Show and Tell

As an unabashed fan of The Map Room’s perfectly-formed pop songs and sister of its singer, guitarist and songwriter Simon Gooding, I approach every one of their releases with heart-palpitating, blubbering excitement.

When their debut single ‘Pilot’ dropped in March and their self-titled album was released in June, followed by appearances on major TV and radio shows, newspapers and blogs, I teared up with pride. I virtually tugged on the sleeves of everyone I knew on Facebook and Twitter. “Look at my brother! Isn’t he good?”

But isn’t it always like that with something you love? You tell the world!

Fandom has been a driving force in all of my creative pursuits; being physically related to the artist you’re writing about just makes it more special! Sheer enthusiasm, inspiration, and a desire to feel connected to the things and people I admire have always been my reasons for writing on EMJ.

And with that, I coax this blog out of its slumber, to share this shiny game of Chinese Whispers.

With some of its members being involved in recreational film production (via Lense Flare’s 48-Hour Film Festival entries), The Map Room was able to utilise talented friends to turn out a super-professional, visually-stunning first video.

Beneath its glossy surface is underlying drama, playing out with that eerie removed feeling that accompanies party scenes with muted ambient noise. Girls glide through rooms in slow-motion, sharing secrets while scenes shift from showering confetti to a deck of cards tossed in the air.

The song’s reflective qualities are illustrated with a warm, glowing light, and are done so in a way that only someone truly close to the band can.

The Map Room Tour

Listen to The Map Room’s album on Bandcamp

The Map Room on iTunes

The Map Room Website

The Map Room on Facebook

Posted by Sarah Gooding under Auckland, New Zealand, Wellington
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Like A Death Of The Heart
Jesus, Where Do I Start?

Grooms at Death By Audio, Brooklyn, New York

This past winter Sarah and I ditched our computers and went backpacking across North America. We visited sixteen cities, doing a mix of tourist and offbeat cultural activities – we saw loads of live music, in DIY venues, bars, parks, festivals and large outdoor arenas and stayed with and met friends we’ve made through this blog. It really was an amazing adventure.

For the past five years I’ve written about bands from North America, purely based on what I’ve heard recorded. It never really crossed my mind how many people may be going to see these bands play live. When interviewing bands I would regularly ask what the scene is like in their home town – a question I no longer have to ask. I now have perspective on all of this and it feels rather strange. For the past month I have struggled to listen to music with a critical mindset and during the month I spent in New Zealand after the trip I didn’t attend a single live show. Only in the past few days have I started writing about music again and comparing all the amazing aspects of the music industry I witnessed in North America with the music industry in New Zealand.

My first introduction to live music in the USA came the night I arrived in Los Angeles and was a band who in my mind had a rather decent following. I remember asking my friend in LA if the show would sell out. In 2009 Screaming Females toured with The Dead Weather and they’ve received good press ever since – I remember seeing them in Nylon magazine. But perspective can be a weird thing. I saw Screaming Females play to a crowd of about 70 people in a performing arts centre that didn’t even have a permanent PA. I’m sure Screaming Females could draw a crowd twice that size in Auckland, Wellington or Melbourne.

Best Coast at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle

The first licensed music venue we went to was in San Francisco, a place called The Rickshaw Stop. Again we were debating whether to buy pre-sale tickets, but decided against it. Luckily we got there early, Lotus Plaza had just released their latest album and plenty of people had noticed. But that wasn’t the case with every show. We saw Xiu Xiu in Seattle touring their latest album Always. The show was in the smaller downstairs band room of one of the city’s most well-known indie venues, while a hardcore punk festival roared away upstairs. Lotus Plaza drew about 200 people; Xiu Xiu about 60. Both shows cost $10.

One thing that excited us both about North America was the price of shows. In New Zealand it would cost upwards of $40 to see bands like Lotus Plaza, Best Coast or Jolie Holland. In the USA and Canada we never paid more than $15 for a show. You often didn’t pay to go and see bands without any press or buzz to back them up. One show we attended in Brooklyn, to see an artist who I blogged about on EMJ a year or so ago, was free. After each act the venue passed around a bucket and the artist received whatever the audience donated. The artist we went to see got about $3.

We saw a lot of bad bands too, in venues much like the one mentioned. Bands and solo musicians who made us realise the depth of talent in New Zealand is pretty good.

