MEMBERS OF THE ALL AGES GIG SCENE: HEROES FOR SALE, CHARLIE FREAK, MUCUS KIDS, TRUST PUNKS, P.H.F, GIRLS PISSING ON GIRLS PISSING, GRRLFRIENDZ
The All-Ages gig scene has never been distinguishable in its margins, the best descriptor available is a low res “Muzai Metro System 2014” found in an Audioculture article from 2016. Each “new incestual outfit” — as Lawrence Fergus Goodwin (Caroles, Career Girls, The Pleasure Majenta etc.) — would put it, added another layer to the never ending or beginning tapestry. All bands started more or less in the same way, innocent and juvenile, alongside those closest to you — brothers, sisters, childhood and/or school friends. Alex Coker Grant (Trust Punks, Cool Cult, Grass Cannons etc.) said he doesn’t recall most origin stories. Sometimes it was institutions outside of us, or happenstance: Smoke-Free Rockquest, School of Rock or a guitar hung in the room you grew up in — only to be inevitably knocked down, making the first of many terrible noises. I interviewed a number of musicians and music appreciators for the purposes of this article, though almost never actually got around to writing it because the web became so unending and entangled (for this reason, I cannot attempt to list out the entire band membership of each person mentioned). Each individual I interviewed reflected a similar feeling, nostalgia and sentiment towards their era, but definitive time frames rendered meaningless upon comparing oral histories against each other. Any attempt to detail a particular zeitgeist should not detract from the values which are found not just here, but in underage counterculture generally, historically and across borders.
A poster font remains in our thoughts, for every named and re-named amoeba who performed. Some of the interviewees favourite acts were (but are not limited to): Heroes for Sale, Open, Trust Punks, Cool Cult, Rackets, Yukon Era, Cheats, Carb on Carb, Charlie Freak, Courtney Hate, Coyote, Caroles, Bandicoot, Totems, Cavemen, New Gum Sarn, Randa, God Bows to Math, Mucus Kids, Slumbug, Sheep, Dog & Wolf, Grrlfriendz, $noregazZzm, Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing. With honourable mentions to individuals; Adison Whitley (Heroes for Sale), Reuben Winter (Caroles, Totems etc), Loz L’estranja (Mucus Kids), and Karyn Cullington (Lucha Lounge).
LOZ L'ESTRANJA OF MUCUS KIDS PERFORMING AT UFO, 2015 — PHOTO BY JOON YANG
For many, the scene wasn’t present in the beginning. Charlie Freak's first show was at a dog show in Parnell; their early audiences consisted mostly of mothers.
Before the scene we knew, we had pre-schooler bands that came before our ‘real’ bands, names we thought were cool before the ones we changed them to. Daniel (D.C Maxwell, Roidz) and Lachie Smith’s (Roidz, Milk) first band The Whodunnits wore bowties and suspenders until they were met with the wrath that was Heroes for Sale at Smokefree Rockquest — after that, their lives were changed forever. They reinvented themselves shortly after as Roidz, and began playing shows in the AA scene. Grrlfriendz were called Spice Grrlz before an older friend told them to change it. Caroles were called Weed Guys to begin with.
HEROES FOR SALE — PHOTO BY MAINARD LARKIN
2007 was the year that The Mint Chicks released their critically acclaimed record Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!, and a year later Cut off Your Hands premiered their song ‘YOU and i’. These bands were the tallest poppies, defining a golden era of New Zealand indie music and pushing out currents that would trickle down to influence the endless local germinating sub-scenes. Party pills were out and indie DIY music was thriving. Independent movements such as Muzai and A Low Hum came next. Muzai, a label started in 2009 by UK-born Benjii Jackson, was initially referred to by some as “the new Flying Nun”. The label employed a “simple ethos of giving unknown local bands the exposure they deserve”. Muzai was also a strong champion of the Auckland All-Ages scene, regularly putting on shows at the Mount Eden Scout Hall, the Basement Theatre and the odd house party. Benjii was even titled “Jesus of the All Ages scene” and it exists now on a “if you know, you know” basis. You can read more about Muzai Records here.
