In what seems a pointless endeavor, I am uploading a few old pieces that were on the internet, but now aren’t under the “History Occasionally Repeats” tag. I’ve written for a few websites in the past, some no longer exist and others no longer have my work up for reasons that are their own. I’ve found a couple that I wanted to add here mainly so I don’t lose them. This time an interview with Aotearoa hip hop royalty, PNC.
Coming up in Palmerston North is not necessarily that cool. It’s probably not something I’d tell people without some persuasion. But I’m not Sam Hansen. Sam is so proud of his hometown that he uses the moniker PNC (Palmerston North City) to ensure everyone is aware of the link. On the other hand, he loves American football, basketball and American music, so I had to ask when I spoke to him recently, where does his loyalties lie?
Not surprisingly, he is loyal to music. He explained that is music has an American influence that can’t be ignored. Hip hop music was born in New York and Hansen was quick to acknowledge his influences from that part of the world. Whether it be Jay-Z or J. Cole, Hansen knows his hip hop history. The American style and culture that permeates hip hop music can be heard in Hansen’s music, but his style is not cookie cutter. That became clearer as he discussed how his album came about.
He confirmed it is the most personal album he has completed and it shares the dualism that is reflected in many elements of Hansen’s music. He was partying, drinking and living it up amidst the World Cup fervour in Auckland, but inside, he was depressed. He explained a long term relationship had ended and with it, some direction. Songs like Stranger show real heart on your sleeve relationship issues that Hansen was facing. It’s a raw song with a real anger caught up in the final verse, but to me it’s not nearly as open and honest as early song on the album As I Fly. On that track Hansen lays it all out for the listener and while he was reluctant to delve too far into it on the phone, he admitted that he was struggling at the time. I think the line from a song later in the album, Take It All, sums it up nicely “Watching London burn and I think I feel the same rage.”
Mental health difficulties, inner reflection, grief are not the subjects that come to mind when listening to some of the upbeat and party anthems that also inhabit the album. But it’s that dualism again. It’s that same split that brings the lad from Palmerston North into the big city and it’s the same when it comes to the popularisation of his music. He tells me he tries not to focus too much on outcomes when he’s writing, but really hopes his songs sit somewhere between art and pop. He explained he thinks some of the best hip hop, the likes of Outkast, sit in that gap successfully and if he had an aim, that’s what it would be.
He’s taken a lot from locals too. His good friend and label mate David Dallas, has inspired him on releasing his most recent album for free through the internet. He also reported there may be an EP he is working on with Pieter T as well as the second instalment of Under the Influence with producer Matt Miller all keeping him busy. What he hopes will be keeping you busy on Oct 6 is his show with Pieter T at the reopening of Thirty Two 04. Tickets are $5 pre-sale and $10 on the door and PNC says it will be a rocking good night for hip hop heads and lovers of all music. And considering his dedication to his craft, I’d tend to believe him.
In what seems a pointless endeavor, I am uploading a few old pieces that were on the internet, but now aren’t under the “History Occasionally Repeats” tag. I’ve written for a few websites in the past, some no longer exist and others no longer have my work up for reasons that are their own. I’ve found a couple that I wanted to add here mainly so I don’t lose them. This was an interview with ex-48 May drummer and Hamilton musical stalwart Vegas Brown.
I never lived on May street. But there was a time when it was famous. Maybe not Hyde Park or Times Square famous, but still… In the not too distant past, pop-rock outfit 48 May were a gold record selling, catchy pop single making, Hamilton band, born out of a flat on May Street. They may be no more, but Shannon “Vegas” Brown is still hard at work. He took a few minutes out of his day to talk about his new band, playing weddings and Facebook.
Vegas is the quintessential Hamilton rocker to shoot the sh*t with. He’s been part of the scene for a long time, starting in a wedding band at age 13. He explained how these kinds of bands taught him history. It was one thing to like Guns and Roses, it was another to know Led Zep, blues music and the origins of the songs he was playing. Soon he started moving through bands, including some of New Zealand’s best known groups and opening for some international big names. So yeah, he had some stories. But was Vegas interested in the who’s who of the scene? Not a chance. He just wants to play music.
