Archive for January, 2016

Film Review: Sicario

January 28, 2016

An idealistic FBI agent is unwittingly drawn into the frontline of the war on drugs and discovers on the US/Mexican border, a zone where the normal rule of law has been suspended and where ambiguity has replaced the constitutional values she has been trained to uphold.

Sicario is a visceral philosophical examination of an ideology that states unequivocally that narcotics are evil and must be stamped out no matter the cost, a point succinctly made by one of the characters: “Until we can convince 20% of the population to stop snorting this shit, we are at war,” a statement that begs the question, “Is legalisation a better solution to the endless carnage that is the direct result of prohibition?”

Cinema, when done right, is a powerfully confronting medium and Sicarrio is one of those films that hauls you up by the boot straps and gives you cause to examine your preconceptions and ideas about the nature of good and bad, right and wrong.

Take the American version of the Danish TV series The Bridge, mix up a whole lot of Breaking Bad, (without the irony and delicate absurdism), and there you have it, one hell of a film. 4/5 stars

Advertisements

Film Review: Trumbo

January 28, 2016

 

imgres-1

Once upon a time life for many working people in the industrialised West was barely a step up from outright slavery. Those that toiled on farms, construction sites and in factories could expect to work 12 hours plus a day 7 days a week for survival wages and few rights of redress. While there were enlightened employers who maintained reasonable working hours, decent pay, benefits and a day off every week but there were many more who maintained that the exploitation of workers for profit was not only their right, but also a sacred duty. In many industrialised societies including NZ this all began changing in the early part of the 20th century as the people, now armed with the hard won right to vote, began demanding a fairer share of the communities collective wealth and power.

The financial turmoil and ensuing chaos of the Great Depression, which kicked into full gear in the early 1930s, was the deal breaker and in many parts of the world established political orthodoxies collapsed ushering in a new wave of political reformers dedicated to making society a more equitable place for all its members.

In NZ it was the first Labour Government under Michael Joseph Savage that ushered in this new era of social democratic values that included free and compulsory education for children, (who until very recently had few rights and whose labour was often exploited in the worst possible ways), free health care, financial support for societies most vulnerable and a whole host of new laws aimed at improving wages and working conditions.

In the US, the Democratic Party led by F.D.R (Theodore Delano Roosevelt) under the banner of The New Deal, led the way in a brutal war of political attrition where conservative opponents accused Roosevelt, born into wealth and privilege, as being a traitor to his class. Reviled by the Republican elite, but beloved by the people, F.D.R persevered and ushered in an era of economic and social reforms that were define America for decades to come.

By the time of the Second World War, Roosevelt’s New Deal had gone a long way toward returning the nation to economic prosperity, but as America’s huge industrial base roared into life manufacturing the necessaries of war, the workers manning the production lines were no longer content to sit back and have their terms and conditions of employment dictated to them.

For working American’s, the Second World War was an era of unprecedented industrial unrest as workers demanded better conditions of employment, a fight that was still raging as the war came to a close and many tens of thousands aligned themselves with the Communist movement as they sought ever more radical solutions of wealth and power inequality.

One of these activists was successful Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Wealthy enough not to have to care, Trumbo nevertheless did care and was happy enough to put his neck on the line in support of the army of underpaid workers who maintained the motion picture industry; carpenters, electricians, technical assistants, make-up artists, hairdressers, runners and designers to name but a few.

This made him less than popular with those that ran the Hollywood studios but his bankable talent made him, to a degree, untouchable until the Republican led anti-communist movement began to flex it’s muscles. Unsettled by the growing power and influence of the Soviet Union, they began to actively persecute anyone associated with the communist movement who they considered ‘a clear and present threat’ to democratic values. Overnight many thousands of communist leaning white and blue-collar workers found themselves out of work and socially ostracised.

Singled out by a powerful industry organisation called The Motion Picture Alliance (for the preservation of American ideals), Trumbo and his close associates were targeted, outcast and banned from working. Trumbo was no communist ideologist, rather a workers rights campaigner for whom the communist badge was just a tool in his activist’s arsenal. Called before Congress to answer charges of un-American activities, Trumbo stuck to his guns and determined to defend his constitutional right to freedom of thought and expression refused to respond to the charges made against him and served 11 months in prison as punishment for his contempt.

There is a compelling scene where Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) accompanied by friends attends a meeting of The Motion Alliance to hand out pamphlets that offer another point of view of their activities. They listen on while movie star John Wayne gives a speech lambasting the traitorous activity of communist sympathisers whose work he declares serves to dishonour the sacrifices made by the brave men and women (counting himself among their number) who fought the forces of oppression so recently in Europe and the Pacific.

