1. THC: Sticky Filth + Hideously Disfigured + Nefarious (maybe) + Other bands whose names I don’t recall, New Plymouth (1994)

On today’s installment we take you back to when Taranaki Hard Core wasn’t just a bumper sticker for bogans, but a thriving music scene with a sweet coded weed reference built right in.
Spotswood College Music Room. A Monday in 1995.

Fade in to band practice, your narrator one of 4 or 5 smelly, knock-kneed 14 year old boys that made up the newly minted (and never, to my knowledge, subsequently repeated) ‘classical guitar’ section of the 4th form band. We spent all our time learning to be terrible at Nirvana songs* so we never got around to being terrible at playing Mozart, but as we were unamplified we didn’t even register against the backdrop of ineptly played brass and woodwind (Oboes still cause me to shudder involuntarily).

The teacher who lead the band** was one of those jerks who could pick up any instrument, and make it sound like the world’s finest stradivarius or the equivalent in whatever instrument you’re imagining this guy playing right now. Even the warped, dead-stringed hunks of balsa the school called guitars were no match for the sheer force of his musical will. Fairly sure he viewed  the guitar group as a fond pet-project with a solid line in predictable underachieving and mild disappointment.

But still, he tried.

I tune in from a far more important conversation about whether one of the clouds in the Lion King spelled a sex word, to hear:

“…and that, is why you NEVER strum a bass guitar”

That’s on its own line because it’s important to events later in this story. It’s called foreshadowing.

This was just one of his many attempts at helping us out of the primordial ooze of power chords and into some kind of appreciation of actual music. Perhaps, if we worked hard and practiced frequently, we might actually one day be considered ‘musicians’, or at the very least, we wouldn’t embarrass him at the upcoming all-guitar recital of Minuet. (Spoiler: We most definitely did embarrass him, I most definitely did not become a musician).

 

Spotswood College Music Room. A Monday in 1995. (Possibly the same one, but later on.)

“Sticky Filth, Hideously Disfigured, Nefarious***, other bands the names of which I don’t recall. All Ages”

“What kind of music is it?”

“I dunno, like metal? Look at those names bro.”

“So, what, like, anyone can go?”

“Yeah. Well it says “All Ages”. Dick.”

“Fuck you dick. But like, ALL Ages?”

“Yeah. ALL AGES.”

“Should we go?”

“Na.”

 

New Plymouth Senior Citizen’s Hall. A Friday in 1995. For the sake of narrative continuity it was the Friday following the Monday conversation above that almost certainly never actually happened.

Facilities: Capacity 180, kitchen, stove, crockery, tables and chairs piano. Two halls.

Contact: Gerald Tubby or visit the office on Fridays between 9.30am and 3.00pm

We stood at the doorway of the Senior Citizen’s Hall, 3 of us, 14 years old, full of fear, giddy anticipation, and, in the hands of a better writer, probably some kind of really powerful metaphor about leaving childhood behind and entering adulthood.

I had amoured myself in what I believed to be my most HardCore shirt, which was this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fxphotoblog/2226308349/ that I got when my parents won $200 on Lotto a couple months earlier. I felt vincible. Extremely vincible. A strong gust of wind would’ve vinced me right over.

Would they let us in? Would there be other kids our age?  Would the older kids laugh at us, or just cut straight to beating the shit out of us?

We entered.

The Senior Citizen’s Hall.

And maybe adulthood. Just a little bit.

Inside was a scene straight out of a David Attenborough documentary, large ungulates galloping across the savannah at each other, smashing heads and locking horns in attempt to demonstrate their genetic fitness.

Except the savannah was a sticky wooden floor, the dulcet tones of Sir Dave were a wall of feedback and screaming, and the ungulates were a bunch of the local skinhead kids, smashing heads and locking horns in an attempt to demonstrate their genetic fitness.

We pressed ourselves as far into the back wall as we possibly could, aware that if those guys out there were Wildebeests, we were grass, leaves or whatever it is that Wildebeests eat. This metaphor would work better if I’d made them Lions or something.

