How did the Dunedin Sound influence the music scene in Dunedin and the rest of New Zealand as a whole

How did the Dunedin Sound influence the music scene in Dunedin and the
rest of New Zealand as a whole? To start this essay off, we will begin with
the year 1977, when the punk scene in England was starting to influence
music, fashion, and young people all over the world. In New Zealand,
Dunedin musician Chris Knox had formed his band “The Enemy” with Alec
Bathgate on Guitar, Mike Dooley on Drums, Mick Dawson on Bass, Phil
Judd on Guitar, and Chris himself on vocals and frontman of the band. The
band had been inspired by Iggy Pop and The Stooges, The Velvet
Underground and then influenced by The Sex Pistols and the UK Punk
movement. They then brought these influences together and unleashed
their own original music onto Dunedin. Crowd reactions to their songs and
performances were significantly strong and positive – “The Enemy” became
a very influential band with an immediate following, and the local
audience’s reactions to their initial live performances at Dunedin’s
Beneficiaries Hall are recalled as being haunting and terrifying, yet
impressive and inspiring.
According to wikipedia, “Dunedin Sound” is defined as being “a style of
indie pop music which was created in Dunedin,New Zealand in the early
1980’s”. Its influences date back to the 1970’s when punk rock was
becoming more popular. By this time, New Zealand already had a punk
scene, primarily in Auckland. “The Enemy” was formed in Dunedin, when
the guitarist Alec Bathgate and drummer Mike Dooley had met Chris Knox
in a record shop. They had met and became friends when they were talking
about a UK single called , “Neat, Neat, Neat”, which had been released by
a band from England called “The Damned”. Alec Bathgate and Mike Dooley
met each other at polytech in Dunedin and were working together to form a
band, but, according to what Alec Bathgate said when I interviewed him
about this, he stated that ” We advertised in the Otago Daily and tried
playing with a few different people but nothing clicked until we met Chris
Knox . ” ( 1 ).
“The Enemy” were known for their original song list rather than covers of
other UK punk bands and their frantic but organised guitar and vocal songs
fronted by Chris Knox’s singing and “terrifying” stage presence. Musicians
who saw “The Enemy” play live such as Martin Phillipps (of the band “The
Chills”) have recalled their concerts as “being ready to run out the door if
Chris Knox came down close to the audience”. While some people found
the band’s arrangements aggressive with Bathgate’s screaming Guitar,
and Knox’s confronting vocal and stage performances “horrific” to watch, it
was The Enemy’s music that significantly began to impress and influence
other musicians. The many people that saw their early Dunedin
performances and then in cities like Auckland and Christchurch found their
music fresh, new, theatrical and very “inspiring”. Their early songs were
well rehearsed and show a clever use of popular rock and roll chord
progressions. The classic “chord 1 – 4 – 5” guitar chord progression is
overlaid with Knox’s melodic vocal and catchy backing vocal “doo wapps”
from Bathgate made for recognisable songs that the crowd could
remember. A popular song by “The Enemy” is their song called “Pull Down
The Shades” which was also later played in the Toy Love live set and
released on their 1982 album called “Toy Love”.This song has a distorted
guitar chord progression that Knox sings, and a verse and chorus
reminiscent of the Beatles – a band Knox sites as influential in his writing . It
also has a descant sung by Bathgate and Dooley that has a 60’s rock and
roll sound that might be more like Elvis Presley or The Hollies than punk
rock. Knox and Bathgates composing was developing a unique style that
was both melodic and harmonic – but it also had a screaming aggression
and expression that made it stand out from other NZ bands at the time.
As “The Enemy” began to play further afield in NZ to a bigger audience
their rise to success brought about and influenced a change in the New
Zealand music scene. When the band split up in 1978, Alec Bathgate,
Chris Knox and Mike Dooley reformed as “Toy Love” This was a very
successful collaboration and the release of their album ‘Toy Love’ in 1980
was very successful and further developed on the unique sound of “The
Enemy”. They split up after only two years then Alec Bathgate and Chris
Knox had collaborated together once again as “Tall Dwarfs”, in 1981. By
this time, many other bands and musicians had became inspired by Chris
Knox and his bands and work, and had soon started to create their own
music, such as “The Stones” (they were a New Zealand band named after
“The Rolling Stones”) and Hamish Kilgour, David Kilgour and Robert Scott
who had formed a Dunedin band called “The Clean” and had gained
success with their music, in particular their song “Tally Ho!”