Trumbo confronts Wayne after the meeting and asks him (rhetorically) “There you are standing before us and making it sound like you won the war all on your own but what did you actually do during the war? While the rest of us were away serving overseas in various capacities, you were safe on the movie set having make-up applied and play acting.” Trumbo’s less than subtle implication being that Wayne was disingenuous, pointing the finger while he himself had not been prepared to make any considerable sacrifice for the cause of freedom. Needless to say, Wayne did not take this favourably but Trumbo’s point was well made, his accusers were hypocrites who were not above utilising the same tools of ‘divide, rule and oppress’ as the enemies they feared.

Bryan Cranston got his big break playing the put upon father in the long running absurdist TV comedy series Malcolm In The Middle and then surprised one and all a few years later when he returned to the small screen as Walter White, a science teacher turned methamphetamine king-pin, in the massively influential series Breaking Bad. With White, Cranston demonstrated the depth of his acting ability and in the process, turned himself into something of a cultural icon.

Cranston’s Trumbo is an intellectual ‘tour de force’ who will not be cowed those by those who accuse him of being the ‘danger’. At times Cranston’s performance comes precariously close to caricature, but he is self-aware enough as an actor to pull it back as needs require. The effect is to give the film a delirious dynamic that makes it hum along at a pleasing pace and while this film has a very serious point to make about a shameful period from America’s political past, this is no dry polemic, this is an entertainment that inspires, educates and provokes.

Trumbo proves to be a remarkable man. A wag, a wit, a searing intellect, a creative powerhouse, (both as an artist and an entrepreneur), and a man with a compassionate and steadfast heart, a quality that makes his accusers look as paltry while reminding us that today’s version of The Motion Picture Alliance, (Trump, Plain and their ilk), are basically nothing more than self-aggrandising fear peddlers that play fast and loose with the truth. Trumbo’s lesson is how to wear them down, show them up for what they are and defeat them.

As usual Helen Mirren proves why she is in such demand with her pitch-perfect turn as faded film star turned gossip columnist Hedda Hopper who uses her 35 million readers as a tool to threaten, manipulate and intimidate anyone who questions her motives as she storms and rages against those she considers traitors to her version of the American ideal.

Michael Stuhlbarg (The Coen’s ‘A Serious Man’) offers a sympathetic portrayal of movie star Edward G Robinson who emerges from the film as among the most tragic victims of The Motion Picture Alliance’s Hollywood witch-hunt. In real life Robinson was a cultured and gentle intellectual who described himself as a progressive social democrat. His affiliation with Trumbo and associates found him outcast and unable to work and facing financial ruin, he eventually caved to the Alliance’s demands and spoke out against his friends. Chastened and beaten, Robinson was allowed to return to work, albeit it somewhat broken.

Louis CK as screenwriter Arlen Herd (a composite character), Diane Lane as Cleo, (Trumbo’s’ courageous wife) and John Goodman as John King, “I am in this business to make money and score pussy and I am doing brilliantly on both fronts,” (a B-Movie Mogul who defies the ban against Trumbo and uses his skills to make some of the most iconic films of the time: Gun Crazy, The Brave One), offer the best of themselves in a film that reminds me why I like movies so much in the first place.

My pick for the best movie of the last year and a potent reminder that the hate and fear mongers of this world will only triumph if we let them.

 

A Brief History of The Modern Era of Hamilton Recoding Studios, 1980-2015

January 27, 2016

    TandysStudio1  Tandys Recording Studio Hamilton

When I sat down to write this account about the modern era of Hamilton Recording Studios the first obstacle I encountered was the lack of chronicled information. Despite the fact that for a time the studios in question were vital to the various musical scenes in operation throughout the city and the focus of some intense creative activity, so much the wider story had been lost to memory. It was a labyrinthine puzzle but quietly the stories emerged revealing a tale of studios rising, failing and being gutted to create new studios in new locations. It is the story of passion, innovation and self-taught engineers struggling to maintain a professional recording industry in a small but rapidly growing city looking for a creative identity.

These days Hamilton boasts a serious number of recording studios led by The Porch, a facility that can be counted among the nations best, but this wasn’t always the case. While Hamilton and the wider Waikato region had a couple of small production facilities and the odd 4-Track ‘home’ recording studio prior to the 1980s, if any of the cities bands or musicians required something more from their recordings, it was off to Auckland they went and the welcome was not always as warm as it might have been.

Stories abound of grumpy engineers who drew the short straw and got the ‘Hamilton Band’. It was during one of these experiences with an engineer and some derogatory comments about Hamilton music at a well known Auckland sound recording facility that budding sound engineer Zed Brookes (there with his band Step Chant Unit putting the final touches on their soon to be hit single ‘Painting Pictures’) decided that he was going to create a decent recording studio in Hamilton and so by-pas the less than satisfactory attitudes of Auckland.