A lull in the chaos. One of the herd broke off and approached us where we were attempting to become one with the wallpaper. In my memory he was a 7 foot tall neo-Nazi, his bald head emblazoned with a rampant eagle that had Mein Kampf in one claw and was batting away Chinese migrants with the other, glaring at us with baleful, cruel intensity. In reality he was probably a spotty 16 year old, with an easily hideable from mum pick and poke tattoo that kinda looked like a swastika from certain angles, eyes dulled by whatever rocket fuel he’d been able to make out of the less noticeable spirits in the back of his parent’s liquor cabinet (white spirits are a no-no, too obvious. Anything with ‘schnapps’ in the title is all good).

“Huh. Cool shirt.” he says****.

“Uh… yeah. Thanks.” I probably didn’t say in return.

He sniffed the air, pawed the ground, turned, went back to the heard. We’d survived the first test. The next band was starting. Every sphincter in my body relaxed enough that I could breathe again.

The next band started. Let’s say it was Sticky Filth because I’m pretty sure they were on the bill but it’s not really important. What’s important is that it was the loudest fastest scariest most exhilarating thing I’d ever seen. What’s important is that up front was insert the name of lead singer of whatever band it was, emanating lightning bright rock n’ roll fuckrays out of every pore, his body a conduit for some weird magic that I desperately wanted in on.

What’s important is that  he was strumming the living shit out of that bass guitar.

Strike one embodied voice of authority.

POSTCRIPT: A couple of years later I was volunteering on the Smokefree Rockquest when it came through town. The bassist from Hideously Disfigured who was playing the role of Guitar Tech/Roadie/Hired Muscle was telling us all how we needed to quit school immediately and sign up for the Certificate in Roadying that he was putting together at Taranaki Polytechnic.

I did not.

Sticky Filth – Weep Woman Weep

 

Hideously Disfigured – Capital Hardcore.

Important notes on this:

a) This was two Maori guys playing rap metal to angry small town racists (back before whitey was into rap) which is pretty hardcore.

b) One of them went on to be in the Goat Fucking Nun Rapers which is a band that can pretty legitimately claim to have no interest in selling out, ever.

c) I forgot that they were basically a Body Count ripoff (they actually say “Body Count” at one point, just to drive the message home)

d) Now you know what it’s like to drive into my home town from SH1.

 

 

*Pearl Jam songs.

**not to be confused with the guy who officially TAUGHT band, most famous for taking any opportunity to remind everyone that he was distantly related to Lord Byron “People always made fun of his terrible club foot, and look at what he achieved!”. What Lord Byron certainly did not achieve was the slightest bit of recognition amongst a bunch of spotty tweens who were more fascinated by how it was humanly possible that a man could have such seemingly indelible sweat stains on his armpits.

***(maybe)

****In hindsight he was probably more interested in the Viking imagery than the ‘Zep. Nazi’s love that shit right?

 

0. Prologue: Split Enz, Bowl of Brooklands, New Plymouth (1993)

THE Ur-New Zealand band, on their 20th anniversary tour, in all their erratic, costumed, ageless in greasepaint glory.

Under 12s get in for free. Me mercifully pre-pubescent at 13.

Noise. Lights. Finns (two of them). Weird smells. Out past bedtime. And people everywhere. Doing THINGS. Oh man the things.

What things (I hear nobody at all ask)? An impartial observer would probably sum up the things as “a bunch of small town New Zealand bogans getting pissed and yell-pashing* each other” but to a pudgy bookish 13 year old it was like if Bosch had painted Woodstock.**

A voice cut into the PA several times during the set to warn the punters clambering onto the forestage area that it wasn’t safe. They must all retreat through the murky waist deep bond to the their assigned seating. The stage couldn’t bear their weight. It would collapse and they’d all be thrown into the soupy pond and drown in the accumulated shit of a 1000 generations of waterfowl. Their bloated gawp-mouthed corpses would be seized by the New Plymouth City Council Parks Department and fed to the vicious black swans, with their well known penchant for human flesh.

The stage failed to collapse. The defiant dancers danced. The band played on. Everyone appeared to be having a great time.

Strike one, disembodied voice of authority.

On the way out we passed by a woman, insufficiently clad, hugging her knees, wet, shivering (covered in duck shit). “She’s drunk” was the verdict from the supervisory adults.

“Well that doesn’t look like any fun at all” thought I.

*to use the academic term

**the original, not the Limp Bizkit one. The man had limits.

Right then.

