This is less of an album review than it is a public service announcement. In celebration of twenty years of the release of the Grandaddy album ‘Sumday’, they have released the album’s four-track cassette demos as its own standalone collection.
I’ve had a few favourite bands in my life. Many I go back to, and they just don’t have the impact they did. But Grandaddy are different. Grandaddy’s albums always sound good and fresh, no matter how many years have passed by. Now, Sumday was not my favourite Grandaddy album – that was ‘The Sophtware Slump’, released three years earlier. But this album does contain some of my most favourite Grandaddy songs. And to be honest, despite not being my favourite Grandaddy album, it still rates as one my favourite albums by any artist. It just can’t quite compare in my mind to the brilliance of their own Sophtware Slump…
Writing from the land of Flying Nun, where music used to stand on the quality of the song and not the quality of the playing, recording or production, these songs sound amazing. The track listing and titles on this are largely identical to the original release, bar “Saddest Vacant Lot in All the World”, which goes under the moniker “Passed out in a Datsun”. I first listened to the album on YouTube, where “Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake" was listed as “Stray Dog and the Chocolate Karaoke", but is not actually included among the recordings there. Hopping over to Bandcamp, however, we do get to hear the song – different to the rest of the album, which (again) represents the demo versions of the album songs, this one appears to be identical to that on Sumday, just sans lyrics...i.e., it’s literally the karaoke version. Overall, this release provides an interesting document, and the songs I so love stand up really well in their stripped back – though already basically perfectly formed - state. What to recommend, if you want to dabble, like the swan on the cover? Among my favourite songs on the original, which still stand up here, try out “OK with My Decay”, “The Warming Sun”, “I’m on Standby” and “Final Push to the Sum”.
What more can I say about it? Overall, I’m likely just preaching to the converted here. Jason Lytle’s voice is amazing, as you expect, and a high proportion of the songs on this album are amazing. This is really just a little gift to the existing fans, I think, rather than ever expecting to make any new ones. But then again, the songs are so strong... if you are a lover of lo-fi (...as I know many of our readers are), then maybe this might just be your gateway into them, moreso than the highly polished sounds of the original?
by Max Johns
Bitter Defeat’s second EP is a quick-fire, four-track affair that adds nicely to what the band started with 2021’s Minor Victory. Happily, it shows off a couple of new tricks as well.
If you’re reading Hamilton Underground Press then there’s a 99% chance that you’re already well aware of Bitter Defeat. Hell, if you’re reading HUP there’s about a 30% chance that you’re in Bitter Defeat. But just in case this review is your entry point, here’s a quick rewind…
Bitter Defeat have been on the Hamilton indie rock scene for a few years now. They are a five piece band that play on the pop side of the genre. If you’re old enough to remember what came after Nirvana - when guitars were allowed to have fun again, and when moshing gave way to pogoing - then you know what you’re in for here.
The band spent time building out a set of catchy, 90s-infused pop originals on the way to releasing two singles in late 2020. Those teased the 2021 release of debut EP Minor Victory (“it’s short, it’s fun, and it stands up to being put on repeat,” we said at the time). An unarguable high point came in mid-2021 when they opened for dead-set legends The Chills in Raglan, the Mount, and Gisborne.
Things have gone a bit quiet since then. Blame the day jobs and real lives that encumber all of us. Finally in December 2022 we got a taste of ‘Sugar Blind’. It’s the catchiest Bitter Defeat single yet, and now it’s the first track on new EP Terrific Effort. The wait has been worth it.
There are four tracks on Terrific Effort. It’s no great departure from Minor Victory, but unlike its predecessor there’s more to it than Rob Shirlow singing about relationships or the inevitable decline that comes with age.
That said, ‘Sugar Blind’ is literally Rob singing about physical decline. But if there’s a catchier rock-pop number about diabetes, then I haven’t heard it. My six-year-old loves singing along with the backing “ooo-woo”s, and I love the line about checking your own toe for nerves with a pin. A health advisory warning for all the family.
‘Pressure’ follows next, introducing us to lead guitarist Ben’s songwriting and singing. It captures the same pop fun that Bitter Defeat always brings, but in a new way. Built on structural angles, ‘Pressure’ unexpectedly veers around and turns back on itself. You’ll need to go back and check which bits were the verses and whether the singalong “take the pressure!!” parts actually were the chorus, or the bridge, or something else. There’s some art here, and putting it on repeat will pay off. Wait, is there a chorus at all? Gah. You work it out.
Next comes ‘Waft’, the first instrumental track we’ve heard from Bitter Defeat. It’s a deceptively difficult thing for them to take on, and it’s worth considering why...
