Like A Death Of The Heart
Jesus, Where Do I Start?

Grooms at Death By Audio, Brooklyn, New York

In the summer of 2012, Sarah and I ditched our computers and went backpacking across North America. Traveling by train and bus, we visited sixteen cities and witnessed a lot of live music — in DIY venues, bars, parks, festivals and large outdoor arenas. We stayed with friends we’d made through this music blog, Einstein Music Journal. It really was an amazing adventure.

For the past five years I’d written about music being made in North America based entirely off what I’d heard through my bedroom speakers. It never really occurred to me that many people were going to see these bands play live  —  that was just a dream for me. When interviewing musicians I would regularly ask what the scene was like in their home town  —  a question I no longer have to ask. I now have a new perspective on the music I am so passionate about  —  going abroad changed me. The first few months after I returned from North America I struggled to listen to music with a critical mindset and during the month I spent in New Zealand after the trip, before relocating to Australia, I didn’t attend a single live show. Only recently have I started writing about music again — now with a much clearer perspective on the music being made on the other side of the world.

My introduction to live music in the USA happened the night we arrived in Los Angeles. It was to see 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 Jack White’s band The Dead Weather and they’ve received good press ever since  —  I remember seeing them in Nylon magazine. But lack of perspective can be a strange thing. We 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 not to. Luckily we got there early  —  Lotus Plaza had just released a new album and plenty of people had turned up for the show. But that wasn’t the case with every show we attended. In Seattle we saw Xiu Xiu play at a small bar called Barbosa, touring in support of their latest album, Always. The show was in the small downstairs band room below Neumos, one of the city’s most well-known indie music venues. A hardcore punk festival roared away in the main live space upstairs. Lotus Plaza drew about 200 people; Xiu Xiu about 60. Both shows cost $10.

One thing that excited me about North America was the cost of shows. In New Zealand you would likely pay upwards of $40 to see bands like Lotus Plaza, Xiu Xiu or Screaming Females. In the USA and Canada we never had to pay more than $15. Occasionally we didn’t have to pay at all, including a show we attended in Brooklyn, New York, to see an artist I once blogged about on EMJ. After each performance 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 just mentioned. Bands and solo musicians who made us appreciate the depth of talent in a small country like New Zealand.

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 hosts the Lollapolooza festival. Die-hard fans could pay $25 to get up close, while everyone else could watch for free from a field, behind the paying crowd. Those watching for free could view the bands up close on several big screens. I’d never seen anything like this in New Zealand. We also discovered a music venue in Brooklyn, New York, which had a similar philosophy. One night we arrived at The Knitting Factory to discover a Fruit Bats show we were hoping to attend had sold out. To our surprise and good fortune the venue had a glass wall at the back of the band room, which was in a separate room directly behind the main bar. Live music from the band room was being plugged through the bar PA. It wasn’t the greatest viewing platform, but we got to unintentionally see and hear Fruit Bats for free.

Montreal Jazz Festival

In several cities we encountered music festivals that were free for the public all weekend long. We arrived 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 Dirty Projectors performed at venues in the city and Chromeo headlined the main outdoor stage late on the final night. The city was alive with music, a crowd of approximately 100,000 came out to see Chromeo. Similarly, Chicago Blues Festival occurred one weekend we were there. The three-day-long festival showcased the best African-American blues musicians from the Deep-South to the Mid-West and ended with a live performance by Mavis Staples. You could buy alcohol at both events. Despite them being in very public places, 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 planning to go back again. I’ve already mentioned the cost of shows in North America  —  Pitchfork, a three-day festival, cost just $110USD. As someone who is used to New Zealand festivals, with expensive entry fees and long lines for just about everything, I’m not usually a big festival fan. Pitchfork Music Festival had very few annoyances. I was able to enjoy every artist from wherever I felt like standing and I 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 shelter from both the rain and the forty-degree 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 large 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 approximately 30 poster artists who had their work on display and available for purchase. I spent several hours here admiring the art and making a few purchases. The festival site also included a tent where record labels from across North America had set up stalls to sell their merchandise. There was a lot more to the festival than just live music.

However, the music was what we were there to see. Pitchfork Music Festival showcases 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, alongside a selection of established bands and several acts for nostalgia. The 2012 lineup included Feist, Grimes, Ty Segall, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Vampire Weekend, Hot Chip and The Olivia Tremor Control, plus many others.

Each day it was hard to pick one highlight, but when the festival ended and people asked me to choose, one performance stood out above the rest. Willis Earl Beal was only the second act I saw at the festival, but his roaring tiger-like ferocity made him the most memorable. Swinging his cape emblazoned with the word Nobody, waving his microphone stand high above his head and swigging straight from a bottle of whiskey, Beal growled like a young Tom Waits, belying any predetermined judgment people may have made of him due to his lack of live instrumentation. Beal proved a live band was not necessary; his analogue tape-machine did the job just fine. No musician all weekend came close to achieving his intensity.

Bradford Cox’s set as Atlas Sound was more memorable for his crowd banter than his music, which was completely overshadowed by a thunderstorm that hit Union Park, eventually drowning his guitar pedals. At one point he dished out medical advice, advocating for the use of lukewarm water to rehydrate an overwhelmed fan. Grimes was a delight after the sun faded. Her stage energy rallied the crowd at the end of a long hot day and her smile and politeness in between her punchy sounding pop songs won over the bursting blue stage audience. Purity Ring’s performance on day one was the other big surprise of the festival. Playing a time slot often given to more established acts, they proved their strong billing, syncing lights to their music to add an extra sparkle to the stage.

