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2.   Literature Review


2.7.1   Overview and Issues

pop, then it is likely such a precedent could be found in The Foundations of Rock.145

This concludes the literature directly informing this research. A position has been established and justified of studying the musical text with regards to its musical parameters. Although formalistic, this standpoint complements, and is complemented by cultural, sociological, historical and receptive readings of the same songs. Ignoring these other perspectives does not diminish their

importance; rather, it is impractical to cover every angle in one project. The primary focus, thus far, has been theoretical and methodological issues without examining, in depth, analytical findings. These, and other, sources will be further considered in Chapters 4 and 5.


David Eggleton’s Ready to Fly147 treads a similar path; the “story of New Zealand rock music” highlights the proliferation of different styles, especially in the 1990s. Thus, in a single chapter, Eggleton ranges from Headless Chickens to Push Push to Supergroove to Pacifier.148 While covering numerous angles of the New Zealand music scene, Eggleton discusses performing in New Zealand — for example, who went to gigs and where they were held — and consequently, one gains an understanding of New Zealand social history as seen through the music. More recently, Gareth Shute has written broadly on rock from 1987-2007149, while Chris Bourke has detailed the origins of New Zealand popular music prior to rock and roll in Blue Smoke.150

There is also a range of archived articles in Music in New Zealand, a scholarly journal published from 1988-2002 under the editorship of Dr. William Dart.

Although most of the articles concerned classical music, a number addressed prominent popular musicians and bands, such as Wayne Mason, Tommy Adderley, Straitjacket Fits and The Chills.151 Often, the authors conducted extended interviews with their subjects. These varied in focus from biographical details to particular albums. The articles display sharp, yet accessible criticism and, in conjunction with the historical texts, provide an excellent foundation for studying New Zealand popular music.

Academic research has primarily been conducted outside of musicology.

Prominent scholars include Roy Shuker, Tony Mitchell and Kirsten Zemke-White. Because of the small academic field, certain subjects have been

addressed multiple times, such as the music industry, the impact of government

147 David Eggleton, Ready to Fly: The Story of New Zealand Rock Music (Nelson, New Zealand:

Craig Cotton Publishing, 2003).

148 Ibid., pp. 148-163.

149 Gareth Shute, NZ Rock, 1987-2007 (Auckland: Random House, 2008).

150 Chris Bourke, Blue Smoke: The Last Dawn of New Zealand Popular Music (Auckland:

Auckland University Press, 2010).

151 This list is only a sample and, thus, I have not cited each individual source. For a complete list of articles published in Music in New Zealand, see William Dart, “Contents: All Issues,”

Music in New Zealand, from http://www.musicinnz.com/main/listallcontents.htm (accessed 19 May 2011).

policies on the industry, and Pacific Island and Maori music and culture in New Zealand.152

Recently, academics have focused on place and identity in New Zealand music, resulting in three publications: Many Voices153, Home, Land & Sea154 and Dunedin Soundings.155 The aim of the three texts is neatly summarized by Henry Johnson: to highlight “a few sounds of a diverse nation.”156 These texts cover a range of musical genres from popular (and its styles) to contemporary classical to electroacoustic to Indonesian gamelan. In brief, the authors attempt to document the relationships between geographical locations, the people of New Zealand, their beliefs and attitudes, and locally produced music.

Although important questions are being asked by academics, those discussing popular music rarely engage with the musical texts. When songs or bands are considered musically, the predominant mode of discussion is generalized, as demonstrated by Shuker and Pickering:

…the blues-oriented Underdogs withstood comparisons with the early Fleetwood Mac…bands like the Formula [sic] turned out solid pop akin to their English counterparts…the disco sounds of the early 1980s were clearly evident in Ardijah and the Holiday Makers.157

152 See below for a sample of sources concerned with these issues. Roy Shuker and Michael Pickering, “Kiwi Rock: Popular Music and Cultural Identity in New Zealand,” Popular Music 13, no. 3, Australia/New Zealand Issue (1994), pp. 268-276; Philip Hayward, Tony Mitchell and Roy Shuker (eds.), North Meets South: Popular Music in Aoteoroa/New Zealand (Sydney:

Perfect Beat Publications, 1994); Tony Mitchell, “He Waiata Na Aotearoa: Maori and Pacific Islander Music in Aotearoa/New Zealand,” in Sound Alliances: Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Politics and Popular Music in the Pacific, ed. Philip Hayward (London and New York: Cassell, 1998), pp. 26-44; and Kirsten Zemke-White, “‘This Is My Life’: Biography, Identity and Narrative in New Zealand Rap Songs,” Perfect Beat 8, no. 3 (2007), pp. 31-52.

153 Henry Johnson (ed.), Many Voices: Music and National Identity in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010).

