Ahead of the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards, Graeme Hill explains how and where to find new music
For many of us there's a time in life you only realise you're embedded in once you're neck-deep. Entry into this quicksand doesn't come with any notification. It's gradual and then suddenly you notice that your music collection has stopped. How did that happen? It's accompanied by a vague sense of shame felt in that dream you had last night. It's the one where the bus has gone and just as fast as you can run it recedes. More worryingly the passengers don't want you on board anyway. Your future is their clutter.
The formative years, your teens and 20s generally have a special musical buzz. Your opinion of its superiority can therefore be pooh-poohed as sickly nostalgia. There's some truth in that but if you were brought up in the late 60s, you've got a damned good case.
Just 18 months from around 1966, popular music turned inside-out. In the 1970s a relative of mine had recently got married and, as part of furnishing a new home, he was spending up on a music collection. He bought about 12 albums, which was extravagant for the day and let slip "Well that's it. I'm done. I don't need anything more," while cradling a Bob Dylan compilation. I was wide-eyed shocked but also quite envious that 12 albums might suffice a lifetime. Ah well, not everybody is musically curious and it's not a crime. If you are, there's another problem; the vastness of music being made, almost all of it instantly available. This is where the curators do the business.
Let's ignore the charts. Adele, Drake and Katy Perry are, for better or worse, everywhere. It's more of a challenge to avoid them than to discover. If they're your thing, sweet, you're lucky.
Rediscover your local student radio. This can, however, have pitfalls.
A few years ago I was driving an old car. One has to keep an ear out for indications of impending mechanical failure. A disturbing grinding noise was emanating from the back left wheel. Not good at all. Wheel bearing for sure and the vibration was getting worse. The car was even labouring a little to the left. I was quite close to my mechanic so I nursed the thing in the direction of the garage. I was almost there when all of a sudden it stopped … then, "You're listening to bFM and that was The Dead C with Love Song For Port Chalmers from their new album, blah blah something."
I couldn't believe it. Fooled. True story. The "labouring" was clearly psychosomatic. Not all of student radio is an infernal racket and specialist shows where myopia becomes a virtue, generally do a fine job. Examine the station's top 10. It's usually heavily infused with local prejudice but hell, it's a nice pick 'n' mix.
For arty and edgy, you can't do better than the troops at Flying Nun. Every week they release their personal current favourites on Spotify called Great Sounds Great. Just the other week I discovered an outfit that made previous ferocious favourites sound timid in comparison. I'm in love so annoyingly I'm going to tell you. They're Tropical F*** Storm, and they're clever as calculus with it.
Some legendary old farts have pretty groovy shows on the BBC. Iggy Pop's selections are bold and fresh. There are a million platforms to share music online and rabbit holes to explore, but there's something about face-to-face shared experiences that is much better fun. We play stupid games. If there's a gathering there's sometimes a show-and-tell. Bring along three songs you reckon have the best lyrics and explain why. Best songs by worst bands. Best intros. Worst massively popular songs ever. Guilty pleasures. It's a hoot and you actually listen rather than have background wallpaper sounds.
One doesn't want to berate anybody's musical taste but there's a phrase I hear that reflects a wilful ignorance and I shall snap at. "Ohhh, don't know. That's before my time." But there are recordings you numpty and music is NOT all about when you were born! Heard of World War II? Oh ... s'pose not. Before your time. Sheesh. I went through a sort personal Beatlemania years after they pulled up stumps.
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Let's entertain the idea that new music is just something you haven't heard before. Being introduced to something sonically gorgeous just to find out it's 30 years old and now they're dead is a little disappointing. While deeply grateful for being exposed, part of me wants to grab them by the front of the shirt and scream, "Why have you not told me about this band before!?" There's a mighty long timeline of written and recorded music and there are diamonds hiding there we're all yet to discover. Filling in aching gaps in your collection I didn't even know were there has probably been the most satisfying and illuminating thing, for me.
Also, those kids on that bus? I'm noticing a lot of them are discovering Led Zeppelin and Grandmaster Flash and they're blowing minds.
We are all stifled when it comes to being exposed to new music. Every one of us because nobody can even get close to knowing it all. So how many years would it take to listen to every piece of music written? I. Don't. Care.
Fun fact though, even if you listened to every one of them simultaneously it would still take at least 639 years because that wag John Cage wrote a piece, which all going well, will be precisely that long. The Germans are having a crack at this in Halberstadt. Bless. With typical gusto they kicked off with 17 months of silence (go figure) then ripped into it proper with actual notes and stuff on a pipe organ in February 2003. The most recent note change, the much anticipated 12th (yeah it's starting to rock, daddy-o) occurred on October 5, 2013 and has been annoying the neighbours ever since. Oooh ... when's the next change? I hear you ask. September 5, 2020 and tickets are selling fast. While it's not, shall we say danceable, people dig this nonsense and I sure hope somebody hears its crashing finale on September 5, 2640 and screams "Encore!".
The older you get, the more likely something is going to sound like something else.
All noise is created equal. No descriptor such as classical imbues its membership with any privilege whatsoever.
Never toss out your music playing formats in the inorganic.
In record stores, does anybody else feel they suddenly need to pee?
The 2019 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards is on Thursday, November 14 at Spark Arena.