LIVE REVIEW: The Clean @ Sydney Festival (19/01/15)

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The Clean are one of those bands that possesses a mythical aura about them. Across multiple decades they’ve remained an underground act yet they’re constantly being touted as an influence on a multitude of bands as each indie rock generation emerges. Their own influences – Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Byrds, Can, 70s punk and post-punk – formed their sound and in the process posited them as worthy heirs at the junction of pop, rock and the avant garde.

5:15pm in a vaudevillian tent in the middle of a city park is a strange way to experience The Clean and it certainly took a handful of songs for a vibe and a communal rock n roll atmosphere to form. Once it did the trio of David and Hamish Kilgour and Robert Scott seemed to find their groove with some glorious and beatific moments.

It wasn’t all early hits for the 50 year olds, they dipped into their 2009 album Mister Pop for the catchy brilliance of ‘In The Dreamlife You Need A Rubber Soul’ and 1990’s Vehicle gave us ‘Drawing To A Whole’ but it was their best known songs that elicited the greatest response. The hypnotic and mesmerising psych gem ‘Point That Thing Somewhere Else, ‘Fish, ‘Anything Can Happen’ ‘Too Much Violence’, ‘Getting Older’, ‘Billy Two’ and the single encore of Tally Ho (devoid of its descending organ riff) all showed what a strong and diverse body of the work the group have produced across only a handful of albums.

There was stage banter aplenty with references to drugs, prime ministers, Palmerston North and roses. They seemed to be having fun playing together, Scott’s bass and Hamish Kilgour’s urgent drumming digging into menacing grooves beneath David Kilgour’s jangling pop strum and Crazy Horse-styled wig-outs. As tight as they often were every song either ground to a halt or unceremoniously yet fittingly collapsed in itself. A sign that they never sacrificed feel and ramshackle appeal for polish and soulless professionalism. The Clean are still The Clean. In their own words – Trapped In Amber.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights – End Times Undone

Rating8.510_700_700_519_davidkilgour_endtimes_900px-2Now nine albums deep into his solo career, David Kilgour still keeps one foot in The Clean yet that trio is sporadic and seemingly unpredictable in terms of output and activity to the extent that his body of work with band The Heavy Eights is his primary focus and creative outlet. End Times Undone beautifully captures the same mystical lazy strum and innate homespun catchiness of Kilgour’s singing that has characterised all of his work to date.

The ingredients of Kilgour’s style were formed early; that Byrdsian jangle, Velvet Underground drone, Dylan-like lyrical dance and wrestle and the motorik pulse of krautrock. All are present in varying degrees here and the combination is both hypnotic and gently energising. On opener ‘Like Rain’ Kilgour lets the blood flow with the hi-hat pushing the song along beneath lightly psychedelic, swirling guitars. Those guitars get choppier and grittier on ‘Lose Myself In Sound’ showing that he isn’t afraid to pull up the shades and let sunshine pour in, such is the song’s warm and elated glow. ‘Crow’ presents darker, sharper musical corners like Neil Young & Crazy Horse locked in a groove, criminally cut short after two and a half minutes. Surprisingly End Times Undone clocks in at under 40 minutes though each song sounds like an open-ended, free-wheelin’ piece of music. That’s the skill of Kilgour who has the ability to create such rich and immersive three minute songs out of a traditional guitars/drums/vocals setup.

There is plenty to like here on first listen but the more the songs are played the greater their rewards as they twist and turn, dive and soar with a poetic and unpretentious grace. Kilgour has never put a foot wrong and in terms of consistency of quality there are few in the same league on the New Zealand musical landscape or for that matter internationally.

Chris Familton

this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz 

 

DS Favourite Reissues of 2013

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As the trend of deluxe, remastered, expanded, repackaged and newly compiled album reissues continues we were treated to some superb releases in 2013. From classic to more underground acts there was a veritable treasure trove for music nerds. Here are some of our favourites.

theband

The Band – Live at the Academy of Music 1971

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Songs: Ohia – The Magnolia Electric Co.

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Sly & the Family Stone – Higher!

