more recent years perked my ears up i.e. that film of their Glastonbury 2015 show.

I would say the Fall probably ranked up there alongside Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart for several artists on the kiwi scene in the 80’s and 90’s. Solid Gold Hell come to mind as a mid 90’s band who probably dug the rhythmic heart of the Fall. The Fall’s influence, to my understanding was particularly in regard to firstly their attitude – out with the stultifying old/in with the new and present, the minimal DIY production of their earlier releases – which was an aesthetic strength, Smith’s opaque lyrics and delivery style, their rhythms, the scratchy inimitable guitar sounds and repetitive bass, the titles of the songs themselves, and the cover art.

Its difficult to sum up their influence as a whole in NZ, and of course this is subjective, but for a period some decades ago – to their audience who liked what they did – the Fall were Kings of the Castle, making something magical and inspired, a concoction with abstract and not so abstract critical jabs, and something probably almost guaranteed to quickly wind up those with ears not open to challenge or dissonance. And in a colonial society still widely encased with Victorian social values of conformity and obedience that was a very valuable and useful thing to be in touch with.

Ecological ethicsEcologyHistoryMusicPhilosophy

Podcast 9. Jordan Reyne – From the edge of the Tasman Sea to the plains of Poland

JR - WaterfallWelcome to podcast 9. This interview is with the New Zealand artist, writer, and musician Jordan Reyne who from 1997 to 2017 has produced a prolific body of musical  work with numerous solo releases and others in collaborations with other artists.

Her work is a unique blend of guitar, vocals, electronica, and percussion with textured and harmonised parts set against sparse or dense backdrops and propelled with mysterious and beautiful loops which invoke both the 21st century and the ancient past. It is innately powerful music with, among other thematics, an engaging metaphysical critique of human experience i.e. the impact of anthropocentrism and the alienation and ecological degradation induced by our ever degrading socio-economic system.

Our conversation covers – her early life, her experiences growing up within the wild landscapes of the distant and isolated West Coast of New Zealand, the influence of her music teachers, her journey as an artist through her education and eventual translocation to Europe, the themes of her work and geo-political and socio-ecological realities, to her recent move in walking away from music for the time being into a new creative venture in script writing for the gaming industry.

http://www.jordanreyne.com                               https://jordanreyne.bandcamp.com

JR - Bermuda (ii)

Ecological ethicsEnergyPhilosophyScience

Podcast 5. Dr Mike Joy – The ecological realities of New Zealand.

MIke Joy (WQNZ)Episode 5 of the Sentient Seas podcast series is an interview conducted with the New Zealand ecologist and author Dr Mike Joy. For some brief background New Zealand currently has some serious problems with water pollution in rivers and lakes, particularly nitrate and phosphate leaching and effluent runoff, as well as other ecological problems like biodiversity loss. Mike Joy’s work is at the forefront of understanding the depth of these problems and in understanding what new pathways could help address them. Our conversation includes discussion on: ecologists cataloguing biodiversity decline, flawed legal tools in protecting landscapes, changes in land use in agriculture, the lack of awareness of cumulative effects, problems of intensification and nitrate pollution, fossil fuel linkages/calorific deficits and the challenges to future food production, the current opportunity for diversification, the outdated precepts of non-ecological economics i.e. GDP, ecosystem services assessments, integration/worldview and cosmology, and that humans and their systemic harnessing of the natural world now actually make our species the ecology of the planet.

For further information on Mike Joy’s work go to https://waterqualitynz.info

The music on the podcast is a tune called ‘Anchorite’ by Mass Spectrometer and can be found here, https://massspectrometer.bandcamp.com/track/anchorite-3



ANZAC Day, militarism, and the critical everyday

Australian gunners at Galipolli 1915 - Austr musuem

Australian artillery at Gallipoli, May 1915. Photograph: Australian Musuem Collection (used with a Creative Commons Licence) http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/3.0/

by Michael Canning

Today, April 25th, is ANZAC day. It is a sad day in New Zealand and Australian history and I have wanted to write about it for a long time. For any readers who are unfamiliar with this acronym it means Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, which was a military grouping created during World War 1 in 1915 as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. Anzac soldiers made up 12.5% of the Allied troops involved, with most soldiers coming from Great Britain, Ireland, France and India, with smaller numbers from Nepal and Canada.

Anzac Day was originally to commemorate the members of that force that fought at Gallipoli in Turkey. Since then it has been widened to include the sacrifices and contribution of all Australians and New Zealanders who have served and died in wars and conflicts since that time.

The date of the 25th of April comes from the day in 1915 when the disastrous battle of Gallipoli or battle of Çanakkale (Turkish: Çanakkale Savaşı) began. Last year I watched some of the televised BBC coverage of the centenary of Anzac Day held at Gallipoli. I was appalled to listen to the inane running commentary of the BBC reporters who were there and in the studio,  as well as the crocodile tears of state leaders i.e. Prince Charles and the Australian and New Zealand prime ministers. For these are the people – symbolic and/or decision makers or uncritical communicators who allow the monstrous war machine to continue.

One of my relatives was a soldier at Gallipoli in 1915 and I think he would be turning in his grave to see how this tragedy for all involved has become exploited and debased over the years. My great uncle was in the British Artillery and one of the fortunate ones that survived being there but like many veterans of war found the experience so disturbing I don’t think he ever spoke about it.

