While Rod Stewart was regaling 250,00 people at the Forsyth Barr stadium in Dunedin, also known in NZ rugby circles as the ‘house of pain’, as the All Blacks have never lost there, a much smaller musical event attracted a sell out crowd of around 700 people. It was mainly local hipsters, musos, dreadlocks, eccentrics and other ‘others’, but definitely not students, who tend to hang out at the other end of town. (A Sunday afternoon cricket match between Rod Stewart Invitational XI and Dunedin Musicians, Artists & Hospo XI was washed out.) It was the last weekend of the Easter break, so there were very few students around in this town, which mostly survives on its student population. The Feastock festival, named after its place of origin, no. 3 Fea Street, in the backyard of a rented house in Dalmore, Dunedin, on the way to Pine Hill on the north side of town, occupied by Invercargill trio Left or Right, who had to cancel at the last minute due to the arrival of a baby. Feastock celebrated its seventh year of activities with a lineup of 10 bands from midday to 7 pm, when punters were ferried by bus to the uni campus venue ReFuel for another 11 acts until after midnight. Most musical genres were represented, from metal to ex-X Factor pop to indie rock to experimental, and the designation ‘local’ extended to Queenstown and Invercargill further south, where some of the bands hail from.
It’s a cold (15 degrees max.) but sunny day, and although the backyard is mostly shaded by dense surrounding bush, the capacity crowd seems happy, and many turn out in summer dresses, shorts and t-shirts. Tickets were only available for cash from Too Tone Records, a second hand vinyl shop in nearby North Street which specialises in NZ music and whose proprietor, Tony Renouf, held court at the back of proceedings. But there was no merchandise on site apart from festival Tshirts, and attendees were advised to bring their own food and alcohol (no glass allowed), and there was no parking, while a water and barbecue was made available for those who wanted to cook. A new frugal extreme in DIY festivals perhaps, and although there were a few friendly security guards on hand, and even a friendly security dog called Rocky, who had as good a time as anyone else there, and lots of hash pipes in evidence, there was no police presence. Noise complaints in the past had been experienced from neighbours, who had since come to understand that it was strictly a one-off annual event.
First up was Smoko, a band featuring one of the festival organisers, who looked like loggers or council employees in their dayglo security jackets, but gave a virile, workmanlike start to events. A middle aged man in shorts with a moustache started dancing with a strange boxing-like rhythm at the front of the stage, and managed to keep his movement going throughout the entire day. Males, a VU–inspired poppy 3 piece with falsetto vocalist, were up next. They record with local label Fishrider, who describe themselves as an ‘arts & crafts record label specialising in literate, melodic psych pop, no wave & whatever other kinds of DIY subversive pop take our fancy’. Males appeared on the label’s compilation album T E M P O R A R Y – Selections from Dunedin’s Pop Underground 2011-2014. As a more recent successor to the Dunedin double EP and the Xpressway Pileup compilations in the 80s and 90s, this is a pretty reliable account of what’s happening in current Dunedin music, and the acts on it have featured in a number of previous Feastocks.
One Temporary band I was waiting to hear was Death and the Maiden (no relation to the Verlaines’ 1981 track of the same name, but with similar influences from the Munch painting, but not, it would seem, Ariel Dorman’s play or Schubert’s eponymous string quartet no.14 in D minor, a favourite of Samuel Beckett’s). They released their eponymous debut mini-album last month, and have just returned from a North Island tour promoting it. They feature Lucinda King on bass and vocals, Hope Robinson on guitar, and Danny Brady on synths and programming (Danny and Hope were in Snapper’s final lineup before the Death of Peter Gutteridge, and Hope and Lucinda in the unappetising-sounding trio Bad Sav, who had played at previous Featsocks and were on Temporary). Death and the Maiden are very much in the ‘ethereal’ tradition of UK electronica bands like Portishead and Goldfrapp, with a slightly doomy, downbeat flavour, but today they’re fiddling around with their equipment too much, and don’t make a very strong impression. The album is impressive though.
Other bands featured in the daytime line up include improvised reggae group Geysers, with Otago University music lecturer and occasional Chills collaborator Oli Wilson on keyboards. Thundercub, a ‘space grunge’ and electro-metal trio with a home-made wooden electronics box, who have an album from 2011, play more experimental stuff. Tahu and the Takahes are a large scale cabaret outfit with sax, trumpets, keyboards, guitar and a larger than life female singer Tahu Mackenzie, an educator and wildlife activist who today is dressed to the nines in gold lame, thigh-length blonde tresses and fake boobs, and comes on a bit too much like a bossy schoolteacher, reappearing throughout the day in costume changes equally extreme. But along with Death and the Maiden, she is the only female presence in the entire day’s lineup. Mackenzie was featured in a 2011 book and CD called The Other Dunedin Sound: The Acoustic Community of Southern New Zealand by Auckland-based Canadian photographer Trish Saunders, which focused mainly on the New Edinburgh Folk Club in the city.