At the time the bands drummer Neville Sergent was working behind the counter of a Hamilton branch of a Tandys Record store, a chain that that proliferated across the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Coromandel and King Country. The chains owner was musician/songwriter/performer Neil Nooyen who was thinking about building a recording studio where he could work on his own music. Sergent introduced the Brookes and Nooyen and in Nooyen, Brookes found the capital he needed and in Brookes, Nooyen found the skills and enthusiasm required to make his dream happen.

 

Tandys Recording Studio.

The barn on Nooyen’s lifestyle block just off Morrinsville Road (at the edge of the Hamilton suburb of Hillcrest) proved to be suitable and in 1985 Brookes set to work designing and building and the result was a warm and inviting studio space at the end of a gravel driveway about 3 minutes off the main road. The studio began very simply, just Brookes and his Tascam 4 Track Cassette Porta-Studio before upgrading to a 4-Track analogue system sourced from new partner Rex Wade’s Pirongia based Studio. The Nooyen/Brookes/Wade partnership lasted less than a year before Wade left to set up his own studio on Tramway Road (The Tramway Road Studio). By this stage the demand for Tandys services were enough to convince Nooyen to invest some serious money. The result was a state of the art 16 track facility.

Belying its bucolic façade, Tandys was hive of activity that often ran 24/7 trying to keep up with the demands of a hungry musical community. While Brookes initially carried the bulk of the workload he quietly built up a team of young enthusiasts to assist. Dennis Marsh had learned the basics of sound live mixing working behind the console for his brother Phil’s band; legendary Morrinsville based rock covers band Bad Jelly. Between gigs Dennis spent his time at Aerial Railway, a basic 16 track analogue facility set on a commune just north of Coromandel, expanding his craft under the supervision the studios creator Johnny Irons. When Dennis heard there was a new studio open for business just down the road from his home in Morrinsville, he turned up and offered his services.

Brookes: “Dennis was a good foil to everything. He could be annoying, (when he felt strongly about a recording he would argue his point until he got his way) but every so often totally nailed it. He was a bit of a hippy really, a free spirit who came and went as the winds blew him.” Dennis was killed on his way home to Raglan after finishing a live mixing gig in downtown Hamilton when the car he was driving hit a horse that had escaped onto Te Rapa Straight on the cities Northern boundary.


Dennis Marsh RIP.

 

Marcus Pope, a young and talented intern, met a similar fate while helping Brookes move house. After dropping some boxes off he got into his car and ran off the road and was killed instantly in circumstances that could only be described as freakish. Brookes: “Nowadays he’d probably be identified as ‘on the spectrum’ but he was a good kid and loved audio. I think about him all the time.”

Brookes met both Scott Newth and Grant Brodie when they came to Tandy’s to record with their respective bands. Both demonstrated a talent and enthusiasm for the mixing desk and “just stayed on, learning as they worked”. Brookes: “I met Scott Newth when he came in with his synth pop band Love and Violence and got on really well with him. He managed Tandys studio for a time in the later years, then we worked together at the Zoo studios. We tag-teamed it on heaps of projects, we knew each other’s production style well and could offer slightly different flavours to client’s projects. Scott ended up pursuing the indie thing and I went more commercial.”

Scott Newth became the 6th member of the Datsuns, recording much of the bands early work and running their live mixes, a job he still does today. Grant Brodie (Grok, Inspector Moog, Dribbly Cat Attraction) graduated from Tandy’s and went to work at The Rock 93FM’s production studio in downtown Hamilton. When the station was purchased from its founder Grant Hislop, Brodie stayed on with its new owners Media Works, and now manages the media groups Auckland based production studio, a role he has maintained for over 20 years.

In 1993 Brookes left Tandys to set up The Zoo Studio in central Hamilton. Scott Newth took over the running of Tandys for a brief time before handing it over to local sound enthusiast Dave Whitehead who ran the studio until it closed in 1997. Nooyen had been expanding his chain of record stores at around the same time the Internet driven digital music revolution was gaining momentum and after opening a superstore store in central Wellington, Nooyen found himself precariously over extended and the studio was sold to raise funds. Not long after, the Tandys chain of record stores (named after the iconic American record store) shut up shop for good.

Dave Whitehead, who had been dabbling with film sound, went to Wellington and started White Noise, a film sound production company. Over the last 20 years he has worked on over 60 film and TV projects including The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogies, Tin Tin, District 9, Snow Piercer and Elysium.

As for Tandys, the equipment was purchased by local student radio station Contact Fm (the University of Waikato) where it was grafted onto the Fridge, the stations production studio.

