24.8.13

(v/a) - I HEAR THE DEVIL CALLING ME (Drag City 7", 1991).

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Back in the early '90s, when New Zealand's long-gestating underground music scene was beginning to emerge internationally from it's secluded Aotearoan pupa, & before the Internet was seen as anything more than a faddish dial-up distraction, the only opportunity that non-Kiwis had of actually hearing any of the country's elusive paraphernalia was via a handful of enlightened N.Z.-friendly d.i.y. distributors (Fisheye's long-suffering Paul Wild, for instance).

What struck me at the time - other than how remote & hermetic this motley cluster of artists seemed, & how unconcerned they appeared to be in trying to (gasp) sound American - was their stubborn adherence to the already semi-obsolete 7" single / cassette set-up, a strategy of necessity that seemed "charmingly" parochial in an era when, elsewhere, the compact disc had achieved sovereignty & vinyl was approaching it's lowest commercial ebb. Tapes, I should add, had already been dismissed as ridiculous charity shop fodder.

One of the earliest & most prominent artefacts from The Year The World Turned Kiwi was Drag City's pocket-sized compendium I Hear The Devil Calling Me. Released in August 1991, just as the label was just becoming financially solvent as a result of Pavement's early & prodigious success, it brought together a dozen N.Z. acts, each of whom handed-over an illustrative 1 minute long track. Compiled by The Dead C's Bruce Russell, & employing his milieu-defining Xpressway label as it's catalyst, most of it's Dunedin & Christchurch-based noise-smiths contributed bespoke compositions, though a couple appeared to be extracted from longer, pre-existing recordings. Inevitably, this enforced brevity worked in some acts' favour more than others - you'd be hard pressed to get the gist of The Renderers' objectives from a 70 second piece like their titular track here, but Gate & A Handful of Dust's prudent hor d'oeuvres made a (dare I say it) refreshing change from the customarily exhausting attack-intensity of their own records. Throughout, accents were conspicuously "regional", maltreated guitars buzzed & purred, crepitating vintage synths spluttered, drum-kits emulated collapsing wet cardboard, fracturing melodies with dissonance while the production values remained defiantly frugal... a vivid snapshot of that scene's tangled synthesis of boldly amateurist music & art. Remarkably, many of the contributors herein are still making music, much of it better than anything that's been released by any European act in the intervening 20 years, & all of it habitually ignored by our music press... never mind.

Issued in a once-only edition of a thousand or so copies, the I Hear The Devil Calling Me 7" has never been repressed & is not available to download from the Drag City website.


6 comments:

  1. I wasn't able to now locate this interview i read some 10 yrs ago, but i remember Bruce Russell explaining that their (i e Xpressway's)choice of formats was somewhat out of necessity - vinyl making sorta collapsed at that time in NZ, and "CDs were not an option in 1988", this sentence i remember.

    more importantly, have you noticed the fact that the Fall in the early 80s visited both Iceland and New Zealand, both countries having been far from the then-current music world (so to speak), and both countries subsequently produced very strong and distinct indie rock scenes of their own?

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  2. ...And, of course, the recent (i.e. last 10 years or so) lathe-cut vinyl fad inadvertently began in NZ as back in the '90s they had one of the last remaining operational lathe set-ups in the world... n.b. Some of my favourite NZ releases are cassettes, I can't get enough of 'em! :)

    From what I can gather, Mark E. made a point of dragging The Fall to far-flung "cultural backwaters" that most rock tours didn't visit back then - great tactic!

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  3. p.s. Your blog is excellent, I've added it to my (ahem) "roll of honour".

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  4. Anonymous26.8.13

    Thank you for reminding me about this watershed EP - like yourself (I imagine) it was my introduction to New Zealand music and led me onto some of the most wonderful NOISE I've heard in my life!

    Drag City really ought to expand & reissue this, preferably as a full legtnh LP, don't you think?

    Kind regards,

    Mark :)

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  5. I am excited to finally hear this! Bless your kind heart sir! I am giddy with the bliss. :)

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  6. Ha, no worries... I'd post more out-of-print N.Z. stuff on here, but Flying Nun, etc get very tetchy about that sort of thing. Shame they can't be bothered to reissue any of it, eh? ;)

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