Here we go (again)

So, last year I took my usual break over summer but thought I might take more than a month off. It ended up being several months. But looking back, I think after obsessively watching New Zealand music videos from the ’90s and early ’00s for four years, I needed a break.

Also, I’m so sick of the ’90s, but feeling pleasantly nostalgic for the ’00s.

But I’ve fired up the ol’ 5000 Ways, ready to resume where we left off – June 2005. But things are going to be a bit different.

I don’t want to be doing this for four more years, so I’m going to be reviewing about six or seven videos at a time. This means that hopefully I should have this all complete in about a year or so, rather than in 2020. (This is actually the format I was originally going to use back in 2011, but I got carried away and went bigger.)

It also means I’m going to be writing less per video, but tbh, that takes away the enormous burden to write something about videos that are just really uninteresting. If something inspires me, though, I still reserve the write to bang out 1000 words.

And I’m no longer going to be doing separate pages for missing video. This is for two reasons – first, because increasingly there are fewer missing videos, and second, because it just becomes a bit depressing. But there’s still the big list of lost (and found) videos.

I’m going to start with some found videos, so for the new couple of weeks it’ll be catching up with gems from 1992 to 2005. And then we’ll be back onto the rest of the videos from 2005. There are so many good videos.

– Robyn

The logo and the damage done

Lorde: the firestarter
Lorde: the firestarter

In the middle of Duncan Greive’s fab profile of Lorde in the October issue of Metro magazine, Ella Yelich-O’Connor  and her manager Scott Maclachlan are discussing why the Lorde videos were made without NZ On Air funding. Maclachlan says the productions were so simple and inexpensive that funding wasn’t needed. Then Lorde drops a bomb, saying of the NZ On Air logo,  “You know how much negative power that logo has for my generation?”

Whoa!

It would be easy to dismiss this as just a teen sassing off at the establishment for the sake of provocation, but her other observations are pretty spot-on (David Guetta is gross). But what’s behind it? Why would the NZ On Air logo seem negative to young people?

Chris Knox creates while the original logo rotates
Chris Knox creates while the original logo rotates

It comes down to what the NZ On Air represents. All funded music videos must display the logo in their videos (though it can be removed for overseas broadcast). All it signifies is that the video received funding from NZ On Air, and at the bare minimum the funding panel thought the song was good. But the NZ On Air logo is not a mark of quality.

Let’s assume that all songs that receive NZ On Air video funding are of above-average quality. They’re the sort that the funding panel decide have a good shot at getting airplay in New Zealand. But that doesn’t mean that all the videos made for these songs are of above average quality. In fact, the quality of videos greatly varies. Great songs can have poor videos; average songs can have great videos.

No one sets out to make a bad music video. It just ends up that way. Sometimes it’s not having enough money to fulfil the director’s vision. Sometimes the band doesn’t come across well on camera. Sometimes someone’s mate, who said he’d do the video for free, just takes ages to do it and makes a half-arsed effort, despite his best intentions. Sometimes things just don’t work out.

So when all these disappointing music videos end up on TV or the web, they’re all out there with the NZ On Air logo.

K'Lee: no longer do you feel her
K’Lee: no longer do you feel her

Other videos just don’t age well. They belong to a particular time and place (and that’s perfectly normal for pop), but when viewed a few years (or even months) later they seem a bit naff. K’Lee and TrueBliss’ videos had a particularly short shelf life, all with the NZ On Air logo.

A lot of artists who get NZ On Air funding are new, trying to get noticed – and some artists receive funding for only one or two songs before they disappear. It’s these early years, when the artist might still be finding their sound, trying to figure out if this whole rock thing is going to work out.

Compare Bic Runga’s first solo music video – the low-budget “Drive”, which sees Bic hanging around an apartment on her own – with the far more ambitious “Something Good”, with a huge supporting cast and Bic floating above Cuba Street.

But this is good. NZ On Air should be allowed to take chances on upcoming artists without demanding screen tests or video concept ideas first. A lot of the time these chances pay off and New Zealand bands enjoy long careers – Shihad and the Feelers are two who have made the most of NZ On Air funding. And Kimbra took early steps in the mid ’00s before her international success in 2011.

