Strawpeople featuring Pearl Runga “No One Like You”

2003-strawpeople-no-one-like-youStrawpeople return with the first single off their last album, Count Backwards From 10. This time the song’s vocals are provided by Pearl Runga, whose sister already did guest vocals back in 1999.

Like a lot of Strawpeople videos, this one doesn’t show the musical artists involved. Instead the video features an audition, but being a Strawpeople video, it’s unusual and stylish. It’s directed by Joe Lonie, moving well away from the visual larks of his earlier work.

A number of young model/actresses are each standing in front of a camera. Their first task – to write their name on a piece of cardboard and hold it up to the camera. So, hello to Jessica, Nicola, Andrea, Amelia, Rachael, Jennifer and Polly. As they stand in front of the camera, they lip-sync the song lyrics. (It’s funny to hear the old technology used to illustrate a busy life – “I’ve got my radio on but it don’t drown the fax machine.”)

Next, they appear to have been asked to remove their clothes, stripping down to just their underwear – and they’re all wearing strapless bras. They all look a bit annoyed. Yeah, someone’s agent is getting a phone call.

The strange audition continues, with the women all required to put on a strapless crimson dress, put their hair up in a bun, secured with chopsticks (or if they’re blonde, wear a dark wig in that style), wear some pearl earrings and particular eye makeup.

Even though they’re all identically dressed, they’re still not clones. The individual personalities of the auditionees stand out. Some are smily, some serious, some flirty, some bored looking. Finally, they all hold up their name signs again. Who to pick? They’re all so different. Oh, let’s just use them all.

Best bit: the rhythmic application of makeup.

Director: Joe Lonie
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… London boy.

Scribe “Stand Up”

2003-scribe-stand-upSo here it is, the New Zealand single to spend the most number of weeks at number one, spending a total of 12 weeks in the top spot – equalled only by Freddy Fender’s lament “Wasted Days and Wasted Night” in 1975 and bettered only by Boney M’s permanently amazing biblical groove “Rivers of Babylon”, which managed 14 weeks in 1978.

I remember at the time “Stand Up” came out, someone saying something like, “This is an important moment for New Zealand hip hop, but it’s going to be even better when this song seems really naff.” That is, it’ll be better when the New Zealand world of hip hop is so strong, it doesn’t need a motivational song praising it.

Are we there yet? Well, in 2003, the overall year-end singles chart had five hip hop singles from New Zealand artists, 2004 had six, but the 2013 chart doesn’t have any. It’s not until you drill down to to the New Zealand artists chart that “Runnin'” by David Dallas shows up. Hip hop is still around, but it’s not the pop superpower it was a decade ago.

The “Stand Up” adventure starts with Scribe and P-Money in a car, teasingly soundtracked by the intro of his next single “Not Many”. The pair get out and run towards a door and – bam! – they’re in a secret underground party, attended by their friends, fans and other New Zealand hip hop players.

Scribe is surrounded by the other artists he name-drops – the D4, Blindspott, Nesian Mystik, Deceptikonz – and there’s a certain awkwardness when everyone in the video feels compelled to pull a cooldude face when the camera is near them. But full credit to director Chris Gregory for getting great levels of energy in the crowd. This doesn’t look like a bunch of people roped into making a music video – they all want to be they’re and they’re having a great time partying.

In 2003, the video was great and inspiring. If Scribe could manage this with his first solo video, there could only be great things to come, right? It turned out the future was more complicated than that. Sometimes hip hop is in fashion, other times it’s the turn for minimalist electro teen pop.

The “Stand Up” ends with a preview of the next single, “Not Many”. It introduces the listener to the very sticky chorus that would soon be repeated all around New Zealand, leaving viewers wanting so much more.

Note: Hip hop label Grindin has a track-by-track look at the making of Scribe’s Crusader album, including a lot of info about the “Stand Up” video. From this we learn that much of the people in the video are audience members from a De La Soul concert that Scribe opened for earlier that evening.

Best bit: P-Money’s deft hat flip to obscure his mouth saying the F-word.

Director: Chris Graham
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… a screen test.

PanAm “Song1”

2003-panam-song-1It’s night time and Paul from Panam shows up late for his shift behind the counter at a petrol station. I feel great tension every time I see him in this video because his hair in this video is how my hair goes on a bad day. I want to give him a good blowdry.