There is a reason that almost every time you see guitar, keys, bass, and drums there’s a singer involved. Rock instrumentals are so hard to get right that the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental was scrapped 12 years ago. There have been very few arguments about who’s been robbed since then, because who gets passionate about rock instrumentals? Even very good ones sound like they're missing something. Great ones involve guitars doing things they were never built to do - Hendrix’s ‘Star Spangled Banner’, Eddie van Halen’s ‘Eruption’ - the sort of thing that you don’t find on the continuum from jangle pop through indie rock to shoegaze.
‘Waft’ is good at doing what it does. It just does less than the other eight things that Bitter Defeat have put on record. When you see the band live it’s the jam that they like to start with, and in that context it works well.
Or perhaps they're wise to clear the air for ‘Falling Down’, the closer on Terrific Effort. It’s their longest song yet, all 3m44s of it, but still a familiar Rob Shirlow ditty. It’s musically upbeat, lyrically downbeat (though a bit more abstract than we’re used to), and it leaves you prone to clicking the ‘play’ button on the whole EP again.
Terrific Effort is cleverly bookended with two tracks that closely match the Bitter Defeat of Minor Victory. In between we hear a band that can do more than we knew before, and do it well. We’ve all heard of the “difficult second album” that has tripped up many bands, but if the difficult second EP is a thing then Bitter Defeat have sidestepped it nicely.
Southern Tribe: A Retrospective
'Southern Tribe' is the downbeat electronic project of Andrew Newth. Active since the mid-1990s, Southern Tribe has recently released 'Retrospective’, a compilation of early songs - some you may have already heard on compilations, while others have never previously released. We talked to Andrew about the shift from Love & Violence to Southern Tribe, changes in the technology he has used through time, the future of Southern Tribe, and more!
HUP: As far as your electronic music is concerned, you were one of the central figures in Love & Violence for around a decade (1988 to 1997). There, your music went from sounding somewhat along the lines of OMD and Depeche Mode, and became something more industrial in style as the journey progressed. Come 1997, Love & Violence ceased to exist, and you went off in two different directions. You started Southern Tribe, recording downbeat electronic music, while at the same time you began playing guitar in the also relatively mellow indie-pop band Rumpus Room. What led to the massive shift in the styles of music you began playing and recording at this time?
Andrew: Love and Violence became an industrial band somewhat by accident. We were asked to play at an industrial event and none of our current material really fit the bill. We set about hardening up our sound and writing new material. The rest is history. It was a musical tangent we never returned from. It was a great scene to be part of though, so no regrets either. When Love and Violence stopped playing, Southern Tribe was a way for me to keep producing electronic music in my own time and space. Rumpus Room was a bit of fun that went from jamming in the Cowshed at Contact 89FM to playing our first show at a party with little warning or preparation. Needless to say, we were terrible but had a blast so we just kept playing and playing and playing….
HUP: On ‘Retrospective’ you are compiling songs you recorded as Southern Tribe in the mid- to late-1990s. Some have been released on compilations, and some haven’t. What is your motivation for releasing this collection now?
Andrew: Retrospective is a way for me to ‘clear the decks’ in a way. It’s always bothered me that these tracks were never released as a body of work. The eight tracks on 'Retrospective' are only a portion of the material I wrote back then, but I feel like they are the best of the bunch. Some of the other tracks just felt too dated whereas the eight tracks released here aged a little better. It’s been great to revisit these tracks. Being able to mix them in a modern DAW has meant they could be gently tweaked and mixed to a standard I couldn’t have achieved originally. Better late than never? I should also mention that these tracks would have been lost to time if it wasn’t for Dan Howard and my brother Scott Newth, both of whom looked after the source material in various formats for years. Needless to say I owe them both a huge debt.
HUP: Technology has changed a lot since you started with Love & Violence, and since you did these early Southern Tribe recordings. What have been the biggest changes in how you have used technology, and the technology you have used, between starting Love & Violence, the beginning of Southern Tribe, and your most recent Southern Tribe recordings.
Andrew: Love and Violence and Southern Tribe songs were all written using an Atari ST computer with a sequencing program called C-Lab Creator. We had three synths and a sampler that produced all the sounds we used. The sampler had a miserly 480kb of memory which meant we had to be really frugal with our sound choices. It was all about limitations back then and in a lot of ways I think that was a good thing. It forced you to be smart about what you were doing, to be more selective and thriftier. It influenced the music in a good way. The sampler was an Ensoniq EPS which was only 13bit. It had a sound that I can’t recreate today even with the endless myriad of instruments and effects available in a modern musical workstation. A big part of both the Love & Violence and Southern Tribe sound is created by slowing down samples or playing them back at lower/slower pitches than the original and this doesn’t work quite as well in the setup I use today (yet).