THE MUZAI RECORDS "FUN PAGE" 2012
The Muzai era was missed — by a fraction — by many of the people interviewed for this article. There were, of course, crossovers — for example; Reuben Winter and Daniel McBride (Sheep, Dog & Wolf) who played in Bandicoot, one of Muzai’s important early signings. They burned bright but quickly dissolved into other projects. For those that missed this era, bands such as God Bows to Math, Cool Cult, Sherpa, Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing and later, Astro Children and The All Seeing Hand were undeniably influential for the bands and sub-scenes which came into fruition from there.
GIRLS PISSING ON GIRLS PISSING, NIVARA LOUNGE 2015 — PHOTO BY NGAMIHI PAWA
The game has always been the same with the All Ages scene. Older bands have always helped younger ones — that is the lore and law. Whether it be an older band that brings your backline, plays on your line up, or takes you seriously, it is the lineage and familial hospitality that feels uniquely New Zealand out of necessity, due to isolation and insulation. Perhaps because of being so insulated, genre did not seem to obviously divide or define the all ages scenes; everyone wanted to be their own thing. Distinctive sub-scenes and genres existed for sure, but for a long time, going to a show was a weird, enlightening and varied experience. In one evening you might see performance art, hardcore, electronic and guitar boys. I’d also like to mention that electronic music at this time was not widespread at a local level in the same way that everyone is a DJ now. Electronic music was interspersed amongst other genres. Spear-headers like Reuben Winter were, as Charlie Cryer (Greenfog, Milk, NIISA etc) explained, “ahead of the game at every step of the way”. Charlie says Reuben “literally led every subgenre and sub-scene”. Not alone of course — the electronic pocket was also being fired up by collectives like Kerosene Comic Book (Totems, Career Girls, Race Banyon, Skymning, Muirs, Mongo Skato etc) and some others like $noregazZzm etc.
The All Ages Scene was housed by the instability of many short-lived venues. Venues were fleeting because it became less financially and legally viable to lease them out for underage cesspools. Property owners started racking up prices and withholding bonds. The scene was both contained and enlivened by this turbulence. It was common to attend one-off or short lived venues such as: The Factory, The Polish Society, Fuzzy Vibes and Absolutely Trashed. Luckily, we also had some staples; Mount Eden Scout Hall, Old Folks ASS, UFO, Ellen Melville etc. These venues were defined by their terrible acoustics and the “classic community hall kitchen(s) with those transparent black mugs”, as Alex Coker Grant remembers. The distasteful elements never mattered, we employed what we had, as long as we could make a mess and clean it up again by the next morning. Unfortunately, there was a decline in the availability of these venues during and after 2016, which had a very direct impact on the then-flourishing AA scene.
POSTER FOR AA GIG AT MT EDEN SCOUT'S HALL, 2014
POSTER FOR GIG AT ABSOLUTELY TRASHED, 2015
One of the most frequently recited shows was Snakefest (SnakePit’s final show). It was a mammoth occasion; a testament to the type of variety you would get in a general AA show at this time. You can watch part one of the Snakefest documentary below.
Toyah Webb (Grrlfriendz) described SnakePit as a “beautiful and short lived moment in the AA scene”, stating that she “met so many people outside SnakePit.” At Snakefest there were chocolate bananas on the bbq and punters hanging out in an inflatable pool. Daniel Smith recalls one of the acts being a performance artist breaking and laying on mirrors naked, “forcefully drinking milk until she vomited”. Lachie Smith remembers frontman from The Cavemen snapping records, “carving a game of tic tac toe into his stomach” before dispersing the pieces into the audience. Lachie confessed a lot of these early acts/bands he saw made him anxious and intimidated — until he saw Trust Punks. This was something reflected by almost everyone I interviewed; 1. that Trust Punks were bloody good and 2. that it was sometimes scary and we didn’t always know how to take care of each other.
