Down Under(ground): Aotearoa New Zealand Punk ‘19

Tucked away at the arse end of the world, Aotearoa New Zealand is home to plenty of noisy bands and appreciative fans. Over the years, a number of local punk groups have managed to infiltrate NZ’s mainstream music consciousness. Although, many of those same bands have also had to soften their edges to meet the usual listener-friendly standards required for commercial acceptance and mass consumption.

More interesting is NZ’s much deeper, darker and more uncompromising punk scene, which has always operated below the radar. Self-contained and self-sustained, and a gazillion miles from larger networks of fans, bands, and labels, NZ’s underground punk community has carved out a self-supporting scene that was founded and is often still grounded in staunch DIY principles.

Once upon a time, rabble-rousing NZ music was hidden in the mist. But the internet’s arrival illuminated NZ’s underground music landscape like never before. That’s had a marked effect on the nation’s metal scene, with a number of NZ metal bands now signed to international labels. Some NZ punk bands have also lured offshore audiences into their clutches. Like late and lamented sludge punks Meth Drinker, who secured and maintain a fanatical global following, even though the bruising band is now defunct.

s/t by Meth Drinker
(Meth Drinker, S/T, Always Never Fun Records, 2011)

At home, NZ’s underground punk scene is comparatively small and often disregarded by outsiders, which isn’t too surprising given NZ’s affinity for bland hard rock that masquerades as metal and carbon-copy pop. Most of NZ’s media also ignore the noisiest pockets of NZ music. (Or if they do mention them, they’re likely to misrepresent them.) Of course, none of those issues are unique to NZ punk –– or NZ metal, for that matter. Neither is the fact that the majority of underground NZ bands don’t require or desire assistance from mainstream sources.

In fact, underground NZ punk gets by just fine, fuelled by a strong do-or-die attitude. Everything from screen-printing to show bookings to DIY recording to merch-making is often done in-house. Crucial chroniclers, like websites Under the Radar and Up the Punks, or blogs like Symphonies of Slackness or Mad Blasts of Chaos (currently on hiatus), post about NZ punk releases. Radio shows like 95bFM’s Hard, Fast & Heavy Show explore the darkest depths of NZ punk. And Facebook pages like New Zealand Hardcore Past and Present update fans on happenings too.

Local NZ punk bands release a healthy amount of singles, EPs and LPs in digital or physical form, in comparison to NZ’s other noisy music spheres. (To be fair, the NZ metal scene is also a hive of activity. But it doesn’t release as much recorded music, for a number of reasons that I’ll happily lay out another time.) NZ punk often feels like it’s thriving, with loads of bands playing shows in clubs, community halls, and lounge rooms, and local DIY labels like Always Never Fun, Razored Raw, Limbless Music, Hairy Palm, and Zero Style and have kept the music flowing.

EP by Poverty & Spit
(Poverty & Spit, S/T, Zero Style, 2017)

A small scene also means bands and fans work closely and cooperatively to get things done. But that doesn’t mean the NZ punk scene is some kind of far-flung utopia. Conflict certainly exists in the NZ punk community –– be it generational, philosophical, or otherwise –– but every creative scene full of passionate agitators and nonconformists always features its share of tensions. (Plus, abrasive music always attracts a few abrasive personalities, right?)

I thought the easiest way to dig into NZ punk (circa 2019) would be to highlight a few recent ear-splitting releases. However, I should probably make clear that who’s mentioned below and who isn’t is mostly a matter of timing. This feature certainly isn’t meant to be an in-depth primer on NZ punk. My criteria for selecting bands was solely based on who’d recently released new music.

Hopefully, the list below will still wedge open a small, albeit deafening, doorway into the world of DIY NZ punk. Sadly, that selection criteria above does mean I’m leaving behind a few tearaways like Gravel Pit, Tooms, and Sick Old Man, or Bulk Bogan and inoperative (but still formidable) groups like Corpse Rat and Feral Blood. I’ve also not delved into thick-necked and/or whippersnapper hardcore, mainly because I’m 400 years old and I prefer much filthier punk. That said, if heavily built hardcore is your thing, straight-edgers like ColdxWar would be an excellent starting point to explore the world of contemporary NZ hardcore.

