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MILKY'S MUSICAL CITIES OF AOTEAROA. PART ONE: TE WHANGANUI-A-TARA/WELLINGTON


As part of the great Goin' Live With Chabs and Milky tour of Aotearoa recently completed, we got Milky, a.k.a. James Milne, to take pause and reflect on his connections to the musical cities of this country, sharing footage from the tour along the way. First stop: Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington.

 

MILKY'S MUSICAL CITIES OF AOTEAROA. PART ONE: TE WHANGANUI-A-TARA/WELLINGTON

By James Milne

When not buying broken VHS cameras off TradeMe, James Milne is a songwriter who makes music under the pseudonym Lawrence Arabia.


I first went to Wellington as a musician at the end of 2002, playing a show at the new Ghuznee Street Bar Bodega with The Brunettes. Over the following few years, I fell in love with the city’s music scene. Auckland at the time felt more nihilistic and cynical – leather and amphetamine and being ghosted on K Road – while Wellington seemed more whimsical, more at ease with eclectic modes of collaboration, infiltrated in an interesting way by the presence of its jazz school. The “BBQ reggae” scene was a source of much sniggering in our parts, but really that was just the commercial outlet for a group of people who were tuned into Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane and Lee “Scratch” Perry. Dylan Herkes’ Stink Magnetic label was existing in its own whole weird anachronistic zone – adjacent somehow to the rock’n’roll scene that was dominating Auckland guitar music, but less pretentious, way sillier and just better. Jeff Henderson et. al’s Happy provided a small venue for many types of music but in spirit it hosted the missing link between the Six Volts and the current experimental music scene focused on the Pyramid Club.

Bar Bodega, Ghuznee Street, WellingtonBar Bodega, Ghuznee Street, Wellington. Photo: Stuff.

And then there was The Phoenix Foundation, an ambitious group of young (unusually for the time) bearded men in love with Grandaddy and Air and Pavement and Radiohead, and generally whatever the trippier side of indie guitar music was at the time. When their first BNet hit “The Drinker” came out in 2001/2-ish, in terms of public perception, they sat somewhere between the vaguely “retro” (this modifier was used a lot back then) pop music of Pluto and Goodshirt and the notorious “Welly-dub.” I think their delay pedals and the smattering of dreadlocks in the band confused people and they ended up on the bills of various hemp festivals in misty forested valleys. They did a lot of work trying to break Auckland through 2002/3, gradually shaking the scent of ganja that Auckland’s notoriously snobby music fans had previously attributed to them by playing some undeniably great shows at places like the Odeon Lounge and the Kings Arms. This inexorable momentum got them signed to a major label and they became a Big New Zealand Band.

Since then they’ve released seven studio albums and reluctantly, due to the unstoppable march of time, become elder statespeople of New Zealand music. Chabs And Milky love and respect elder statespeople of New Zealand music and that is why we were delighted to host this full performance of their latest record Friend Ship and that is also why we were very sad that the stream crashed in the middle of their set. Here is what was salvaged from the wreckage.

The city today’s perhaps not the bohemian wonderland it was back in 2002. More column inches are devoted these days to the moisture content of its overpriced inner city flats than to the fertility of its musical scene, but the spirit of its artistic core remains and has evolved and mutated into a much more inclusive and cosmopolitan beast than it was almost 20 years ago. Estère is evidence of this, a polyglot with a Cameroonian dad and a Pākeha mum, making deeply conceptual, rhythmically and melodically complex R&B/jazz/pop/other. Accompanied with consummate skill and economy by Ben Lemi and Cory Champion, Estère transformed San Fran’s drunky clientele into funky clientele.

The first night of Goin’ Live With Chabs And Milky LIVE!, our representative-but-by-no-means-definitive sampler of the music of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, concluded with an absolutely brain-pummelling set of full tit unbridled psych from Orchestra Of Spheres. Standing at my Panasonic WJ-MX20 AV mixer, I was finally able to let myself have a moment of reflection about what we were doing there. My thought: “it’s like we’re running a weird telethon.” What a privilege to be travelling round Aotearoa witnessing and capturing these amazing performances, all funnelled through the additional thrill of broadcasting it live. A weird telethon.

Milky's Musical Cities of Aotearoa, to be continued; stay tuned. Up next: Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, Ōtautahi/Christchurch, and Ōtepoti/Dunedin.

 

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