 

Tandys Zed and Scott Brodie

Zed Brookes behind the console at Tandys (with Scott Brodie of Grok)

Gear:
Originally the studio ran off Brooke’s 4-track Tascam Portastudio and his effects units and synthesizers, then upgrading to Rex Wades’ Tascam 8-Track Reel-to-reel and Tascam mixer and a custom-built patch bay with JBL monitors before upgrading to Fostex 16-Track. A client (a debt collector) sold the studio a Studiomaster 8-buss console he had repossessed from a Rotorua studio and was storing under his bed.
Brookes: “We got it for a good price and later expanded it with another 8 channels to get 24. We bought a Roland MC500 MkII sequencer for our MIDI stuff (everything was entered in numbers), eventually upgrading to an Atari computer with Creator and a Unitor adaptor for striping time code to tape. I remember I even wrote code for it to work out room modes. We bought an Akai S900 sampler and got the trigger input option for triggering drum samples. That thing was worth its weight in gold. We bought some nice microphones, some Omni mics and we got some very expensive B&Ks that were amazing. We had an early 500 rack with some nice modules. We bought one of the first Sony DAT machines, you had to add an extra 15% reverb to your mixes as the rest would just vanish off the DAT.”

Some of the artists who recorded at Tandys Studio: Neil Nooyen, Pretty Belinda, Jono Jack, Silken Blue, Step Chant Unit, Tim Armstrong, Stonehenge, Adult Mayflies, Jim an Joe, Valhalla, Andy Bramwell, Steve Jackson/Desperate Chaps, Steve Hancock, 3 Men Missing, Andrew Johnstone, Book of Martyrs, Blackjack, Brendan Dugan, Ritchie Pickett, Bruce Dennis, Calamari Bushmen, Daisy Chain Halo, Whisperscream, Coustic Harmony, Quantum Leap (QL), Rare Vision, Rik Bernards, Rob Egan, Roy Forlong, Run For Cover, Sound Insight, Merenia, Merv Pinney, Navigator, The Crawfords, Hoola Troupe, Pieces Of Cod, Kaimai Cowboys, Ken Hughes Jr, King Biscuit, Living Proof, Tony Edwards, Love and Violence, Cold Shock, Doug Pepperell, Epic Thruster, Fire and Ice, Gary Spain.

Tandys Recording Studio released the very first Hamilton CD in 1990, a compilation album of songs by various Hamilton musicians and bands called ‘Just Teasing’.

  1. Neil Nooyen – Hang on Sloopy
  2. Broken English – Second chance
  3. Desperate Chaps -She couldn’t love me
  4. Love and Violence – Wish (Oh girl)
  5. Jim ’an’ Joe – (Can’t do it) without you
  6. Pretty Belinda – Cyclone Bola
  7. Step Chant Unit – Doesn’t time fly
  8. Love and Violence – Messages (Egyptian paradise)
  9. Neil Nooyen – No. 17
  10. Zed Brookes – Ugh, Wipeout
  11. Silken Blue – Prisms
  12. Second Helping – Frosty winter blues
  13. Te Tapu – Here we go again

 

Tim Armstrong: Guilty 1991 (Filmed inside Tandys Studio)

 

Hoola Troupe: Never Good Enough 1990

 

Merenia: U Know I Like It 1991

 

Fridgerecords

The Fridge Studio Logo

The Fridge Recording Studio.

The Fridge (named so because the studio was set inside an old industrial fridge complete with fridge doors and no windows) was formerly the radio stations production studio but with the arrival of ‘state of the art’ gear from Tandy’s, it became the recording venue of choice for the cities thriving alt-music scene and operated in its first incarnation until 1998.

The Student Union funded Contact FM was one of the victims of the ‘ideological war of attrition’ being waged by the right-wing/Libertarian political group ‘Student Choice’ against the Student Union’s compulsory funding model that ‘subsidised’ operations like Contact. Between 1996-1998 Contact starved for funds struggled to survive. Broke and spiritually spent the station shut its doors on the 17th June 1998. The Fridge went into hiatus until being revived in 2009 when Contact FM was re-established on 88.1FM, (a low power frequency signal). With local sound engineer Dan Howard at the helm, the Fridge ran for several more years until finally shutting its industrial grade doors for good in 2014.

Among the many acts who used the Fridge during its first incarnation were:

Grok, Nodrog, Hand of Glory, Big Muffin Serious Band, Dribbly Cat Attraction, The Emersons, Wendyhouse, BwaDaRiddim. Greg Locke (The Trons) often used this studio to record bands, as did Dave Whitehead, Scott Newth and Gordon Bassett.

