Always Read The Label

Always Read The Label

Yes, New Zealand has some pretty amazing music, but we have some pretty amazing music labels floating around as well — some in plain sight, some a little better hidden. Most geographically relevant to our cold little enclave of Dunedin would be the revered Flying Nun Records, the original home of The Chills, The Clean, 3D’s, Chris Knox, Dead C and The Verlaines. As you may be aware, all of these bands are older, experienced bands and musicians who are not all making music (at least in those particular outfits) anymore, but they shaped our little country’s music industry into something different and respectable. To appropriate the old sporting cliché that I’m sure is going to get brought out for the Olympics, they helped NZ punch above its weight.

So what record label is our generation’s best chance at seminal bands? Where is our Flying Nun? Well, I have a few ideas.

I’m going to make a very obvious and overused comparison that is sure to piss off a lovely young Auckland man, but I’m sure he’ll forgive me. Muzai Records have been referred to as “the new Flying Nun”. Benji Jackson, one of the big boss men at the independent label, shies away from the comparison, but he does acknowledge the similarities — a flood of disparate, noisy and not-so-noisy releases with a penchant for DIY recording and attitude characterise both labels. Muzai has released a bevy of great recordings from A Distant City, Dunedin’s favourite band Idiot Prayer, and juggernaut Auckland band God Bows To Math. This is the label for you to check out if you’re into raw emotional power and don’t mind the odd scratchy recording. I would be remiss not to mention Muzai’s new powerhouse Ipswich, who are currently in the throes of promotion releases and a tour, including a massive Dunedin show, for their debut album Baby Factory. If the album follows the blueprint of their live shows it will be a mixture of angst, anger, witty song names, and genuinely nice young guys with lots of ambition.

Not in the mood for a sonic assault on your ears? Maybe you want to try the lighter side of excellent song writing and releases. I would recommend a serving of Lil’ Chief Records with maybe a dash of Papaiti Records on the side. Lil’ Chief Records produce indie pop releases that really get my giggle juices flowing. Consistently musically interesting and lyrically intelligent, Lil’ Chief will continue to release fantastic music. While “B Your Boy” by Voom takes the cake over every single Little Pictures song as my favourite, it is Lil’ Chief’s recent releases that have been making huge splashes here and overseas. Notables include every cheeky lyric lover’s favourite new band The Eversons and their unbelievably witty debut album Summer Feeling, along with heavy hitters Princess Chelsea and Pikachunes. At the time of writing Princess Chelsea’s “Cigarette Duet” has had 4,247,166 views, which is a ridiculous and completely deserved number. While most of the Lil’ Chief material is available to stream somewhere, if you like owning excellent music for free check out Papaiti Records, a collection of releases and bootlegs available all for free download. The home of the fantastically renowned ginger Wellington musician Lontalius, it has a bunch of super cool rare bootlegs and musical gems that will appeal to your pop sensibilities.

One of the bigger and more exciting labels of the moment is Arch Hill Records, an established, smartly run label with an extremely good ear for bands and an enviable artist roster. Street Chant, Beach Pigs, Family Cactus, The Transistors, The Bats, Ghost Wave, and others make up a smorgasbord of some of my and many New Zealanders’ favourite bands, with Street Chant drawing almost universal praise for its efforts on the recording and live front. Arch Hill has a varied but polished, energetic, and often frenetic sound, and has been collecting bands known for their excellence on stage as much as the actual strength of their song writing. Examples include perennial gig destroyers The Transistors and Beach Pigs, who recently took a leaf out of Dunedin’s very own Alizarin Lizards tour book and completed a hectic national tour of their own around the small and large towns of New Zealand.

We don’t just have strength in bands here, we have strength in industry as well. Independent dudes making independent music for the independent soul. Whether you’re salty, malty or just into whatever, these palaces of sonic creation have something for you.
This article first appeared in Issue 19, 2012.
Posted 4:49pm Sunday 5th August 2012 by Isaac McFarlane.