Some of the best music we witnessed was free. We saw Death Cab For Cutie and Calexico play in Chicago, at the same downtown amphitheatre that recently hosted the Lollapolooza festival. Die-hard fans could pay $25 to get up close , while everyone else could watch for free from behind the paying crowd. Those watching for free were even given a big screen to view the action up close. I’ve never seen anything like this in New Zealand. We also discovered a music venue in Brooklyn, New York had a similar philosophy. One night we arrived at The Knitting Factory to discover the Fruit Bats gig we were hoping to attend had sold out, but to our surprise and good fortune the venue had a glass wall behind the bar,which was in a separate room that pointed directly at the stage. Live music from the band room was being plugged through the bar PA. It wasn’t the greatest viewing platform, but we got to see and hear Fruit Bats for free.

Montreal Jazz Festival

In several cities we encountered music festivals that were free to the public all weekend long. In Montreal we arrived in town the same day the Montreal Jazz Festival started and in the city’s downtown area music of all types decorated the air. It was a truly eclectic festival, Norah Jones and the Dirty Projectors played at venues in the city and Chromeo headlined the main outdoor stage late on the final night. The city really was alive with music, a crowd of approximately 100,000 came out to see Chromeo. Similarly Chicago Blues Festival happened the same weekend we were there. The three-day-long festival showcased the best African-American blues musicians from across the country and ended with a live performance from Mavis Staples. At both events you could buy alcohol, despite them being in very public places, and we saw no signs of intoxication or violence.

Willis Earl Beal on the Blue Stage at Pitchfork Music Festival, Chicago

But without a doubt the most exciting festival we attended was the Pitchfork Music Festival. We made a special trip back to Chicago for it. The festival really was an incredible experience, we’re already planning to go back next year. I’ve talked already about the cost of shows in North America, well this three-day festival cost just $110. As someone who is used to New Zealand festivals, with long lines for just about everything, boozed-out jocks pushing through the crowd and girls seemingly more interested in taking duck-face iPhone photos, I’m not really a festival fan. Pitchfork Music Festival had none of these annoyances. I was able to enjoy every artist from wherever I felt like standing and was easily able to move from stage to stage without missing large chunks of the festival.

The venue was perfectly chosen and laid out. It was just metres away from several forms of public transport – we got there by train every day – and there were plenty of trees to provide shade from both the rain and the searing Chicago heat. Two stages were at right-angles to each other, which meant clashing crowds weren’t competing for front row space, while a third stage was in the far corner of the venue surrounded by trees. Skirting the perimeter of the venue was a long line of food and drink carts, many offering vegetarian food and alcohol. The event, unlike New Zealand’s only alternative music festival, Laneway, was all-ages. The most unique part of the festival was the inclusion of Flatstock, a roadshow of around 30 poster artists who had their work on display and available for purchase. Sarah and I spent several hours here admiring the art and deciding what to purchase. The festival site also included a tent where indie record labels from across the USA had stalls to sell their merchandise. There was a lot more to the festival than live music.

The music was, however, what we were there to see. Pitchfork Music Festival is mostly about showcasing bands ready to make the step up from indoor venues like The Echo in LA, Neumos in Seattle and The Music Hall of Williamsburg in New York City to the larger outdoor stage, along with a selection of more established bands who have released albums in the previous 12 months and a couple of acts for nostalgia. This year’s more well-known acts included Feist, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Vampire Weekend, Hot Chip and The Olivia Tremor Control. On each day it was hard to pick one highlight, but when the festival ended and people asked me to choose I could remember one performance above the rest. Willis Earl Beal was just the second act I saw at the festival, but his roaring tiger-like ferocity on stage made him the most memorable. Swinging his cape, waving his mic stand high above his head and swigging straight from a bottle of whiskey, Beal growled like Tom Waits, belying any predetermined judgement people had made of him due to his lack of live instrumentation. Beal proved he needed no live band to back him up, his analogue tape-machine and voice did the job just fine. No other act all weekend came close to achieving Beal’s intensity, others charmed rather than punched their way into my memory. Bradford Cox’s set as Atlas Sound was more memorable for his banter than his music, which was completely overshadowed by a powerful thunderstorm that hit Union Park and eventually killed his guitar pedals. At one point he dished out medical advice, advocating the use of lukewarm water to rehydrate. Grimes was a delight after the sun faded, her stage energy rallied the crowd at the end of a hot day and her smile and politeness in between her punchy sounding pop hits won over the bursting blue stage audience. Purity Ring‘s performance on day one was the other big surprise of the festival. During a timeslot often given to more established acts they proved their strong billing, syncing lights to their music to add an extra sparkle to the night sky.

The main field at Pitchfork Music Festival, with Sleigh Bells performing on the Green Stage.

