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New Zealand Music Features


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. Stop Three: Ōtautahi/Christchurch

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 grew up in Christchurch. I have complex feelings about the place. I love it dearly and my upbringing there has been, and remains, a great source of inspiration for my songwriting. Flying Nun Records was started there at almost exactly the same time as my birth and the Springbok Tour. That era is a fascinating period when youthful nihilism and cheap rent coalesced to inspire some uncompromising art. In its own provincial way, the Christchurch of that period evoked Weimar Berlin and the Lower East Side of the 1970s.

An aspect that, in my mind, made Christchurch simultaneously great yet unsurvivable was that the bohemian community there existed very much in opposition to the mainstream of culture. This is of course true of any city, but in Christchurch the polarity felt greater. I was drawn into the arts scene there because the mainstream of culture felt so repulsive to 18 year old me. Bored kids driving souped-up cars yelling homophobic abuse on empty industrial streets, recent school leavers from moneyed boys’ schools fighting each other at closing time on Oxford Terrace in pent up sexual frustration. Rugby and beer and old money and new money and great expanses of car yards spread like Mainland Semi-soft across the Canterbury Plains.

These angsty feelings of my late adolescence fuelled my departure from the city in 2002. Since then, from a distance, I’ve been rekindling my love affair. It turns out it was all more about me than it was about Christchurch. 

Ōtautahi today. Chabs and Milky come barreling into Cassels Blue Smoke with our expert crew, Bergman-esque intros and suitcases full of mid-1980s VHS cameras starting to feel the strain of life on the road. Little bits of plastic are falling off.

Violet French and the Horrible commenced our celebration with a set of minor key gothic folk that extremely rocked. Violet’s Horrible are a collection of stalwarts of the local scene: Luke Towart from Wurld Series, Jonty O’Connor from *many bands and Jamie Stratton from BnP and Kool Aid, and current RDU programme director.

Even though Robert Scott is from Dunedin, The Bats are Christchurch. Their influence bleeds through Christchurch indie music over the past four decades and they just sound like the city to me. I might have been a bit tired, but I shed a couple of tears over the Panasonic WJ MX-20 Digital AV mixer during Block Of Wood.

Our Ōtautahi party finished early Saturday morning with Ben Woods’ woozy and deliriously, unapologetically slow art rock. Ben’s music is patient, poised and pretentious in the best possible connotation of that word. At the time, I felt like I was losing my grip on reality. Watching back now, the performance was pretty damn magnificent.

Milky's Musical Cities of Aotearoa, to be continued; stay tuned. Up next:  Ōtepoti/Dunedin. You can check out the first two of the series, Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington, here, and Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, here.



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