HUP: What are your favourites among the early Southern Tribe tracks?
Andrew: Hmm, I probably would have to say Closer, You Can’t Have It and Horror Story. For me Horror Story epitomises the sound I was looking to produce back then; Rhythmic, lush and a bit spooky.
HUP: Obligatory and predictable question. What was behind the name ‘Southern Tribe’?
Andrew: I’d love to give you deep and meaningful story here, but the reality is I just like it and feel like it’s a great fit for the type of music I was and am still producing for this project. Sorry!
HUP: After a break of a number of years, Southern Tribe released new songs in 2018 and 2019, while also producing remixes of System Corporation’s ‘Apathy is Easy’ (2018) and, most recently, Rubita’s ‘Cold South’ (2021). Given the changes in style among your various projects, there appears to be a remarkable consistency between your older and newer Southern Tribe tracks. Do you feel Southern Tribe’s music has changed from the early tracks and now? And after the dust resettles on the ‘Retrospective’ tracks, what is next for Southern Tribe?
Andrew: I think the music I’m producing now is a progression of the earlier stuff but is still rooted in the same ideas of producing downbeat, lush and rhythmic tracks. The way it’s produced these days is a far cry from how I did it originally though. Now we have access to almost unlimited sound sources and software that provides a level of creative freedom you could only dream about in the 90s. When I first got back into producing material for Southern Tribe I struggled with that a bit. I had kid in a candy store syndrome! Throwing everything I had at my tracks just because I could. Probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced when writing the new material is learning restraint and remembering to leave space in the music. Later this year I will be releasing some new material that’s been percolating over the last three or four years. There’s eleven new tracks plus the two I’ve already released ‘Coil’ and ‘March to the End of the World’. Beyond that is the unknown.
Last time we spoke with Andrew Wilson from Die! Die! Die! the band was touring New Zealand in support of a new single, and we had a long, wide-ranging chat about everything. This time around there’s a whole new album, but we could only fit in a quick Q&A. Funny how things turn out.
This is Not an Island Anymore has been out for a few months now (nice to see it in the album charts when it was released, too!). What’s the reaction been to the album so far?
Initially the reaction was super positive, especially from people who appreciated our earlier material. I am still getting the odd email now about people appreciating the album which is lovely after it’s been out for 6 months.
The video for 'Losing Sight, Keep on Kicking' is a pretty unforgettable watch. Where did the idea come from?
From Lachlan’s friend Jonas, who directed the video. He said he thought of the idea when he was in the gym….. go figure.
Your setlists usually have a pretty deep spread of old and new songs. This tour is celebrating the new album so will we hear more of This is Not an Island Anymore than anything else?
Haha, yeah I think the set will be focused on the new album. I don’t want to give away too much though. People will have to come to the show to see ;)
What else can Hamilton expect to see from you on August 5?
I can only speak for myself but I have some lovely new pedals I am excited to try out for the first time live.
You’ve said that “This will be the last chance to see DDD for a while”. Why’s that? What have you got planned once this tour’s over?
We have a new EP coming out very soon. But to arrange a tour with the three of us has been quite challenging so these shows will be it for a while. We’ve played a lot over the last 19 years. But you never know…..
Die! Die! Die! will open their This Is Not An Island Anymore Tour at Never Project Space on Friday August 5. Tickets from Ticket Fairy.
The Dolby Brothers; ‘The Nightclub Scene’ ‘Supermarket Stories’ and ‘Radio Dolby 89.6FM’
R E V I E W
The Dolby Brothers; ‘The Nightclub Scene’, ‘Supermarket Stories’ and ‘Radio Dolby 89.6FM’
By Ian Duggan
How to describe ‘The Dolby Brothers’?
The Dolby Brothers are a mysterious duo who have released three concept albums to date - ‘The Nightclub Scene’ in October 2021, followed by ‘Supermarket Stories’ in December, and most recently ‘Radio Dolby 89.6FM’ last month. But their Bandcamp doesn’t give a lot away about them. To break a little of the mystery, however, one I know was a member of a band popular from the Waikato University scene in the early 1990s. Don’t expect any indie pop songs here though.