Nirvana_InUteroReIssue

Nirvana – In Utero

REM

R.E.M. – Green

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The Clash – Sandinista

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The Clean – Vehicle

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Bob Dylan – Another Self Portrait

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Elvis Presley – Elvis at Stax

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The Cult – Electric Peace

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Mad Season – Above (Deluxe Edition)

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Country Soul Sisters Volume 2: Women in Country Music 1956-79

Gremlins-LP

Roky Erickson – Gremlins Have Pictures

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Studio One Ska Fever

FEATURE: Life in a Chord | Flying Nun Records

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Flying Nun, here is a reprint of a piece I wrote about the label last year…

written by Chris Familton

A record label at the right place at the right time can be integral to a music scene, often gaining revered status further down the track as history settles into place. Sub Pop, Motown and Factory are obvious examples. At the start of the 80s very few would have predicted the impact (albeit on a lesser scale) that a label started in the lounge room of a record shop clerk, on a culturally isolated island at the bottom of the world, would have.

Born in Christchurch in 1981 to Roger Shepherd and raised in Dunedin, Flying Nun became home to a unique cross-section of bands who were influenced by both the cold dark winters and the independent music that was coming out of the northern hemisphere.

Simon Coffey, who was a radio DJ and gig promoter at the time, sums up the origins of the so called ‘Dunedin Sound’. “I think it was the combination of the UK’s Punk ethic of DIY and rejection of bloated 60s/70s rock (seen clearly with acts like The Clean, Tall Dwarfs and The Puddle), the influence of US ’60′s psychedelia, up to and including acts like the Velvet Underground which combined to embody themselves as lo-fi pop.”

The original mission of Flying Nun was to create an outlet for bands from the South Island to have their music heard and the first wave included The CleanThe ChillsThe Bats, The Verlaines and Chris Knox’s Tall Dwarfs. It is those bands that are now, more than 25 years later, being cited as influences by current acts such as Stephen Malkmus, Jay Reatard, Pete & The Pirates, Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls.

JB Townsend of US band Crystal Stilts recalls when he discovered Martin Phillipps’ The Chills. “The first time I heard Pink Frost I was astonished that there was a band out there with a song that sounded like that. The whole spacious half melancholy pop thing… It was exactly the feel I was going for in our earlier records. They took from all the right resources before them and make it sound thoroughly unique and as good as their classic predecessors.” says Townsend.

One of the key figures on the Flying Nun scene was Chris Knox. The singer of early NZ punk bands The Enemy and Toy Love, he was the driving force behind the label’s lo-fi approach to video, artwork and early recordings. Matthew Bannister of Sneaky Feelings summed up Knox well in his book Positively George St; “The most important contributor to the cult of shambling amateurism was Chris Knox, a punk puritan who mistrusts anything too polished or seductive.”

That perceived lack of aspiration worked in the label’s favour, so much so that contemporary bands like UK’s Pete & The Pirates see it as a defining part of Flying Nun’s appeal. “What makes them unique is that they never seemed to aspire to what most labels would: making money! and they didn’t seem to interfere with the artistic processes of the artists,” says singer Tom Sanders, “It seemed almost like a strong compulsion to capture the music that the label found and loved in it’s rawest and most honest form, seemingly for posterity rather than commercial gain.”

New Zealand writer Graham Reid has been writing about the Flying Nun since the mid 80s and recalls an insular scene which contributed to the lack of wider success for many of the bands. “They were so inward looking, some of them only played ten hours together before they recorded something, they didn’t tour, they didn’t play often enough to become good at their craft – they didn’t want to do that. They’d play 2 gigs in three months and want a cup of tea and a lie down,” he laughs, before adding, “It was like a little boys club that looked in on itself.”

Prior to punk music reaching New Zealand and planting the seeds for these bands, there had been little for people to latch onto and call their own. A cultural cringe outweighed pride and self promotion. Graeme Jefferies of Flying Nun bands This Kind Of Punishment and The Cakekitchen sees the label as a major cultural turning point for the country. “I think from my own generation’s point of view that it was extremely important for our cultural identity. That early Flying Nun stuff has some real milestones and was the first real indication of Kiwi underground culture outside of books and movies. It was really important then and historically it still is.”