I came away from Pitchfork Music Festival wondering why Laneway, now Auckland’s only international indie music festival, hasn’t got it right. Auckland has a fantastic selection of parks, Grey Lynn Park and Albert Park come to mind. Is bureaucracy getting in the way? I’ve been on the other side and I know that noise issues play a factor, but for years Wellington has had successful outdoor festivals close to the CBD and residential areas. Homegrown and One Love have both run with cooperation from the Wellington City Council. Grey Lynn Park obviously has an issue with public transport, but a festival the size of Laneway hardly needs to rely much on trains or buses. Pitchfork encouraged people to bike by offering a secure storage area for bikes, and many people utilised it. PMF was also in a mixed residential area, but the promoters had the last band on at 8.30pm to avoid any major noise issues. The festival also gave license to many of the bands to play after parties, meaning the crowd dispersed rather quickly to other parts of the city.

After Pitchfork Music Festival we retured to New York, a place where putting the North American indie music scene into perspective became even more interesting. For many years I’ve read blogs like Brooklyn Vegan and Oh My Rockness and dreamed of going to gigs at Mercury Lounge, The Knitting Factory and The Cake Shop. To someone half a world away, those venues sounded like large auditoriums, with big PAs and a constant roll of popular NYC bands. These three venues were all the size of Auckland’s Whammy Bar. I’ve already spoken about The Knitting Factory – it became our  favourite hangout – but Mercury Lounge was the venue that really surprised me. Situated on the Lower East Side right near the top of Ludlow Street, Mercury Lounge is a tiny venue with a band room that accommodates no more than 200 people. We asked several strangers on the street who walk right past the venue every day for directions and no one knew of its existence. Lotus Plaza played one show there when we were in NYC and The Corin Tucker Band is playing there later this month. We saw Dead Mellotron, a band from Baltimore, play Mercury Lounge to about 40 people.

Truman Peyote at Shea Stadium during FMLY Fest, Brooklyn, New York

In Brooklyn many of the popular venues are hard to find. Death by Audio, Glasslands and Shea Stadium are all plain doors to the street with no name or neon sign.  The easiest way to find these venues is to know the exact address and, when you think you’re close, to look for people outside smoking. All three are amazing dive-style venues in old warehouses or closed up factories, self-made by the people who own them. They all had home-made bars, old couches and graffiti-painted walls. Death by Audio and Shea Stadium are all-ages. I remember being so impressed that these places existed, and I remember thinking that there’s nowhere in Auckland where these places could exist. Old warehouses near Auckland city are scarce – you’d have to go out to the western suburbs to find a suitable space – but with public transport being so bad and expensive it would be very difficult to draw a crowd. Public transport in most cities throughout the USA cost less than $2.50 per ride and if you purchased a ticket after 6pm it was valid all night.

Every night we spent at DBA, Glasslands and Shea Stadium the venues were full, even though there was a least three good shows on elsewhere in the city. We saw Grooms play at DBA on a bill organised by a band called The Numerators, who didn’t have a huge profile. Despite the rain, a good crowd of 100+ showed up at Shea Stadium for night one of FMLY Fest. The FMLY collective in New York City was really active in promoting the DIY line-up, putting out a mixtape before the festival so that people could hear the artists they’d be seeing live. At Glasslands we saw Dent May headline a show with The Babies and Levek – a show that was overflowing on to the street.

The Babies at Glasslands, Brooklyn, New York

Glasslands with its unique upstairs mezzanine

One basic observation, if you take population density out the equation, is that bands in North America and New Zealand draw similar crowds; mostly their friends and people who have heard about them through friends. In Minneapolis the music scene seemed most comparable to New Zealand – insular and isolated, where the number of visiting out-of-town bands was limited by geography. There the underground scene was thriving and people were talking about the unique hip-hop sound developing throughout the city. Cities along the east and west coasts had the added benefit of touring bands passing through regularly, offering fans more variety.

The one thing I this hope this article does is paint a picture of North American indie music culture, that hopefully makes you as excited as Sarah and I were to explore it for yourself. Please share any questions or criticisms you may have in the comments section below.

Posted by Nick Fulton under Canada, U.S.A
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Jellybean Explosion

I first met Headaches’ Jeff Bell at DOC, a tiny bar in Auckland. He bounded up to me and asked if I could play bass. I told him I could. I soon realised he was going around asking pretty much every person in the bar the same question, but his excitement and energy for finding the final member of his band was fun to witness. Little did I know his band was perfectly formed already, and (to my mind) didn’t need a bass player at all.