The Metro article notes that Lorde chose not to release any of her earlier experimental recordings, waiting until she was finally satisfied with “Royals”. But not all artists have the luxury of taking their time. For some, they’ve got a decent song, they’ve got music video funding so they’re going to make a video, even though they might not quite be ready for primetime.

In New Zealand, we only experience this with local artists. When an overseas artist has enough potential for their record company to promote them overseas, the label is going to put a lot of effort into marketing to make sure it’s worth it. So we never see the crappy videos from Australian bands who never make it in New Zealand, or the homemade vids for up-and-coming American bands. For example, Fall Out Boy’s low-budget debut video “Dead On Arrival” happily avoided New Zealand screens, but two years later their super slick “Dance Dance” video was all over the place. So because of this, the implication is overseas = cool videos; NZ = rubbish videos.

Deceptikonz: preaching to the choir
Deceptikonz: preaching to the choir

And then there are local bands who made cool videos without NZ On Air funding. In 2001, the Deceptikonz and Blindspott both released videos without any funding by NZ On Air (“Fallen Angels” and “Nil By Mouth”). Dawn Raid Entertainment funded the Deceptikonz video (and it had a crane shot!), whereas Blindspott’s video was a self-funded, cheap-as, $800 job. Both videos were good and both groups went on to many successes – and received NZ On Air funding for later videos. But the absence of the NZ On Air logo on their debuts seems to have done them a favour. It put them in the same category as groups like Crowded House – New Zealand artists who are so successful that they don’t need NZ On Air funding.

That’s not to say that there’s something inherently bad about NZ On Air videos or something good with independent videos. I’ve watched over a decade’s worth of NZ On Air music videos so far and there are a lot of really good ones in there. Well, at least what I think is good.

And consider the non-funded video for The X Factor winner Jackie Thomas’ debut single “It’s Worth It”. It seems inspired by Lorde’s “Tennis Court” video, but it looks and feels cheap. There’s no magic. Over on her Facebook page, hardcore Jackie fans were really upset that their idol had been given such a poor video.

Dave Dobbyn: cool uncle
Dave Dobbyn: cool uncle

The NZ On Air logo creates a club of sorts, its brand uniting disparate artists with only one thing in common. The problem is, one artist might not necessarily want to be associated with others in the collection. Does Lorde want to be seen as a peer of, say, a roots band like Katchafire, a serious rock band like the Feelers, or a veteran like Dave Dobbyn? In the article Lorde has a playful dig at Goodnight Nurse, the old band of her producer Joel Little, who received funding for 14 music videos. Does Lorde want to avoid being lumped in with a fun pop-punk band of the ’00s – even when it’s the band of her creative partner?

It’s not that there’s anything broken with NZ On Air. Plenty of artists are more than happy to have the logo on their videos – so far I’ve only come across two out of over 600 videos where the NZOA logo has been obscured in a later edit. It’s more that the logo has covers such a broad range of music videos from 22 years of New Zealand music that it’s come to represent business rather than art.

So while the artist might be striving to create a certain kind of image, along comes this little logo that suddenly snaps the viewer out of the universe of the video and takes them to the reality, of the band manager filling in a form, applying for music video funding, just like hundreds of other artists have done over the past two decades.

Update: What’s missing from this page? The current NZ On Air logo! Here it is in two versions – full colour and the grey watermark. They’re more subtle and deferential – a big improvement on the garish rotating animation of the ’90s.

519 ways to love you

Subware are starting with the computer-animated man in the mirror
Subware are starting with the computer-animated man in the mirror
TrueBliss don't give a damn what the haters say
TrueBliss don’t give a damn what the haters say
Stayfree Carefree target the all-important crustacean/bogan crossover demographic
Stayfree Carefree target the all-important crustacean/bogan crossover demographic

It’s the second anniversary of 5000 Ways to Love You, which is a good a time as any to celebrate and look back at all the videos I’ve been watching. So that’s 519 down (though that is a bit of a back-of-an-envelope calculation) and almost 2000 to go. Crikey.