As the label grew and the bands began to expand their sound with larger recording budgets the strain began to show. In the mid 80s the label shifted offices to Auckland to be closer to the wider music industry which was viewed by many as a betrayal. By 88, with cash-flow problems mounting, a deal was made with Australian label Mushroom Records which provided both funding and international distribution opportunities.

Though both The Chills and Straitjacket Fits inked deals with American labels Slash and Arista, the big push to promote many of the bands overseas ultimately led to burnout and disillusionment causing many of the label’s profile acts to disband. Shepherd battled on, relocating to run the London office in 95, but, by 97 he had departed the label and Mushroom had amalgamated with Festival Records, further distancing Flying Nun from its independent beginnings.

The label has been relatively dormant in the 21st century with The D4The Phoenix Foundation and The Mint Chicks the exceptions. Recent activity in 09 from prominent ex-Flying Nun bands shows the creativity of the early pioneers is still strong with new albums from Shayne Carter’s Dimmer (Degrees Of Existence), The Bats (The Guilty Office), The Clean (Mister Pop) and The Verlaines (Corporate Moronic).

The most recent and encouraging development in the Flying Nun world is the news that a Roger Shepherd-led consortium has bought back the label’s catalogue from Warners who absorbed Festival Records in 05. Neil Finn is one of the other major backers of the group and you sense that in their hands the legacy of Flying Nun as well as the cultivation of new artists will be well looked after.

Though it never sold a lot of records it seems that there is still an immense amount of pride and respect for the label that started at the bottom of the world, took flight and ended up influencing so many with its pure and enthusiastic dedication to music.

www.flyingnun.co.nz

Interview with Martin Phillipps

Interview with The Clean

Live review of The Bats

Review of Dimmer’s Degrees of Existence

This article first appeared in A Fine Line magazine


NEWS: Flying Nun announce 30th anniversary celebrations…

New Zealand’s iconic independent (for most of its time) label is turning 30 and they’ve got themselves organised with a bunch of shows to celebrate the occasion.

The Clean

Nov 23 – Dunedin, Sammys

Nov 24 – Auckland, Kings Arms

Nov 25 – Wellington, SFBH

Nov 26  –  Christchurch, The new Dux  De Lux

 

HDU

Nov 11  – Wellington, SFBH

Nov 12  – Auckland, Kings Arms

Nov 18 – Dunedin, Sammys

Nov 19 – Christchurch, The new Dux  De Lux

 

The Bats

Nov 11 – Dunedin, TBA

Nov 12  – Christchurch, The new Dux  De Lux

Nov 18 – Wellington, SFBH

Nov 19  Auckland, Kings Arms

 

Ghost Club

Nov 16 – Wellington, SFBH

Nov 17  – Auckland, Kings Arms

Nov 18 – Christchurch, Dux

Nov 19 – Dunedin – TBC

 

F in Math w/ Alphabethead 

Nov 4 – Christchurch, The new Dux De Lux

Nov 5 – Dunedin, Chicks Hotel

Nov 11 –Auckland, Golden Dawn

Nov 12 – Wellington, Mighty Mighty

 

30th Anniversary launch party featuring Grayson Gilmour, Popstrangers, Surf Friends and T54 plus more.

Nov 4 – Auckland, Kings Arms
Nov 5 – Wellington, Garden Club

LIVE REVIEW: The Clean @ Factory Theatre, Sydney (09/03/11)

written by Chris Familton

With recent tours from The Bats and The Verlaines, the prominence of 80s NZ bands has never been higher but the act many have been waiting for is of course The Clean – that seminal Velvets/krautrock/psych trio that pretty much kickstarted the NZ scene in the late 70s.

San Francisco’s Sonny & The Sunsets opened proceedings with a fun and artful romp through west coast surf and garage rock. Frontman Sonny Smith has a Jonathan Richman air about him – that kind of aloof cool that suited their jangly and propulsive pop grooves perfectly. Singer/songwriter Kelley Stoltz was also a standout, capturing the mood of their music perfectly behind the kit.

Smudge received a great response from the crowd, probably as a result of the average age of the punters meaning they were around the first time the band were playing their melodic grunge in the 90s. Smudge are always a band that balances a slacker vibe with effortless pop nous and they did just that on classic songs like Hot Potato and Outdoor Type.