It’s an old-style petrol station (filmed “in Christchurch in the middle of winter at night in a draughty old gas station,” Paul told Songlines Across New Zealand). It’s the kind of place that was primarily an automotive workshop with just a little shop selling a few chocolate bars and chips, secondary to the oil, fanbelts and other essentials. It’s also the kind of petrol station that isn’t really around these days, and indeed it seems that the location in question is now occupied by a budget car rental company.

Business is slow and there’s nothing for Paul to do but slouch around the till. If it were me, I would alphabetise the chips – cheese and onion, chicken, ready salted, salt and vinegar. There.

But relief comes in the form of a customer, an old geezer rolling up in a Mercedes. Paul fills up the car. Petrol is only $1.049 a litre, and the 91 is 99c. Remember that fact, kids. Those were golden days.

The customer tended to, Paul goes back inside and keeps singing “I don’t care anymore”. Even a dwarf customer isn’t enough to break his boredom, so he goes out the back and jams on his keyboard, using headphones.

A shifty looking young man (who I think I recognise from my olden Hamilton act0rizing days) comes in the shop and buys some chewing gum. He’s either wanting to break a big note or he’s casing the joint.

Paul returns to his back-room jamming, and the shifty dude returns and steals several boxes of Cadbury chocolate bars. He runs out and there’s the geezer in the Mercedes waiting. What kind of arrangement is this? Rich older man picks up a young street youth, gets him to steal chocolate bars and they go back to the geezer’s mansion and spend all night eating Pinkys and Crunchies until they crash out in a sugar coma, holding each other as they sleep?

And then the video expects us to happily go back to Paul moping around the petrol station. No, I want to know what the odd-couple crims are up to.

Note: In 2012, PanAm released a revved up new recording of the song.

Best bit: the physical comedy of the thief dumping the haul of choccies in the back seat of the Merc.

Director: Richard Bell
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… you, me and everyone we know.

Opshop “Secrets”

2003-opshop-secretsThis is Opshop gradually getting better at their craft. They hadn’t yet bothered the pop charts, but there was a catchiness to their work.

“Secrets” is a really no-frills video. It’s just Opshop playing in a dark studio, lit with white lights. It has the effect of making the video look almost black and white, and it gives the shadowy band a hint of mystery.

Jason is wearing spectacles in the video, which reflect the ring lighting used in the video. There’s also a curious light on stage which echoes the shape of the light reflected in Jason’s glasses, making it all seem a bit Twilight Zone.

Just when things seem to be getting a bit predictable, suddenly words start flashing on the screen. First “stop the propaganda”, then “start thinking”. But, like, what if that itself is more propaganda?

After the messages it’s straight back to the band, and they keep playing just as they were before, seemingly unchanged by the effect of the propaganda messages on the band or indeed their audience.

So yeah, it’s a really no-frills exercise. It is a bit boring, but it adequately captures the song and the band.

Best bit: the mugshot-style poses of the band members.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… working overnight at the gascrankinstation.

No Artificial Flavours “Sweet As Bro”

2003-no-artificial-flavours-sweet-as-broNo Artificial Flavours was the next project of MC Taaz, previously of Dam Native. “Sweet As Bro” continues with the social conscience of his earlier group, but this time it’s a bleak buzzkill. Check out the chorus:

The streets that I’m from, they say “Sweet as, bro”
Kids going to school are like, “Sweet as, bro”
Top-notch athletes – “Sweet as, bro”
But in reality I know it’s not sweet as, bro

So, the song’s message is “You think your life is ok? Well, it’s not. It’s shit. Here, let me list all the ways in which your life sucks.” It also sounds a bit like the sort of thing a right-on band would perform as part of a schools tour, followed by a workshop in which students are encouraged to discuss all the ways in which New Zealand society is not “Sweet as, bro”.

But anyway. The video is black and white, with a lot of shots of Taaz wearing a rugby league shirt, walking down a suburban street. With vibe assassin lyrics telling of babies running out of formula, power cuts and being too poor to afford medical care, the video shows people standing around their non-sweet-as neighbourhoods, both in Auckland and rural Northland. There’s also some slow-mo footage of those “top-notch athletes” (i.e., community football) playing a non-sweet-as game.

Along comes the song’s bridge and it’s singer Cherene on the back of a trailer driving around a suburban shopping centre, which is also not sweet as. She also shows up later doing the same drive at night.