The sound of the Dolby Brothers is probably best described, as their Bandcamp tag suggests, as ‘experimental electronic’. A touchstone, perhaps, is the early disco infused French synth band ‘Space’, but with a little added inspiration from ‘elevator musak’. The lyrics, though, are observational, which at my age makes ‘Supermarket Blues’ resonate far more strongly than ‘The Nightclub Scene’ – a regular chore versus a now distant memory. The opening track, of that EP, ‘I Shop Alone’, provides a good example of the lyrics that will unite introverted or focused supermarket shoppers everywhere:
“I need to get the supermarket shopping done real quick;
I want to get out of here as fast as I can;
My wife has written the list;
This is going to be easy.”
….only for the shopper, Dylan Dolby, to run into Denise from work and then another acquaintance who wants to chat about the rugby, while poor Dylan is just wanting to get the shopping done in peace. The lyrics are delivered as a mix of spoken and sung, and I’m going to have to go with William Shatner here as the most relatable comparison for vocal style. The newest of the releases, ‘Radio Dolby 89.6FM’, is the music associated with a mockumentary-style podcast recorded by the duo, based on the broadcasts of Radio Dolby 89.6 FM, “a fictional radio station based in Dolby city, a dystopian post-apocalyptic metropolis”. On this, which can be found on Spotify, “Dylan and Drew Dolby host a late night radio show featuring music, street interviews and talk back calls from the eclectic residents of Dolby city”.
To hear more, check out the releases on Bandcamp, and other good online musical outlets.
R E V I E W
‘Total Eclipse of my Brain’ EP by Belladonna
By Ian Duggan
“The time has come to open thy heart/wallet” Bandcamp tells me, as I listen freely to Belladonna’s ‘Total Eclipse of my Brain’ EP one too many times. We have been a bit quiet at HUP recently, with seemingly little happening in the music scene to keep us excited, but here is an EP that has pulled me out of my unintentional slumber.
Belladonna is Bella Cook, an ex-Hamiltonian, who despite moving to Wellington at the age of 16 still reflects on the misunderstood city with a genuine fondness. No Kirikiriroa-associated cultural cringe to be seen here, thank goodness. ‘Total Eclipse of my Brain’ is a wonderfully coherent EP - Bella knows her sound – and it features four songs from the top shelf. This isn’t surprising, when looking at her past releases; ‘Hands’, from her 2020 ‘Salty Dog’ EP, was one of the twenty finalists in the APRA Silver Scroll Awards that year, while I hate to think how many times I’ve personally listened to wonderful ‘Kiss Me’ off that same release. Bella knows how to write a great pop song. On the new EP, Bella comes across as a sensitive and nostalgic type, with emotive lyrics and mentions of Hamilton (and suburb Hillcrest) never too far away.
The first track on ‘Total Eclipse…’, ‘Slow Motion’ is representative of songs on the rest of the EP as a whole, with lyrics indicative of Bella’s overtly reflective nature - “I’ve been thinking about my old house…” she sings, and it is at this point she gives us the first mention of her former hometown also. Here she taps into universal feelings that will resonate with anyone with a heart, but it also hits hard at my own personal emotions; the mere mention of my long-term home of Hamilton, a city about which there aren’t nearly enough songs, and a location that isn’t celebrated enough (in song, or otherwise). I think this may be my new favourite Belladonna song…
Second song, ‘Love Like This’, comes with a brand-new video, which she states “reflects how awesome female friendships are”. Scenes in the video of her cycling with a friend remind me of one by some other individuals schooled in Hamilton – that of ‘Raglan City’ by Duchess, which included Anna Coddington and bandmates cruising the streets of Raglan. And then there is ‘Hillcrest’. Hopefully many will already be familiar with this wonderful song, another built on both memories and complicated emotions – an ode, she told us, to both an early crush as well as to the Hamilton suburb itself. Besides the fantastic tune and lyrics, there are some lovely sounds going on in here that the BBC Radiophonic Workshop would have been proud of. Okay, so maybe I can’t pick a favourite Belladonna song, because I am certainly still in love with this one also, many months after first discovering it. The second of the four songs on the EP to have a video, nostalgia runs thick here, with lots of footage of Bella and friends from their younger days, and featuring scenes from the titular suburb, Silverdale and beyond.
Overall, ‘Total Eclipse of my Brain’ is a fantastic EP, which has certainly helped get me excited about music again. And if you run out of listens on Bandcamp, you can find it on plenty of other platforms also!
‘Bunnyman - A Memoir’ by Will Sergeant
Peak ‘Echo and the Bunnymen’ was a bit before my time. Although I was familiar with a lot of their bigger songs (e.g., Lips Like Sugar, The Killing Moon), it was really only due to lockdowns that I began to explore their catalogue more fully. Ignoring my usual desire to discover the new, in this time I found solace by exploring the past – ultimately driven there by the algorithms of digital music platforms. Given this, the release of a memoir by Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant came at exactly the right time. And I am glad of it, because once I started, this is one of those autobiographies I was sad I had to finish.