Little over two years ago* I put out a call to various internet people to see if anyone wanted an honest to goodness in the mail letter. The promise was that I’d take my trusty typewriter and smash some ink into some paper, loosely based on a topic they had provided me.

Not one of those letters got sent.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t have a crack at a couple (“Brendan Fraser? I barely know’er!” got at least 3 drafts). One suggestion went thusly:

“I wanna hear about growing up in a punk scene that wasn’t the US or the UK and, now that you’re older, what you think the broader perceptions of what New York, London, LA, etc. were did to behavior in New Zealand punks, if anything at all.”

Which is great because I didn’t grow up in a punk scene and I’m still not sure I’ve ever seen one. I do go to a lot of gigs though, and it’s kinda something I’ve been doing for a while. So I’m gonna write some stuff about that. Most will have very little to do with the music. If I stray anywhere near the topic suggested above, that’ll be a happy coincidence.

Bear in mind that most of the following events have been rendered unrecognisable by time and hyperbole. Names have been largely omitted lest the people who were actually there chime in with pesky ‘facts’ and ‘actual accurate recollection of events’.

*so like, 3 and a bit years ago.

Pacific Rim vs the Bechdel Test

Disclaimer: What follows is of course all based on a thing that made me go ‘heh’ in my brain as I rode my bicycle to work this morning and is in no way meant to suggest that Pacific Rim is a richly drawn portrait of the female lived experience, past present or future; or that it is anything other than a movie where a robot whacks a giant lizard with a boat even though the robot has a perfectly good chain sword that doesn’t get busted out till the very end when everyone else is dead.

For those of you that aren’t aware, the Bechdel* test is named for American cartoonist Alison Bechdel (she attributes its creation to a friend) and evaluates the degree of female characterization in a film (or other work). Basically your film passes the test if :

1.    It has at least two women in it,

2.    who talk to each other,

3.    about something besides a man.

A fourth point is sometimes added about the women having names. Most people would probably agree that that’s a fairly minimal standard for a work to meet if it’s attempting to portray reality in any way, and most people would probably not be that surprised that most films fail to meet this test (think of one, right now. Not Clueless).

For those of you that are further not aware (I’m amazed you managed to find the internet), Pacific Rim is a film about monsters coming out of the ocean (via a thing) and getting punched by robots with people in them.

If you haven’t seen it there are probably fairly major spoilers below.

So, on first blush, Pacific Rim is a pretty obvious fail on the Bechdel front. The three female characters I can remember are:

1.    Cartoonishly coquetteish Japanese pilot lady who is shown to be entirely capable of kicking ass then not really allowed to do so very much to allow the plot to have hero man save her.

2.    Russian pilot lady who is possibly the woman from Roxette who doesn’t really have anything to do except “look at things in a Russian manner” and “spout techno-babble before dying herio(ne)cally”.

3.    Hong Kong lady who yells at Charlie in the shelter.

There are others but they’re basically scenery.

To the scoring then:

1.    It has at least two women in it - just barely

2.    who talk to each other – never ever

3.    about something besides a man – see above

Not good. In fact the movie actively goes out of its way to avoid female relationships and be laden down with father figures and father/son – older brother/younger brother – Chinese triplet basketball dude dynamics. Sites such as the Jezebel have written on this at some length.

But.

But.

Here’s a thing:

Perhaps in our rush to condemn what is certainly a very ‘old fashioned’ movie that we rather liked in spite of it’s ‘get out of my way emotionally unstable dames/Australians! American man is here to save your honour/the day! with punching/ Nucular weapons! Cause they’re analogue!’ we may be forgetting one thing, in fact, more than one thing, a dozen or so things -

The Kaiju**

Which are female.

Well, at least one is, and they’re all clones so: while it’s not impossible to imagine that a malevolent alien race bent on stripping the earth of it’s natural resources by way of a handy inter-dimensional portal and a giant monster invasion could change the gender of said giant monsters at will, on the evidence at hand (one is pregnant with monster baby) it’s not unreasonable to assume that they’re all female.

But are they women?

Uh, no.

