“Rubicon” was the final of the seven tracks Rubicon had funded from their debut album. That’s pretty extreme, and by this final video it feels like they’re not even making much of an effort.
For a start, the band aren’t even in the video. It’s animated, done in that rough style that involves lots of repetition and little action.
The animated Rubicon are playing a gig on top of a tall building, when along comes a woman looking like Trinity from The Matrix – a film that was already five years old and becoming a bit of an overused trope. The Matrix drama continues with Rubicon city suddenly getting the shimmering green outlines of the Matrix, then all the concertgoers turn into Agent Smiths.
The drama progresses from Smiths to trolls to cyborgs, and then in a twist worthy of M Night Shyamalan, it turns out it was all a dream – or rather, a computer simulation called Rubicon City Training Program. With the program ended, Rubicon go back to, er, the rooftop concert simulation where the fake crowd wildly cheer their heroes.
The animation feels rushed and the video doesn’t have any original ideas behind it. For a song that’s a stonking rock number introducing the band (it’s the album’s opening track), the video’s simple animation struggles to capture the band’s spirit.
Oooh, Rubicon get serious. “Energy Levels” is a downbeat grungy number, with vocals by bassist Jon Corker. It’s a change from the frenetic energy of the band’s Paul Reid-fronted numbers.
“My energy levels are making me slower,” he sings. Whatever, sonny-jim. Just wait till you’re older and you start to look forward to staying in. But then he sings “My energy levels: made of clover,” which is the worst lyric ever. Unless he is like a cow who has eaten too much clover and is suffering from bloat. In that case, he should try that lady yoghurt that Lorraine Downes promotes.
The video starts by focuses on Jon’s serious rock face, but it’s not until the chorus kicks off (Pixies/Nirvana style) that he really gets to work with some quality eyeball acting. He has a good brooding style – again, a refreshing change from the usual Rubican fun ball.
The band are performing in some sort of bunker, surrounding by big concrete walls, lit by a distant strobe with a bit of smoke. It’s perfectly good standard rock video, but why?
It’s strange for Rubicon to have suddenly turned into this rather different band. “Energy Levels” was the seventh video taken from their “Primary” album and it’s hard to guess what they were trying to do with this. Was it a stab in a more mature direction? Or a hint of the eventual departure of Corker and guitarist Gene Bennet?
We’re jumping forward in time to 2005 for this video, as it’s another case of funding being held over until a later time. Rubicon originally received funding in 2002 for their song “All or Nothing”, another track from their debut album. But that video wasn’t made and they ended up going with a couple of other tracks for their final two videos from “Primary”. In 2004 Gene and Jon left the band, and Paul moved to LA and reformed the band with some American musicians. They released the album “The Way It Was Meant To Be”, and their first single “Drive” was allocated the funding previously given to “All or Nothing”.
Ok. So, Rubicon mark II is more of a serious punk-pop band with less of the crazy antics of “Primary” era Rubicon. And a result, the song is pretty generic, as is the video.
It sees Rubicon II playing in a cool warehouse apartment type space with a halfpipe in the background. Rad skater dudes skate back and forth as the band play. The skaters are just there as an accessory, something to make the band look cool. Contrast that with Spike Jonze’s “100%” video for Sonic Youth.
But the video doesn’t get too caught up in trying to be cool. There’s a subplot of sorts involving sock puppets. Hanging out in front of graffiti-strewn school lockers, the puppets seem to be having a cotton-lycra “90210” experience.
I’m not sure why, but the sock puppets seem more likeable than the band. The band seem very serious and full of tension, but the sock puppets are just regular teens, trying to figure out the fraught world of love.
By the way, look out for the appearance of the graffiti-style version of the NZ On Air logo.
Best bit: the badboy sock puppet’s cigarette, which is a fire hazard.
“Yeah yeah! Just another rock star,” sing Rubicon. Are they singing about themselves? About their place in the fickle world of popular music? Despite having 10 funded videos, it was pretty much downhill after video number three, Bruce. But our three heroes still rock on with the colourfully explosive “Rock Star” video.
It’s a very similar concept to Nurture’s “Did You Do It All For Love” video – the band, dressed in white, perform in front of a white background where they become covered with paint. But while Nurture were the victims of the sadistic music video character, Rubicon are masters of their own splattering.
The video starts with a young woman giving the pristine white set a final check before giving the camera a pout of approval. Then the band turn up and start playing in what looks like a living room where everything – including their musical instruments – is white.
But all is not what it seems. The bass player takes a white pear out of the fridge but he doesn’t like it (probably because it’s been stored in the fridge and couldn’t ripen) so he hurls it at a wall where – whoa! – it explodes in a burst of blue paint.
Ah, so it seems everything in this white world is secretly full of red, blue or yellow paint (the band’s album was called Primary). The lads engage in stereotypical rock star behaviour, which involves throwing things around because, raaaargh, that’s what rock starz do.
While things get pretty messy by the end of the video, there is a lot of restraint so for most of the video there’s more white than colour, with large splats of paint, rather than lots of messy dribbles. I really appreciate that a lot of thought has gone into the execution of the paintstravaganza. It’s not just a random freak-out and the video looks good for that.
Best bit: the appearance of green after some extreme blue-and-yellowing.
“Happy Song” was the fourth of the eight funded videos from Rubicon’s debut album “Primary Colours. The album had 14 tracks, so more than half of them had music videos made. That beats both Fiona McDonald and Tadpole’s previous total of seven videos from one album.