A year ago, I was entering the dawning of the age of the Feelers, those years in the early ’90s where New Zealand pop-rock bands did rather well. There was also Zed and the trio of female-fronted bands, Stellar, Fur Patrol and Tadpole. All of these groups made their mark with their music videos. It’s wasn’t just enough to stick the band in an interesting place and command them to rock out; videos had to do something.

And heading into the new millennium, it’s obvious that there’s a change in the technology behind music video as camera and editing equipment got cheaper and more digital. The low-budget videos start to look slicker, and the medium budget videos look really slick. The more prolific music video directors started to become well known for their work.

As always, trends come and go, like that period when videos had artistic and/or comedy subtitles. It’s proof that New Zealand isn’t an isolated island; that international trends in music video making are felt here too. Or when indie bands started doing ironic formation dancing (well before genuine pop acts did it sincerely).

But what really makes this project all worth while is the input from other people. Comments from music fans, people in bands, video makers and others with stories to tell; the awesome team at NZ On Screen sourcing those great old videos; and the great people who have gone to the effort of putting old videos online, particularly Peter McLennan and John from SANZ. And a kia ora to NZ On Air and Audio Culture, the very enjoyable new website about New Zealand music history.

And so to the early years of the ’00s, just coming up to Shihad’s Pacifier years and the eve of NZ Idol. It all feels a bit awkward looking back from 2013, but that’s all part of the journey.

— Robyn

283 ways to love you

Marcus Lush makes a dramatic cameo in a Greg Johnson vid
Marcus Lush makes a dramatic cameo in a Greg Johnson vid
Ngaire rests her head on a blown-up cask-wine bladder
Ngaire rests her head on a blown-up cask-wine bladder

Jordan Luck illustrates the ethos of 5000 Ways
Jordan Luck illustrates the ethos of 5000 Ways
It’s the first anniversary of 5000 Ways to Love You! It all started in early 2011 with an idea with sprang from an idle thought about 20 years of NZ On Air music video funding.

I wondered if anyone else had some sort of website about NZOA-funded music videos, I googled, didn’t anything, so figured it was up to me. And hey, I like music, I like video, I like writing about music videos. It would probably be quite fun.

And it has been! As well as revisiting the fave vids of my youth, I’ve also discovered long forgotten videos, weird blips in New Zealand’s pop history, and bands that tried really hard but just didn’t make it.

It’s also made me aware of the trends that come and go in music-video making, like the time when dudes in bands started appearing with no shirts on. I think at the time, the dudes in question wouldn’t have thought they were following a popular trend, but hindsight gives a different perspective.

I’ve also been surprised at what videos are available online. Videos from artists that were a really big deal back in the day are now strangely absent, and videos from obscure indie bands are available on YouTube in good quality versions – and all it takes it one person to do that.

I’m also grateful for the team at NZ On Screen who have happily taken my suggestions and managed to source some classic videos that deserve a new digital home. And NZ On Air have also been helpful with lots of information and history, and for getting some old videos up online.

And the site wouldn’t be what it is without all the comments and feedback I get, from directors, people in bands, various people involved in the music industry and other fans. It’s been a very cool experience!

In the first year of the site I’ve covered seven years of music videos, from 1991 to 1997. Just over half of the funded music videos are available online – that’s 283 videos, with another 253 not available online… yet. I’m happy that since I started the project, more old videos have become available online – and I want more!

And hopefully more is what I’ll find when I make it into 1998, 1999 and into the bold new millennium!

– Robyn

Able Tasmans “Hold Me 1” (1990)

able-tasmans-hold-me-1And Flying Nun birthday week concludes with something very sensible from the time before NZOA funding.

This video is so grown up, so adult. The first 45 seconds of the song is Graeme Humphreys’ lush piano intro. Subtly – and notoriously – he is revealed to be sporting a rats tail hair tuft. At the time, only bad boys had rats tails.

