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New Zealand Music Features


In anticipation of the Punk It Up music festival, Andrew Boak and Sonya Waters talk to Kate Powell about local punk - from 1981 to 2021Punk It Up V is now happening at The Powerstation on Friday March 5 and Saturday March 6. Tickets are available at Under The Radar


by Kate Powell

Kate has been a published arts columnist and critic since 2013. Her work has featured in the New Zealand Herald, Waikato Times, Rip It Up, Audioculture, The Big Idea and more.

It is a truth (perhaps) universally acknowledged that the music we listen to as teenagers has the ability to shape us in fundamental ways. Of course we discover new bands at all stages in our lives, but the music we listen to in our teens seems to hold a unique space in our hearts and minds. Music helps shape our worldview, it plants the kernels of self identity, it allows us to connect with like-minded folk as we navigate ourselves through tumultuous times as individuals and as a collective.

For Andrew Boak, guitarist of seminal Aotearoa punk group No Tag and organiser of the Punk It Up V event, a shift in his thinking came courtesy of three singles via a cousin who had been living in England when Punk broke: The Jam's In the City, The Damned's New Rose and The Sex Pistols' Holidays in the Sun.

Andrew Boak - photo via Sonya Waters 

When I put the latter of those songs on the stereo, and I heard those Steve Jones power chords at the beginning of that song, it blew me away” he recalls. “The snarling lyrics helped as well, as I was right in the "angry young man" phase of growing up too. Bryan Staff and Barry Jenkin were starting to play some of this stuff on the late night shows on the two main rock stations at the time, 1ZM and Radio Hauraki, so I was luckily just at the right age at the right time really.” 

Those three songs helped to shape Boak’s life path as a musician, which eventually led him to create the inaugural Punk It Up event six years ago. “No Tag had finally agreed to reform for a gig, and The Spelling Mistakes had reformed for some Record Store Day gigs so I figured they were potentially available. Jed Town had gotten together X-Features so there was a good line up to have a gig with” he says.

Boak wanted to do something “that was more than just a bunch of bands playing - I wanted to create a complete package of entertainment [so there were] DJs, an after party until late, information booths from animal adoption folks, support groups for women, local indie distributors...I do think there's not a lot of gigs that are events [in New Zealand]. Punk It Up is not just six bands playing at a venue, it's a lot more than that.”

“Some of these bands are part of the Kiwi punk landscape history, who are getting back together especially for this gig. This time around, we've got The Plague (featuring members of Blam Blam Blam, Pop Mechanix, and The Swingers). I try to mix new with the old. This time round we have Tigers, New Zealand’s first all Māori punk band from back in the day along with newer bands like NASDAQ (featuring members of The Cavemen), Sit Down In Front. It's kinda like the new bands are there for the older punks to see what's current, and the older bands reforming are there for the younger punks who possibly weren't even born when these bands were playing live. So this is now a chance for them to see those bands, where under normal circumstances, they probably never would.”

Punk grew out of the backlash against conservative politics and values of the 1970s and 80s. However as the line up of established and new acts, as well as their fans, attest, punk still has relevance in 2021.

Sonya Waters made a name for herself as the frontwoman for Auckland’s The Instigators in the 1980s. The band were booked to perform at this year’s Punk It Up, until border restrictions scuppered their plans. Instead, you can catch her as a guest vocalist with bankRobbers - a closing covers band featuring a who's who of New Zealand Punk including Boak, Jed Town and others.

Sonya Waters performing in the Instigators at Sweetwaters 

Waters remembers that in the 1980s it “wasn’t socially acceptable to be a punk. People would try to beat you up because you had a bit of a sneering attitude about conservative values. Some people felt threatened by a girl wearing ripped tights, boots and spikey hair, and having an angry, challenging attitude. I guess angry women have always been a problem. Being a punk was definitely dangerous in terms of personal safety. One gig in Rotorua I had to slip out the back after the gig because some women were waiting to smash me over out the front of the venue”

Waters describes being a woman in punk as “not always easy. If I'd been writing catchy pop tunes, wearing nice taffeta pouf dresses instead of seeing myself as a rebellious outsider, I might never have gotten into punk. I was a tomboy growing up so I always thought I could do whatever the boys were doing. I thought it would be cool to be in a band. At the time I didn't think about how few women there were in the punk band scene in Auckland. I mainly related to British women in bands like Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Selector, and X-Ray Spex.”