P.H.F — PHOTO BY GABRIELLE STODDARD
Not to dismiss any past efforts, but the capacity at the time for growth in areas of safety and accessibility was somewhat absent. Underage drug abuse was welcomed to varying degrees, and guidances weren’t always in place to mitigate harm. Kids needed a space and people to confide in on Friday and Saturday nights, somewhere to vent their grievances with the world and adolescence — but people were rarely asked if they were okay. There was an air of macho-ness to it all, and it was weaved within the mannerisms of a catharsis and pleasure-seeking youth. Lawrence Goodwin stated that “people wanted music, and wanted to share what they had inside themselves. You could go out on the weekend and see someone lose it on stage in front of you and then they would be so humble and polite, some awkward once they had finished”.
TOYAH FROM GRRLFRIENDZ — PHOTO VIA GRRLFRIENDZ' FACEBOOK
Safety and accessibility also lacked in two other areas: gender and payment. Unsurprisingly, boys dominated the scene in each direction. It was common for women in the scene to feel both overvalued and tokenized on the point of gender, but also belittled. In discussion with Toyah, we both agreed that initially we didn’t know what it really meant to be a woman in music, or to be treated like one. Jami Kerrigan (Courtney Hate) said there was “a lot of backlash”. For myself and many, people told us how to use our instruments, present ourselves and put us earliest on every lineup. Grrlfriendz even got called out for hypersexualising themselves. Women musicians weren’t given, nor did they feel the autonomy that boys had. It was difficult, but also empowering, learning how to take up that space. It was where Toyah educated herself outside of Catholic school. She explained, “I would write the Grrlfriendz lyrics in my religious education class, the feeling that you were doing something radical, you are doing something elicit and anti establishment, there was something very intoxicating about that as a teenager”. We talked about how in some ways, the fact that no one was getting paid, and the divorce between fiscal policy and punk, was almost suitable. However, this may have just been a poetic lens in which to understand how everyone ended up so poor after playing almost every weekend. The music was never about the money, or ‘making it’ in any big and proper way. Hugh Piesse (Caroles, Alec etc) believed the “low stakes" were what made it special; “there were no real prospects except playing more shows, it had a pure feeling, it was about what an act could accomplish in a thirty minute set, and trying to have the greatest effect on the audience you could”. The R18 scene seemed so alien in comparison. Leith Towers (Charlie Freak, Ringlets etc) remembered “playing at a ‘cool dive bar’ early on and thinking ‘Why are they just standing there all mopey?’ The all ages shows had so much more energy and mischief”.
CHARLIE FREAK AT LUCHA LOUNGE— PHOTOBY KARIN YAMASAKI
As we seek to find that recklessness again, perhaps it’s the lasting impression that has set us up for a level of underlying dis-satisfaction.
But as Toyah stated, the scene was important for her, in her “development as a political subject”. She “wanted to be in the counterculture” and is now “still writing about, referencing and pulling from this spark” in her PHD research. Maybe it can feel like we have lost this ‘mischief’, but in fact it is a light that guides many of us. Of course reflection on this seminal time hasn’t come without some embarrassment. Alex Coker Grant explains “I’m quietly proud of the music we made, and proud of the naivety and boldness everyone had to just write and play and record weird music in weird places, though I’m not at a point to consider listening to it”. This general feeling of complexity towards the scene was reflected in almost every interview. A push and pull between gratitude, joy, nostalgia, pain and embarrassment. Nevertheless, it was meaningful, and hopefully strong enough to influence younger webs of artists, so they can pass on the torch, inspire, create and learn about themselves but with a bit more wisdom and care alongside.
CAROLES IN 2012
Information and descriptions in this article were provided through interviews with the following peoples: Daniel Smith, Lachie Smith, Toyah Webb, Skud Gambosi, Leith Towers, Jami Kerrigan, Charlie Cryer, Simon Van Der Zeyden, Lawrence Fergus Goodwin, Alex Coker Grant, Hugh Piesse.
Some more posters and photos from this 2010's All Ages scene below:
GIG AT OLD FOLK'S ASS, 2014