The Hamilton compilation CD ‘The Fridge’ was recorded in the studio and released in 1995:

  1. Dean – Unfortunate flux
  2. 5 Girls – ITN Glamour
  3. Widdershins – Comfort Women
  4. Tugboat – Old timer
  5. Aquarium – Dispatch
  6. Boil Up – Karmagetit
  7. Nodrog – Don’t Grow
  8. Cave – Sicko
  9. Tsunami Band – Spit out the sun
  10. Phones and Accessories – Motorola
  11. Inchworm – 1987
  12. Wendyhouse – Skinny medley
  13. Hand of Glory – 16 tons
  14. Bwa da Riddim – Dob
  15. Mobile Stud Unit – Bob
  16. Big Muffin Serious Band – Who walks in when I walk out

 

Recordings from The Fridge 2009-2014:

The Prime Numbers – unreleased EP 2009, The Shrugs – Behold / Silver Bullet single 2009, Dynamo Go – Poor Alfred single 2010, Dead Fires – Hinterland single 2011, Dick Dynamite and the Doppelgangers – Live at The Fridge 2011, Hot Blooded Ripper – Live at The Fridge 2011, Penelope The – The Fridge Sessions 2011, Devilskin – demos 2011, The Shrugs – Costume Drama, 2012 Sora Shima – You are Surrounded 2014, Wizz Kids – The Fridge EP 2014

 

Dick Dynamite and The Doppelgangers: Deviant (From Live At The Fridge) 2011

 

Musicare Recording Studio and Peak Records 1989-

At around the same time as Tandys was breathing new life into the Waikato music scene out on Morrinsville Road another sound revolution was underway at the polar opposite end of the city on Sandwich Road, just off Te Rapa Straight, the cities northern gateway.

This story begins and ends with and self-taught Christchurch sound engineer Lawrence Arps who had found his way to Hamilton via repeat visits as the guitarist with covers bands Shady and Trooper. While in town, the bands would hire live rigs from Claudelands based Musicare Sound and later when Lawrence decided to move to Hamilton and took up with local cover acts Ragged Edges and The Break, he got to know the crew at Musicare Sound well enough for them to recognize that he not only had an interest in sound, but was a ‘pretty capable’ technician and between 1981-1987 Lawrence was kept busy doing live sound on Musicare rigs for various local (Midge Marsden, Knightshade) and touring acts at iconic city venues like The Hillcrest Tavern and The Lady Hamilton nightclub. Using the live rigs, Lawrence also did some informal recordings at various locations around the city including a session with songwriter Mike Farrell who was demoing the songs that ended up on Midge Marsden’s career defining ‘Burning Rain’ album.

In 1987 Lawrence left Musicare temporarily to work full-time at Home Run, a 16-track analogue facility in a factory space at the top of Sandwich Road (where it meets Te Rapa Straight). While Home Runs bread and butter was producing jingles for local radio it did take on a few bands from time to time. Arps: “As I became more proficient with the recording process I produced an album for The Wetbacks which lead to Knightshade (who I was mixing live). They asked me to produce their first two EPs.”

Home Run, struggling to stay solvent, went out of business in late 1989 and was bought up by Neil Reynolds owner of Musicare Sound who moved his operation from Claudelands to the Sandwich Road studio. Arps found himself back where he had started.

Arps: “Over several years we recoded many songs, albums, jungles, audio books, and soundtracks. Notable recordings include the 8Forty8 album ‘Edge of Time’, The Politicians album ‘Test Pattern’, Joy Adams’s ‘Come Home Baby Darling’ single (1990 NZCMA Country song of the year) and Craig Pollock’s (Knightshade) solo album ‘Just Looking’ (All released via Musicare’s label Peak Records). After doing some recordings for the Wintec Maori Performing Arts Department I ended up doing the Aorangi Genisis album (a Broadway style Maori language musical) and 5 albums of Kohanga Reo resources, as well as several other Maori language albums. Around this time I also helped mix ‘Acoustic Spirit’, an album by Dave Maybee and Peter Skandera.” (‘Acoustic Spirit’ was nominated for a NZ music award in 1994).

Lawrence left Musicare in 1994 and went onto teach Audio Engineering at Tai Poutini Polytechnic where he rewrote the Certificate course, helped rewrite the Diploma course and Live Sound course. “I moved into management in 2000 and oversaw the establishment of MAINZ Christchurch, designing the floor plan for the Polytechnic’s first recording studio. Through these years I also ran a trust helping young musicians prepare for the Smokefree Rockquest and now I’m in Wellington where I am employed as deputy Chief Executive at Whitireia New Zealand”. Arps still plays guitar and is currently producing an album for his band MochaChocoLatte.

Musicare’s equipment has continued to put to good use with Dave Maybee and Jason Horner recording Joy Adam’s award wining country music album ‘Higher Ground’ (featuring artists such as John Hore Grenell, the Trenworths, Liam Ryan -The Narcs and Ritchie Pickett). Jason also recorded The Nerve’s ‘Gobby’ album (1997) and assisted Dave Maybee with the Coalranger’s 2003 album ‘Harbourlight’ (Recorded in Lyttelton with the Musicare studio on location). The studio remains a popular production and demoing facility now based in the Hamilton suburb of Pukete.

