Kiwi Days

Snarkout takes me back to my days as a teenager when I paged through the Ajax catalog trying to divine from the descriptions which records I would actually like. Tim Adams enthusiastically wrote the descriptions, before he burning himself out a few years later, as the text got shorter and the catalog got larger and less selective. Bits of the catalog endure here, and I still recognize some of the descriptions ten years later. I discovered that I didn’t care for most indie music coming out of America, and I fixated quickly on what I did like: New Zealand, and the Flying Nun and Xpressway labels. The Chills, the Verlaines, Jay Clarkson, the Terminals, Sneaky Feelings, DoubleHappys, the Jefferies brothers, Alastair Galbraith. New names continued to show up in the catalog, and I’d order most of them.

I came in late. Most of the best groups were already gone, Xpressway was almost dead, and Flying Nun had gone commercial. But it didn’t matter. The records were still around, and they could have come from Mars for all I knew. Most of these people never set foot in America. No one I knew liked them, and I didn’t hang out with a music crowd anyway. There were only these records from people on the other side of the world, who, from what little evidence existed, were stuck in about the most remote first-world country there was (Dunedin and Christchurch, the fulcrums of the “scene” there, were on the rural South Island), and didn’t seem terribly happy about it. Sneaky Feelings’s “P.I.T. Song” sounded as close to emotional hell as I’d ever heard in music, but there was nothing around me to join with it.

Very little of it sounds different to me today than it did then. Even though I spend money on the latest Otomo Yoshihide disc today, the part of my brain that appreciated the Kiwi music of the 80’s and 90’s seems to have been preserved along with the music, unaging. There has been nothing I’ve encountered in the last ten years to change my attitude towards it. I wasn’t consciously seeking out music without any cultural referents back then, but I stumbled on it, and it’s very nearly the only music from then I still listen to. Ajax eventually became Three Beads of Sweat and reissues Mountain Goats rarities, among other things. But the Terminals (or 3/5 of them) had a new album out a few years ago, and I bought it, and listened to it, and it was exactly the same as it was then.

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