Vegas made sure his band had their chops down. He’s made a living in covers bands, making sure their shows are filled to the brim with personality and tight musicianship. He strongly believes that if you can add life to that Rolling Stones cover you’ve played a million times, then you are bound to rock through your originals. He knows his band will be able to hold their own on stage, they’ve been doing it week in and week out at some of the North Island’s premier bars and pubs known for live music. Now it’s time for his band to work on some of his songs.
Vegas released a debut solo album which he claims was just important musically as it was therapeutically. Having been in the industry for so long and having found success in bands, but then returning to the drawing board, Vegas admitted things were hard. Writing and recording his solo album released some of those tensions and he was able to move into a more freeing and rocking album with his new band, Hessian Horsemen. He explained that the band was liberating experience as he was able to see his songs come to life with the energy of accomplished players.
But Vegas is not an art for art’s sake kind of musician. Although I think he’d like to be. He is aware of how important the industry is and how things work. He explained it was disappointing going to old friends like I Am Giant (he played in the band Tadpole with their guitarist) and asking for opening slots only to be told, management wants a popularity competition on Facebook. The band with the most Likes will open for us. Vegas wouldn’t let that hold him back, even if he isn’t a huge Facebook user. So he’s doing things his way. He’s producing music and touring. He’s roped his supportive wife into management, finances and album art. He has an air of that old punk do-it-yourself mentality. And he knows what he’s talking about, he’s been doing it himself for some time now.
The new music isn’t punk rock in sound, even if it is in backdrop. It’s an all-encompassing purists dream. It rocks but it doesn’t alienate. It has catchy dancability but gone is the faux-punk imagery. The girls and parting that was heavy in the lyrics of 48 May have gone too. There is a depth to the new work and what is left is as solid and entrenched in music as Vegas himself. Hessian Horsemen’s debut album will be out soon, but to keep you in the loop and because Vegas is a generous sort of chap, he’s given Nexus a bunch of singles to give away.
So for the rock and roll kids, Vegas is producing hometown stunners. He is working on his songs as an art form, but is tied up in that battle of commerciality and art. He appears to be walking that tight rope expertly, he knows it all too well and this time he hopes the grand finale will be centre stage in the big top, but for now, you can probably still catch him giving everything to that old Rolling Stones number in your local covers bar.
By Hp – ages ago
Interviewing someone about their art is interviewing them about their life. That can lead down some wild roads or it can end up in cul-de-sac’s talking about technique. I’ve blown plenty of interviews where I get to talk to someone inspirational and all we do is talk about form or key changes or the “scene”. Speaking with Theia and Vayne following the release of their single Creep, could have gone down that way had these two women not been the incredibly strong and brave people they are.
Theia (Waikato/Tainui) grew up in Christchurch while Vayne (Waikato/Tainui) was born and raised in Kirikiriroa. Despite common iwi, the pair did not begin working together until a chance meeting at a te reo Māori APRA Songwriting programme in the Hawkes Bay. While artists in these programmes are placed together to collaborate musically, what happened for Theia and Vayne were conversations about life. Those conversations delved into sexual predators and how their victims were treated in the music industry and in society. From a place of shared pain and parallel but never straight lines of healing, Theia and Vayne found in each other ways of expressing their story that is both unique to them and universal.
Vayne explained that once it came to the work, the writing and recording sessions were easy. The artists may not be a likely pairing on paper; Theia an ex-major label experimental pop artist with a wealth of experience and Vayne a new and grungy hip hop artist, but the collaboration was seamless. Fortuitous timing helped as well. Vayne has only been taking music seriously the last few years and Theia is newly independent, but also the pair had come to a place within themselves where they could discuss and in the song Creep, address, the abuse. Theia explained it was great to be able to come at the subject matter from a place of strength and a few years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible for her.
Strength comes from many places, but it was the power of language and in particular the differences between English and te reo Māori that allowed a blossoming within these wāhine. Theia explained that some of the most derisive swear words in English come from slandering the female anatomy which screams of misogyny and using a woman’s body as a means to insult another. Its words like this she had no intention on wasting on the creeps she points to in the song, yet te reo Māori has kupu that holds the power, the anger, the frustration that survivors have towards abusers and that is pokokōhuatia/I will boil your head.