I hope you find something loud and obnoxious to enjoy below.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Hairy Palm Vol. 3: Plastic Rites

We all know that a killer compilation is often the perfect way to highlight a specific scene, so a hearty cheer(s) goes out to Auckland, NZ label Hairy Palm for the timely release of Hairy Palm Vol. 3: Plastic Rites. Hairy Palm have released a number of recordings documenting myriad strains of subterranean NZ noise, and Hairy Palm Vol. 3 digs deep into the rancid depths of Aotearoa’s underground punk and punk-adjacent scenes.

Most of the bands on Hairy Palm Vol. 3 gleefully explore punk’s filthiest crevices, but a few eccentric noiseniks also feature. Mutation, Noxo, and TV Blue are all certified weirdos, and they’re all founded by freethinkers well-acquainted with dissonant artistic adventures. Mutation is helmed by Wellington musician (and Zero Style label founder) John Dimery, who probes the depths of primitive sonics and twisted electronics right here. Noxo and TV Blue are steered by Auckland musician and artist Grant Sheridan, with Noxo’s “thug-psych dumbeat” delivering mind-mangling electro/noise, and TV Blue’s darker/gurgling drone traversing equally strange terrain.

Elsewhere, Hairy Palm Vol. 3 is primarily comprised of seven shades of hurtling shitnoise –– which makes zero concessions for comfort or commercial gain. Wellington groups Piggery and Pvnisher certainly don’t make accommodating music. They both unleash ferocious punk/metal torrents on Hairy Palm Vol. 3, with tracks that crawl through the sewers of blown-out hardcore, heavyweight sludge, and the rankest stenchcore (that’d keep Doom fans amply satisfied).

Hamilton band Dogcock contribute a couple of aptly revolting blasts of gristly death metal and thrashing grindcore to Hairy Palm Vol. 3. Not to be outdone, powerviolence trio Stress Ghetto’s “Peak Degeneracy” is a brief slice of aural filth that’s as pummeling as the rest of their catalog of disgusting delights. Fellow Wellington band Bowel Rupture are also committed to making noise for noise’s sake, and their “Black Line” contribution is a grinding stew of dank metallic crust, straight from the gutter.

Christchurch band Zhukov drop in a spikier hardcore number that has the most obvious hooks on Hairy Palm Vol. 3. The antithesis of that is Hamilton band Spiteful Urinator’s “Bore You to Leave”, which underscores why their abrasive mixture of d-beat, hardcore, and black metal has made them one of NZ’s most intimidating bands. Wellington trio Total Ruin also contribute an extremely harsh blast of murk-ridden hardcore, but I’ve got plenty more to say about that band and their new self-titled 7″ below.

All up, Hairy Palm Vol. 3 is a great introduction to NZ punk and noise. Clearly, there are worthy bands who aren’t here. But that’s the way of any snapshot of any scene. The real proof of a successful compilation is if it encourages you to dig deeper and discover more new music, and in that sense, Hairy Palm Vol. 3 is a triumph. Congrats (once again) to Hairy Palm for supporting and promoting some of nastiest underground NZ music around.

See also: NO NZ. Wellington label Razored Raw’s excellent NO NZ compilation features plenty of “raw spewings” from NZ punk dreadnoughts like Sick Old Man, Feral Blood, Corpse Rat, Carradine Choke and BusPuncher.

See also: Piggery. Full disclosure: I’m one of the folks who helped co-release Piggery’s debut 12”, but blatant bias isn’t going to stop me recommending it if powerhouse doom crust (à la Hellshock, Stormcrow and kin) floats your boat.

Hairy Palm Vol 3: Plastic Rites by Hairy Palm

NO NZ by Razored Raw

Piggery by Piggery

TVX – TVX

The self-titled debut LP from Wellington stoner punks TVX is both a triumph and a tragedy. I use that latter word with a lot of trepidation because the sudden passing of TVX’s singer Anna Antoinette Bouwmeester in 2018 was deeply distressing for many members of NZ’s punk community. It’s hard to write about the shock of loss without sounding clichéd, and tragedy is such an inadequate word to capture the depths of grief. More importantly, though, Anna simply wasn’t a tragic figure by any means.

In fact, Anna was an inspiring performer with a full-throated roar and an exhilarating stage presence. Her voice was a bulwark against life’s interminable struggles, something I discovered via her singing on crust band Bonecruncher’s debut. Anna’s voice is also one of the prime reasons TVX’s debut is so evocative and, ultimately, so cathartic too.

Anna’s talents are obvious and her contributions to TVX’s debut sound utterly triumphant. She’s on fire throughout, with her fierce vocals having been recorded live in concert during TVX’s penultimate show, and mixed in with the rest of the band’s studio instrumentation. Obviously, not everyone will appreciate the rawness of that production method. But I think it’s a given that the band’s fans will find the visceral approach immensely pleasing.