The book starts right from Sergeant’s very beginnings, and spends a lot of time covering his difficult family life and the dangers of growing up in 1960s/early 1970s industrial Liverpool. Early on we meet some of the important characters who, through fate, become important again later in life. As you might expect, his developing musical experiences and journey of explorations is presented.
The book is halfway done before Sergeant discovers “Eric’s”, the legendary Liverpool club. Fortuitously, Sergeant stumbles across an advertisement for an XTC gig – a band he had heard of, but knew nothing much about. By chance he becomes reacquainted that night with a couple of old school friends, one of whom was Les Patterson, who went on to become bass player for the Bunnymen. Though not particularly impressed by XTC, this visit to Eric’s begins a habit, which sees him experiencing the early days of many bands that would later become widely known. It is here also that he befriends Julian Cope, who in turn introduces him to ‘Macul’ – a.k.a. Ian McCulloch. A guitar and drum machine are bought, which then leads on to the Bunnymen story proper. Overall, less than a quarter of the book is taken up with Echo and the Bunnymen, and this only covers their first year of existence. But what a year this was. With Sergeant and Patterson having barely learned their instruments, through gigs featuring their fair share of mishaps, anyone in a band will be jealous of how much luck the Bunnymen seemingly experience in these formative days; highlights include an invitation to record a Peel session, the release of their debut single and being signed to a record company. It seems incomprehensible that a band could rise so quickly now… except, of course, with an equal dollop of luck and the algorithm gods smiling upon them.
Overall, this is a fascinating story, and well told. The book comes to an abrupt end, early in the career of the Bunnymen - still a couple of years before they first tour to New Zealand - and the main positive I can take from this is that it leaves me hope that this isn’t the last autobiography we see from Will Sergeant. Highly recommended.
- Ian Duggan
A R T I C L E
Outside my Usual Wheelhouse: A Q&A with Caspar Kneale of Thagomizer
with Ian Duggan
HUP wrote a review of ‘Synth from the Dawn of Time’ by Wellington dino synth project ‘Thagomizer’ a few weeks ago, and described it as "Mesozoic mood music". Then, in November – in a move that got us straight in the feels – they released a new EP titled... "Mesozoic Mood Music"! We tracked down Thagomizer’s Caspar Kneale to discuss the Wikipedia rabbit holes the songs can take you down, the micro-genres of dino synth and dungeon synth, the most appropriate situations someone should listen to Thagomizer in, and more!
HUP: Let’s start with a quick look at your earliest music releases. With your father and a sibling, you released a number of experimental/avant-garde songs between 2003 and 2006 under the name ‘Kneale.Kneale.Kneale’, and you had an earlier 7” single under your own name, lathe cut at King Records. Among the earliest compositions here, you are noted as having been only 4 or 7 year’s old, depending on where you read. And from what I can tell, your earliest personal compositions on the 7” (re-released on the 2003/2004’ Kneale.Kneale.Kneale ‘The Silver Chair’ EP) were called ‘Feather Duster’ and ‘Dinosaur Wars’. The point I’m trying to get at here is, it looks like you have been into dinosaurs – both avian and non-avian – for a very long time, and you clearly know a lot about them. Can you tell us a bit about your interest in dinosaurs?
Caspar: Wow, that's some really good digging. I honestly hadn't even made the connection about the fact I already had a song named about dinosaurs, haha. I think the Feather Duster one is unrelated - I was just a kid who thought feather dusters where cool. Clearly I've been making dino synth since waaaaay back. But you're absolutely right that I've always loved dinosaurs. What kid doesn't right? From as far back as I can remember they were always the most amazing creatures to me. I don’t even think my memories go back to a time where dinosaurs weren't something I was interested in. One of my favourite stories of my childhood is being taken to the library and being found in the prehistoric life section, with literally every book about dinosaurs down on the ground beside me. Disney's Dinosaurs is one of the very, very few movies I've seen in cinemas multiple times and I definitely remember hiding behind the couch when I watched Jurassic Park at too young of an age. As a kid I was dead set on studying to become a palaeontologist, which hasn't quite happened (unfortunately it's just not really something you can study in New Zealand), but I guess making dino synth music is the next best thing, right? I wish I had a better explanation for a childhood obsession that's continued through my whole life... but let's be honest; at the end of the day dinosaurs are just really, really cool.