This lack of glamour trickled its way down to how gigs were organised. “Sometimes the only way to get a gig was to rent a hall and organise the whole thing yourselves, including renting a PA and lugging it in and out yourselves, and doing sound as well as playing the gig” she says.

“Once we rented the May Road Hall and held a somewhat badly attended gig. The promotional side was sadly lacking as I had relied totally on one late night session with a bucket of glue pasting handmade posters onto walls around the central city. Postering was a risky activity then as there were no official places to put up your posters and police would arrest you if you got caught. You couldn't just post your gig on Facebook. I often dropped a few flyers into DKD Cafe or The Open Late Cafe. Luckily, a few friends came to the gig. One of them with a camera to photograph me sweeping the May Road Hall floor before handing back the key. On the way home I was stopped by the police for swerving up Williamson Ave in my borrowed Morris Minor. A friend and I were laughing so hard about the terrible gig that I was swerving all over the road (We weren't drinking because we had no money).”

Boak still sees the “raw edge of power” in punk today. “But better recording techniques and equipment have made it sound more so now. There’s still a DIY side of it, but the direction that bands take when they record is still pretty much the same. I think there's also still the F**k You feel, combined with social comment, and there's also still the "fun" bands that are doing it for the sake of a few giggles” says Boak.

He describes Aotearoa’s punk scene both in the 1980s and now as “unique as opposed to a copy-cat type of thing.”

“We get influences from the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Europe - We're blessed that we have so much quality input into our own ideas” Boak elaborates.

Waters agrees, recalling: “We were heavily influenced by the British punk scene, its images, its music and politics. I think we were interpreting the British punk scene in our own way. The internet didn't exist then and we had to find out about new music and social movements through magazines or through friends returning from overseas. Snippets of life would filter back about new music trends and fashions… I personally went quite quickly from being a vegetarian hippie listening to Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan to cutting my hair short and becoming a vegetarian punk into the British two-tone ska scene. Imported music seemed exotic and important.”

But for Waters, “punk music has always had something to say about society and situations. It's expressed in a particularly raw, energetic and unpretentious way. Newer Auckland bands like Wax Chattels and Dick Move are really great bands. I'm happy that punk continues to reinvent itself and be an inspiration to younger musicians and audiences.”

Along with our smorgasbord of influences, our sound has been shaped by what Boak simply describes as a “Kiwi work ethic.”

“Musicians, and by default, the bands they are in, are always trying to be the best they can” he explains. “So then you get a kind of "dog eat dog" scenario, where the best bands win... and the only way you'll become one of those best bands, is to create something unique. There's only so many wedding cover bands that can fit in that circuit. So unless that's your goal, you end up striving to make something that it's not just a carbon copy of the latest fad from overseas, instead it's truly uniquely Kiwi.” His belief is tempered by the opinion that “too many Kiwi bands try to sound like something they "think" will sound good overseas. That’s such a pity, because overseas wants something unique - not something that the only difference is the band members' accents; they've got truckloads of that tripe already. We’re respected enough in the global alternative sector because of our original sound and songwriting. Personally, I believe more people know of The Clean and Tall Dwarfs overseas, than Six 60 or L.A.B. and that ilk.”

Hard work is at the heart of the Punk It Up Festival. “It’s unique partly because it can only exist in Auckland” says Waters. “It's curated by one very passionate punk rocker. It's about celebrating a small group of local bands who wrote some awesome songs during a particular time in New Zealand music history and only played in particular places in Auckland like Zwines, Island Of Real, The Rumba Bar and the Reverb Room. Obviously it's also a fun time, where many people are going to see old friends but it's also about discovering some awesome new punk music.”

Main picture at top: The Not The 1978 Tour lineup - The Instigators with Andrew Boak (No Tag), Eric Marsden (Androidss), Nick Hanson (Spelling Mistakes) and Yoh (Screaming Meemees), 1982

Due to the unforeseen cancellation of the event on Feb 19 and 20 due to the government's COVID restrictions, Punk It Up have now managed to book The Powerstation on Friday March 5 and Saturday March 6 in order to put on the weekend of shenanigans. Tickets are available au Under The Radar here. 


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