 

Politicians: Energy 1985

 

8Forty8: Don’t Turn Your Back 1993

 

Joy Adams Come Home Baby Darling 1990

 

 

unspecified

The Crew at the Zoo (Owner grant Hislop on far left of image)

The Zoo Recording Studio, 1992-97

The Zoo Studios, (564 Victoria Street in Hamilton) started off as the Rock 93FM production studio, recording advertisements, station imaging and occasionally some artists, Morrinsville based Country rocker Richie Pickett being the first, but Grant Hislop, owner and founder of The Rock had more ambitious plans for the production studio envisaging a ‘state of the art’ recording facility where he would record local bands for a label called Hark, whose mission statement was to nurture the untapped talent abounding in regions like the Waikato.

It was when local band Blackjack approached Hislop with their Zed Brookes produced album Deal, (recorded at Tandys in 1991) seeking airplay that Hislop realised he might have found the right person to help him get his studio idea off the ground. After several meetings, Brookes agreed to leave Tandys and go to work for Hislop full time. At 564 Victoria St. Brookes set to work on his most ambitious project yet, building and designing a state of the art digital recording studio, one destined to match the best that Auckland had to offer.

Blackjack’s bass player Scott Davies was the manager of Hamilton Demolition (an iconic fixture of the cities DIY scene) and through him Brookes was able to source most of the required building material including the soundproof glass for a fraction of the cost of new materials. Brookes describes the construction process: “It was a bit of a community effort. Sooz Brown (Three Men Missing/Silken Blue) sewed the entire inner fabric lining for the studio as one single piece and other local musicians with particular skills in design and carpentry pitched in as required at mate’s rates in effect creating a ‘million dollar studio’ on a very low budget.

ZOO CRoom Rear

Gear:

Brookes: “When I came on board, the Rock production studio was running off a stupidly heavy TAC Scorpion desk wired up backwards, the result was that the studios Shure SM57 microphones were acting as little speakers. When we rebuilt the studio, we were looking for consoles that had some sort of automation, so for a while we had a Soundtracs Solo console. Then we moved up to an Amek “Big” console imported from the UK. This cost about $80,000 and Grant (Hislop) had to sell his shares in the Rock and The Edge to pay for it. It had computerised recall and automation like a low-budget SSL.

After removing the old console and rewiring every single insert jack ‘the other way around’ the import company forgot we needed it pronto and eventually, after stressed-out phone calls, they sent a guy down with the console on a trailer. To make matters worse after the first power-up the consoles power supplier caught fire, so we had to put the old console back in, and rewire everything until we could get a replacement power supplier from England about 10 days later. This was pre-internet, so updates involved dialing-up the manufacturer’s computer on the phone.

Initially big soffit-mounted JBL monitors were our main speaker system, and later on some Tannoy concentric monitors were added (amazing sound). Early recordings were on multitrack analogue tape, but eventually we bought some modular Alesis digital tape decks (“Blackface” ADATS), revolutionary technology that eventually required every single component inside them be replaced. Mix automation went from an Atari with eMagic Notator controlling the console mutes to a PC with the Amek’s proprietary Supertrue software controlling VCAs, mutes and MIDI triggers. The MIDI was a bit erratic to say the least. Our first hard drive died after 2 days. We also had some samplers – an Akai S1000 (which was awesome), and a really primitive (but kind of cool) Ensoniq Mirage.”

The Zoo officially opened on the 19th April 1993 with the Muttonbirds performing live to air in the studio via The Rock in a show dubbed The Electric Kitchen, a couple of weeks later the studio hosted another Electric Kitchen, this time featuring the Greg Johnson Set. (Other later Electric Kitchen Sessions included performances by Emulsifier and The Dead Flowers).

Properly baptized the Zoo was open for business. Nelson band The Exploding Poppies (winners of the 1992 Smokefree Rockquest) were the first band to use the studio, and the resulting song made it onto a NZ on Air – Kiwi Hit Disk, a sign that everyone at the Zoo took as a positive omen for the future.

Brooke’s managed the studio for a while, but with Hislop’s label Hark Records gaining momentum and increasing demands from his growing network of regional radio stations for in-house production new staff was hired to assist. Dean Leary (8Forty8/Hoola Troupe) and Darren McLean were hired to manage the day-to-day operations with Scott Newth, Grant Brodie, Dave Lowndes and Dave Whitehead acting as assistant engineers to Brookes. With the city lacking any formal training facilities for sound engineers, Dave Lowndes later established The Zoo School Of Audio Engineering.

Despite the fact that the studio was operating 24/7, it was struggling financially and without the income from the Rock and the Edge, (Hislop had sold his shares in the popular radio stations to finance the Zoo), Hislop debunked to Wellington to take up a radio management position in order to earn some money to keep his dream alive but without his enthusiasm, vision and drive on hand, the studio started losing clients and with mounting debts was forced to close in 1997.