Besides Anna, TVX also features two members from Bonecruncher –– NZ punk stalwarts Sarsha (guitar) and Vanya (drums) –– who are joined by bassist Jerry (ex-The Dilfs). TVX’s serrated stoner/doom punk has a different tempo and texture to Bonecruncher’s broad-shouldered crust. But both bands tackle tough issues with heavyweight songs that mix audio ferocity with searing emotional honesty. TVX wrap raw riffs –– dripping with doom and distortion –– around impassioned vocals, and crashing drums and bass propel songs that reek of hopes and dreams and troubles both real and imagined.

TVX’s debut is a beautifully raw and ear-splitting legacy.

RIPower, Anna.

See also: Bonecruncher. The Wellington crust band’s ferocious debut also confronts life’s hurdles and hassles head-on. The band’s excellent 12” split with NZ d-beat legends Rogernomix features heavy music for heavy times too.

TVX by TVX

S/T by Bonecruncher

Chainsore – Noxious Blight Demo

Noxious Blight is the debut demo from Chainsore, the latest noisy project from Wellington musician and Razored Raw label guv’nor, Matai Szwed (Piggery, Pvnisher, Corpse Rat and more). Razored Raw’s released more than a dozen local punk recordings in the past few years, and all of them have been extremely corrosive and equally deafening. Those are obviously big pluses for fans of raw punk and caustic-sounding hardcore, and Noxious Blight’s contents fall into those nerve-shredding categories too.

The demo’s lo-fi production is about as gentle as a clawhammer attack, but that perfectly captures the tone and texture of all the distortion-drenched riffs, dirty dirges, and raw ’ardcore. Matai recorded, sang, played and wrote everything here (aside from a cover of Sedition’s “Suffocation”), which I guess makes Chainsore’s demo a very personal project too. Inspired by old-school bands like No Security, Bl’ast, and the aforementioned Sedition, there’s certainly a vitriolic intensity as well as brutal honesty to Noxious Blight. Chainsore’s vintage (albeit still volatile) influences work well with Matai’s preferred method of capturing the rawest punk cacophonies at their source.

Bleeding-raw, zero-bullshit hardcore. Noxious Blight is tough as steel, mate.

See also: Pvnisher. Matai’s played in some hellishly obnoxious bands over the years, including duo Pvnisher, who’ve released a couple of scungy demos that have featured the filthiest dregs of cut-throat crust and metal. FFO of tetanus, hepatitis, and self-inflicted amputations.
Noxious Blight Demo by Chainsore

Pvnishment Demonstration II by Pvnisher

Total Ruin – Total Ruin

Knuckle-dragging Wellington trio Total Ruin batter pitch-black noise punk and festering hardcore with repetitive brain-drilling percussion. In fact, while most punk bands rely on frantic guitars and frenzied drumming to get their point across, Total Ruin utilize scant riffs and a few crude, recurring drum beats to hammer their message home. The band’s ‘methodology’ is akin to some kind of twisted, almost-motorik punk madness –– albeit with less propulsion, and more static, pressure-point intensity.

Compared to most other NZ punk bands, Total Ruin’s approach is definitely eccentric, but it doesn’t affect their music’s brutal efficiency. The band’s songs are stripped down, but distortion fills the gaps, while Total Ruin concentrate on injecting harsh fucking vibes into an already downer buzz. The band’s ruthless nihilism isn’t much of a surprise, given Total Ruin’s membership is drawn from noted NZ misanthropes like Drug Problem, Meth Drinker, and Poverty & Spit. No question, Total Ruin have plenty of practice when it comes to punishing audiences with harsh, confronting noise.

The band’s new self-titled 7″ is out via NZ labels Always Never Fun and Limbless Music. Always Never Fun was founded in 2009, by Sam Thurston (Meth Drinker, Rogernomix, Shortlived and more), and the label’s become well known, both at home and abroad, for releasing some of NZ’s ugliest punk. Limbless Music was established more recently, by Simon Hartman, and while Hartman’s label is much younger, Limbless has also released a healthy stack of extremely unhealthy music.

Total Ruin’s latest batch of hideous dirges are filled with guttural refrains, repeated time and again, like some kind of sadistic sonic torture technique taken to its nth degree. Expect cement-mixer bass, incomprehensible vocals, and primitive riffs and percussion delivering the worst news imaginable, over and over, until you’re screaming for fucking mercy, of which there is none.

