Friday, October 31

interview: thomasin sleigh & sarah smythe (creators of "old hall gigs")

A gig at Breaker Bay Hall by Richard Robertshawe © 2014
Old Hall Gigs is a wonderful initiative, which I first heard about when my friend Kane Strang mentioned he would be playing at one of their concerts. As their website describes, "Old Hall Gigs was created because we were dreaming of non-rowdy places to listen to our favourite bands. It is a roving series of events taking place in halls around Wellington." 

I sent Thomasin Sleigh and Sarah Smythe (the creators of this initiative) some questions in a quest to understand the inspiration behind this concept. 

Could you briefly describe both of your backgrounds?

Thomasin: I'm a weird venn diagram. I have a background in art history and contemporary art. I've worked in various galleries and write art criticism and commentary about the visual arts. I am also a writer of my own fiction, and published my first novel Ad Lib this year. I now work at DigitalNZ, working to make NZ's digital content easier to find, share, and use. But, most importantly for Old Hall Gigs, Sarah and I met when we were in a band together, St Rupertsberg, I played the drums and Sarah played piano.

Sarah:
 I come from a music background, but have always been interested in other art forms too. I studied classical piano at university but never liked the stuffiness of that world, and so after I finished studying I pretty much stopped playing classical music, and then got into playing in bands. Which is where I was introduced to Thomasin's remarkable drum face (she basically just stares into the distance like she is seeing through walls).

What drew you to creating the "Old Hall Gigs" initiative? Did it come about in reaction to changes in the gig scene or because of your personal backgrounds as musicians? 

It really just came about because we thought that there should be more interesting ways to present gigs. It seemed like there was just this un-imaginative world of gig going that involved over-priced drinks, late starting bands, people talking over the music, and venues where you can't actually see the bands properly. Sofar sounds was a bit of an inspiration, they are a world-wide initiative that puts on gigs in people's living rooms. Old halls in Wellington just seemed very tempting, and we liked the idea of taking each gig to a different hall/ suburb/ community each time. And then because we both like a wide range of art forms we decided to make it a bit of a smorgasbord and have readings, dance, films and art as well as some of our favourite bands playing. 


Do you think the initiative could be part of bigger changes happening in Wellington?


Perhaps...It's always nice to see the city's spaces used in creative ways. The Letting Space project does a great job of matching up visual artists with vacant offices and spaces in Wellington. It's interesting to stage arts events in spaces that are freed from commercial imperatives. Hopefully more people will put on gigs in interesting spaces - it was great to see A Low Hum will be staging a gig at Vogelmorn Hall, so maybe there is something bubbling away...

What draws you to the venues that you choose to run Old Hall Gigs in?


Mostly they are recommendations. When we tell people about the project they say, "Oh, well you definitely have to try such and such..." and then we go off and find an amazing hall hidden somewhere. The size and space of the hall also dictates the kind of activity that happens there, some spaces are great for big, anarchic bands, and some are good for quieter, close listening. Without exception, we've found that every hall has something a bit idiosyncratic about it, like Breaker Bay with it's amazing stage mural, the City of Wellington Pipe Band hall with it's scotch whisky bottle collection, and for our upcoming gig at the Long Hall in Roseneath, the amazing setting on the headland... it's pretty hard not to get enchanted by each one!

What has been a highlight so far (for both you as organisers and the audience)?


Oh, we couldn't pick a favourite! But, the first gig at Vogelmorn hall was really amazing. The hall is just a beautiful, elegant space, and we worked with fantastic writers, and musicians–Glass Vaults played, and there was a big, enthusiastic crowd who came from all over town. All of the gigs have been great, but that first gig really had us excited that we might be onto something.

What does your collaboration with Hue and Cry involve?


We really wanted to work with our friend Chloe Lane, who edits the Hue and Cry journal, because she has such a breadth of knowledge about the literary scene in Wellington (and further afield). She's been really great at recommending writers and putting us in contact with the right people for the different space we've been working in.

Old Hall Gigs' next event is on Saturday, 15th November at Long Hall in Roseneath. For tickets and event details click here (but be super quick about it because spaces are filling up fast)!

Tuesday, October 28

beijing drunk fest


A young boy with a black jacket adorned in endless rows of studs and patches begins to jump wildly as the fast guitar escalates. The people around him respond immediately - a mosh pit explodes within the small space of Dirty Monsters Club. We are two hours into the all day punk festival called Beijing Drunk Fest and the crowd numbers, as well as their energy, are picking up. Above the band, who are clad in black except for the main singer whose rectangle glasses and straight-laced attire set him apart, is a large DMC banner. Different signatures and messages are scrawled across the banner, including “niu bi,” which - as my new friend Xiao Xiao told me - literally means “cow’s vagina.”