The head in te ao Māori is tapu and to boil it is the ultimate insult. Theia sought guidance about using the kupu in the song and was ultimately empowered to use it to describe these creeps. Vayne found her strength in music and from a young age, its healing properties have allowed her to not only survive, but flourish. She saw whānau not speak out for her, she saw a society continuing to ostracize and oppress her people and yet here she is telling abusers and those who stay silent to protect abusers, “I’ll boil your head.”
Theia opens the track by using her native language, one so beautiful it belies the aggression behind her words. The translation is, “My muzzle has been loosened and I will never sit in silence again”. That is what these women want, or at least hope for – that rangatahi Māori, that wāhine Māori are not silenced. Theia strikingly puts it like this;
“The modus operandi of abuse is to suppress you and to make you feel helpless and ashamed so you feel like you can’t go and get help and enables cycles of abuse and trauma to continue.”
And this is speaking out. This is not remaining silent and it is adding to the collective voice that is calling for change in our communities where sexual violence is called it for what it is and stopped.
Theia and Vayne are playing Nirvana Lounge Hamilton on Friday May 7. Tickets are $25 and available at undertheradar.co.nz
For support on these and other matters raised in the interview, please utilize services such as
Women’s Refuge 0800 REFUGE, Lifeline 0800 54 33 54 and http://www.rapecrisisnz.org.nz/
Originally published by Hamilton Underground Press
The members of Hamilton five-piece Bitter Defeat have day jobs that in many ways are more prestigious than the music on this entertaining EP, cleverly called ‘Minor Victory’. That is to say, when you have a surgeon playing bass and a university professor playing Casiotone, lumbering fuzz-pop isn’t necessarily expected. But to see Bitter Defeat live, or in their music video produced by another Hamilton creative stalwart Kat Waswo, is to see their true selves – happy go-lucky friends making music they love.
The ’90s were clearly very kind to band founder, Rob Shirlow. His songwriting and the band’s overall tone echoes the sound of slacker-rock from that era, the likes of Pavement or The Breeders, though the guitars are grubbier and the rhythm section a little more sedate. Opening track Light That Shines, rattles into life, accelerating further in its brilliant choruses, but two minutes later winds down again. The whole ethos of this band seems to be about having a good time, so if after two minutes of a relatively cracking pace it’s time to move on to the next lark, well, it’s time to move on.
The next lark happens to be the single and standout song from this 5-track EP, Long Lash. A song dedicated to an annoying eyelash is surely an anthem to the “middle-age malaise” Shirlow reflects on. Rather than seem corny, Long Lash showcases the knack of Shirlow and Ben Manning as guitarists. Neither are trying to be virtuosos, in fact it feels like to do so might lead to an invitation not to come to the next band practice. They combine simply and methodically to lead the band through the haze, one grinding out rhythm and the other bending notes over the top, creating pop-friendly layering.
An ex-pat Welshman, Shirlow was bassist for Hamilton’s indie darlings Ancient Tapes before they split in 2018, but perhaps that band didn’t cash in on his heritage as well as they could have. Bitter Defeat have already achieved radio play on BBC Radio Wales, as well as favour in the city of the future, opening for NZ acts like The Bats and Hamish Kilgour at Hamilton’s Nirvana Lounge.
It’s easy to see why, with Kathryn Thompson’s drumming driving the band forward, buzzy guitar licks, and an attitude of hometown DIY. While the EP has a certain polish, Julian White’s bass and Ian Duggan’s keys sound sharp, aesthetically, this is indie music. The bouncy closer, Streetlight, finishes with someone happily yelling, “I didn’t cock up!” and that sums up this ‘Minor Victory’. Fun music played by friends who are trying to seem vaguely professional at night, having worked hard as professionals all day.