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, Auckland’s only international indie music festival, hadn’t got it quite right. Auckland has a fantastic selection of parks  —  Grey Lynn Park and Albert Park come to mind. Perhaps bureaucracy had got in the way. I’ve been on the other side and know that noise issues play a factor in gaining consent, but for many years Wellington has had successful outdoor festivals in highly populated residential zones. Homegrown and One Love have both run with cooperation from the Wellington City Council and local residents. Grey Lynn Park has an issue with public transport, but a festival the size of Laneway hardly needs to rely on trains or buses. Pitchfork encouraged people to bike by offering a secure storage area. Pitchfork Music Festival was also in a mixed residential area, but the promoters had the last band on stage at 8.30pm to mitigate any major noise disruptions. 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 returned to New York, a place that really put the North American indie music scene into perspective for me. For many years I’d 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, these venues sounded like large band spaces with big PAs and a packed itinerary of popular NYC bands. All three venues were about 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 surprised me the most. Situated on the Lower East Side right near the top of Ludlow Street, Mercury Lounge is a small venue with a band room accommodating approximately 200 people. The venue was made famous by The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We asked several New Yorkers who had walked past the venue on Houston Street for directions, but no one seemed aware of its existence. We saw Dead Mellotron, a band from Baltimore, play at Mercury Lounge to about 40 people.

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

In Brooklyn many of the popular venues were hard to find. Death by Audio, Glasslands and Shea Stadium all had discreet entrances, with no neon sign or name printed outside. The only way we found them was by knowing the exact address and by asking people who were outside smoking. All three are amazing dive-style DIY venues in old warehouses or closed up factories, made by the people who own and run them. They all have home-made bars, old couches and graffitied 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 expensive and unreliable it would be very difficult to draw regular crowds away from the CBD. Public transport in most North American cities cost less than $2.50 per ride, with a two-hour window. If you purchased a ticket after 6pm it was valid all night.

Every night we spent at Death By Audio, Glasslands and Shea Stadium the venues were full, even when there was at 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. Despite the rain, a good crowd of 100+ people showed up at Shea Stadium for the first night of FMLY Fest. The FMLY collective was very active in promoting the DIY line-up, putting out a mixtape before the festival so that people could get to know the lineup. At Glasslands we saw Dent May headline a show with The Babies and Levek  —  a show that was overflowing out on to the street. Iceage were playing next-door at 285 Kent.

The Babies at Glasslands, Brooklyn, New York

Glasslands with its unique upstairs mezzanine

If you take population density out the equation and focus on demographics, bands in North America and New Zealand attract similar audiences. Proportionately, the music scene most comparable to Auckland’s is in Minneapolis  —  where the number of visiting out-of-town bands is largely influenced by the city’s geographical isolation. As a result, the underground music scene in Minneapolis is thriving and people are talking about the city’s unique hip-hop sound.

Witnessing the diversity and the different ways people express themselves in North America has given me a new perspective on the culture in my own hometown. If you ever get the opportunity to visit another country, I’d recommend exploring the underground music scene and seeing what it has to offer. There’s nothing quite like experiencing something with your own eyes and feeling liberated by discovering art being made in the most unusual places.

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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… Without His Punx

Hunx And His Punx first entered my life via Vice Magazine’s New Garage Explosion, which went live in 2011. The documentary features a wave of new garage rock bands sweeping across America, including Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees and Girls and details cities such as Memphis, Detroit and San Francisco. It also features one of the last interviews ever conducted with Jay Reatard, before his untimely death in January 2010. The documentary still blows my mind every time I watch it.

Back to Hunx – and Seth Bogart has just released (out February 28) his first so-called solo album, without any input from his regular punx, Shannon Shaw and Erin Emslie (although I’m sure they helped in some way). The album is titled Hairdresser Blues and it’s first single ‘Always Forever’ is a sexy homage to sixties jingle-pop and the grimy sounds of classic new-wave bands like Richard Hell and the Voidoids and Blondie. Bogart achieves the perfect verse/chorus balance, changing his vocal style from singing to spoken word and transforming the song into a west-coast anthem, with his rich American accent providing the song with a picturesque bohemian backdrop. Bogart describes the album as his darkest work, with songs about a break-up, the lose of a dear friend and morning for his dead father. Many of the songs he doesn’t even remember writing, just of finding them days later as a demo recorded on his computer. It’s that kind of lost feeling that makes Hairdresser Blues stand out from his previous work. Here he’s thinking about things a bit more, writing in a very disconnected, down-and -out punk way, akin to the attitudes of great punk records like Richard Hell’s Destiny Street and The Clash’s debut self-titled record. One particularly sad track is Bogart’s tribute to his good friend Jay Reatard, ‘Say Goodbye Before You Leave’. Describing the track, Bogart writes, “Sometimes I cry just when I listen to this song. I became really close with Jay Reatard the year before he died. He would call me at all hours of the night and we would talk about the craziest stuff. He took me on tour I think partly because he wanted my flamboyant punk band to freak out his hetero dominated audience. We had a lot of fun together even though he was obviously in a dark phase. I miss him dearly.” With all the flamboyance that often surrounds Hunx And His Punx missing from this record, it opens a new chapter that exposes Seth Bogart. It’s a pretty brave record to release when so many of the subjects are very personal, but it’s a record that wins respect for revealing that personality.

Learn more and purchase Hairdresser Blues via Hardly Art.

Become a fan of Hunx And His Punx on Facebook

Posted by Nick Fulton under California, San Francisco, U.S.A
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