The scene before me - aside from the plethora of young Chinese punks and people smoking inside - doesn’t initially seem too unusual. A grunge bar with punk music and cheap beer isn’t exactly culturally original or specific to China. But, after several hours of conversation with various people who sat down with me at the dirty plastic tables outside the venue, there were marked differences that made the experience simultaneously remarkable and tragic.

Travelling to DMC from campus in Wudaokou involved four trains and three transfers then a taxi through a dusty village where stray dogs moved between rubbish piles. Tongzhou, in the south-east of outer Beijing, is far removed from a typical understanding of Beijing - particularly Beijing city. However, a first encounter with this area is deceiving. In the mid-1990s, artists were forced to leave the Old Summer Palace’s creative community in search for cheaper rent - a lot of them found themselves in Tongzhou. It has since grown as vital centre for artists and musicians.

DMC, located across the road from the Beijing Modern School of Music, is a punk venue seemingly made of several sheds wielded together. It is a tiny, dark space with a small bar, floor-high stage and anti-establishment posters and graffiti filling the walls. DMC’s only other room is for the squat toilet, which didn’t appear to flush.

After entering the venue with my friends, Xiao Xiao greeted Li Yang (also known as Spike) with an excited hug, then introduced me to him. Li Yang has shoulder length hair and was casually dressed in a red and black stripped long sleeve top and jeans - however, his story and drive is anything but casual. Li Yang, a vocalist for local band Demerit, along with Ying Chen built and now maintain the punk club DMC; together they have established more than just a punk venue.

DMC is a place where people, who call each other “brother” and “sister,” come together to love punk and share their rage for a government that - in their opinions - “treats its citizens like animals.” It was at this venue where we met a fifteen year old boy who spat and smoked and told us he had run away from home because he was gay. Other new friends desperately talked about plans to eventually earn enough money to leave China. There are few places in Beijing where these kinds of discussions could happen so freely and even at DMC they were taking risks.

But despite the hope and anti-establishment culture created by places like DMC, there remained a cruel reality beyond the dusty walls that enclosed it. As one young man, the same age as me, with an elvish like face and long black hair sadly told me, “when I wake up tomorrow morning, this will all seem like a dream.”

xx
Lou

Saturday, October 25

gallery or lounge?


I was looking around the lounge that I share with Jiawen (my Chinese flatmate) and had to laugh at how derelict it looked. But, on closer inspection, I realised there was something strangely captivating about its cleanliness and the dashes of colour (particularly yellow) beautifully arranged within this odd space.

xx
Lou

Wednesday, October 22

shunkan update

Off the back of my interview with Shunkan, the band have just announced that they will not be playing any more shows until early 2015 in order to focus on their upcoming album. Also, as Shunkan's Tumblr post reads, in a week's time their "Spark My Potential campaign will be going live! My team and I have been working hard to make this happen and it would mean the world to me to have your support. The campaign will focus on the recording of my upcoming album, distribution, and new gear." 

So if you liked Marina's words and her music and want to be a good supportive soul, keep an eye out for this campaign and in the mean time don't forget to check out Shunkan's Bandcamp!


xx
Lou

Monday, October 20

interview: marina sakimoto (shunkan)




"[F]rom Los Angeles, now in New Zealand," reads Marina Sakimoto's bio on Twitter. It's not a typical transition, but Marina's story isn't typical...and neither is the music that she makes for her band Shunkan. Marina grew up in a L.A. suburb called Santa Clarita. Her sudden move to Invercargill was prompted through a surprisingly profound encounter on Omegle. Several months after the move, she released Honey, Milk and Blood on Shunkan's Bandcamp and, in June, シュンカン I also found its way online. "Shunkan" is Japanese for "moment" and that's certainly what Marina is living in.

What went through your mind when following through with this huge change from L.A. to Invercargill?

I couldn't really stop and think about what I was doing. Of course I planned it out, but when I had to execute that plan, I couldn't think of all the people I'd miss or how life was going to change... I just had to do it.

Where do you think your interest in music and pursuit of making it came from? Is this what helps you get through big life changes?

I have no idea. That's kind of like asking, "so, where did your interest in eating food come from?" and responding with, "I don't know. I have to because I have to eat, otherwise I would die." At this point, it's a natural instinct.

Music influenced all of my big changes in life. It can influence you to become powerful or stay in bed for days at a time. It's quite convincing.

How do you think living in such a remote place like Invercargill contributes to your music?

It's great because I feel like I'm the only one doing what I'm doing here, so I am my only influence and there isn't any noise in the way. I have a clear distinction of what I want my music to sound like.

I loved your remake of Pavement's "Elevate Me Later" featured on NME! Does Malkmus have any influence on your music?

Thanks! Well, he's been a huge influence on my music as far as its attitude... it keeps me grounded, especially on stage, when those jitters creep up.