HUP: I love it when I listen to a song and I end up on Wikipedia learning new things because of it. In particular, on the first Thagomizer EP, I really enjoyed ‘The Bone Wars’, because I got to learn about palaeontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, and their intense rivalry for fossil hunting and discovery in the late 19th Century. What can you tell me about the inspiration behind the songs on the new EP?
Caspar: For the most part I don’t write the songs with names in mind. They come later. Generally, once the songs are written I go on a hunt through the internet for terms or topics that I find both interesting and match the vibe of each track. I definitely do aim for that Wikipedia rabbit hole effect with some of the song titles. I try to find a balance when naming the songs between evocative, informative and matching the feeling of each song. Even better if in the process of deciding on song names I get to learn something myself. For example, ‘Upon Tethyan Shores’ was a great chance for me to learn about the prehistoric geography of our world. Like, we all know the basics of Pangaea and Gondwanaland, but I've never looked into the smaller land features. I was tossing up between The Eromanga Sea (an inland sea in what is now central Australia) and Tethys Sea (located between Gondwana and Laurasia before the opening of the Indian and Atlantic oceans). Being not only a dino nerd but also a geography nerd, it was a perfect rabbit hole to fall down.
HUP: Click on #dinosynth on Bandcamp, and I find you are not alone. For example, there are artists like Diplodocus from the USA, Pteranodon from Lithuania, Synthosaurus from Germany and Archosaur from Finland. How did you get interested in Dino Synth, and do you have particular favourite artists or songs we should check out?
Caspar: My introduction to the micro-genre was stumbling across Diplodocus – ‘Slow and Heavy B Sides’ on YouTube – and I'm sure my initial reaction was the same as yours; "Oh what? There’s such a thing as dino synth? Where has this been all my life?" Then I preceded to do nothing with that information until very recently. Diplodocus are still my biggest influence by far. I really appreciate the atmosphere that they bring to the genre and I really hope that I manage to summon a similar feeling with my releases. I really enjoy Synthosaurus' ‘Metalosauric Crush’ too; it takes a very different approach, almost feeling inspired by power metal as opposed to black metal. It's very grandiose and epic sounding. In the wider dungeon synth genre, one of my favourites is the self-titled release by Iskall. It sounds really cold and artificial in all the best ways. If I knew more about how synths work I might have tried to make something more akin to that in sound.
HUP: I find your EPs really relaxing, and I used the term ‘Mesozoic mood music’ to describe it in my review of the first EP. Under what set of circumstances do you think it best to experience your music? During a barbeque? At work? In the privacy of your own room?
Caspar: I'm not gonna lie, I'm genuinely not sure when people listen to dino synth. It's a pretty weird thing to put on at any time. I really like listening to it when I'm out on my long run for the week. There’s something to the steady tempo of my footfalls and the dino steps in the music that works really well for me. So maybe the best time to listen is when you’re out for a nice walk. I'm sure it'll set a great mood that will help make it feel like an adventure. Failing that maybe make it the soundtrack to your table-top RPG set in caveman times.
HUP: Dino Synth is said to be an offshoot of ‘Dungeon Synth’. Is this something you are into more broadly, and can you explain what it is?
Caspar: Dungeon Synth is a genre I've been aware of for a few years without being super immersed in. I think my dad showed me Burzum's album ‘Filosofem’, and the amazing synth on it led to him showing me Mortiis and the amazingly niche genre of dungeon synth. If I was to describe the genre to someone I'd probably say it sounds like instrumental black metal... with no guitars. Some of it is super medieval folk influenced, others could almost be mistaken for a video game soundtrack. All-in-all, its just the perfect genres to soundtrack your DnD game.
HUP: What music are you into, and involved in now, outside of Thagomizer?
Caspar: Outside of dino synth I'm into the heavier side of music. I play guitar in a beatdown hardcore band called ColdxWar, and in a drum machine grindcore band called Marrowspawn. It's honestly only down to needing surgery to repair a ligament in my hand that I ever got round to making Thagomizer a reality. Until two months ago I'd never made any music not involving a guitar. It's been a really fun journey learning how to make music that is so outside my usual wheelhouse. Starting from zero all over again has been super refreshing and a definite positive coming out of a pretty lame situation.
HUP: What gear do you use to record as Thagomizer?
Caspar: Thagomizer is recorded exclusively using digital instruments on Logic Pro. It all had to be able to be made using one hand because of the surgery. Generally on the songs I use a collection of brass instruments (Tuba, French horn, trombone and trumpets) to create the bulk of the track along with timpanies and 808s for the stomping of huge feet. Add in a few sound effects and ‘bam’, dino synth. I'm really interested to see what other instruments lend themselves to the themes of dinosaurs. I'm sure it can't just be brass instruments the conjurer such imagines.