Later that year Wintec (The Waikato Polytechnic) purchased the studios assets for their fledging School Of Audio Engineering and contracted Brookes to install the equipment and supervise the initial courses. It proved to be a good fit and Brookes stayed on for a number of years teaching sound engineering and songwriting.

 

Zoo Glass Painting

Zoo Studio Painting on Glass by Andrew Johnstone

 

Artists who recorded at the Zoo, including demos, singles, EP and album projects:

Blackjack, Jacqui Keelan, Tama Dean, Dusty Rhodes, Andy Bramwell, Craig Pollock, No Utopia, Zarzoff Brothers, Midge Marsden, Tim Armstrong, Sydney Melbourne, Dave Maybee,

Tim Mellalieu, Max Creepy, Subliminal Warfare, Knightshade, Bad Jelly, Tetnus, Stan Morgan, Pania Moka, Strangetown, Dave Williams, Inchworm, Denied Serenity, Andrew Johnstone, Richie Pickett, Datura, Living Proof, The Narcs, Dead Flowers, Blinder, Silken Blue, Fuckpig, Acrobat, Murray Jeffrey, Liam Ryan, Andrew Newth, Ashley Puriri, Bittersweet, Bitumus, Blunt, Chris and Rhonda Johnson aka Moofish.

Darryl Monteith, Death of a Monkey, Exit Wound, Fat Mannequin, Girls Talk, Greenstone, Hip Shooters, Ian Whitehouse, John Michaels and the Cheap Dates,

Julz Cairney, King Biscuit, Kumquots, Living Proof, Loose New Romans, Love and Violence, Makere Roa, Max Creepy, Midge Marsden, Mike Garner, Native Soul, No Thrills, Pitt Ramsey, Psyclops, Rare Vision, Romantic Andes, Ronnie Taylor, Scott Davies, Silken Blue, Slip of the Tongue, Stan Morgan, Subliminal Warfare, The Set, Tim Armstrong, Tombstone, Tony Koretz,

Trevor Shaw, Tumbleweed, Vivid FX, War Pigs, Wayne Panapa, Whisperscream, Wiki Thompson, Zooper.

 

Inchworm: Come Out Come Out 1995

 

 

King Biscuit: Crazy Dreams 1994

 

Fat Mannequin: Room and Spine 1997

 

The WINTEC School of Audio Engineering.

Besides acting as an educational facility, Wintec’s studio was available to hire and helped fill a gap in a city still desperately short of quality recording facilities. The Datsuns recorded ‘Super Gyration’ (their first single) here in 2000 and Katchafire, their first album, 2003’s ‘Revival’. Other notable local artists to use the facility were Psyclops, Scooter, Moofish, Tweeter and Leithe, otherwise Brookes was kept busy mastering numerous media projects that included Auckland band The Weather’s (helmed by Matthew Bannister, former member of iconic flying Nun band Sneaky Feelings), Ed Cake produced album ‘Aroha Ave’. Brookes also mastered Bannister’s solo album ‘Moth’ here.

Gear:
With Wintec’s considerable financial resources at hand, Brookes added an early version of Pro-Tools (V3) to the studios kit and acquired 16-track 2” Studer tape recorder that was renowned for a curious fault- the ‘transporter’ often failing to stop when instructed to do so. The school purchased one of the first CD burners, a very unreliable Studer that cost $18,000, the blank CDs feeding it cost $30 each.

Brookes eventually left Wintec to take up a position at MAINZ Auckland and since the studio has ever continued to expand in scope. As well as serving the thriving School of Audio Engineering it is also used in numerous capacities by Wintec’s broad Media Department.

The dreams of the Tandys, Musicare, Home Run, The Fridge, The Zoo and numerous other smaller enterprises might have ended in an unsatisfactory manner for those involved, but their legacy lives on in a large catalogue of diverse recordings which mark a coming of age for the Hamilton music scene. Once isolated and somewhat insecure about its ambitions, Hamilton music as it stands today thrives footing it with the best the nation as a whole has to offer in genres as diverse as Jazz, Rock, Metal, Opera, Rap, Hip-Hop, Pop and everything experimental and Alt. On shaky foundations, great things have been built.

 

The Datsuns: Super Gyration 2000

 

Katchafire: Giddy Up 2003

 

 

 

Waitangi Day, A Good Outcome for all Concerned.

January 27, 2016

A few weeks back I was stopped by an anti-Treaty protestor on Queen Street in Auckland who informed me in no uncertain terms that Egyptian explorers had discovered the islands of New Zealand a thousand years before the Polynesians, (shoving some photos of rocks that may or may not have Egyptian like markings on them under my nose as proof), therefore making null and void the Treaty of Waitangi. “A compelling case is it not?” he said nodding vigorously while I looked about desperately for an escape route.

