Ah, Tāmaki Makaurau, my adopted home! After a full on first night in Wellington, our team, comprising of myself and Chabs (James Dansey), stream master Hugh Sundae, lighting professional Suren Unka and camera specialist Stephen Ballantyne, was damned exhausted pulling back in to Auckland Airport, Aotearoa’s equivalent of Grand Central Station. In an unwashed haze, we hauled ass to Whammy Bar to meet Mark Petersen.
Whammy Bar these days is the location of an actual “Scene,” which to my mind is about the ultimate thing for a venue to achieve. In terms of people it’s not a big scene – everyone plays in each other’s bands and works at the bar (or at Wine Cellar) and if they’re not working the bar or playing in the band they’re probably watching the band while propping up the bar. It sounds small and incestuous and it totally is but it is also very much in communication with a much broader network of music that encompasses noise, jazz, improvisation, folk, hip-hop et. al. So, it’s an important place!
Wax Chattels performing at Whammy Bar, July 2020. Photo by Cam Hay.
At Whammy, we hosted three acts, Princess Chelsea, LEAO and Vincent H.L. In an act of curatorial laziness/genius, two of these acts (extremely occasionally) play with Chabs in a band called Hang Loose. These were Vincent and Chelsea, who’ve been friends since at least one of them was a teenager and also used to play together in the mid/late 2000s in a band called TeenWolf who, like many Auckland bands, were a funny, energetic mess. When I look back through the memories of my musical life in Auckland I see a lot of funniness and messiness – a lot of bands whose sense of ambition was far outweighed by their sense of fun and desire for a cathartic drunken blow out. Some of this vibe is well captured in this oral history of Eden’s Bar; a place which circa 2004/5 was the home of our own scene and far more deserving of the term “dive bar” than Whammy.
I’d say Vincent H.L has come a long way in the 16 years since the Whipping Cats were Sunday Magazine cover stars, but really he’s kind of similar. Still makes kind of loose bluesy-party music. Still giggles quite a bit. Vincent and his band (Yolanda Fagan, Matt Short and Daniel Ward) sounded really great in the room, and I started getting pretty excited vision-mixing the show cos all the elements – cool sounding band, atmosphere in the audience and all the camera angles looking great and technical shit not going wrong – seemed to be in place. Later the sound cut out, but that was later. In the meantime, pure exhilaration!
Tāmaki's music has been notably more interesting since Noa Records started doing things around town. In a short time they’ve infiltrated a whole heap of different scenes, collaborated with shitloads of interesting people, and brought their unique kaupapa to bear on an alternative scene that has definitely been fairly Pākeha-centric in the past. I’d seen LEAO a few times before and their show has always brought the party. This felt like the best time yet cos the energy was fed into by a particularly hyped-up crowd. And, such a bonus to capture them on VHS cameras looking like some lost Polynesian new-wave band from the Lower East Side in 1980.
Finally, Princess Chelsea came on. I don’t think I need to say much about this. She is a superstar, her band were ruthlessly excellent and it was one of the best concerts I’ve seen, let alone live-streamed. Enjoy!
Milky's Musical Cities of Aotearoa, to be continued; stay tuned. Up next: Ōtautahi/Christchurch, and Ōtepoti/Dunedin. You can check out the first of the series, Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington, here.