Headaches are one of those two-pieces that don’t need any “fleshing out”. Like the White Stripes, the Black Keys (of old) and so many others, their restrictions are what makes them so great. By relying solely on catchy songwriting, solid drums and a couple of good pedals, Headaches make the kind of shimmering, glitzy pscyhedelic rock and roll that’s perfect in its simplicity. Singer/guitarist Jeff (from Las Vegas) and drummer Kerry Forde’s (Freudoids, Malenky Robot) time-warped garage punk sits perfectly alongside bands like Thee Oh Sees, who they supported in Auckland. Of their many great demos on Bandcamp recorded by Alex Bennett, ‘Bear Bait’ is a standout, with its jagged and jarring guitar chords, spacey echoes and Kerry’s primal drumming providing a lurching rhythm. Jeff is known to do a great cackling laugh-type-thing with his voice that adds a kind of scary, foreboding vibe.

Having played Two-Piece Fest in Wellington in February alongside DZ Deathrays, The Shocking And Stunning and Seth Frightening, Headaches are now preparing for the release of a vinyl compilation with Raw Nerves, High Society, Death Valley and Proton Beast. They’re also playing a special gig at Whammy/Wine Cellar next month. In the meantime, download some of their awesome free jams on Bandcamp and read this interview with them.

Headaches on Bandcamp

Headaches on Facebook

Posted by Sarah Gooding under Auckland, New Zealand
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Capital FMLY//FMLY Vibes

Here’s a wee preview of a festival we’ll be hitting up when we’re in New York this June. It’s the latest compilation put together by the good folks behind FMLY Fest – featuring new songs from Truman Peyote, Alaskas and Winks, plus a number of dope jams from a bunch of sweet artists we’re yet to become acquainted with. We’re particularly feeling the dark vibe of Yohuna’s track, ‘It’s All Yours’, Alpha MC’s casio-hop number ‘By Any Means’ and Bayatas’ tropical-pop jam ‘The Hand Effect’. There’s also something special from our FMLY brother Cameron Rath – check out final track ‘Silence is Violence’. Everything here is awesome so you should download the whole thing. Pay what you want for 20 eclectic hits.

FMLY Fest : June 22/23//2012 Brooklyn, New York

FMLY Fest blog

Posted by Nick Fulton under Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A
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Crystal Magic

When I last wrote about Dead Mellotron Josh Frazier was going it alone, making a hazy lo-fi racket from his home in Louisiana. He’s now based in Baltimore and has teamed up with three more musicians, known only to us as CC, Aimee and Russell – together producing Dead Mellotron’s third album, Glitter. The album’s first single ‘Stranger’ dropped recently and it’s equally as epic and hazy as his previous two records, but has more depth and polish. At 2 minutes 55 seconds it’s just a short slice, but it’s got all the intensity and integrity of a much grander project that will be revealed on May 7 by the fantastic team at Sonic Cathedral. It’s twisted harmonies and layered guitars make it a bustling number, like a tapestry of shoegaze’s greatest hits.

The video that accompanies the song gives off a blissful ’90s nostalgia. Check it out below and be sure to grab your copy of Glitter when it drops on May 7.

Posted by Nick Fulton under Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A
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Eye of the beholder

One of the highlights from Camp A Low Hum, The All Seeing Hand are now embarking on a nationwide tour, playing 12 shows over four weeks around New Zealand. The Wellington trio combine staggering thrash drums at breakneck speed with indiscernible avant-garde vocals and extreme samples. The high-energy noise they create is like a religious experience, engulfing you in their creationism until you’re basically preaching at their altar. When we saw them play a little low-ceilinged hall in the bush outside of Wellington, they arranged themselves in a circle on the floor, with candles lining the beams above them. People were getting into it in an epic way. It was a sight to behold.

The merging of each member’s musical backgrounds makes for an incredibly unique experience. Drummer Ben Knight’s hardcore punk roots (Teen Hygiene, Rogernomix) come out in his relentless and manic yet incredibly controlled and restrained drum smashing. Meanwhile, former national turntable champion Alphabethead fuses insane otherworldly influences and Noel St Cosmos contributes creepy, guttural but utterly suiting vocals to the mix. They have to be seen to be believed!

