An Interview with: Paul Kean: The Bats

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Pressing record on my Dictaphone, I confess to my interviewee that I have never learnt shorthand, and so record all of my interviews so that I can quote people correctly. He chuckles.“Ah yes, we’ve been misquoted through the years… sometimes it’s alright though, because myths are made out of them.” I respond: “So it’s ok if I quote you as saying something outlandish.” Paul Kean laughs down the phone and says cheekily “But we are outlandish-you could put that in couldn’t you?  The outlandish Bats?”

In a way, he wasn’t far off with his descriptor. Over the last thirty years, The Bats have gained a mythical status in New Zealand music, thanks to their off kilter, darkly danceable songs, as well as their affiliation to Flying Nun Records and Dunedin Sound. Perhaps in an idiosyncratically ‘Kiwi’ fashion, Kean downplays the obvious successes of The Bats throughout our interview. But they have long been the quiet achievers of New Zealand music, having toured with Radiohead, and amassed solid fanbases in both the United States and Europe, while their albums have garnered critical acclaim from the likes of Mojo, and Uncut music magazines- as well as landing a Billboard magazine cover. This is on top of charting in France and having an NME single of the week. All of this has been achieved with the same four members from their first performance in Dunedin on New Year’s Eve in 1982- Paul Kean (bass), Malcom Grant (drums), Robert Scott (vocals), and Kaye Woodward (lead guitar).

The Bats will be performing as part of The Others Way festival which will be tucked away in various nooks and crannies down Auckland’s perpetually colourful Karangahape Road. The line-up is an eclectic assortment of established and emerging New Zealand musicians. “It’s a great concept for a festival, and [its] heart-warming to see that the live music scene is alive and kicking again with some great young acts” Kean enthuses. “It’s almost going through a renaissance at the moment. For a while there was a dull period, where artists would just mimic what they heard overseas, but there is a ‘Kiwi’ sound to this new wave of artists that is nice to hear. It’s broad [in terms of genre] but people aren’t afraid of being or sounding like New Zealanders anymore” muses Kean.

It is with mock horror that Kean realised that many of those who used to go to The Bats gigs during O-week in the 1980s have “spawned” and have perhaps been discovering their parent’s music collection. Flying Nun is best known for its lo fi jangle during the 1980s, and The Bats were known, by Kean’s own admission as “the bouncy, poppy frivolous band.” But really, both the label and the band are more diverse than history gives them credit for. Reflecting on his band’s dreamily disconsolate sound, Kean notes that “there has certainly been a darker side to us throughout our career. When we were younger, we all listened to a wide range of music. We imported a lot of stuff, and we are all fans of pop music- both left of centre, avant garde as well as straight up pop music. We put it in a blender and we represent ourselves. We’re not really following any trends, and people say that we still sound the same as when we started. But maybe that’s because we have our own sound and that works for us and we don’t want to move away into territory that doesn’t feel natural for us.” 

With 8 albums to their name thus far, it is territory that holds them in good stead. Three classics from their back catalogue have been recently reissued-Compiletely Bats, Daddy’s Highway and The Law of Things. Kean remastered much of it himself, tweaking and“embellishing them” so that they now sound “the way they were supposed to sound” all those years ago. Their performance on September 4th will feature a mixture of their back catalogue, and will also debut some new songs. “We’ve recorded an album’s worth of songs and are just in the mixing stage at the moment” says Kean. “Musically, it almost sounds like an extension of [2011’s critically acclaimed] Free All the Monsters.”

Reading through the glut of scintillating artists performing at The Others Way festival, I ask Keane why punters should come and see The Bats. “Because it will be a life-changing experience if people haven’t seen us perform live” he deadpans before bursting into peals of laughter. “No, no….if people have a preconceived idea of who we are…they will be surprised.”This writer for one is looking forward to it.

This was first published in Rip It Up magazine on September 3rd 2015.

 

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Live Review: Wu Tang Clan, Auckland, New Zealand.