Originally published by NZ Musician
Fans of post-punk fuzz merchant’s, Opposite Sex, are going to find plenty to love on their latest outing, High Drama. Everything is here, just bigger. The eery effects of twisted powerlines on guitar are still here, but they come with the crunching of a car crash. The vocals still bite, and the drumming can swing between understated to raucous. The opening track, Shoots Me Like a Knife, rockets out with Lucy Hunter’s singing, demanding and accusatory, buoyed along by frantic drumming from Tim Player. It’s a brilliant and caustic beginning to an album that takes the best things of 2016’s Hamlet and dials them up.
Hunter’s vocals are such an asset to the group; there is a lightness, even a sweetness to her voice that belies the strength in her lyrics. When paired with the cavalcade of screeching and droning that Reg Norris puts out on guitar, it’s the juxtaposition that creates an accessibility to the noisy and riotous instrumental. When the boys are left in charge of singing, like on Tumble Down/Mikhail, or the bass is heavier, it becomes darker again, a breathy horror sequence of peering around corners, which is exciting, though nerve-wrecking. Hunter pulls us back to safety.
The demo of Dick on a Throne from 2016 is up on Opposite Sex’s bandcamp page, but the album version is a huge step forward. Norris’ brimming guitar is a near perfect stage for Hunter’s delivery, lighting up her revulsion and letting it simmer. It’s that layering again, a casualness in her voice, and lyrics like, “Stop staring at your dick, its gross/Don’t tell me how to sit, its gross,” that adds a sense of humour in what becomes a black comedy. The song moves from skin scraping on concrete to fist pumping peaks.
The second half of the album perhaps doesn’t quite hold the magnitude of the first half. Owls Do Cry moves from sounding tried to nearly breaking apart, which is a helluva journey in eight or so minutes, but like Mondays, I don’t want to wake up that fast. Robotica is cute but doesn’t quite land as well as the opening track which is its best comparison point. Neither it, nor the beat poetry in a car crusher that is Nico, are must skip tracks, they’re just not to the same level as some others.
This slightly off-kilter, sonically diverse album is genuinely fantastic and frightening. It’s like seeing sparks flying in a petrol station and that excitement is what drives the album forward. There will be plenty people eagerly waiting on this album, but it’s those opposites that will draw in new listeners; those contraries in Hunter’s voice and lyrics, Norris’ guitar-cum-wrecking yard and Player’s nous in balancing them on top of smashing hi-hats and snares. A raw and visceral delight.
*Originally published by Hamilton Underground Press
Support is the most dangerous word
We went to my Uncle’s Parole Board hearing
to offer it
He came home with GPS monitoring
Every morning he’d say he’d find salvation or
a one bedroom flat
He mowed the same stretch of lawn until
it was dust.
I would drive him to appointments and he’d
always thank me,
Except in February, when the appointment
was a drug deal
Except in February, when he knifed the dealer
Except when he was screaming, “Drive, drive
He was quite polite.
Support is a dangerous word when you’re a key witness
against your family
Through my vaulted silence, he was still convicted,
sent back to Paremoremo.
Only then did my sister come forward to tell us
the very worst.
Her description was a daisy chain of wasps stinging
so that by the end, her words were poison
before she’d even said them.
*Originally published in Poetry New Zealand Yearbook
It’s the kind of town glaciers retreat from
while asphalt melts in the summer sun
cigarette butts flop in concentric circles
every third shop is closing down
queues outside the WINZ on Grey Street
not enough rosary beads for all our sins
a suit someone saw once said
there’s work at AFFCO if you’re clean
I can’t hear them I’m so high
school closed for earthquake strengthening
but Kmart seems to be doing fine
the hospital is bursting at the seams
hardiplank or asbestos
Cody’s seven percents by day
there’s a shooting on Poets’ Corner
that never makes the network news
officially, the city’s safer
we sit around in Nan’s garage
sipping bourbon bought for her
she’ll take our drink to the grave
the bus stop is too far to walk
the TV’s probably still on fire
we’ve got our car on hire-purchase
you know we’re not going far.
*Originally published in Blackmail Press http://www.blackmailpress.com/HP44.html
“Ko Taupiri te maunga…” is the beginning line of most Pēpeha I have heard. I grew up in the Waikato where many of those from the largest iwi in the area, Waikato/Tainui, connect to Taupiri mountain and the urupā there where the dead rest. As a young person, I had some understanding of Te Reo Māori as I was lucky enough to have Māori teachers in school, yet my grasp of the language was very basic. Still, I could recognise a Pēpeha.
