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August 13, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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R.I.P. – Ritalin, 1998 – 2007

“The night’s gone wrong Now the whiskey’s all gone
And it’s looking like the acid might have won.”

After nine years’ havoc-wreaking, Dunedin’s lords of thrash-punk are calling it a day. Ritalin have been New Zealand’s most shambolic, uncontrollable and, above all else, committed band over the last decade. Despite touring the country twenty times, releasing a couple of meaty records (without ruining their vegetarian ethos) and drawing together a legion of lil’ punk fans, their presence on C4, radio and the press is oddly close to nil. Any suggestion that they might be bitter about this is dispelled by on their latest album Roguetown, with the words: “Losing out is a way of life / losing out is so much fun / a different path to prove them wrong.”

It doesn’t really matter where you get to in the music world, because it’s the journey that counts. Having watched Ritalin perform over the last four years, I can confidently say that the journey has been worth it. Every single gig they put on turns into a mad party awash in Tasman Bitter and spirits, as the band clatter about the stage in various states of undress.

“It’s cold and you are growing old from doing what you’re told.”

Perhaps the one thing that really made Ritalin stand so tall was their commitment to putting on all-ages gigs. While most touring bands are content to ply the R18 pub circuit, playing to jaded rooms of twenty-somethings too hip to dance, Ritalin have always endeavoured to find venues where their teenaged fans can jump about to their heart’s content. Drummer Stu Young told me that this commitment comes from their own teenaged experience of having no decent gigs to go to – the band started organising their own shows while still very young because “the rockquest was boring and there was nothing else. I guess we feel that we owe it to kids to make sure they have the chance to experience a punk rock show if they want it.”

In 2003, when the band were flatting in a cavernous ex-gang HQ, they turned their home into a venue, called it Rebel High and opened it up to a couple hundred punters every fortnight. Unfortunately some rich cunt then bought the place and turned it into a swanky accommodation hostel.

“Drive through another town, this place is fuck all Redneck meat market I’m back on the bottle.”

Their defining song has to be ‘Party Van’. It is an ode to all the “dodgy, dodgy travelling arrangements” the band put itself through on its many tours. According to Stu, “the amount of driving that [bass player] Kitt has done while completely fucked from the nights of partying and playing is very questionable.” The song remembers these times when “the beer’s always free when there’s nothing left to eat / That’s the reason it’s a wonder we survived, going off the rails only half alive.” Along the way they’ve hosted a number of international acts including The Bouncing Souls, Strung Out and Strike Anywhere.

The band always saved their best for the Crown, a century-old brick and concrete Speights tavern in Dunedin, which Stu calls “one of, if not the, dirtiest venue in the country.”

The tavern is split into two bars: rednecks, pies, darts and potential stabbings on the right, and a gig hall on the left. This hall is only separated by one wall from the Dragon Café fish’n’chip shop, so that the odour of greasy hamburger wafts through, enveloping the men’s loos to suffocate innocently vomiting bystanders in whiffs of atmospheric fat. The almighty greasyness of this concrete watering-hole emanates from every riff, every growl and snare in Ritalin’s oeuvre.

Alas, the band played their final Wellington gig in July, before one final performance at the Crown. While they say it was a bit sad hearing their songs for the final time, they had decided last year to lay the band’s battered body to rest. Fortunately this doesn’t mean their members have ceased playing – bassist Kitt and guitarist Vanya now play in Skaface Claw, while Stu and vocalist Niam are working on a new project. And hell, everything’s gotta come to an end someday. It was well fucking worth it while it lasted. Ritalin, rest in pieces.

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Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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