Five forgotten New Zealand synth-pop gems

By Leonie Hayden

Sometimes great songs can slip through the cracks. But nzherald.co.nz's new music blogger Leonie Hayden has dusted the cobwebs off her top five forgotten Kiwi synth-pop songs.
Over the Atlantic's Loveless Devotion.
Over the Atlantic's Loveless Devotion.

The Knobz - Culture (Sudden Exposure, 1980)

One Dunedin band's cheeky and very pointed criticism of then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, who decried popular music as "horrible" and refused to lift a 40 per cent sales tax that didn't apply to classical music (Muldoon claimed that Kiri Te Kanawa was considered culture, and pop music was not).

As well as featuring a genuine meeting between the band and the PM, the song also uses the talents of comedian and impersonator Danny Faye to add hilarious Muldoon-esque commentary.

Alastair Riddell - Zero (Positive Action, 1983)

Alastair Riddell's Bowie-baiting dystopian glam-rock band Space Waltz had been a massive deal in New Zealand and Australia in the '70's, all androgynous angles and highlighted cheekbones. Then in the '80s he took the Gary Numan/Midge Ure route and created some of the coolest new romantic jams to ever gently rock our shores.

In the early '80s Riddell left to conquer the UK but one can only assume the market had reached saturation and he returned with his English model wife to retire in West Auckland.

The Fanatics - Models (The Fanatics EP, 2004)

Poster boys for austerity - no drummer and a hit single with only two lines of lyrics - The Fanatics' brief but torrid affair with the New Zealand public left only one EP of songs as its legacy, but each of the seven tracks on it is a deliciously dark banger. Huge, layered synths undermined by the angular guitar lines that were all the rage in the '00s - except Models doesn't seem to have dated all that much (the same can't be said of the music video unfortunately). The chorus remains one the most triumphant of all time, which is why we were all tricked into thinking that last wacktastic series of NZ's Next Top Model was good.


The Deadly Deaths - Bury It (The Deadly Deaths, 2007)

A short-lived Hamilton outfit that debuted their great lo-fi synths and droll, sleazy vocals just as similar acts from America were taking over student radio. It seemed Bury It might snake overseas and slot nicely into the indie spectrum somewhere between LCD Soundsystem and The National, but despite their declaration in an early interview (still hosted on their website) that they're "here to stay," they were never heard from again. (As a band. We're in no way implying the members of The Deadly Deaths are dead.)

Over The Atlantic - Loveless Devotion (Dimensions, 2009)

A happy marriage of synths and shoegaze, with one of the coolest guitar break-downs around. It was never clear whether or not home crowds gave Over The Atlantic the love they deserved. Gigs tended to be small venues packed tightly, and they were an odd fit for radio. The international community certainly caught on fast, signing Nik Brinkman and Bevan Smith to US label Carpark/Pawtracks in 2006 (label mates with Animal Collective and Beach House) before they'd ever played a live show, but reports home of exciting adventures were few. Now performing on his own under the name Junica, Nik Brinkman is by no means out of the game but Over The Atlantic as it was is no more and we should never forget how great, if under-appreciated, they were.

- nzherald.co.nz

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