Yes, Waitangi day is just around the corner, annual event that brings the crazies discontented and self-righteous out in force, folk represented at one extreme by privileged Pakeha like Mike Hosking whose line is that Maori just need to get over themselves, (I mean how likely would you be to just ‘get over’ an orchestrated and ongoing campaign designed to divest you of your most valuable asset), and at the other end by Maori radicals who would see all non-Maori sent ‘home’ tomorrow, an intellectually indefensible position that ignores the fact that most non-Maori have nowhere to go to, coming from genetic lines that have been here long enough to make us fully as one with the soil of these islands.

The series of events which lead us to the current state of affairs begins 175 years ago when a group of Maori chiefs signed a treaty with the British Crown at the northland settlement of Waitangi that gave the Crown the exclusive right to buy lands Maori wished to sell and in return, Maori were guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions and were given the rights and privileges of British subjects in return for their co-operation. Later that year the British claimed full sovereignty over these islands kicking off the story of modern New Zealand.

While some Maori leaders wanted no part of the British plans for these islands, others accepted that the growing wave of European migrants was not going to stop and they had better get used to it and find a way to adapt. Some also hoped that British law would unify the various the Tribes and put a stop to the endless wars of conquest and retribution that had been plaguing the Tangata Whenua (a Māori term that means ‘people of the land’) for the last several hundred years. For these tribal leaders, the Treaty of Waitangi was a pragmatic act that they hoped would secure a better future for Maori.

 

27660-atl

 

In many ways the Treaty was a resounding success. Unlike the less than satisfactory fate that befell almost every other colonised people at this time, the Maori were never racially marginalised nor excluded from the mainstream of political and social life. Maori men received full voting rights in the fledgling NZ democracy in 1867, (12 years before European men), and in 1893 all women, both Maori and Pakeha, were ‘allowed’ the right to vote.

The problem was land, the new settlers wanted it and Maori, still figuring their way around the European philosophy of land ownership, found themselves ripped off left right and centre and when land sales were not forthcoming, some new migrants took it upon themselves to form militias and simply take it at the point of a gun which lead to the only internal war New Zealand has ever experienced.

Between 1840 and 1860 Pakeha and Maori faced off in a series of conflicts that introduced the British to trench warfare (a Maori innovation) and the world to the concept of non-violent resistance, an idea developed and refined by Taranaki tribal leader Te Whiti. It was a brutal time and while Maori lost a great deal of land, they proved themselves to be a formidable foe, but in the end war proved to be the least effective way of appropriating land so for the next 120 years or so the Crown used legislation in various guises to sequester land as required, deliberately breaching the tenants of the Treaty under the guise of law.

 

newzealandwars

Redmayne, Thomas:Attack on the Maori Pah at Rangiriri. [1863].

 

By the time the 1970s rolled around Maori had had enough and Dame Whina Cooper sparked a fire than wasn’t going to be put out when in 1975 when she led a march from Northland to Wellington protesting the unjust and ongoing confiscation of Maori lands. In 1978 Eva Rickard led an occupation of the Raglan Golf Course in the Waikato, an incendiary act that caused a great deal commotion, arrests and breast beating but she won, claiming back a large tract of ancestral land that had been ‘borrowed’ by the Government for the building of a WW2 airfield and that somehow had ending up as a golf course for local Pakeha.

 

 

images

1975: Dame Whina Cooper (aged 80) begins her historic land march

 

At the same time in Auckland a fuss was brewing over a parcel of land on Bastion Point, one that the Government had ‘borrowed’ in 1882 for strategic defence purposes, (it was feared that the Russian’s were planning an invasion and Bastion Point and its position overlooking the harbour entrance to Auckland was the perfect place for defensive gun impalements), and that had not been returned as promised.

It ended up in the hands of the Auckland City Council who in the early 1970’s were planning to sell off the land for housing development. This upset the local Iwi who moved in and after 507 days of ‘illegal’ occupation were forcibly removed by 600 police and army personnel. Messy as the whole business was, it proved a turning point for Maori. Bastion Point was eventually returned to the Iwi concerned and the era of intense soul-searching, apologies and financial restitution for past wrongs had begun.

imgres

Maori Protestors occupy Bastion Point 1977

 

The relationship between Pakeha and Maori has not always been easy but underneath all the shenanigans there has always been a strong impulse toward unity and by and large, two culturally disparate people have forged an extraordinary bond while building an exceptional first world democracy.

In the end Maori are only doing what the law allows, challenging a breach of contract and the reactionaries are doing what reactionaries do, finding ways of invalidating the Treaty for whatever ends they are serving. For the rest of us, the Treaty has given cause for honest self-reflection on the nature of justice, obligation, kinship, loyalty and nationhood and the result has been deeply rewarding for almost everyone concerned.