I’m not from here. Most of the people from where I’m from migrate north to the oily plains of Melbourne. It’s a rite of passage and sign of artistic commitment, or the need for restaurants open after 10pm, departure lounges teeming with tortured fortune seekers, or the guarantee of living in a more diverse pool of genetic mush. I thought it was a Hobart thing. But no. It’s a South Pacific thing. But the consequences of returning appear less humiliating than that of my former home. For there no one retreats for fear of ridicule. To be defeated by this city is a fate worse than death. So when we decided to leave Hobart we went there, to Melbourne, but only to say farewell to our ex-pat Tasmanian friends, and with a one way ticket we boarded a south-bound plane.
The Sky Is On Fire and it’s the summer of 2013. Dunedin airport. Back when you could fly direct from Melbourne. A landing before state sponsored murals. I’ve made two important discoveries. One is that the framed posters inside the Crown Hotel are not depicting famous sportspersons, the other is an album titled Here is Where You Are by Strange Harvest. The latter is such a weird salad. Abstract monologues brushing against ferociously understated vocal hooks, set to a backdrop of an elevator-delic pot luck spread, and all set in an ornately decorated but slightly singed miniature cardboard theatre. It’s so full of melodious joy and phobic nausea, like having your index finger slammed in a door on a frosty morning then having it kissed better by two thousand fawning ducks. Then all over again. And again. For ten tracks. It’s the ultimate cusp of the apocalypse low-fi masterpiece. Strange Harvest have had two subsequent releases, Inside a Replica City in 2013 and then two years later the brilliant Pattern Recognition, which, alarmingly, isn’t being celebrated daily in a jubilant chorus from St Paul’s belfry.
But there is no recognition. Honestly, I wouldn’t have come here if it weren’t for this city’s musical legacy. Music and mountains. That what this place is about. Right? Maybe that’s why I was so surprised that Alastair Galbraith or Francisca Griffin were not seated, set in bronze and looking down on a hoard of bored drunk locals from the upper Octagon. Instead it is Thomas Burns’ uncle. Immortalised post mortem. Identical to those in Dundee, London and New York City. They cast the dead man’s skull to get it just right. That’s how much they cared. If you need a historical locus, the Settlers Museum cultural memory bank vaults hold Dunedin’s musical exploits on par with a multinational kitchen hardware manufacturer.
Last Wednesday, and after weeks of abstinence, I found myself at a local record shop. My illegally duplicated copy of Alice Coltrane’s Journey into Satchidananda had finally worn out. Too much abuse. Relics have had a copy for ages; surely it would still be there. A quick transaction, then home. But somebody with exceptional taste had bought it. After firm reassurance that it will be back in stock soon, I settled on Antiseptic, the latest album by The Terminals. Technically a local release. And it was no consolation prize. It’s really good. Quite possibly their best. So, I’m in this record store buying said album. The shopkeeper alerts me to a recent arrival. A local band. And this is a coincidence. You see, I was in the process of weaving a review of this album, mainly due to this band’s specific requested that I not review it. Why? Fear of crucifixion? No. Because they’re my friends? Maybe. Maybe both. Probably so. The preferred interview never took place and never will. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they’re leaving Dunedin. By the time you read this they will be gone. And they’re not the only ones.
It’s a bit wobbly, like an unconfident rehearsal of a play during its first recital, or children raised by wolves shyly mouthing the words to happy birthday in the mirror. This is Dunedin’s own OV Pain and they’ve just released their debut album on the Coco Muse label. Expectations were very high, as both OV Pain’s members have duties in other local bands, namely the enduring but underachieving Opposite Sex and the pre sophomoric electro-bellow of Elan Vital. Drums, Synth, low voice, high voice. Minimal and erratic. There are moments of brilliance here, like the 3:47 plunge in ‘Lovers Leap’, ‘Ice’ with its barely cringe proof vocals, you know, that self-effacing aggression, that which transforms this song into an apt advertising jingle for a subversive soft drink, but it’s fun, light, dynamic and energetic. And I’m thirsty. For more. As a suite it’s monochromatic, not boring, but limited in scope. Predictable? A little. As if they've been sonically extricated from their other projects. Still a little stuck in the past. After all, this is a rendering of an infant OV Pain, a translucent green sprig of what may come, and it will happen on the next album, if it comes, but won’t be happening here. Like Strange Harvest’s next album, it will be happening elsewhere. Offshore. Melbourne.
This mini exodus of wildly talented local artists will create what appears to be an insurmountable void in the local music community. For now at least. And I feel it and it’s only in the process of happening.
I’ll miss my friends.