Slowly the piano starts to build and suddenly the whole band appears, looking very sensible, grown up and adult. The performance space is decorated in bright ’90s colours – strong blues, red, browns.

The band all have their roles, and seem to be working solidly and competantly at playing their instruments. There is no rock star posing. These are professional musicians. Their restraint is very pleasant to watch, especially after seeing videos from bands who try to do the big rock face but don’t quite get it right.

Most pleasing is the scratchy old organ, where its switches are flipped with great importance, like a PhD student (not a mad scientist) conducting valuable scientific experiments.

There are nine people on board – pianist, organist, drummer, bassist, lead singer and guitarist, cellist, two violinists, and a backing singer who only has 24 words to sing and spends most of the time standing very stiffly in the background. In fact, the backing singer isn’t shown singing until three minutes into the song, making his appearance initially very mysterious for the first-time viewer.

This is a very serious, grown up video but it absolutely works. The band have shown up to work wearing their best clothes and they’ve just gone about their business in making a good video that highlights the song.

Bird Nest Roys “Alien” (1986)

bird-nest-roys-alienThe continuing celebration of Flying Nun’s 30th birthday, looking back at music videos made in the days before NZOA music video funding.

There’s something really lovely about this video. It starts with the song – it’s indeed a lovely song. Great guitar pop with sweet vocal layers and harmonies. The video, directed by Jed Town, is pretty much a perfect visualisation of the song.

The video is full of light and layers. As Big Ross and Little Ross sing the song, the image is layered with golden sparks, outdoor scenes and the band performning live.

The Roys look like they all like each other – and I mean really like each other – which just adds to the really nice spirit of the video. A lesser director would have gone “Alien! Let’s have green spacemen in it!!!”, but really, the song is more about love than it is about aliens, and the video shows this well.

Bird Nest Roys are one of those great Flying Nun bands that never quite got the success they deserved, but if this is the only visual remant of their time, it’s a brilliant thing to be left with.

Doublehappys “Needles and Plastic” (1985)

doublehappys-needles-and-plasticContinuing a look back at Flying Nun videos made in the days before NZOA funding. Instead of putting candles on Flying Nun’s 30th birthday cake, I’m using Doublehappys.

Well, yeah, I kind of have to have some Shayne Carter in here. “Needles and Plastic” is such a young dude kind of song. Mr Carter was about 20 when this was made and it just has this really cool, cocky spirit to it. And if you think he’s signing “fat gut”, then you have a pure heart.

The video was a Doublehappys and Chris Knox work, and I have this idea that it was filmed at Mr Knox’s Grey Lynn house. It looks about as low budget as it was, but it’s just a really dumb fun experience.

In a shadowy room with a hand-painted backdrop, the band play while occasionally mysterious hands emerge and grab the band. Maybe these hands are meant to represent an audience at a gig, but they somehow have a more sinister, more sexual feel.

The video is shot in one continuous take, but it doesn’t feel like it’s showing off. In fact, it’s quite similar to the sort of gig videos that appear on YouTube taken by fans in the audience holding their smartphones in the air. The camera moves around, like it’s being operated by someone who’s really really enjoying the song. Which he no doubt was.

Skeptics “Agitator” (1987)

skeptics-agitatorThe 5000 Ways celebration of Flying Nun’s 30th nunniversary continues, looking back at videos made in the days before NZ On Air’s funding started in 1991.

The Skeptics are the best Flying Nun band, if not the best band in the entire world.

They only had two videos – “AFFCO” and “Agitator”. AFFCO is the one with the notoriety. It has the sheep and the blood and societal commentary. But the thing is, AFFCO isn’t anywhere near the Skeptics best song. For that, I turn to their other video, “Agitator”.

It’s a glorious three-part journey. Starting with moody black and white footage, as a simple piano line slowly builds, joined by creepy guitar, alarming synth and David D’Ath’s haunting vocals. A little colour is allowed into this vision with a bald-headed colour D’Ath reflected in a window, and then an eerie, bloody red starts seeping into the picture.