Over a relatively short period of time the band had written a large volume of
original and novel songs that had a recognisable sound and style and
began to record them. This was evident when Chris Knox purchased a
four-track recorder in 1981, and their music was becoming more popular.
“Tall Dwarfs” saw Bathgate and Knox working as a duo and they were
using it (the four-track tape recorder) to write and record a prolific volume of
work. This was what had caught the attention of Flying Nun Records
founder Roger Shepherd who consequently signed them to his new record
label. The increased popularity of New Zealand music and the Dunedin
Sound led to Roger Shepherd establishing Flying Nun Records in 1981,
and many bands had soon signed to the record label. Flying Nun Records
is one of the world’s great independent labels. But the location of the
emerging NZ punk and post-punk scene and many of its key players at the
time was further south, in Dunedin : all bar one of the initial Flying Nun
bands, Christchurch’s “JPS Experience”, hail from the university town in the
region of Otago – Dunedin.
This had affected the country on a positive scale. Musicians and bands that
had signed to this independent label were growing in popularity. Bands
were becoming more successful in gaining fame and publicity in a relatively
short time. It had a significant impact on New Zealand music at the time of
the 1980s.
When Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate stayed together in 1981 to form “Tall
Dwarfs”, the two musicians discovered that they had underestimated the
successfulness of their band “Toy Love” and wanted to create music that
was more unique, distinct and reserved. According to Alec Bathgate, in an
interview I conducted with him about the three bands he was in with Chris
Knox, he had stated that ” We wanted to have normal lives and create
music in a way that was spontaneous and satisfied us creatively”. ( 2 ) He
also felt that “The Clean” were more influential than “Toy Love” and “The
Enemy” because “The Enemy” were only together for a short while – he
said: ” I wasn’t really aware of that we had any great influence NZ wide.
There were a lot of really good bands around at the time that had their own
distinctive sound. ” ( 3 ) What is ironic about this is that “The Enemy” was, in
fact, more influential than “The Clean”.
Another person to see them at the time was rock critic Graham Reid, who
offered his own theory about “The Enemy” and “Toy Love’s” enduring
appeal when he reviewed “Cuts,” the 2005 remastered compilation of the
band’s studio recordings.
” Toy Love were risky and uncompromising, cynical but oddly life-affirming,
left edges unpolished, thrust their rage and wit into your face, had the good
sense to get out, and the integrity never to reform. For all those reasons,
and more, they were rare. And, for a brief, thrilling period, they were ours. ”
( NZ Herald )
Recording Industry Association of New Zealand managing director Chris
Caddick also cited Toy Love’s lasting impact.
” Those of us lucky enough to have seen them live can say we truly saw
music history in the making. Their classic singles and legendary album
continue to influence artists in New Zealand and all around the world to this
day. ” (NZ Herald)
In conclusion, when “The Sex Pistols” rose to fame in the 1970’s amid the
political and cultural shift in the UK this saw many people influenced and
encouraged to create their own “punk music sound” all over the world
including New Zealand. This had soon happened in Dunedin when Chris
Knox and Alec Bathgate’s band “The Enemy” created their own music
together and performed their songs on stage with a lot of intensity, energy,
and aggression. “The Enemy” was a successful band that gained attention
nationwide for their music in the short time that the band was together.
Their live shows were seen by many other musicians and music
appreciators who would not have gained exposure or influence from this
form of music and performance without these shows. It has led to Chris
Knox and Alec Bathgate becoming very well-known and successful
musicians who were inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame in 2012. The
influence that “The Enemy” had on the New Zealand music scene was
enormous, and it was seen as marking the beginning of the special sound
from New Zealand that came to be recognised and known as “The Dunedin
Sound”.
By Madeleine Harrop.