Simon Ogston is an Auckland-based producer, director and camera-operator. Among other things, Simon has made a number of feature-length films about New Zealand bands. These include Rumble & Bang, Gone With The Weird and Antarctic Angels and the Unknown Blues. Simon’s latest film Sheen of Gold tells the story of Skeptics, and screens as part of this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival. Here are five albums he’s loving right now…
1 – $norgazzzm, Junglewave: Lisandru Grigorut started out as the singer for Dunedin high-school group TFF. TFF were great, it’s a shame they didn’t stick around longer. Lisandru is all grown up now and goes by the name $norgazzzm. His 2012 EP Junglewave is an unlikely combination of Gameboy soundtracks, Calypso steel drums, hippie ideals and social alienation. Junglewave must have cost about $5 to make, but it sounds a million dollars thanks to Grigorut’s natural ability to craft pop-hooks. It’s free to listen to in its entirety on Bandcamp, or check out the no-budget video for Try Seperate the Smile. No doubt in a few years Lisandru will be doing something completely different, and I’m sure it’ll be just as interesting and fun.
“I did not intend this EP to be a genius/flawless work of engineering put over a video of half naked people grinding on each other or part of the next trend in club banger mixes played to some drunken jocks by some dude at a shitty club getting paid $800 bucks an hour. I don’t care if my bass sucks. I don’t care if I can’t sing. I don’t care if I can’t compress a kick right. If you’re listening to this EP and thinking those things or anything else like that, you’re just listening to the wrong thing. Go back to Pitchfork or whatever people go on nowadays, and keep looking.” – $norgazzzm
2 – Pretty Wicked Head and The Desperate Men, New Age Savage: Not many people know that one of the world’s best albums of 1989 was recorded by a band from Invercargill called Pretty Wicked Head and the Desperate Men. Widely regarded as the best group ever to come from Aotearoa’s deep south (and the only Southland band ever to be signed to an international label), Pretty Wicked Head were a power-packed trio with serious chops and songwriting skills. Could have, should have been huge (the name probably didn’t help).
New Age Savage features eleven of singer-songwriter Shaun Kirkpatrick’s highly accomplished songs, which combine the best of pop and hard rock. Rise And Shine eases us in at sunrise on Bluff Hill. Monkey unleashes and satirises a macho swagger (legend has it Kirkpatrick was a Golden Gloves fighter). Mercy of the Moon Girl is a surprisingly complex and tender love song, while Let’s Go Slow is one of the great Kiwi rockers. All New Zealand Heroes was the single, and serves as an alternative national anthem of sorts – why it’s not played at every major sporting event in this country I’ll never know.
Outside of Southland, Pretty Wicked Head never got the recognition they deserved, but this already legendary album will only get more legendary with time. Oreti Records did a fine job with their 2011 CD re-issue, which features 5 bonus tracks, a DVD featuring a live performance in Canada, extensive liner notes and a felt-tip psychedelic cover.
3 – Fetus Productions, The Perfect Product: Fetus Production’s The Perfect Product DVD is a slick, intense and intensely beautiful multi-media experience. The gorgeous pop-song What’s Going On? kicks things off with a myriad of psychedelic landscapes and razor-sharp teeth. Next up is Flicker, a wonderfully kooky song and one of the most accomplished music-videos to have been made in this country – it was directed by Alex Proyas, who would go on to make major Hollywood motion pictures including The Crow.
From there it’s a journey into Fetus Productions’ earlier material (let’s call it semi-industrial-post-punk-pop), which provides the perfect soundtrack to short films that are colourful, rich in content and truly mesmerising. Fetus Productions were pioneers of a multi-media approach to live performance in this country, and The Perfect Product is arguably the strongest collection of music videos belonging to a single New Zealand artist. I suggest you contact Jed Town and buy a copy.
Warning: The Perfect Product includes the infamous I Am A Criminal, which consists entirely of footage taken from a genuine human-autopsy instructional video. Although Skeptics’ A.F.F.C.O. is generally considered to be NZ’s most shocking music-video, I can assure you that “I Am A Criminal” is in fact a far more disturbing experience.
4 – Squirm, Whip Me Honey: Scuzzy. Sarcastic. Stoned. Terrible puns. Everybody needs local heroes, and these guys certainly caught the attention of my friends and I when they played a lunchtime gig at our high school, refused to stop playing and then fell off the stage.
Squirm and other Christchurch bands of the 1990s had a rich heritage of local music to inspire them. There have been many golden years in the Garden City – the home of Flying Nun records, The Gordons, All Fall Down, Axemen, The Pin Group, The Bats, Chants R&B and many more influential groups. By the mid-90s Christchurch had a booming drum and bass culture, which shrank rock audiences considerably. Despite this, Squirm were part of a vibrant local rock scene during this period, with contemporaries such as Loves Ugly Children, Ape Management, Thee Strap Ons and Hi Tone Destroyers.
Recorded super-cheap at Nightshift Studio, Whip Me Honey, with its bizarre homoerotic-bondage cover, was Squirm’s second EP. Voodoo lampoons Sale Of The Century game show-host Steve Parr and features many of the old-movie samples that pepper Squirm’s music. Whip Me Honey was accompanied by an hilarious music-video that combines cross-dressing and butchers-knives. Squirm would go on to record two very good LPs (Mastermistakemaker, Spastic Sarcastic) before Michael Brassel (aka “Michael J Hex”) died prematurely in 2004. My 2011 documentary Gone With The Weird tells Squirm’s unique story.
5 – Skeptics, If I Will I Can: The first day of 1990 was David Graeme D’Ath’s 26th birthday. He called his friends together to his Aro Valley home, not to celebrate, but to deliver some very bad news. David had leukaemia, a cancer of the blood cells that begins in the bone marrow, where blood is manufactured. Throughout the next eight months, David’s health would fluctuate, and for much of the time he was very ill. Current medical technology would now allow somebody in David’s terrible situation a good chance of survival. But sadly there is no escaping the fact that David died in Wellington Hospital on the 4th of September 1990. He left behind a wife, a baby daughter, a grieving family and many, many friends.
Right until the end of his life, David continued to pour out his uniquely brilliant writing and music. The If I Will I Can EP, released soon after his death, contains the very last recordings of Skeptics, the band that David fronted and helped form in Palmerston North eleven years earlier. It comprises Skeptics’ last studio recording, If I Will I Can, and six live tracks taken from the band’s final gig at Auckland’s Gluepot on Friday 13th, July 1990. Three of these are new compositions (Any Any, Two Pot Resin, Mamouth), while the rest are re-workings of songs from the band’s classic Amalgam LP. The quality of these songs, and the power of their delivery, is testament to more than a decade of fruitful collaboration by one of New Zealand’s greatest groups.
David D’Ath’s final songs are both intensely personal and playfully oblique. The other members of Skeptics – John Halvorsen (guitar), Brent McLachlan (drums/engineer), Nick Roughan (bass, synths) and Don White (drums) – provide the perfect accompaniment to David’s haunting words and inspiring voice. This is extraordinary and beautiful music that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Flying Nun Records are re-releasing If I Will I Can, and all of Skeptics’ excellent earlier material, later this year.
Sheen of Gold my documentary about the band, premieres at this year’s NZ International Film Festival.