On to part two and full colour returns with the band in full-on freak out. Layers of people and visual effects and textures play with each other, sometimes emphasising the music, other times underscoring the mood.

But then just when it was all threatening to fall apart, along comes the final conclusion. An ode to June, July and August – the winter months – and we’re back in the black and white world. Only this time it’s a lot more peaceful, as if the former chaos has been exorcised, leaving only a peaceful feeling.

S.P.U.D. “Breakdown Town” (1990)

spud-breakdown-townFlying Nun are celebrating their 30th anniversary this month, so I figured I should join in the fun. This week, for an afternoon special, I’m going to look at five of my favourite Flying Nun videos prior to the introduction of the NZ On Air music video funding. First up, S.P.U.D.

You know how Auckland is quite cool but how there are also bits of it that are a bit crap? “Breakdown Town” is the perfect theme tune of that Auckland. It’s crunchy and slithery and on the verge of falling apart, and – as YouTube commenter Flipper1974nz says – “SO DIRTY”.

Stuart Page’s video focuses less on the band and more on the city. A few familiar landmarks can be seen, including One Tree Hill back in its innocent tree days, but much of the video is a street-level look at life.

Making an electrifying cameo appearance is John Hartles, the notorious Queen Street busker. Using an electric guitar, he appears for some blistering guitar action outside Smith and Caughey. By the way, worth a watch is filmmaker Andrew Moore’s 1996 documentary on John Hartles.

Crowded roads, demolition sites, state housing, and a rapidly cut montage of signs and scenes from all over the central city. Even though little is readily identifiable as Auckland, collectively it can only be Auckland, that dirty Auckland of the early ’90s.

Dave Dobbyn “Slice of Heaven”

Herbs and some dude in a cowboy shirt
Herbs and some dude in a cowboy shirt

So, it probably goes without saying that we’re going to be seeing a fair bit of ol’ Dave Dobbyn around here – just not for a while.

But to get us in the mood, I thought I’d look back at one of his best loved songs and one with a decent enough video from the before time, pre-NZ On Air funding.

“Slice of Heaven” was the main theme song from the wildly popular animated film “Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale”. It’s credited to “Dave Dobbyn with Herbs”, and indeed it’s Aotearoa’s reggae legends that go above and beyond the call of duty with their “dah-dah-dah, boom-boom” part.

The video starts with a silhouetted Dave playing an unusual wind instrument. Then a couple of cool chicks in rad ankle boots start dancing around him. Well, if it’s a love song, you need an object of affections or two.

With the first good look at Dave, he’s revealed to be wearing a shirt printed with cowboys on horseback. This seems like an artistic concession to Footrot Flats’ rural theme.

Then it’s into the chorus and Dave’s changed into a conductor’s tuxedo, doing some jazz hands with his white-gloved hands. But never mind the dramatics. Herbs are here to bring some serious bottom end. They’re a solid dependable anchor for the song, the honesty that makes his ode for an awkward Kiwi male all the more believable.

More weird woodwind instruments show up (they all look different; they all make the same sound), and while all the studio action is going on, we’re also treated to a series of clips from the movie.

Let me stick this 10-inch in the computer
Let me stick this 10-inch in the computer

But just in case it all seems quite ordinary, there’s a scene near the end where Dave is shown conducting what we assume to be an orchestra, then the camera pulls back to reveal his music stand is loaded with… eight-inch floppy disks?!

I assume this is commentary on the synthesised string instruments used on the song. Did it work as a gag in 1987?

The “Slice of Heaven” video is all shot in simple black studio set, but it manages to be captivating due to the performances of both Dave Dobbyn and Herbs. And the ladies in ankle boots.

Now I get to reveal the secret reason I did this post: it’s for the kittens, y’all. The Wellington SPCA are doing a special fundraising screening of a new digitally restored version of “Footroot Flats: A Dog’s Tale”. Thrill to the Dave Dobbyn soundtrack on the giant Embassy screen! The screening is on Wednesday August 31, and $10 from every ticket goes to help the kittens, puppies and other animals of Wellington.