154 Glenda Keam and Tony Mitchell (eds.), Home, Land and Sea: Situating Music in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Auckland: Pearson, 2011).

155 Dan Bendrups and Graeme Downes (eds.), Dunedin Soundings: Place and Performance (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2011).

156 Henry Johnson, “Introduction,” in Many Voices: Music and National Identity in Aotearoa/New Zealand, ed. Henry Johnson (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), 10.

157 Shuker and Pickering, “Kiwi Rock,” 273.

Tony Mitchell later dismissed these descriptions as “highly reductive”158 which is a fair criticism given the lack of detail. Unfortunately, Mitchell’s response is no better. Taking umbrage at Shuker and Pickering’s account of The La De Das’

‘How Is The Air Up There?’ as simply a Rolling Stones-influenced cover, Mitchell states, “in actual fact [the song] had significant purchase among local audiences and elsewhere as a locally-produced ‘alternative’ song.”159 In doing so, he addresses ideas of reception and avoids the argument with which he takes exception.

Furthermore, Mitchell contends that amongst 1960s bands, including The La De Das, “strong indicators of a local identity…[were] always…evident in the performance of the music, in the interstices between the texts and musical and lyrical idioms of the songs and their receptions by audiences.”160 But there is no suggestion as to what these “strong indicators” are or were. Thus the authors’

positions are found wanting; in a discussion on the sounds of New Zealand music, none provide any detail of the sounds.

Similar problems abound when Mitchell considers the musical texts. At times, he focuses almost exclusively on the lyrics, only referring briefly to broad stylistic traits or instrumentation, as in his account of The Front Lawn’s

‘Andy.’161 Other times, he makes unconvincing points because he possesses little technical knowledge of music.

When discussing Neil Finn’s 7 Worlds Collide project162, Mitchell cites Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, who said of the album, “it’s relaxed, it’s joyous. But there’s also a dark undercurrent,” reflecting the “heart of darkness to this

158 Tony Mitchell, “‘Kiwi’ Music and New Zealand National Identity,” in Many Voices: Music and National Identity in Aotearoa/New Zealand, ed. Henry Johnson (Newcastle upon Tyne:

Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), pp. 21-22.

159 Ibid., 23.

160 Ibid., 23.

161 Tony Mitchell, “Sonic Psychogeography: A Poetics of Place in Popular Music in New Zealand,” Perfect Beat 10, no. 2 (2009), pp. 154-164.

162 For this charity project, Neil Finn arranged for a number of international musicians and their families to stay over Christmas at Piha, an isolated beach west of Auckland. The musicians collaborated on songs and subsequently produced an album, 7 Worlds Collide.

place.”163 Mitchell takes this as proof that music and place are connected. As it stands, Mitchell presents several pieces of information — Ed O’Brien’s quote, the album (7 Worlds Collide) and the location (Piha) — and asserts, rather than proves or demonstrates, that they are linked to each other. Mitchell fails to understand that “dark undercurrent” is a metaphor not a musical term. To substantiate the central point, it is necessary to link the various pieces of

‘evidence’; the first step is to show, through analysis, how one might hear the

“dark undercurrent” in the music.

This practice tarnishes New Zealand popular music literature. Because many contributors are not musicologists, there is a tendency for them to get trapped in non-musical descriptions. Much writing hovers around the music, rather than fully explaining the subject matter, as shown in Mitchell’s comments and in a similar manner to Richard Dyer’s article on disco, critiqued earlier.

The historical texts, cited above, are aimed at a general readership; it is

understandable that there is limited musical detail. One could, however, expect more from the academics. Unfortunately, their bibliographies tend towards journalistic sources, namely newspapers, music magazines, such as Rip It Up and New Musical Express, and current affairs publications, like New Zealand Listener and Metro. For studying popular music, these resources are valid and relevant, but they encourage a vague engagement with the music, one that is subsequently reproduced in the scholarly work.

A case in point is found in Jennifer Cattermole’s essay on New Zealand reggae.

In Stranded in Paradise, Dix commented on the Herbs’ “Polynesian harmonies”

in the vocals without explaining what constitutes a “Polynesian” harmony.

Instead of clarifying this particular technique, Cattermole simply restates Dix’s interpretation. She notes the vocals are triadic, which is a step in the right direction, but misses an opportunity to identify the specific voicing or

163 Quoted in Tony Mitchell, “Songlines and Timelines Through Auckland: Music in the ‘Queen City,’” in Home, Land and Sea: Situating Music in Aotearoa/New Zealand, eds. Glenda Keam and Tony Mitchell (Auckland: Pearson, 2011), 127.

leading features that contribute to the Herbs’ sound.164 On this point, Cattermole adds little to Dix’s journalistic work. As more academics study New Zealand popular music and build upon their predecessors’ work, this problem is further entrenched. Detailed analytical work would help to break this cycle.