HUP: When I look on Facebook, there was a band called Thagomizer that was active in Wellington between 2013 and 2014. Were you related to this band in any way? I do note they had the same Bandcamp address as you are using now!
Caspar: Honestly, the matching names is just a coincidence. Thagomizer has been my absolute favourite dino related word since I found out about it. I'd joked about making a dinosaur themed doom band called Thagomizer in the past, so it was the natural name for the project. I did a little search for the name and since the Wellington band hadn't done anything in a while, I figured it was fair game. I guess they must have closed their Bandcamp page or something ‘cos by the time I got round to making one I didn’t have any issues. Maybe I should have coined a term for an Iguanadon's thumb spike and named myself that...
The Hitchhikers Guide to Anecdata
A R T I C L E
The Hitchhikers Guide to Anecdata
By Ian Duggan
In July, Dan Satherley of Anecdata set out to publish 52 songs in 52 weeks, in a project he has called 'A Year in the Life'. First off the block was 'Misunderstanding Ovation', inspired by a cult American singer stranded in New Zealand following the US elections. It isn’t too hard to figure out who that is, with lyrics like “back home, for once, they did the right thing; so let's hear it for me 'til then; and we clap, and we clap”. And that sets the scene for Anecdata, as there is seemingly an interesting story behind every song. There are songs about Covid, the housing crisis, the TV series Lost… and UVB-76 – a radio station that apparently started operating in Russia around 1997, broadcasting (according to Wikipedia); “a short, monotonous buzz tone, repeating at a rate of approximately 25 tones per minute, 24 hours per day”. There are always new and interesting facts to learn while listening to Anecdata. The releases are currently stalled at 16 songs in 16 weeks; he has taken a break, due to lockdown causing some issues with his productivity. So, what better time to look back over my five favourite songs by Anecdata, to provide a gateway for potential listeners to what is quite an extensive back-catalogue!
First up, and highly topical right now, from 2017s ‘You Do Not Do’ is the song ‘Anti-Faxxers’. With its poppy accessibility, and focus on the delusions of the anti-vaccination movement, it is probably more prescient now than when it was released. Among the lyrics that resonate with me the most are “put trust in statisticians, and ditch your superstition”, while the song finishes with a more direct message: “you're killing the children, you're fucking the future, you belong in jail, you're Cain to the Abel”. It is difficult not to compare this song with Phoenix Foundation’s ‘Supernatural’, about people who buy into conspiracies like chemtrails, and more directly to locals Ghost of Electricity’s ‘When I Was Young’; “When I was young we didn’t need to be immunised, we cured polio the natural way, which was to die; become disabled”.
The next song comes from the 2016 album ‘By Choice or Design’, which was the first release as Anecdata after Satherley's previous recording project ‘Radio Over Moscow’ (which he initiated in 2009). ‘The Time Traveller's Dilemma’ seems very reminiscent of something from Kraftwerk’s ‘The Man Machine’ mashed up with the opening theme from Arthur C. Clarkes Mysterious World. It is different from the rest of the album, being slower than most, and with the vocals more robotic. My favourite (indistinct) lyric from the song is, “if the space-time continuum collapses, will you cry?”
My favourite track from 2021’s ‘Undelete’ represents a recycled song from Satherley’s ‘Radio Over Moscow’ days, re-recorded and made more listenable than its previous 2010 version. ‘Hide the Decline (We’re no Better than You)’ is a look inside the mind of a conspiracy theorist, who believes themselves to be more expert than the experts – again, highly relevant in 2021; “I’ve never worn a white coat; or learned the difference between mean, mode and median; still I feel I’m qualified”. Specifically, this song takes its name from a conspiracy theory about a supposed collusion by climatologists to ‘fix’ the data regarding climate change to suit their own agenda. It features the brilliant and insightful line; “it makes one cry for the days before the internet ruined our collective intellect”.
From the same album, ‘Landlords’ provides some social commentary on the ‘rental trap’, and the role landlords play; “we call ourselves the providers, but all we bring are the spiders; they can trap you in our web; as you watch our prices rise even higher”, and “If you don't pay more than half you earn; how will I afford avocado?”. And it is one particularly cheesy, poppy line in this song that is also perhaps one of my favourites on the album: “greedy guts, full of pus, waiting for the bubble bust”.