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I first heard The Wu Tang Clan in 1994 when I was six years old, courtesy of some much older cousins. Based on what I could understand at the time, The Wu Tang Clan were Kung Fu masters in Shaolin a suburb of New York, and they made cool music. Now over twenty years after that initial introduction, I’ve finally got my facts right and also had the opportunity to see them live. Here are my thoughts about the Wu Tang Clan- then and now:

You would be hard-pressed to find a hip-hop head who didn’t at least respect the level of influence, impact, classic albums, and sheer ability of all 9 members of the Wu Tang Clan. Together they almost single-handedly revived East-Coast Hip-Hop, a genre that up until that point had been succumbing to the slick G-Funk stylings of Dr Dre and his languid protégé Snoop Doggy Dogg. With their Kung-Fu inspired names they hit back with their aggressive call-to-arms single Protect Ya Neck which was released independently out of a base camp on Morningstar Road in Staten Island. Taken off their debut album Enter the 36 Chambers, the record in its entirety has gone on to become recognised as a cornerstone of hard core hip hop. Its gritty immaculately minimal production coupled with darkly violent lyrical dexterity laid down the groundwork for New York’s hip hop renaissance, and paved the way for the likes of Jay-Z, the Notorious B.I.G, Nas and Mobb Deep. Looking at the discography that followed, it is clear that both as a group or individual artists; quality has always been paramount to Staten Island’s finest.

Despite the critical acclaim, relative commercial success, and record-label ordered cross over songs (Method Man and Texas anyone?) the Wu Tang Clan have simultaneously maintained their underground aura and rabid fan base for twenty years.  So upon hearing that they would be coming to New Zealand for the first time ever to headline Raggamuffin, this reviewer was delightedly perplexed. As our flagship Roots and Reggae music festival, the comparative brashness of the Wu to Raggamuffin’s ethos seemed to be a disjointed decision, but I wasn’t about to complain.

The offstage antics of The Wu Tang Clan have gone down in infamy and have at times resembled a real life hip hop soap opera. So you can never be sure of whom you will get when they saunter onstage. Last night a sea of black and yellow clad fans throwing W’s greeted seven members of the Wu Tang Clan who immediately launched into their hooky hit Gravel Pit. Ghostface Killah’s raucous Bring Da Ruckus was probably one of the most staggering rap performances on antipodean soil. It also set the tone for an evening that proved that Wu Tang Clan still isn’t nuthin’ ta fuck with some twenty years after the release of 36 Chambers. Presenting a united front of menace and machoism,Theirs was a set of nostalgically fresh classics that focussed heavily on their debut and only the cream of their later and solo albums.

Over their turntablist’s impeccable performance, the Wu Tang performed with a telepathic synchronicity as they swapped mikes and spat their brand of stoner mystic poetry. In between tracks, U-God kept reminding fans “that the energy you give to us, we’re going to give back to you.” The mood of the eclectic audience was respectfully electric, with punters jumping with joyous abandon as they rapped along to every word, mirrored every gesture, and shouted whatever slogan they were told to, hypnotised by the sheer showmanship on display.

While the swagger and posturing was to be expected, the Wu Tang Clan showed that they weren’t without surprises. A tongue in cheek rendition of The Beatles song Come Together was given an (even more obvious) drug inspired outing, and Raekwon liberally sprayed the front row with champagne as other members freestyled about New Zealand. Halfway through the set the Wu started frenetically moshing to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit before explaining to the crowd that “Kurt Cobain was taken too soon, and we had a brother who was taken too soon too- Ol’ Dirty Bastard.” They then launched into Shimmy Shimmy Ya which had the crowd heaving.

The set ended with GZA’s show-stopping acapella performance of Big Bang Rap which is effectively a rhyming lecture on molecular psychics, highlighting the intelligence and innovation that makes these mad monks masters.

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Live Review: Laneway Festival, Silo Park, Auckland 2016.