Joining the workforce in the heart of the Kīngitanga, Ngāruawāhia, it became very clear just how little I knew. So, I and an increasing number of Pākehā, enrolled at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in Te Ara Reo Māori level two. I found the night classes uplifting and had empathetic kaiako and classmates who helped me stick out the year long programme. I was hardly fluent but felt more comfortable at mihi whakatau and knew a lot more waiata to (badly) sing along to as required.
What I learnt in terms of pēpeha was the basic structure which can be found across the internet where the speaker identifies mountains, bodies of water, waka, iwi and so on to build connection within themselves and with others. Pākehā, Māori, and people of every creed and denomination would stand in front of our class in Hamilton reciting our pēpeha with our maunga and our awa or moana from around the motu.
The internet holds a number of resources to help beginners like me build a pēpeha. One site asks for simple details and puts them into the correct phrases for you. When it comes to maunga, it simply states “A Maunga is a mountain that is special to you or one that you have lived by.” Taupiri is not an option and I assume this is due to the tapu nature of the maunga, so I add Maungatautari, which I’ve at least climbed. The website spits out a pēpeha which for a small fee can even be made into a poster!
Colonisation in Aotearoa/New Zealand is not a historical occurrence, but an active function of modern governments, laws and people. It is built, in part, on miscommunication about land. This can be seen in the example of Māori understandings of kaitiaki or caretakers of the land and the direct conflict with Pākehā understanding of ownership of said land which comes out of feudal and class systems of Europe. So any pēpeha acknowledging the land here in Aotearoa/New Zealand has to be aware of the differences and also the sensitivity around land when kaitiaki had so much land confiscated by the Crown. This led to conflict and the destabilize the economic base for many Māori.
Tina Ngata pointed out in a recent NZ Herald article that, “concepts like pēpeha included connections to ātua (gods)… and the landscape, including maunga and awa. So when we say our pēpeha we are making a genealogical statement as Māori, as descending from those things.” Yet, now I as a Pākehā am saying I am connected to Maungatautari? Why? Because I lived near there, spent time there in weekends? Is that the same spiritual connection Waikato/Tainui people have to Taupiri? The obvious answer was no.
Pākehā who live in Aotearoa/New Zealand may feel a strong sense of home, or connection to this beautiful place, but our genealogical links are to Europe or the UK (No, not America, that’s a whole other colonisation discussion). To say Maungatautari was the mountain that I connect to felt yuck and like I was re-colonizing space through language every time I recited my pēpeha. I needed to do and learn much more. I finished level four at the Wānanga, but it was really through conversations with kaumatua, reading the likes of Tina Ngata and some serious digging into my own whakapapa that led me to a pēpeha that I feel more comfortable saying.
This is not meant to chide Pākehā or take some subliminal shots at Te Wānanga for their teaching (they were amazing), but to share a journey I have been on to be a descent ally to our indigenous whānau. Am I there yet? No. But I am trying to uphold the importance of connection through whakapapa when I kōrero Māori and hope by sharing my thoughts, others will take the time to think about their whakapapa, how they learn a pēpeha and what it means to be Pākehā or Tauiwi speaking to Māori.
The NZ Herald article cites Donovan Farnham’s example:
Ko … te maunga te rū nei taku ngākau / … is the mountain that speaks to my heart
Ko … te awa e mahea nei aku māharahara / … is the river that alleviates my worries
Nō … ahau / I’m from …
E mihi ana ki ngā tohu o nehe, o … e noho nei au / I recognise the ancestral and spiritual landmarks of … where I live
I started with Donovan’s example and altered it to feel more personal and to honour the importance of making connections by being true to my whakapapa. I have had many kapu ti with tangata whenua where we explore the connections of their European whakapapa and mine to build our own bond. It is as follows:
Ko Waikato te awa e mahea nei aku māharahara/The Waikato is the river that alleviates my worries
Nō reira, ka mihi hoki ki a Kīngi Tūheitia/Therefore I wish to acknowledge King Tūheitia (of Waikato/Tainui)
Ko whenua o tāku whānau a Ingarangi me Hāmene/ The land of my family is England and Germany
Ko Pākehā rāua ko Hūrae te tāngata/ My people are Pākehā (NZ European) and Jewish
Nō Kirikiriroa āhau/ I’m from Hamilton
Ko Hayden Pyke tōku ingoa.
