Half Hexagon L-R: Julien Dyne, Yolanda Fagan, James Milne / Photo: Supplied
Vividly I remember the morning after Half Hexagon’s first gig, dozing in bed on a Sunday. Before you ask how the gig was, uh, I wasn’t even there. Ritualistically watching my Sunday morning slideshow of Instagram stories from the night before, I somehow feel nostalgic for all the gigs I didn’t go to; the gutwrenching reality of living in a smaller town. Again and again, up pop this mysterious band, often lovingly accompanied with captions like “best New Zealand band” and “my new favourite band”.
So, Half Hexagon. The recent rumble in Aotearoa’s underground - let’s see what they’re all about.
A delicious soup comprised of James Milne (Lawrence Arabia, Chabs & Milky), Yolanda Fagan (Na Noise, Echo Ohs, Bozo), and Julien Dyne (Avantdale Bowling Club), Half Hexagon is the all-star trio who seemingly appeared out of nowhere and since graced anyone paying any attention whatsoever.
The band released their first silky-smooth single 'Ism' in August, and after a steady string of triumphant shows are now gearing up to play Flying Nun’s end-of-year show Beautiful Things on November 26. Alongside Flying Nun artists Vera Ellen, Recitals, Womb and others, the trio are in good company.
With Julien sporting a retro drum kit, Yolanda on vocals and James on synthesizers and vocals, Half Hexagon are a funky showcase of stripped-back genius, colliding retro synths with harsh and often primitive sounds. “We sound like dawn’s chorus after a 48-hour bender,” says Yolanda.
James said ideas started brewing when he explored making music exclusively with synthesizers. “Kind of Mort Garson-inspired I guess, but it wasn’t really going anywhere so I had the idea that the same kind of approach with Julien Dyne drumming on them might result in something in the ballpark of other sorts of danceable retro-futurist music.”
The Death By Audio 'Echo Master'
Yolanda says her Death By Audio 'Echo Master' has been a beautiful discovery in her sound-making. “I certainly think of it as an instrument. I like using guitar pedals on my voice because they suit my performance style, it seems simple to me. Also, I play guitar so these are the things I have on hand.”
She says she also uses a telephone mic Guy Forks (Echo Ohs) made for her. “That mic cuts through. I’ve been using a combo of reverb and delay much like I do now ever since I started doing vocals.”
“I use placeholder lyrics if I can’t think of any in the moment. I rely heavily on my Echo Master delay for this type of thing, then I go away and get weird - see what I can bring back to the table. In brainstorming there are no bad ideas,” she says.
The Korg Volca
And as for James, well we lost him in a gear rabbit hole. “It’s totally new territory for me compared to Lawrence Arabia,” says James. “My main instruments are two Korg Volcas, an Arturia Keystep Pro for sequencing, a Casiotone 405 and a Korg Micropreset, all going through a bunch of effects pedals."
The Korg Micropreset
"I’ve had the Casiotone 405 since I inherited from my Texan friend Andy Pluta who bought it in 2002 at the Salvation Army in Avondale and it’s been used in all my musical projects since then,” he says.
The Casiotone 405
The Arturia Keystep Pro
He said the band name came from the depths of total absurdity. “Turns out everyone loves a surrealistic brain jam. 'Half Hexagon' was just the first non-ridiculous name we could agree on that also seemed to beunused by other bands. It also relates to quilting which is hopefully niche enough that we can start beating the term in Google searches.”
The group said the idea for the band emerged during the initial lockdown as a way to write music remotely. But it was post-lockdown jams that really got it moving through a highly collaborative and improvisational approach.
“We got together when we were allowed to and just recorded some jams – the very first thing we played, like as soon as we were all plugged in, was this kind of Serge Gainsbourg-y thing on a Casio keyboard,” says James. “At some point, still stuck about what to do next, I made a loop out of the first minute of that first jam and sent it to Yolanda and asked if she felt like writing something over it. Maybe the next day she sent something back and that was when it really crystallised into something thrilling and sort of conceptually complete.”
The group have just announced their self-titled debut EP, set to be released this coming Friday the 11 of November across digital platforms, as well as a Limited Edition Lathe Cut 10" Vinyl and cassette. You can pre-order it via their Bandcamp, as well as listen to their new song 'Ramona'.
Check out their live video performance of their song 'Modern Life':