Obviously. Read the bit above dingus, they’re giant monsters from beyond the stars who came out of a hole in the ocean. But again – BUT. We are supposed to identify them as the antagonist characters of the piece, and they are at least somewhat identifiably humanoid (except the lobster one). There is ongoing debate within the Bechdel testing community (sure it’s a thing) as to whether non-human but humanly characterised characters count (see for example the heated My Little Pony debate). Some formulations of the test even state test 1. as ‘female characters’ as opposed to ‘women’ specifically. So let’s give that one a “yeah not really buying it Ben but I’ve read this far so let’s see where you’re going”.

Do they talk about things that aren’t men?

Well for one, they don’t talk. I guess they roar a bit? There’s spitting, that could be communicative. They do however have some kind of poorly explained brain meld plot McGuffin that means they’re all communicating with each other ALL OF THE TIME. It’s pretty unlikely that ALL of these conversations are about how hot Idris Alba is or how they need to lick Charlie for some reason. I mean two of them hang out around the bottom of the ocean for forty-five minutes just waiting for the plot to allow sufficient time for young Aussie to say goodbye to dad Aussie. Surely there’s some strategising going on? Some bemoaning of the fact that they already used the EMP thing and the acid thing so now they just have to be like fast? And big?

So to sum up – more than 2 alien monsters that may or may not be female (and/or dinosaurs) might be assumed in their telepathic communiques to have telephathsised on some subject other than the dudes, so long as we assume that the nominal gender of the robots wasn’t male. I’m not saying that this passes the Bechdel test. I am saying that maybe the conditions of the Bechdel test need to be revisited in the light of our ability to make movies where all the talky human characters are just exposition spewers between insane Gorilla Lizard on Ned Kellybot action.***

And they all definitely had names. Silly ones.

———-

*I always end up googling béchamel test but I usually end up in the right place (The béchamel test is to ensure it doesn’t taste floury. You don’t want that.)

**Kaiju are the monsters. Seriously, how do you even own a computer. Are you reading this in a library?

***This obviously excludes any scene involving Ron Perlman and/or Charlie Day.

 

Weezer. A review by Me(ezer)

Before the First Bit:

Various members of the band and crew kick one of those football sized tennis balls around the stage for a while. Not sure if this was part of the performance.

The First Bit:

The band launches into a ‘best of’ package, in reverse chronological order, leading me to the realisation that I know precisely 2 Weezer songs that were released in the last 11 years: Beverly Hills (which is a bit shit) and Keep Fishin’ (which they didn’t play). Judging by the polite but hardly enthusiastic applause of the audience, about 90% of the people there are in the same boat. The guy in charge of the video feed got to use a neato ‘ripples on a pond’ video effect whenever Rivers Cuomo said ‘going back in time’ though; which was nice for him.

The End of the First Bit:

Hashpipe, Holiday, El Scorcho. Crowd wonders when Weezer arrived and how eerie it is that they look exactly like that mediocre opening act that played all those boring songs.

The Middle Bit:

Intermission. I’m a huge fan of this. Urinary sphincters across the venue quivered at the prospect of imminent relief.

Then, in what I can only assume was the act of some deranged tru-fan or one of the band member’s dads (both?), the stage was cleared for a 20 minute slide show titled: “Do you like looking at photographs of master tape labels and illegible recording engineer data-sheets from 20 years ago? ‘Cause boy do we got ‘em.ppt”. Sample narration: “Here’s our first tour bus. Man, what a pile of junk. Here’s our second tour bus. We were so excited. Here’s a photo of us with Live. Remember Live? This master tape has 2 and a half versions of ‘Say it aint so on it’. That’s a good one. Here’s 5 pages of an exercise book that the band used to sketch ideas for a Weezer logo.” (spoiler: They chose a capital W).

The Last Bit:

The band returns to the stage, Rivers sans iconic glasses (has he been lying to us this whole time?). They play the Blue album start to finish. The crowd rejoices. The band finally look like they’re having fun. All is excellent with the world.

After the Last Bit:

The bar sells out of beer and I’m forced (forced!) to drink a can of Jim Beam and cola. It is terrible.

Nong Khiew and Muang Noi

Another flash-back to a month or two ago in which footnotes are footnoted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rush hour,  Main street, Muang Noi

After a delightful 6 hour sojourn at the Oudomxay bus station, we managed to haggle our way onto a Vientiane bound bus that would drop us at some middle-of-nowhere intersection from where we were assured we could wrangle a tuk-tuk to Nong Khiew. This situation arose despite the board at the bus station showing no less than 6 daily departures direct to Nong Khiew, one of which we even managed to purchase a ticket for at one point (see point 3 here).