As of December 2020, Wikipedia is unsure when Ria Hall was born. It was bound to be ‘82 or ’83 it guesses (it was 1982) and her role on beloved Māori TV show, Marae DIY seems to be the highlight of her career. This is the same singer/songwriter whose second album Manawa (Heart) Wera (to be hot) earnt her Best Female Artist at the 2020 Waiata Māori Music Awards and top ten in RNZ’s round up of the best albums of 2020. She remains with Loop who have been behind some of the biggest NZ musicians of the last 15 years (think Black Seeds, L.A.B. etc.) and yet, it seems Ria Hall has been lost in the mess of 2020. Have the majority of Aotearoa audiences turned their backs on one of our most talented voices? And is that because Ria Hall makes Pākehā uncomfortable?
In 2019, the protests at Ihumātao were beginning to peak. The arrest of eleven demonstrators during the time protest group SOUL (Save Our Unique Landscape) were being evicted, pointed national attention at the tiny village Māori first settled in the 14th century. The land has a complicated history, but in 1863 was confiscated by the Crown during the Waikato Land Wars either to ensure Crown forces were not attacked from the rear or as a reprimand for local support of the Kīngitanga. It has been in the hands of the Wallace family more or less until it was sold to Fletcher Building in 2017. It’s historical significance as the oldest settlement in the wider Tāmaki Makaurau area is but one of the contentious points raised by SOUL.
Ria Hall (who’s whakapapa links her to Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Te Whānau ā Apanui, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Waikato) was physically and emotionally invested in the protest movement of Ihumātao, of Mauna Kea in Hawaii and indigenous peoples causes globally, as has her collaborator and producer, Laughton Kora. Opening track form the album, History, has Hall’s feet fashioned from the earth and her people’s stories on her skin while she pleads with us “to know your history”. Her record arrived when media jocks were calling protestors “radicals” and telling the wider public to ignore the issues represented by this land near Mangere.
2020 also saw the death of George Floyd at the whim of a US Police Officer and the protests, counter-protests and continued deaths that resulted were understandable and unfathomable for our small island nation on the other side of the world. What we did see, what those gathering in Aotea Square in support of the Black Lives Matters movement saw, was systemic racism. Yet, we struggle to own up to our own racism. We struggle to see that forced confiscation of land removed the economic and sustainable base for many tangata whenua and their over-representation in the adverse statistics of poverty are related to these acts. Ria Hall didn’t miss her history, she’s singing about it.
The line, “No one ones the ocean, no one owns the land” is delivered on third track, Owner, and while a clear enough concept, it is the clash of kaitiaki vs private ownership which is at the heart of our disagreements of distribution of land in Aotearoa. Alongside tino rangatiratanga, it is arguably the biggest issue facing equitable living under the Treaty in this country. What Ria Hall has done on this album, is to simply and clearly encapsulate the feelings and frustrations of these issues and distil them into her soulful voice.
A musician, a reggae fan, a Bob-Marley-T-Shirt-wearing-purist will be able to talk to the authenticity of this album. The reggae brought forward to support Ria is lush and bright as to be expected from her all-star band, which include Riki Gooch and Warren Maxwell (Trinity Roots), Wiremu Barriball (Katchafire) Ara Adams-Tamatea (L.A.B) and are backed by the vocals of Troy Kingi and Rob Ruha. It is something to witness, to almost get distracted by, as the instrumental work and the production by Laughton Kora are exceptional. However, it is the lyrics and the wairua of this music that will be remembered.
It is the depth, the passion that Ria Hall carries even on the radio-friendly Walk, that means this album will hold up. We have some incredible popstars gracing our shores at present. Six60, Benee, Kings, someone called Lorde, but 2020 does not belong to them. The record that is the epitome of Aotearoa right now is Manawa Wera by Ria Hall.