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During a summer that has been plagued by cancelled festivals, it was almost a relief that Laneway went as well as it did. Thousands of punters mostly clad in op-shop finds and body glitter descended upon Silo Park in high spirits for the near sell out show comprising of 33 emerging and established alternative music acts.

For this reviewer, twenty bands in nine hours may have led to two sore feet, but it also captured the fundamental ethos of Laneway- celebrating a diverse array of genres and artists. The line-up of electronica, punk, noise-rock, rap and indie-pop made my eclectic heart sing and meant that I flitted from stage to stage gathering impressionistic thoughts. Safely ensconced in the shade between sets, I scribbled down these gut reactions on the fly eventually filling thirty pages of my notebook.  I have selected a handful of them that best captures the hyperbolic atmosphere of any good music festival:


All Seeing Hand: Having previously only seen this band in small clubs or large house parties, I was intrigued to see how their sound translated to the Thunderdome In short, the answer was well. Theoretically a  throat singer, turntablist, and drummer that fuse metal and jazz as well as a bunch of other genres often into one song should sound messy, but they impressed with their tight, relentless set that got the 200-strong crowds energies up for the day ahead.

Fidlar: Their unapologetically loud set was a fun way to spend the afternoon, with people kicking up plumes of dust as they jumped along to the bands hooky sound. Lead singer Zac Carper was every inch the swaggering frontman, switching effortlessly between husky screams and a more West-Coast punk style of singing.   The audience worked up a sweat in the final song where Carper instructed them to sit down and jump up on his signal. Their songs are about getting drunk, hanging out with your mates, being broke, and trying to get laid. While these topics are not anything new, they make for excellent summer festival fodder-possibly because they describe many peoples festival experiences. In the case of Fidlar, they delivered their songs with such panache that they proved to be a highlight of Laneway.

Thundercat: The virtuosic bassist was the perfect comedown after Fidlar’s rambunctious set. His smooth liquid-jazz sound and silky voice immediately captured the attention of everyone in earshot, and had the crowd swaying in minutes. My knees thanked me for the respite from jumping.

Vince Staples: Already noted for his tight flow and referential beats, expectations were high for Staples. The 22 year old undoubtedly delivered during his set that oscillated between his EP and album. He also bantered with the crowd, offering up sly quips such as “growing up, I hung out with a lot of white people, which is why I feel comfortable here…I listened to NiN and shit.” Standing slightly to the side of the front, I found myself next to Thundercat, who shared a bemused smile with me at the sight of two members of the audience- one dressed as a banana, the other as a hot dog both who were excitedly rapping along with Staples. A memorable show in more ways than one.

Silicon: The Mint Chicks used to spend most of their sets singing anywhere except the stage, and now the brothers have  gone solo it’s nice to see that Kody continues to carry the mantel. His set under his latest project Silicon was spent scaling the outside walls of the Thunderdome, landing on the roof of an ambulance for his funky remix of UMO’s Can’t Keep Checking My Phone.

Grimes: The pastel hair and ostentatious platforms worn by some of Grimes audience left me feeling decidedly monochrome. Insecurities aside, Grimes’s performance was anything but boring. With several offerings of her latest album Art Angel being aired, Grimes legitimised many a millennial’s forbidden love of mall-pop without making it sound twee for a beat. Her backup dancers added further texture the fun set of an artist on the cusp of superstardom.

Beach House: As dusk began to fade, and light danced across the water, the ethereally tussled Beach House took to the Cat Cactus stage under a backdrop of LED stars.  The band proved to be bewitching as their softly hypnotic sound ebbed and flowed. Songs such as Sparks with its elegantly relentless guitar work evoked a particularly strong reaction from the crowd. It was dream-pop at its dreamiest.

Purity Ring: Quite possibly one of the most underrated acts of the day. A spectacular light show  coupled with banging beats and beautifully acerbic vocals from Megan James had the crowd in raptures. Not to mention her Victoriana glam-goth stage attire.  A fantastic way to round off Laneway 2016.