The main problem with this video is that everything actually looks ok. The people (especially kids) look happy, the neighbourhoods look tidy. If the video is trying to convince the viewer that it’s hard out here, it’s not doing a very convincing job. But then, would it work to make the video as much of a buzzkill as the lyrics?

Best bit: the disembodied head of an old man, poking up out of a pool.

Director: Tim Groenendaal
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… a circle of mystery.

Mareko “Mareko (Here To Stay)”

2003-mareko-here-to-staySo, the Deceptikonz had come along and caused a bit of a ruckus, and Mareko seemed like he was going to be the group’s breakout star. He was handsome, his rhymes were clever – it had to work, right? cough Savage’s international hit single. cough

“Mareko (Here To Stay)” seems intended as an introduction to the artist, possibly inspired by Eminem’s kick-arse “My Name Is”. But “Mareko (Here to Stay)” doesn’t have a catchy chorus. Everyone can sing along with Slim Shady and feel cool, but the line “All I know is that my name is now here to stay – Mareko!” is a weak-as anti-hook.

The video sees Mareko performing the song down a narrow alley, surrounded by people wearing t-shirts promoting his album and waving banners with his name on them. It feels like there was a marketing manager on location, fiercely monitoring the shoot to ensure that everyone in the video had at least one piece of Mareko branding visible on camera.

The only bit of charm the video has is the group of little kids in the audience. In the narrow brick alley, the kids make it all seem like scenes from an urban production of a musical like Annie or Oliver, which I would actually like to see.

Otherwise all the constant brand pushing in the video becomes annoying. There are some smart rhymes in there, but they’re overshadowed by the video’s insistance in showing yet another person waving a Mareko banner at the camera. I can’t help thinking that if the video wants me to do something (i.e. remember Mareko’s name), it has to do something for me in return (i.e. give me a good song). It doesn’t hold up its end of the deal.

But then a curious thing happens. After two and a half minutes, the song comes to an abrupt halt and suddenly we get a minute-long preview of Mareko’s next single “Stop Drop and Roll”, featuring the Deceptikonz. And suddenly there it is. There’s the hook-laden single with an in-your-face Savage (sporting a black eye!) delivering the ultra catchy chorus. It totally overshadows the main single, making all the shenanigans with t-shirts and banners seem like a boring waste of time. It’s a sign that something isn’t right with the original single when the preview at the end of the video is the best thing in it.

Best bit: the small kid brass section.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… you think things are good but they’re not.

King Kapisi “Elemental Forces”

2003-king-kapisi-elemental-forcesA boxing ring is a simple and dramatic setting. It symbolises conflict on display. So it’s not surprising that the boxing ring has been the setting for many music videos (check out this list). But I can only think of two NZOA funded videos that have used the ring – Rubicon’s “The Captain” (with the band in netball uniforms) and Wordperfect’s “The Word Perfect Show” (he doesn’t take off his robe, but the ring girl wears a bikini). But the obvious comparison is LL Cool J’s bombastic 1990 video for “Mama Said Knock You Out” – and indeed “Elemental Forces” seems to be paying tribute to LL in some shots.

So here’s King Kapisi entering the ring for his ode to hip hop culture, shouting out to “MCs, DJs, b-boys, graff artists”. And while the video starts off with a traditional boxing match, the ring is soon given over to hip hop artists, mostly b-boys. There’s also King Kapisi going the MCing (of course) DJ CXL behind the turntables, but there’s no sign of any graff artists. But then, there aren’t all that many surfaces to paint.

The video is directed by King Kapisi himself, and stars his friends and family. Like “Mama Said Knock You Out”, the most of video is shot in black and white. It gives it all a very dramatic look, and not just a bunch of entertainers mucking around in a boxing gym after hours. The one excursion into colour takes place outside the ring. In front of a giant backdrop of Kapisi’s Overstayer flag, he gets enjoys some full-colour posing.

There’s also something to be said for King Kapisi actually having the right build for boxing. He looks like someone who could actually win a boxing match, no accidental lolz from a skinny-arse muso trying to be Rocky. (The only time this has ever worked is Sandra Bernhard kicking David Lowery’s arse in Cracker’s “Low” video.) Yeah, there are better boxing music videos, but as far as the genre goes, this is a really good effort.

Best bit: the fierce breakdancing spins.

Director: King Kapisi
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… overexposure.