See also: Always Never Fun. Over the past decade, ANF has released some of NZ’s most significant punk recordings, and the label’s catalog is subsequently growing increasingly collectible. I’ll drop an embed in below for long-running and fired-up d-beat crew Rogernomix, who are one of the fiercest projects from ANF founder Thurston (and his co-conspirators).

See also: Spiteful Urinator. Total Ruin aren’t the only NZ punk band whose music is akin to some kind of sadistic sonic torture. Hamilton tormentors Spiteful Urinator make some the most fiendishly challenging noise in NZ’s underground punk scene. Highly recommend, obvs.

Total Ruin by Total Ruin

Punch a nazi in the Face by Rogernomix
Acid Earth by Spiteful Urinator

Ayn Randy – Talk Talk Talk EP

Wellington garage punks Ayn Randy opened a show for Propagandhi in a jam-packed club during the Canadian band’s recent NZ tour. A crammed club or rowdy house party is the ideal place to witness Ayn Randy tearing through their upbeat and unkempt songs. Really, the very last place you’d expect to see an underground band like Ayn Randy performing is on a gigantic stadium stage. But that’s exactly what happened. Not so long ago. When Ayn Randy opened a mega-selling NZ show headlined by Dadrock godheads Foo Fighters.

It must have been surreal for Ayn Randy to play in front of countless Foo Fighters fans, but the band wouldn’t have seemed wholly out of place. Ayn Randy do have pop rock and grunge embedded in their sound, and their energetic 2017 debut called to mind diverse groups like L7, Devo, and The Wipers. It’s worth pointing out that Ayn Randy’s use of controversial writer Ayn Rand’s name isn’t supposed to be a tribute. There are political elements in a few of Ayn Randy’s songs, but the band certainly aren’t proponents of any Randian philosophies.

In the main, Ayn Randy are simply here to have a good time. Their new Talk Talk Talk EP was released to coincide with the band’s recent Australian tour, and it’s stacked with shout-a-long choruses and plenty of irresistible momentum. In parts, Talk Talk Talk feels even punchier and grungier than the band’s debut, and the EP was recorded and mixed, once again, by invaluable Wellington audio wizard Vanya Vitali.

It’s worth deviating for a second to note that Vitali’s name often crops up when you’re talking about the scuzziest corners of contemporary NZ punk. Vitali’s played in a number of ill-tempered bands, but he’s also recorded scores of local punk and metal releases at his Scumbag College studio, which closed in 2017, after the warehouse housing the studio was sold to developers. However, Scumbag College’s motto (“turning horse-shit into honey”) and Vitali’s DIY approach live on at his new(ish) base of operations, Slime City.

Vitali’s always been great at capturing the raw essence of a band –– no matter how gritty, grimy, or even grisly that is. In the case of Ayn Randy, the band’s scrappy magnetism sits front and center on Talk Talk Talk. The EP is welcomingly rough around the edges, and that touch of abrasiveness suits Ayn Randy’s gutsy mix of garage/grunge punk to a T. Big fat hooks meet hardcore’s bite throughout Talk Talk Talk, and there’s plenty of pogoing propulsion and tempting snags and snares to grab ahold of your attention.

See also: Unsanitary Napkin. I couldn’t recommend Wellington rabble-rousers Unsanitary Napkin enough. Especially if you’re looking for fearless anarcho-punk that tackles political, social and cultural problems while simultaneously celebrating the joys of collective resistance.

See also: The recent hi-energy split release from NZ duos Blame Thrower (garage/speedy punk) and Grown Downz (skate/blues punk). Both two-piece bands specialize in fleet-footed songs packed with sizzling amounts of exuberance and energy.

Talk Talk Talk (Australian tour) EP by Ayn Randy

Orgasmic Capitalism by Unsanitary Napkin

Grown Downz / Blame Thrower Split by Blame Thrower

Easy Off – Demo

Hamilton four-piece Easy Off features members from burly hardcore band Salvage and post-hardcore and screamo group Hedge Fund Trader. The great thing about Easy Off is that their music is about as crude as crude gets, but it’s also kind of clever, because Easy Off’s self-titled demo doesn’t reference any of the band members’ previous projects or even the subgenres they explored. Instead, Easy Off’s demo, which the band smashed out in a couple of days, features “clean shirt” crust, with plenty of bonus d-beat velocity and raw punk violence thrown in.