NZ troops, 1914

New Zealand troops circa 1915. Photographer unknown.

When I was a child my family once visited my great uncle where he lived in the Waikato sometime in September or October of 1979. My question cum statement to him went something like “wow great uncle – you were at Gallipoli?” A little taken aback by this he first looked at his wife, then both of my parents, and then looked straight at me and through me with very serious and sad eyes and didn’t say a thing. It took me time to work out what his response meant but the message was transmitted clearly. The memory of his response lingers with me 37 years later and I find it now to be a turning point in my life as a kid who was then in a culture of war commodification i.e. replica plastic guns as toys a la German Luger pistols, and English Lee Enfield 303 rifles, war films, military model kits, toy soldiers in 1/72 and 1/35 scale, and battlefield sticker books.

Many years later I had a job that took me into numerous neighbourhoods and communities across Northeast England. I met a number of ex-serviceman through it and I will never forget an encounter I had with an ex-RAF man after I knocked on his door. He would have been in his 70’s then and when he heard my New Zealand accent I think it immediately took him back to WW2 when he had worked with some kiwi pilots.

The flashback to those terrible times seemed to be instantaneous and tears welled up in his eyes as he told me about the losses of his comrades, and the carnage and suffering of the war. Despite obviously feeling bad he was very nice to me and we discussed what we needed to talk about but he clearly needed someone to talk to in depth about that period.

I was in my late 20’s at the time and it was an unexpected and intense experience. As a male brought up in the über-macho culture of New Zealand it was almost unthinkable to have a grown adult man, especially an elder, cry in front of you. After the initial jarring effect on me of this encounter and once I had thought more about it more I felt privileged.

I felt privileged in that the elderly man had opened up like that to a young man, whom he had never met before, and had trusted part of his grieving process to him about his clearly terrible memories of WW2. The pain of them had obviously been bottled up in him for decades. It was another profound event in my life on different levels and another example of the misery and heartbreak that militarism had brought to people from elsewhere in the world.

Militarism is an abomination that has no place in human life and is something that simply needs to be ditched in the 21st Century. This is a critical time where human beings face the ecological consequences of many of our societies essentially treating the Earth like garbage for hundreds of years, often with an almost militaristic disdain for the blowback from massive alteration of ecosystems and pollution.

Indeed have a look at who some of the biggest polluters and users of fossil fuel are – the US military is one of them. If humans are to approach the urgent need to evolve to something far better whilst acknowledging this imperfect pluralistic existence then serious debates need to be held about the wisdom of allowing militarism to continue any further.

And I, for one, am sick to my guts of watching governments and their yapping media lapdogs hijack events like Anzac Day and the centenary of WW1 with their attendant spin, which is inevitably embued with the gross falsity and emptiness of nationalistic fervor. Nationalism and patriotism being particular scourges that in their modern form originated in the 18th and 19th centuries.

What we effectively witness is, as someone eruditely put it in 2015, the “funnelling of history through the prism/focus of the state or in simpler terms what the state wants the public to know (and not question).” Well, I reject this editing of history and the effective glorification of war without ever questioning the structural nature of the violence and expansionism that wars and other conflicts are about.

Wars, despite their sales pitches, are always about the ownership or control of resources and it is generally always those who have nothing to do with that ownership who suffer after being sold innumerable falsehoods and manipulation by soul-less creatures with vested interests. Needless to say I believe my late great-uncle would have detested and loathed to see the same kinds of institutions doing the same kinds of things now in 2016 that left he and his comrades in arms, and the society he came from so scarred and battered. How ironic is it that WW1, the so called ‘Great War’ that was the war to end all wars is now a footnote of almost 100 years of continual warfare somewhere on the planet.

I may turn on the tv or look up some other media at some point today to see what the 101st commemoration looks like but for the most part I am thinking it is perhaps better left alone. I would rather enjoy some silence than have to experience what idiocy and vacuous sentiments the mainstream media in the UK might provide. I have, however, been pleasantly surprised in the last few days in the build-up to Anzac Day to see some properly researched stories in the kiwi media that doesn’t pull its punches on the horrific nature of Gallopoli, the barbaric way some soldiers were treated by their own command structures, and the bigger picture around it where Anzac troops were basically pawns for continuing the imperial ambitions of Britain.

There has also been, for me, the discovery that some of the Anzac troops witnessed at first hand the horrific events of what became known as the Armenian Genocide of 1915. I first read about the latter more than 20 years ago after investigating the Armenian philosopher Gurdjieff’s book Meetings with Remarkable Men but it seems that only in the last decade or so has more become known about this hideous part of Turkey’s history.

So there we have the crux of the matter – imperialism, and all of its vile manifestations including its latent militarism, surely one of the most useless, wasteful, and destructive things ever to have developed since humans moved away from hunting and gathering after the retreat of the last ice age into settled ‘civilizations’. Imperialism is alive and well in the 21st Century make no mistake just look at what has been going on in the middle east since the beginning of the 20th century and even further back. The latest geo-politicking has long historical roots.

To conclude this essay I want to finish with this quote about war and militarism from the Dalai Lama, which brings other crucial things to the fore – in terms of conditioning, unexamined societal norms, what is legal, and why.

“Of course, war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous – an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.”