What bands have you encountered recently in New Zealand that have got you excited? Were you surprised by the music scene here?

I mean, I had looked up Flying Nun before coming here, but there are a vast amount of bands here that are more high quality compared to most of the bands I heard back home... New Zealanders have a thing or two to teach the world.

Kane Strang is like Rivers Cuomo and Jeff Mangum all in one - what an incredible songwriter. Caroles is everything I want in one sucker punch - raw, '90s emo/screamo and noise to fill up a room. Doprah is unlike anything I've ever heard and familiarised myself with - trip-hop, yeah, sure, but there's more to it than just one label...there are very talented people in that band. I should probably stop there because everyone excites me and I'd be sitting here for an hour listing every one of them.

I noticed your love for anime. I have a similar kind of obsession! What makes you drawn to anime? Are you ever like me and become obsessed with certain characters or anime?

Ha, nice! I've been visiting Japan since I was a baby because I'm half Japanese and half of my family lives over there, so I've always been familiar with anime and Japanese culture in general. I didn't really get into anime though until recently.

Yeah, I definitely do get obsessed quickly. I still think about "Welcome To The NHK" and I finished that weeks ago... I think everyone has a special relationship with every anime they watch.

With the start of 2015 soon approaching, what does Shunkan have to look forward to? Any big plans?

We're looking forward to recording very soon and prepping for the new album. I'm really excited for what's to come.

Friday, October 17

bedroom view


Lying in bed, coming to terms with the realisation that this was the first day nothing too random happened...then noticed extraordinarily bright flashes of light through my curtains. The midnight construction on the canteen at one of China's best universities makes me question workers’ rights here…it also makes me thankful for my sleeping mask.

xx
Lou

Tuesday, October 14

interview: doprah

Photo of Doprah by Dan Blackball
On demand like Oprah and "dope" like the pop culture word implies, Doprah are an exciting result of our world's puzzling and increasingly colliding realities. After recently releasing their self-titled EP, Doprah have set off from New Zealand to play shows around the world. I sent them a few questions to see what's up.

What kind of things have you been doing to prepare for touring overseas?

I[ndi]: A lot more than I thought, to be honest. I kind of assumed we would just book the flights and be on our way, but there are things like travel insurance and ESTA and mastercards that need to be sorted out. Primarily, though, we are practicing tonnes so that it's all worth it when we finally go.

Since Doprah's conception in 2013, how has it evolved as a band and an idea?

I: Well it was initially Steven [Marr] who kind of owned the idea and had full creative control. It then turned into a duo, which worked well for the writing process and then we would take the tracks to the live band to perform. Now days, the "live" band are contributing more and more to the writing process and it's a really natural development from where we started. It is far less electronically-oriented than it used to be, but it definitely still retains those elements. We still have no clue what genre we are but I think that's a good sign.

How does the feel and sound of Doprah change when performing at a festival like Laneway and performing at a small venue space in, say, Dunedin?

I: Night-time shows will generally be more atmospheric, and in a small intimate venue like Chick's Hotel in Dunedin you're pretty much brushing shoulders with the audience as you play. In a festival environment the stages are far larger and there are barriers between the audience and yourself. You have to work a lot harder to translate the energy on stage to the audience and to connect somehow. Daytime festival shows have a charm of their own though, they have this great relaxed vibe about them and you can tell that everyone just wants to have a good time.

How has increasing attention and popularity affected you?

I: It's encouraging to realise that the random creative goop that comes out of your head might be worth something to someone. It has helped us a lot with the funding that enables us to create music videos and record new songs. It is a strange limbo that we are all in though, because while we do have a growing fan base, we are definitely not well-known enough to make a living off it. Like I work at a bar on the weekends and someone will recognise me while I'm half way through washing dishes. It's the strangest thing.

Who have you met as a band who has changed or influenced you over the past two years?

I: We met a lot of amazing musicians (like Kurt Vile and Elena of Daughter) backstage at Laneway. They were all incredibly humble and keen to chat. They just imparted great messages of being comfortable with yourself and what you do and to just chill out. I think it's also very rare to find people on the business side of the music industry who are as genuine and in love with the music as Ben Howe and Michael Sherman (our label and management guys), who work so hard to help us every day despite the fact that we have no money to give them in return.

Along this exciting path, have any aspects of (or encounters with) New Zealand's music industry tremendously aided you or, contrastingly, created obstacles for you to overcome?

I: NZ on Air has been amazing, and Outward Sound. We could never have achieved what we have or even contemplated a U.S. trip without the financial support they provided.

And a question for Steven in particular, what do you find to be the most interesting aspect of producing?

S[teven]: Definitely the part where you start with something that makes you want to stick knives in your ears and you slowly turn it into something awesome.​