The Clean have achieved mythical status in many quarters so this was always going to be an event just to see them play live. From start to finish they were simply superb, swinging between their heavier krautrock/psych songs like Point That Thing Somewhere Else and their concise pop songs like the gloriously pastoral Anything Could Happen. They showed they are still writing great songs with Factory Man and In The Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul from the recent Mister Pop album.

What made The Clean’s performance so absorbing was the way the trio worked so well both independently and as a unit – Drummer Hamish Kilgour often looked like a tranced out zen master, even playing with his hand when he lost a stick mid song. Robert Scott was rock solid with his throbbing and pulsing bass lines and David Kilgour showed what a great and underrated guitarist he is.

Their best known songs were treated with reverential applause from the audience. Getting Older was a surging tough version, Drawing To A Hole was light and uplifting and though the classic Tally Ho was cut short by a dead guitar it seemed appropriate in some perverse way. They joked they’re still a garage band but there is truth to the jibe – they still clearly retain that spark and vibe they had from the start of their career. Above all The Clean just proved just how timeless and magical their songs are.

this review first appeared in Drum Media

VIDEO: The Clean | Anything Could Happen (live in Brisbane)

So The Clean are playing around Australia at the moment and I got along to their Sydney show. It was only the 2nd time I’ve seen them play – the 1st was at the Strawberry Fields Festival in the mid 90’s just out of Hamilton, just as the sun was setting behind the stage as a pink glow and it looked and sounded fucking great. Anyway, their show at The Factory Theatre was brilliant, living up to and exceeding all expectations. A review will be in next week’s Drum Media and posted up here the following week but in the meantime here is a vid of one of my favourite Clean tracks – Anything Could Happen – from their Brisbane show.

The Imminent Arrival of The Clean…

In honour of The Clean’s first Australian tour in 20 years, here is an interview I did with David Kilgour last year plus a review of their last album Mister Pop. The good news is that currently the band are also in the studio recording some stuff for a probable EP release before they head back to their respective parts of the world.

DAVID KILGOUR INTERVIEW

The Clean have been an intermittent project for 31 years now and through all that time they have grown in stature while more prolific musicians have been consigned to the back pages of history. Somehow the influence of the Kilgour brothers and Bob Scott has seeped into the consciousness of generations of aspiring garage and indie rock bands.

Mister Pop is the latest in only a handful of albums from the band and their low key approach means guitarist David Kilgour hasn’t even seen his brother (drummer Hamish) since they recorded the record, let alone made any plans to tour in support of the release. “We don’t plan anything, its usually because we happen to be in the same town and we might give it a go. That usually sparks it or someone gets us together for a festival or something and we think we should try and write some music,” says Kilgour in a typically laid-back Kiwi manner.

“We kind of have to write new stuff or we’d go insane. We can’t just go out and play old stuff, thats always been the rule. Thats why we make records because we’ve got new stuff,” he explains.

The sound of the record is still distinctly The Clean though this time round they have delved deeper into their folk and krautrock influences. “Yeah there is that jangly krautrock thing there. We never talk about it though. I often go in with an idea of what I want the record to be like but this time I wanted it to be a jam guitar rock album and look what happened, there is no real guitar rock there at all [laughs]. We just get together and se what happens. We love krautrock, especially the older stuff from the 70s. I always felt like the VU stuff like on the album 1969 had that driving disco repetitive beat like Can, they all had that driving beat. Moe Tucker was like a great drum machine really. I think that comes through on our stuff too,” Kilgour says.

All the members of the band have their own musical projects. Hamish plays with Mad Scene in New York, Bob Scott has The Bats and David plays solo with his band The Heavy Eights. How do they determine what makes a Clean song? “90% of the time we write them together. We very rarely take finished ones in. On this album I took a few in. The three albums before this were all written on the spot and thats how we try to keep it,”says Kilgour.

”Sometimes you can listen and say that’s the Bob song or thats the David song but we do try and not sound like what we are on our own, we are aware of it. Individually we take very different views on music. Mad Scene, what Hamish does in New York is very different again.