Greg Johnson “Save Yourself”

2003-greg-johnson-save-yourselfSo, here’s a simple concept – Greg Johnson goes for a wander at Piha, while the girl of his dreams lounges about the house. Well, let’s just hope he doesn’t go tracking sand in the house when he comes home.

“I’ve been exploring your mind,” sings Greg. “I found giant rivers, mountain ranges never climbed.” This is accompanied by Greg walking alongside a piddly little beachside creek. But hey, if the giant rivers are imaginary, the ones in his actual environment don’t need to be Amazonian.

Greg’s beach scenes are shot in sepiatone, with a sense of it being deliberately scratchy old film. But back in the house, things are a little brighter.

The footage of the lady in the house is shot like a nostaglic, dreamy Instagram-style filter. She sits around, smiling at the camera. Sometimes she’s rolling around in bed, other times she’s curled up in a corner. Do we assume this is home video shot by the song’s narrator? Or has a rogue hipster film-maker snuck in while Greg is out?

There is a third party to this saga: the guitarist. Sometimes when Greg’s out walking, we also see a guitarist. Most of the time he’s up in the dunes, like a wandering minstrel who’s just happened to enter Greg’s world.

By the end of the video, there’s a lot of split screen, showing Greg, the girl and the guitarist. But the best thing about the video is that it ends with one of those amazing west coast sunsets, with the wet black sand reflecting the golden light. No wonder Greg went for a walk.

Best bit: the person who does a cartwheel on the beach. Yay!

Director: James Holt
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… in the ring.

Goodshirt “Buck it Up”

2003-goodshirt-buck-it-upWith “Buck it Up”, Goodshirt ended its previous collaborations with director Joe Lonie. They went in a different direction with new director Kezia Barnett, an old art school pal of Rodney Goodshirt.

And it’s very different from the five one-shot-wonder videos the band made with Lonie. “Buck it Up” is more grown up, more sexy and it has lots of actual proper choreography – something I’ve been hanging out to see in a NZOA music video for so long. And it is fearless with edits.

The video is set in a school, where an impossibly handsome young student is troubled by strange visions. His strict teacher becomes a saucy temptress (played by one of the other people who did the artists dole course with me in 2003!) – and it’s done with a lot more style than Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher”. The student sees a butterfly with the face of a cute girl. He’s beaten up by bullies who transform into wolves. And then there are cheerleaders wearing masks of the Goodshirt members.

This menagerie of madness comes together for a final chaotic dance scene, then the student comes to, finding the butterfly girl (in human form) there for him in real life.

The band don’t directly feature a lot in the video. They make a few cameos, but are largely absent (they are shy). But this means the story has been given over to the casts of pros, the ones who can do the high kicks and shimmies.

It works having lots of dancing in the video. The song is upbeat and highly danceable, so it seems almost like a no-brainer that you’d work with the rhythm and get people moving.

Best bit: the cheerleaders putting on their Goodshirt masks, piece by piece.

Director: Kezia Barnett
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… a walk along the beach.

Elemeno P “Verona”

2003-elemeno-p-veronaFor the “Verona” video, director Greg Page put Elemeno P in an industrial freezer. Why? As he explained to NZ On Screen, “There was no legitimate reason for shooting in a freezer – I just enjoy torturing the bands I work with.” Rock on.

I’m sure they could have shot the video at the actual Verona cafe (it was also the setting of Fur Patrol’s “Lydia” video), but by using a much less predictable setting, the video is a lot more interesting than if we just saw the band playing in a bar.

So there are the band playing in an actual working freezer. It’s so cold their breathe is visible, but they’re all playing in t-shirts. Because it’s all bloody freezing, there’s a kind of tension to band’s performance in the video. It’s like they’re putting everything into rocking out but at the same time they’d also like to get out of there and into the loving embrace of room temperature air.

Because the freezer is relatively small, the band are shot individually. But the editing cleverly makes it feel like they’re all in there together, united in ice.

The freezer setting is a bit gimmicky, but the band’s performances and the cool-as cinematography make the video more than just a standard torture-the-band vid.

Best bit: the video starts with a bit of “Fast Times in Tahoe” and the lyrics “playing in the snow”. Lol.

Note: NZ On Screen has lots of behind-the-scenes stories, both on the video page and in this interview with Greg Page.

Director: Greg Page
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… classroom discipline.