I’m guessing the “clean shirt” part of Easy Off’s aesthetic means they’re not
averse to scrubbing their pits, now and then. It definitely doesn’t apply to the tone or tenor of their music, which is entirely unsanitary and about as comforting as nails on a chalkboard. Obviously, making foul and obnoxious music is kind of the point in the world of in-your-face crust, and Easy Off’s demo scores high on the coarse and caustic scoreboard. Noise punk, crust, and d-beat fans dig in. A promising –– albeit ear-fuckingly raw –– debut. (Bonus points for also selling said demo in repurposed cigarette packets. Nice.)

See also: Wellington crusties Molenaar and G.D.V, who don’t sound like they’ve got any clean shirts in their respective wardrobes. Both bands’ stench-ridden music falls squarely into the crossover crust realm. Molenaar produce heavyweight and tinnitus-inducing tracks, while G.D.V sounds like they’ll give you an exotic skin condition for simply tuning in.

Demo by Easy Off

Hate Not Phobia – Demo 2018 by Molenaar

Greek Domestic Violence by G.D.V.

Long Distance Runner – No Escape

No Escape is the second 7″ release from Auckland five-piece Long Distance Runner. Much like the band’s No Value debut, No Escape is full of high-speed hardcore, howling screamo, and impassioned post-hardcore. What Long Distance Runner do best is fuse punk’s visceral punch with adventurous twists, turns, parries and thrusts, and if hardcore that’s sophisticated yet somehow still entirely untamed sounds good to you, Long Distance Runner might well appeal.

The band’s sound is razor-sharp, and their arrangements pack plenty of cathartic punch, but it’s those offbeat deviations on No Escape that add extra dynamic friction into Long Distance Runner’s supersonic tracks. With heart-pounding riffs and plenty of inventive swerves and tense aggression, Long Distance Runner’s creative future looks set to be thrilling.

See also: Parents. Long-lived Auckland hardcore/screamo band Parents fuse full-strength ferocity to foot-to-the-floor intensity. All of the band’s releases are as intricate as they are volatile. All have been well received by NZ’s hardcore community, as well as attracting the attention of fans from far offshore.

See also: Stress. These new kids on the post-hardcore block released their promising debut late last year. Hardcore, post-metal, sludge, and noise rock were all mixed and mangled in stampeding songs. One to watch, for sure.

No Escape by Long Distance Runner

Great Reward by Parents

Misery Fatigue by STRESS

Contenders – Contenders

The electrifying vocals of Contenders’ singer, Cilla, are both a huge selling point and a crucial component on the Hamilton band’s spiky and gritty (and self-titled) 7” debut. Contenders mix old school hardcore influences that dovetail perfectly with Cilla’s powerful voice, which bears comparison to pioneers like Poly Styrene, Exene Cervenka, Debbie Harry and (as pre-release press suggests) Penelope Houston from San Francisco punk band Avengers.

Contenders don’t hide their high-octane hooks under a bushel. Shout-a-long punk and fist-raising rock mess about on their 7″ (think the Bags via Blondie via Negative Approach) and tracks like “Teenage Crybaby,” “One Flew Over,” and “Attract/Repel” feature explosive choruses sparked by rocket-fueled momentum. And with members from Wizz Kids, Electric Mayhem and Phone Sex Robots in the band’s ranks, there’s plenty of skilled engineers fine-tuning Contenders’ rowdy creative engine.

Contenders’ 7” is full of wickedly lacerating instrumentation, but in the end, it’s the band’s killer combination of high-speed 70s and 80s inspirations with vocalist Cilla’s super-catchy singing that ensures their vinyl debut remains an addictive riot throughout.

FYI: Contenders’ self-titled EP will be available digitally via Bandcamp on 31 March (for the princely sum of “name your price”) and it includes two bonus tracks not featuring on their 7″. Win-win, my friends!

See also: Exit Fear. Auckland band Exit Fear feature a formidable vocalist—in this case, Dorian Noval—who sings (and plays drums) in NZ “wine punk” duo Tooms too. Exit Fear cite bands like Cursed and His Hero Is Gone as inspirations, and their debut EP duly features powerhouse crusty hardcore with plenty of emotional and musical ferocity.

Attract/Repel by Contenders

EXIT FEAR EP 1 by EXIT FEAR

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Posted by Craig Hayes

Semi-literate hobgoblin, full-time shark obsessive, old-school nincompoop.

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