In the early days of The Clean and the other acts on the seminal Flying Nun label there was very little ambition outside New Zealand and other than The Chills very few of the bands travelled overseas at the time. “We never thought about it. I remember when we first went to Australia after we reformed in the late 80s… and we had no idea. It was always so hard to gauge without the internet back in those days whether you could go somewhere and people would come. Going there in the late 80s and thinking ‘shit, people here really want to see us’. We sold out a few clubs in Sydney and Melbourne and we thought ‘maybe we should’ve come here back in the day’. All the Aussie acts used to come over here like Go Betweens and Paul Kelly. I never thought beyond New Zealand shores, I never dreamt we could leave the country as a rock n roll band.”

Though their aspirations were limited they were still intent on bring punk ideals to conservative New Zealand and shaking things up. “ We were on a mission. We wanted to break the doors down and do it on our own terms. It was a crusade,” Kilgour recalls.

The Laneway Festival has been looking to reel in The Clean for a few years now and Kilgour teases that that may happen one day. For now they are back in their regular lives leaving any future activity in the hands of fate and destiny. Mister Pop in the meantime will satiate the obsessive types and introduce yet another generation to the wonderful music of The Clean.

MISTER POP REVIEW

The Clean are seemingly the name-check band of the moment in the indie rock world. Everyone from Jay Reatard to Crystal Stilts to Stephen Malkmus and Pete & The Pirates have been referencing the New Zealand trio who are now into their 31st year. Their latest album, Mister Pop, is their 8th, not withstanding a couple of live albums and compilations (2003’s excellent Anthology is recommended) and it sees the Kilgour brothers andRobert Scott settling into a relaxed mode.

Those expecting the energy and abandon of early Clean songs like ‘Tally Ho’, ‘Getting Older’ and ‘Beatnik’ may find the going tough on Mister Pop. There is very much a laid back feel to the whole record – to the point of drifting, drowsiness in some cases. For those that like and appreciate music that finds its own space and comfort zone though, there is much to enjoy.

Opener ‘Loog’ is representative of what many contemporary dream-pop bands like Beach House are doing, though it retains the link to The Clean’s past with that lovely organ swirling in the distance. (Random fact: the organ on ‘Tally Ho’ was played by Martin Philipps of The Chills). Stereolab are also echoed in ‘Loog’ though it is hard to ascertain whether they were influenced by The Clean or vice versa.

‘In the Dreamlife You Need A Rubber Soul’ brings the album to life with David Kilgour’s lazy vocals chiming in like a familiar friend. The jangle and strum of the kiwi pop sound is augmented by some slide guitar and female vocals similar to those on Loog drift in the background. Are You Really On Drugs” continues the psych folk feel that many like Brian Jonestown Massacre try to master and often fail. It is a perfect example of how songs of The Clean drift by, without peaks and troughs, just a linear journey on a light and floating groove.

‘Back In The Day’ possesses a catchy chorus when Kilgour repeatedly sings “Puts me right back in the day”. It is a nostalgic look back at the past, referencing the southern cross that so many from the southern hemisphere have used to navigate with. The guitar twinkles and jangles over the ambling beat before the song shuffles to a faltering close.

Elsewhere, ‘Tensile’ sounds like a magical marrying of New Order and Kraftwerk while ‘Factory Man’ flips the coin and delivers another of the pretty pop moments that The Clean do so well.

One of the highlights of Mister Pop is ‘Moonjumper’, a nearly 6 minute instrumental, firmly in a krautrock style with some Middle Eastern accents thrown in. It feels like The Dirty Three jamming outdoors on a sunny afternoon as it rolls on with backward guitar and Hamish Kilgour’s insistent drumming generating a hypnotic mood that feels like it could go on forever. Live this track would be a glorious sound to behold and you sense that the full recorded version probably stretched for another 10 minutes before it was edited down.

The Clean have continued to do their legacy proud albeit in a very understated and gentle way. Mister Pop sees them exploring some of their less obvious influences in krautrock and folk and for the most part it works wonderfully well. If anything the failing of the album is that they haven’t added any contrasting songs to add some bite and energy. Next time perhaps a little more caffeine and less chamomile tea.