Rhythmonyx are normally a 7 piece Māori dub-rap-reggae group from Invercargill, who have been together since 2008, and play a tight set, with lead vocalist Jono Leask particularly impressive. Their sound has been described as ‘a fresh, vibrant and obesely phat mash of Kiwi grooves, Pasifika beats, reggae chops, old-school British ska, hip-hop and electronica’, and they were awarded Invercargill’s Band of the Year in 2013. They are part of a substantial Pacific dub and reggae scene in Aotearoa and succeed in warming up the audience considerably. The Julian Temple Band are no relation to Julien Temple, the English film director, but are rather a brash, macho blues-rock group led by a singer-guitarist from San Francisco (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grYu40TT30U) who have toured around NZ for nearly a decade, and whose 5th and latest album Upsidedownbackwards reached no.7 on the NZ Music Charts. Since 2012 they have featured a violinist, Alex Vaastra, which gives their music some degree of distinctiveness.
They were followed by Iron Mammoth, who have supported the JTB previously, and sound like a low-key, lo-fi version of the Doors, with organ and pounding drums prominent. Two of the members sport large beards, like a number of hipsters in the audience. Finally, Fu King describe themselves as ‘Psychadelic/Sonic/Experimental’ (sic) but are really a metal band, although their EP, sung entirely in English, is entitled ‘Whatungarongaro Te Tangata Toitū Te Whenua’ (People pass on, but land remains), a Māori proverb.
I’m exhausted after the day shift, and end up missing most of the night shift, when ReFuel is packed to overflowing, with two rooms and alternating bands. The only band I manage to see is Ghetto Blaster, a Māori reggae/soul/funk trio from Queenstown, who are excellent, and exchange instruments for their last number to feature bass guitarist Matt Eddy on lead guitar with a long, spacey, looping solo. Peti Seiuli is impressive on vocals, and drummer Jeremy Wynyard complements both on drums. One to watch.
Other groups on the night shift included the Maine Coones, named after the largest domesticated breed of cat, who feature, appropriately enough,‘screaming guitar solos labelled “Peel with Feel” and classic 70’s style rock vocals,’ Iron Tusk (‘heavy prog rock/metal with a focus on big grooves’), The Entire Alphabet, a duo of bass and drums whose playing ‘contain[s]elements of orchestral music, of noise-rock and jazz, with melodies that would not be out of place even in traditional pop songs’, Kentucky Fried Children, a trio hailing from Christchurch, inspired by ‘Blues, R’nB and Southern Rock’, and the River Jesters, an NZ X Factor-winning band led by Invercargill musician Tom Batchelor in ‘a two-piece musical collaboration with guitarist Michael Morris that … became a full-blown, loud, bluesy, psychedelic rock band.’ The Violet-Ohs, a four-piece influenced by Foals and post-rock (‘Post punk/Shoegaze/Sorta’), were followed by Osmium, a metal trio, Panther’s Claw, a duo from Queenstown featuring vocals/synths/samples and drums, No Broadcast, a ‘three piece alternative rock band’ who have been playing since 2004 and released their first album in 2014 – beware autotune! And finally, Ignite the Helix, ‘Dunedin’s 6 piece band of heavy metal goodness’, who began playing at 00.45. Glad I wasn’t there for that!
Nonetheless Feastock deserves praise for its grass roots origins in a city long noted for the ‘Dunedin sound’ of the Flying Nun label in the 1980s, which recently celebrated an anniversary of sorts in ‘Tally Ho! Dunedin Sound Songs and Singers’, a musical event on February 28 with the Southern Symphonia, with international soprano Anna Leese, Graeme Downes of the Verlianes, who orchestrated songs by himself, Martin Phillipps, David Kilgour, Peter Jeffries, Robert Scott, Andrew Brough and Shayne Carter in a revisiting of ‘more than 20 iconic Dunedin songs, many of them from the internationally-acclaimed period known as the Dunedin Sound’. Songs by The Chills, The Clean, Straitjacket Fits, The Verlaines, The Bats, Look Blue Go Purple, Jay Clarkson, The Puddle and The 3Ds were re-presented, some featuring original composers Shayne Carter, Martin Phillipps, David Kilgour and Graeme Downes, at the Dunedin Town Hall in an event symbolic of the now established status of these formerly ‘underground’ Dunedin bands. It was also recorded for broadcast and a possible DVD. Although it all sounds suspiciously like ENZSO, Split Enz’ collaborations with the NZ Symphony Orchestra, Marion Poole, writing in the Otago Daily Times, described it as a ‘significant event [which]should resonate for many moons’. Feastock, on the other hand, represents the newest and most local, underground variants of a ‘Dunedin sound’ with groups from Queenstown and Invercargill included, and probably an important way ahead for local music.