In New Zealand we like Joy Division

We really, really do.  I knew that before I started listening to New Zealand bands from 1982.  You can tell by looking at this from Wikipedia:

In New Zealand Joy Division had five top ten hits, including back to back number ones.  You might say they were popular in the UK, but they didn’t fare that well in the mainstream charts.  In Wellington there is the Ian Curtis Wall which has been around for about thirty years.  Over the last few years it has been painted over and redone a few times in some kind of tagging battle between punks and the council.  Here is the latest version.

Personally I feel like it should be turned into a sculpture, and the words bolted on in bronze or something.

For a long time I didn’t get the Joy Division thing, and then I heard Les Bains Douches and realised how intense and fantastic they really were.  The crucial difference being that Les Bains is a live album, and that their studio albums sound dead.

The other way you can tell the Joy Division were big in New Zealand is by listening to some of the bands that were around in New Zealand in 1982.

This song by Danse Macabre reached number 15 on the New Zealand charts.  Their song Conditioner was played on the John Peel show.  Cruelly this was a stepping stone to nowhere.  New Zealand bands don’t “make it”.  The exceptions prove the rule.

Even more obscure than Danse Macabre is Wellington based Beat Rhythm Fashion.  I love this song despite it’s determindly downbeat sound (or, perhaps, because of that).

The Bolton Street Cemetery features a lot in the video, and at around 3:18 it’s nice to see the band members enjoying a bit of sun up at the Mount Vic memorial, one of Wellington’s uglier memorials (nice view, shame about the desecration of a Maori cemetery to create it).  You get the sense while you are watching this video that it was very important to these young men to show no emotion in their video.

There was a film made by Chris Knox about the Wellington Scene in 1980.  The dude in it saying, “Sex? Sects? Oh, sects” is from Beat Rhythm Fashion.  In 1980 BRF seem to have been punks, but Joy Division obviously changed things.  According to the excellent Mysterex site the Chris Knox film was filmed at 246 the Terrace in Wellington, where BRF and many others lived.

Here is the  first part of the film.

The people in this film are fascinating.  Anarchists always seem gloriously unaware that their sophisticated musical instruments powered by a complex infrastructure that brings electricity to their homes is a product of civilisation.  The kind of thing that anarchy tends to destroy.  They also seem to constantly rail against being labelled while walking around labelling others and wearing clothes that clearly define themselves as a group.  Part of the routine is using the accent and vocabulary of another culture.  When the angry young woman claims she was beaten up by some “niggers” there is an awkward pause because (a) it’s a nasty racist word, and (b) nobody ever uses that word in New Zealand – it has no meaning.

Nice scene with an officer of the law in the second clip.  I had forgotten that they used to wear those pith helmets.  Not much to see here.  The whiff of police brutality is far off.  In fact, the police officer almost seems to be more like a rock journalist carefully taking down names and asking what instruments they play.  The audio is unclear but I hope he asked the band about their musical influences as well.

Apparently the woman in red playing the bass at the end of the second clip is Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson’s wife.

Part of the Wellington scene a little later was a band called Riot III who managed the impossible: they had a top twenty hit with a punk protest song called 1981, and again got onto the charts with a punk EP called Subversive Radical (in January of 1982 which is how I found out about them at all).  They did this with no airplay.  Actually the lack of airplay was something they were pretty hacked off about at the time.  1981 was of course about 1981, and got noticed even by The Listener:

There is a great story on NZHistory  (read it, it’s cool) about how Riot III blockaded Avalon Studios in Lower Hutt and blasted them with music to try and get their video played (a video that the head of programming had called passe).  At the end of the story on the NZHistory site is the still hacked off Void (the lead singer of Riot III) who has left a comment on the article.  If you want to know more about Riot III and the Wellington scene I recommend this article.  It talks about the film that Chris Knox made. Riot III lived at 212 the Terrace.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

6 thoughts on “In New Zealand we like Joy Division”

  1. Interesting. One day I will listen to it. I think Mark Knophler is a great song writer, and especially good at writing as a character.

  2. Dire Straits first album ( with some stunning songs like Wild West End and Down to the Waterline) was largely unrecognised in UK but went to first place in New Zealand in 1978. I remember buying it and listening to it in the Brookllyn flat that summer of 1978/79.

  3. Twistin By the Pool? Yikes. I can sort of see how Joy Division struck a nerve here, but Twistin escapes me. Maybe it was a great summer that year and people wanted to, you know, twist by their pool a lot.

  4. I’m really interested in songs that do really well in New Zealand. Just today I discovered that Dire Straits’ “Twistin’ By the Pool” only made it to #1 in New Zealand. I’m not sure what that says about Aotearoa of 1983, though.

  5. What a flash-back!
    If there were 5 music albums that have shaped my life then Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ is one.

    I have been to many parties at 246 The Terrace (we just said 246 and everone knew where we were going) in the late 1970’s

    I had forgotten how dumb some of those ‘punks’ were.

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