This video sees Rubicon in spaaaace, with a parody of both Star Wars and Star Trek. Actually, I don’t think you’re allowed to do that. I think mashing up those two strongholds of popular science-fiction culture makes people really upset. And for a song that’s about happiness, that’s a bad thing to do.
The Rubicon trio are on the bridge of a spaceship, each wearing skivvies in primary colours with the group logo, which oddly enough is more reminiscent of the Wiggles costumes than the Star Trek uniforms.
It’s a lighthearted video, with plenty of “we’re under attack!” acting, which involves hurtling oneself across the screen. After fighting off attacking ships, the lads soon discover the alien enemy is on board the ship, requiring doofy laser guns to be deployed.
The song sneaks in a drum solo (Paul Reid is does a Karen Carpenter and sings from his drumkit), and while the band rock out in their civilian world, back on the ship the trio are fighting off a bad guy (who looks like an extra from Hercules) with budget-as lightsabers. The enemy defeated, the group go in for hugs. And so their happy broventures in space continue.
It’s a Rubicon video. They were, for a couple of years, really popular and made fun videos that their young fans enjoyed. And hey, if James Bond can go into space, so can Rubicon.
Best bit: the not-quite-solid lightsaber animations.
This was Rubicon’s big hit. It peaked at #22 on the charts and I remember it being thrashed on Juice TV. It’s golden novelty pop-punk.
The song is based around the assumption that Bruce is an awful name, blaming parents for naming their innocent babies Bruce. But there’s nothing back up the claim, with the song’s message being little more than, “Hey Bruce, Rubicon says your name’s dumb.”
The video is set in the grand old Auckland railway station. Paul Rubicon walks in and finds the place swarming with people in funny costumes. In fact, I’m pretty sure the Village People could be formed out of the crowd.
After musing on how Bruce sucks as a name, the chorus comes along and everyone bursts into dance. I think this means I can official declare that big, ironic formation dancing was a thing in the early ’90s. It’s pretty basic steps (at one point, everyone stands still and twirls their arms around), but it’s just the sort of thing that could have been copied at home by eager fans.
During the instrumental, the band take a break from dancing to get behind their instruments, shot in colder light to demonstrate that they have a 4 real side to them.
As the video concludes, all the costumed dancers strip down to “Bruce” t-shirts and do a joyous can-can to celebrate the name. (All except Rubicon who are wearing their own band t-shirts). We also get a close-up of a young man, smiling appreciatively. His appearance seems odd if you don’t know that in 2001 he was a Juice TV presenter named Bruce. Hey, celebrity cameo!
Any New Zealand band that can reasonably pull off a moderate Busby Berkeley-style dance routine is ok with me. But it’s a bit weird having that with lyrics that cheerfully demand “Hang his head in shame! Hang his head in shame! Hang his head in shame!”
Best bit: the bass player’s bum dance that goes on for slightly too long.
Rubicon return with more punk-pop high jinks and this time they’re engaged in a fierce tennis tournament at the tennis centre in Parnell.
Playing triples (a form of doubles tennis, the interwebs tell me), their first opponent is the Nerds. Remember how nerds used to be scrawny guys with straight-parted hair, neat shirts and glasses? And then remember how guys who dressed like that became hipsters, while nerds were chubby guys with bad skin, World of Warcraft accounts and Game of Thrones t-shirts? Yeah.
Rubicon then face their next opponents, the Babes, a trio of attractive young women. It’s classic male gaze, with plenty of slow pans up the team’s legs. Bassist Gene is so flustered by all this carry-one (women! with legs!) that he dumps a bucket of water over his head.
In between matches, we also see Rubicon rocking out in the stands, both during the day and at night, making good use of the different areas in the stands.
The final opponents are Rubicon’s foes The Bad Guys, last seen in the video for “The Captain”. This time they’re wearing red-haired monster wigs. The Rubicon lads set the tennis ball machine on the Bad Guys and they’re soon out of the competition. Somehow Rubicon have also beaten the Nerds and the Babes, meaning they’ve won a giant comedy cheque for $20,000, which they accept making Doctor Evil finger poses.
Best bit: rather than wrangling friends as extras to fill out the stands, Rubicon use cardboard cut-outs.
Oh, Rubicon! At the time they seemed quite silly. A punk-pop band fronted by Marshall from “Shortland Street”, with a bass player who had a Helen Clark haircut and a guitarist with braided pigtails. But yeah, they were young and silly and just being dudes in their early 20s, jumping around and having fun.
“The Captain” was their first single and it’s lyrically a bit bleaker than their later singles. “I am the captain of this ship,” sneers singer Paul. “And I think that life’s a gyp!” Steady on, dude!
But the video is determined to cheer things up. It starts with the pyjama-clad band snoozing in bed together. A smiley face alarm clock rings and they quickly grab their surfboards and head off to the beach to partake in some (green screen) surfing.
Next is a boxing/wrestling match between Rubicon and the Badguys, a trio of goons wearing clown masks. Rubicon are wearing netball uniforms with G, J and P on their bibs – first name initials rather than court positions. The lads successfully kick the arse of the Badguys. Yeah, I really like the symbolism of this comedic battle representing the struggles of life itself.
I’m not much of a fan of the Rubicon logo. It’s everywhere in the video and it looks like the sort of thing that small businesses had in the ’90s, designed in MS Paint. But I reckon this is the first video where a band has not only featured its logo in the video, but put it all over the video.
All that’s left is for Rubicon to rock out, giving an energetic performance in front of an appreciative audience, including crowd surfing. And so dawns the age of teen pop punk.
Best bit: the band’s Monkees-like living arrangements.