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September 30, 2013 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Wellytronic Music

New Zealanders are obsessed with guitars, and have been for pretty much the entirety of pop music being a thing in this country. But it’s not the ‘70s anymore, and a new type of sound wave is crashing on the shores of our city. While electronic musicians are often accused of being nothing more than kids-with-laptops, Wellington-based musicians are crushing this stereotype completely, with incredibly creative results.

 

In April last year, the Wellington music community was distinctively sad at the closure of local venue Happy. But although the prospect of one of the most supportive live-music venues closing was distressing for many artists, all was not lost. A hairy man sporting rimmed glasses and band T-shirts had taken over the location, with the intention of forming New Zealand’s first venue dedicated to live electronic-music performance.

The venue, affectionately named ‘Puppies’, is literally a basement. Its concrete structure allows performers to push up the volume beyond normal limits, making it ideal for MAXIMUM BASS. The stage is purposely low, allowing audiences to observe what is actually taking place during a live electronic performance, and the monitors are strategically positioned above the stage rather than at the feet of the performers to allow more contact between the artists and the audience; one of only two venues in New Zealand to have this style of setup. But how has all this technical music-nerd stuff affected the music scene in Wellington?

For musicians wanting to produce electronic music, there was previously no real venue that had the gear or the right crowd to support their craft. Blink, infamous owner of Puppies and founder of Camp A Low Hum, saw that there were specific problems with other Wellington venues, reckoning that “Mighty Mighty can’t be that loud because they have their regular crowd that come in and if you’re pumping music too loud it just pisses them off. And also, that venue wasn’t set up for cranking beats, it was set up for rock and roll, garage bands, performances. [San Francisco Bath House] is too big a venue; Bodega is too big, so that was pretty much why I came in here and I emptied it out; I made it feel like a basement.”

While places like Mighty Mighty and San Fran have certainly fostered a culture of music appreciation, one can’t help but agree with Blink. The attitude of these venues seems to be ‘ain’t nobody messin’ with ma clique’, and their clique does NOT include scrawny teenagers with laptops.

But that perspective is changing rapidly. While both Blink and Beat Mob (a local DJ) agree that people don’t understand the effort and creativity that goes into producing electronic music, the appeal of making music entirely on a computer is becoming increasingly seductive.

Totems, a producer from Auckland whose popularity is beginning to climax, argues that musicians can no longer rely on making music in bands to satisfy their creative cravings. “[T]he reason I started doing Totems was because it’s really fucking hard to rely on people. When you have four people in a band, you gotta organise band practice, you gotta make sure all of them have free time, and it can be really irritating if you can only practice once a week. Whereas if you’re making beats, you can do that all day.”

But making beats on your own time doesn’t necessarily make it a solitary exercise. Beat Mob notes that “people are collaborating in New Zealand now more than ever”. With the aid of the internet, musicians from all over the country have been able to collectivise their talents, generating new electronic music at an extremely high standard.

However, this new-found interconnectivity has also resulted in there being little stylistic distinction in electronic music between different cities. Once-Auckland-now-Wellington-based artist Foxtrot even goes so far as to say: “I don’t think there is a specific collective community [of electronic musicians in Wellington] per se; rather, little pockets of people making music all over the place.”

While this may be true, it isn’t necessarily the style or sound of Wellington electronic musicians that makes the city’s musical culture so unique. Rather, it’s the presence of Blink and of his bar, Puppies.

Totems, Foxtrot, and Beat Mob all gave radiant reviews of the Puppies owner. When asked what he has contributed to the electronic-music community in Wellington, Foxtrot even reckoned there was “too much to list” (before actually going on to list everything that he has contributed). Beat Mob noted Blink’s capacity to weave people together into a far-reaching nest of music-makers; “He has that ability to personally connect with artists that he wants to play or represent. I heard from some people that when he wants somebody to play at Camp he personally addresses them, which is strange for a promoter. He just comes to them and asks them to play, which is refreshing. Like, he does give a fuck, which is the main thing… He does give young kids that he sees a talent in an opportunity to come out and play.”

In fact, Blink’s magnetic pull even partly contributed to Totems’ decision to move to Wellington earlier this year; a move which got local musicians VERY excited, and seemed to signal that this is where the electronic-music scene is thriving. In Totems’ own words, Blink is “just the ultimate dude in New Zealand music, he’s just sussed everyone out. He’s really on to it, knows what’s cool, what’s good. He’s got his finger on the pulse.”

When I met with Blink (a moment which felt like I was meeting some kind of Wellington deity, but that’s probably just because I’m a nerdy fan-girl), his enthusiasm for helping young musicians was obvious. Premised on the idea that ‘mainstream’ listeners “just don’t understand” the skill involved in creating electronic music, he seemed sad when telling me that at Camp A Low Hum, electronic artists “can be playing for 1000 people and it’ll go off and be awesome in the middle of a forest. And then they come back to the city for the rest of the year and it’s just really depressing because there’s just no acceptance of what they do.”

But his attitude towards electronic music in Wellington is not only based on compassion for artists and their limited opportunities for performance. He states that “part of [Puppies] is that it’s a chance for me to experiment and fuck with people… I like it when no one’s here. If there’s not something planned late at night then usually I’ll end up DJing… I do this thing where I walk around and I ask what songs people hate and I’ll just play those, like anti-request guy. But at the same time I’ll take songs people hate and make them awesome, remix the shit out of them.”

In other words, Blink seems to have a ‘Grand Master Plan’ which incorporates not only support for local electronic artists, but the expansion of his own creative talents. His performances at Puppies are unique and—as far as I’m aware—unmatched by other DJs around the country in terms of originality. This means that a private audience with him at 2.30 am on the corner of Vivian and Tory Streets is an experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else in New Zealand, furthering Wellington’s distinctive qualities as an electronic-music hub.

Sadly, everything that Puppies has provided for Wellington musicians over the last year is about to be jeopardised. Blink only views the venue as a “two-year project”, and he “always knew there was going to be an ending with it”.

So what will happen when the bass-ment closes? Will someone else be capable of continuing Blink’s efforts, considering that his connections with such a plethora of musicians is more valuable than what any business model or investment could offer? And where will his regular artists continue to perform?

Considering the momentum that electronic music has gained in Wellington, and the reciprocal nature of the relationships that have been formed between artists, I wouldn’t be surprised if venues like Mighty Mighty and San Fran made their spaces more feasible as locations for live music in this genre. In fact, I wouldn’t even be surprised if a 20-something-year-old with a passion for the wob-wob-wob of drum and bass took it upon him/herself to continue building the Puppies brand.

For the first time in my life, I wish I studied Management so I could take on the task myself.

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Comments (3)

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  1. James says:

    Wow, wow. This electronic music you speak of, we are so lucky Blink has revealed it to us.

    Blink has been a large part of the problem of cultivating narrow music taste in NZ for a long time now, and the particular brand of “electronic music” you seem to be gushing about is more often than not a straight-forward switch out of guitars for laptops – the mentality is exactly the same. New Zealand has a really long, really interesting history of electronic audio production and consumption, in comparison Blink’s wares are pretty much at the same level as Fly My Pretties.

    PS there’s a typo in the date of this article, sentiments expressed by the author clearly place it in 2001.

    Cue Blink media control in 3, 2, 1…

  2. anon says:

    agree with James. Blink doesn’t know jack shit about electronic music – he even asked Simon Sweetman to DJ his festival. lol

  3. james says:

    Wellington really doesn’t have an electronic music scene. It’s very sad.

    I’ve been living here for just over a year now and rarely see events.

    I want some techno. Minimal.

    I wish I could open a club here. It would be packed.

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