More tour information on Facebook

The All Seeing Hand on Facebook

Listen to The All Seeing Hand on Bandcamp

Posted by Sarah Gooding under New Zealand, Wellington
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A Dead Forest Index

Friday, 30 March, 2012
San Francisco Bathhouse, Wellington

Photos by Richard Sando

View more photos of A Dead Forest Index live in Wellington

Posted by Nick Fulton under Live photos
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Rocket to the deep

Since Cool Rainbows’ debut single came out in December I’d been looking forward to hearing their full-length album. Now Whale Rocket is finally out and making a fine impression. With various veins of psychedelic pop and pretty layers of reverb-soaked guitars pushed along by jumpy drums, it’s a cohesive release that brings together central member Djeisan Suskov’s wistful voice that belies his years, with the influences of other musicians that have since come to be an integral part of the band.

Though primarily a solo affair, Cool Rainbows sounds a lot more fleshed-out on Whale Rocket, and with the pristine engineering Djeisan is known for – having grown up hanging around Revolver Studios (which his dad started) – it’s a winning combination. With a lush, shimmering quality that was first explored on ‘Southern Summer Sun’ (the initial single, now the first track of the album), Whale Rocket shows the full extent of Cool Rainbows’ depth. Standouts include ‘Forty Two’, featuring female vocals duelling with Djeisan’s voice plus a sweet, complicated drum beat, and the gentle, chugging guitar lullaby of ‘Tidal Wave’.

See Cool Rainbows play at Auckland’s Casette #9 on April 20.

Stream Whale Rocket on Bandcamp

Buy Whale Rocket on blue vinyl with a free digital download at Lil’ Chief’s store

Cool Rainbows on Facebook

Posted by Sarah Gooding under Auckland, New Zealand
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Vegetarians Don’t Eat Fish

Some of you may remember an ex-Invercargill band named V!xens, led by Joel Wood. The band produced one excellent electro-pop 7″ before disappearing to Australia. Now fully established in Byron Bay, Joel has started a new band called Swamprattts, with Luke Yeaman and Brett Jansh, who both bring their own reputable musical talents to the band. They began performing together in late 2010 and have just posted 3 short “sketches” to their bandcamp. Joel says that, “over time the sketches begin to resemble more of a photograph”, capturing their early development as a band attempting to write more progressive pop songs. Of the three releases, Leucrotta is the most interesting and is structured like a traditional EP. It shows the band doodling with different guitar riffs and synth lines, tangling together unusual noises and muddy bass. Largely instrumental, the music is dark and dancey and is packed full of swampy surf rhythms. It’s early days for Swamprattts, but Joel says that Byron Bay has a emerging scene, naming Wilde Child and M Jack Bee as people of interest.

Posted by Nick Fulton under Australia, Byron Bay, New Zealand
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Fix It With Funk

From the comfy confines of bedroom pop, once simple-indie-ode purveyors Miniature Tigers have graduated to slick, funky pop the likes Phoenix might proffer, on their latest album Mia Pharaoh. We first wrote about them in 2009 – almost three years ago – when they were mainly a two-piece drumming up hype for their Wes Anderson-like all-American pop. Since then they’ve morphed into a modern amalgamation of catchy indie pop merged with the occasional hip hop-style beat, retro-electro synths and funky bass with twinkling optimism thrown in for good measure.

No longer stepping on Ben Kweller or Adam Green’s territory, this groovy new sound suits the band perfectly. It’s a massive step up from their shuffling, slightly shoe-gazing pop that originally stole my heart with its innocence. On Mia Pharaoh the band sounds like they’ve been around the block and had a few gritty experiences. Totally simple but exemplary basslines groove and glide over light-as-air vocals on the suggestive ‘Female Doctor’, and on other songs they even seem to segue into Scissor Sisters’ oddly high-pitched upbeat kitsch (‘Sex on the Regular’), but in my mind do it infinitely better with unbelievably catchy synths and slightly sick vocals. Consequence of Sound said, “Frontman Charlie Brand studied the likes of The Dream, Kanye and Katy Perry and this change in inspiration is most apparent here.”

Mia Pharaoh still utilises the band’s trademark fantastic vocal harmonies and sophisticated melodies (proof is in the amazing ‘Boomerang’), but with added funk. It’s not over the top or cringe-worthy – somehow they’ve tapped into the trend of retro-gazing while adding a modern element. The best thing about them is their catchiness and the mystery of how they pull it all off so seamlessly with totally amazing, celebratory vibes.

Mia Pharaoh came out last week via Modern Art, a label that was set up specifically to release them! Go to the band’s website for a free download of ‘Female Doctor (Algemix)’. Miniature Tigers are on tour now in the US – go to their shows if you’re lucky enough to be there!

Miniature Tigers’ website

Miniature Tigers’ Facebook

 Buy the album via iTunes or Amazon

Posted by Sarah Gooding under Arizona, U.S.A
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