The 2017 album, ‘But Her Emails...’, differs from other Anecdata albums, in that it had a heavy political focus throughout. A concept album, it was largely recorded between the election and inauguration of President Trump, and the events surrounding this have formed the central focus on this album. Many of the songs begin with quotes sampled from Trump speeches, with the themes of the songs set from there. For example, the album starts with the infamous, “Grab ‘em by the…” quote, while the song ‘Never Clever Ever’ opens with his defence of his tiny hands. Some songs were even scarier though, such as ‘Waiting for Armageddon (Kamikaze Privateer)’, and listening to it now can only make you happy for the demise of Trump’s presidency.
As a bonus track, I leave you with a 2015 ‘Radio Over Moscow’ track, Anecdata’s predecessor. One of my favourite Satherley tracks over his career is ‘The Wow! Signal’, named after the signal picked up by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project in 1977, which had the characteristics that might be expected to come from an extra-terrestrial source. It is a song that is seemingly about the paranoia of aliens coming to Earth, mentions panspermia, the theory that life on the Earth originated from materials originating from outer space, and has a recurring line of “the truth is out there”, the tagline from the X-Files.
R E V I E W
‘Synth from the Dawn of Time’ EP by ‘Thagomizer’
While having a dig through Bandcamp I unearthed a recent EP release by Wellington’s ‘Thagomizer’. I hadn’t heard of this artist, no, but their name immediately caught my attention, because I was familiar with the term ‘thagomizer’ – it refers to the four spikes on the tails of Stegosaurus and their kin. The reason the name is so well known as a point of trivia is because it is a feature that until the 1980s had no name, and as it was coined not by a palaeontologist, but by cartoonist Gary Larson in one of his ‘The Far Side’ cartoons. In it, a group of cavemen are taught by their caveman lecturer that the spikes on a stegosaur's tail – the thagomizer – were named "after the late Thag Simmons”. The title of the EP, ‘Synth from the Dawn of Time’, also caught my interest as, when I’m not exploring new music, listening to ‘80s synth pop is my ‘safe place’. [continued below]
The EP’s opening track is titled ‘Unequivocal Size’, and it sets the scene for the whole EP. The title obviously relates to the bulk of some larger dinosaur species, with the keys playing slowly over beats that are reminiscent of the plodding of an enormous quadruped. Perhaps what you might imagine as being the sound and speed of a Stegosaurus, moving at an estimated 6-7 km/h. Instrumentals, the only vocalisations on this – and other songs on the EP – are of the occasional imagined dinosaur sound. Mostly Thagomizer have avoided the classic dinosaur noises of pop culture; the Jurassic Park-style open-mouthed, forceful roaring. Indeed, it is now appreciated that many dinosaurs perhaps didn’t even make any vocalisations at all (though this wouldn’t have worked so well on the EP), while some may have honked like geese. Instead, Thagomizer have walked the safe middle ground; the sounds used include low frequency rumblings, reminiscent of those made by crocodiles, which is indeed what it is thought some dinosaurs may have sounded like, but not so removed from those of people’s expectations. The only blot in this respect is a classic roar used in the final moments of the EP. [continued below]
The second track follows a very similar plodding beat to the first track, but the title introduces a concept I wasn’t familiar with; that of the ‘Apex Herbivore’. Apex predators are well known, being carnivores that sit at the top of the food chain. An apex herbivore, I learned with some reading, is a plant-eater that is difficult to be preyed on, and thus sits at the top of food chains for a different reason. Nevertheless, despite being used colloquially, a search of Google Scholar reveals it’s a barely used term in the scientific literature.
The beat doesn’t speed up until the final track, ‘The Bone Wars’, though not by much. With this track I got to do some more learning. ‘The Bone Wars’ are known, according to Wikipedia, as “a period of intense and ruthlessly competitive fossil hunting and discovery” in the late 19th C United States. Central to these ‘wars’ was a rivalry between two palaeontologists, Edward Drinker Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and Othniel Charles Marsh – the discoverer of Stegosaurus – of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, at Yale. Each apparently used “underhanded methods to try to outdo the other… resorting to bribery, theft, and the destruction of bones”. As such, the increased sense of urgency on this track may be interpreted both as an increasing rate in the movement of a dinosaur, or as the race between Cope and Marsh for the discovery of new dinosaur fossils. [continued below]
So, what is my over-arching impression of the music? Well, for me, the EP can be best described as ‘Mesozoic mood music’ – I feel it is likely to have a similar effect to the soothing and meditative sounds of whale songs, relaxing the mind and body… only it’s set in the late Jurassic. The artist, however, tags themselves as ‘dino synth’, and there is a whole rabbit hole you can jump down there. Click it, and it turns out there is already a whole genre of ‘dark synth music about the dinosaurs’.