I mostly dealt with this wait and the ensuing 7 hours or so of bus by gorging on bamboo tubes packed full of sweet, purple, sticky rice  (one of the world’s great somnambulants).

What we were seeking in these parts, the North East of Laos, was the fabled ‘off the beaten path’* and we more or less found it. Muang Noi, an hour or so (depending on how many locals/livestock/sacks of rice you need to take on along the way) up river from Niong Kiaw is accessible only by boat. Once there, your recreational options (for those that can’t be assed/can’t afford the trekking options on offer) are basically limited to:

1. drink beer
2. eat food
3. watch the river go by.

So that’s what we did. We may have stayed for days if it weren’t for a Dengue fever scare which sent us scuttling back toward civilisation the next day. The plan was to do this by boat, heading down to Luang Prabang along the heavily swollen Nam Ou river. Laos being Laos of course, the boat wasn’t running that day so we ended up chartering a mini-van with a bunch of other stranded travellers. It was not nearly as scenic as I’m sure the boat would have been, but on the upside it cost less, was indescribably more comfortable and only took half the time.** Plus those magic words “air conditioning”. So I’m calling that a win.

*…’but not so much so that there aren’t a few decent guesthouses and english language menus and maybe an ATM thanks’
** largely due to what was easily the most aggressive driving we experienced in Laos. We reached 60 km/hr at several points.***
*** On a single lane, partially sealed road, around each blind-corner of which frolicked errant children and livestock.

Just realised that…

Our plan to train from Hanoi to Beijing (via Nanning) falls smack bang in the middle of national day holiday (which is a week long, of course).

An initial check had revealed that our train options for the 36 hour Nanning to Beijing leg are limited to sharing one ‘hard seat’* or clinging to the roof.

This could get interesting.

*ie an unpadded wooden bench shared with at least three others and designed by someone who was either abused by an ergonomist as a child or believes that good Chinese spines are rodd straight and bend at 90 degrees exactly.

Oudomxay

(a bit) Oudomshite.

Sarah, not impressed

This place basically exists as a transit hub for northern Laos and southern China. The roads are generally good (if serpentine) an accordingly are choked with traffic. Apparently the surrounding hills serve up some nice trekking but the town itself is about as good of a dusty, grey dystopia of socialist non-planning as you’re likely to see outside of China.

Our stop there was only as long as to get the bus out the next day (which almost didn’t happen) but at least in the meantime we got to enjoy this magnificent vista:

Room with a view

And the promise of delicious, fresh and one assumes, electric, eels on tap (a promise that was unfulfilled, as was that of hot water)

up inside ya

In short: did not like.

The purple sticky rice at the bus station was pretty good, if a little turdy.

skeptical but ultimately satisfied

Street eats Pt 1

image

This particular delicacy was obtained at a small stall a couple hundred meters from Saigon’s museum of the American War. Of the dozen or so ingredients, I can confirm that the brown cubes are jellied blood, there’s some tomatoes, definitely a sprout or two and the rest is mystery meat paste and other miscellaneous edibles. Sarah didnt finish hers. Paired with a warm coke and costing about a dollar, I rate this three blood cubes out of a possible what the hell is that.

Changes – afoot

Sigh.

So I’m now about 2 countries behind on this thing, and lacking the time and inclination really to catch up (sitting in an internet cafe when it’s 30 degrees outside and I can hear the waves lapping on the beach feels suspiciously like work).

This was never supposed to be a traditional “we went there then we did that” travel diary and it’s sort of turning into one so I’m gonna change things up a little, appeal more to the contemporary attention span (chiefly mine) by posting shorter, less chronological and hopefully more regular bits and pieces, not necessarily anything to do with what we did or where we went or anything at all in particular.

For those still interested in the more traditional format,  I’ll post a list of the cities we’ve visited/will visit and you can check out the Wikipedia page and any number of other travel blogs which are most likely better written/more interesting than this one.

That said I have a few posts in draft form that I’ll probably bang up in the next couple o’ days, hopefully rounding out Laos at least.

Ta.