Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

DJ Craze's skills are well worth seeing

09:32am 22 Jul 2015


If you're the type of person that likes the trick-DJ act, the one where the person not only rubs the record back and forth but possibly does that from underneath their leg, or behind their back, then you might like to head along to see DJ Craze and Ape Drums on the upcoming NZ tour, which has shows in Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown.

DJ Craze is something of a wizard and a mathematician, even if you don't think he's a musician. He's been the touring DJ for Kanye West among others, but before that - way before that - he made his name as a battle DJ, a scratch DJ, a trick DJ, a world champion.

In fact he's only person to win the DMC World DJDJ Craze Championships three times consecutively (1998-2000) and five times in total.

I used to love watching those DMC World DJ Champ DVDs. I'm not sure what I was watching was music - well, not music I ever felt like listening to away from the context of the competition - but there's something about seeing this kind of turntablism live or in that sort of environment. The card out from behind the ear, the maths problem solved, the concentration and mastery of it.

And then someone comes along who can't even plug in a mixing desk and tells you that it's not music and requires no talent. Well it may or may not be the first thing, and I'm never too worried about that, but it's certainly an incredible skill to see and feel happening in the moment.

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It takes two (albums) to Tango

10:15am 21 Jul 2015


A band or duo or solo artist releases an album - it's okay, or it's not great at all...but then something magical happens.

They release a second album - and it just knocks your socks off, blows you much so that you go back to that debut and find something new in it. And you hang on to that second record and wait for more. The second album - or even the third album - was the one that used to make a band. But no one's got time for that anymore. The aim now is to have a viral hit - straight away, a novelty, a big single. Sometimes that's all that happens. The fleeting fame of it all and then not even a completed album to show for it.

I always think back to how in the 1970s so many of my favourite artists just had a knockout run. They might have started in the late 1960s or stumbled on their first few releases of the seventies but then, slowly, surely, an incredible catalogue is built. Think: Ry Cooder and Randy Newman, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, James Taylor, Jackson Browne...okay, I lost some of you at Randy Newman, and the rest at James Taylor...but seriously, there's a long list of people that made incredible album after incredible album - John Cale is a great example - because they took their time and found their sound, honed their sound. Even if the second album isn't the first knockout hit, it's the start of the maturing of the sound. (I've been listening to Elton John's self-titled record again lately, not his debut as is often thought, but it's the start of that great Elton sound, and a great run of records).TANGO

One of the best records I've heard this year is the second album by She's So Rad. An Auckland band - based around the duo of Jeremy Toy and Anji Sami, I remember being not that interested in the first She's So Rad album. (Now I need to go back and hear it again). But Tango, the band's new album, and just their second, has arrived so assured as to feel like some Greatest Hits-type compilation. Every song a winner, every track filled with a startling shimmer of power pop-meets-psychedelic rock ideals.

There's an incongruous - but brilliant - cameo from David Dallas, there's the work of a kickass rhythm section on every track and then there's Sami and Toy, cleverly they've written and shaped a set of extraordinary songs. This should scratch the itch of anyone that's been hooked, fleetingly, or otherwise on some of the late-90s Flying Nun sounds, and the shoegaze groups from England, of Neil Finn - particularly in his Split Enz days - and more recently of Tame Impala and the Tame Impala-related Melody's Echo Chamber.

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New winter gigs announced

10:17am 20 Jul 2015


A bunch of great shows were announced in the last few days.

First up, did you know that The Dillinger Escape plan is playing two shows here, and soon?

And Lydia Lunch is also doing Auckland and Wellington. Should be fun. Worth seeing. Could be a mess. But she's an interesting figure from the fringes and she's bringing a kick-ass band with her.

I won't be around to see Marc Ribot do his one show in Auckland. Which is gutting. He's one of my all-time favourite guitar players. If you're a guitar fan and in, or near, Auckland, get along to that show. Ribot has played with Tom Waits and John Zorn and Elvis Costello - he's played with loads of others beyond those three important figures. He's also mad a heap of records under his own name, or as bandleader. Solo, improvisation, rock, jazz trio, he is a journeyman-wizard.

I'm also pretty keen on Anika Moa's recently announced national tour - because she's always a great live act and the shows will be opened by SJD in rare solo guise. Just Sean Donnelly and an acoustic guitar; his first time around the country playing in this format.

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Birthday book buying and best new music books

01:16am 17 Jul 2015


Yesterday was my birthday. I hung one more year on the line. I should be depressed. My life is a mess. But, I'm havin' a good time...

It was a music-focussed round of birthday gifts for me. More so than it's been for a while. Oscar bought me a ticket to see Ryan Adams and that was worth it, what a show!  I got a new stereo component, a record bag, a voucher to buy some records - The Go-Betweens, Randy Newman, The Kinks, Street People - and a couple of book vouchers. The book vouchers go towards music books. Usually. And with the Kindle Store I load up on pre-orders, nice surprise-reads pop up on the screen between now and Christmas. 

Grace JonesThere are upcoming memoirs this year by Elvis Costello, Chrissie Hynde, John Fogerty, Grace Jones and Carrie Brownstein. All are on my reading list. Another new memoir from Patti Smith too. I put my voucher down-payment down. Cash me up. I'm in. No need to be depressed with that life. My life's not a mess - and limited career-options just means more reading time anyway.

I often try to get topics going here around music books - and it's always the same. Someone says that the lead singer from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers wrote a good book. Even though he a) didn't write it. And b) it's not good. I know this even though I've never read it. I mean it's Anthony Kiedis for f**k's sake.

I've read a few really great music books recently - some of them I've probably mentioned here before already, but I thought I'd do a wee roundup of some favourites. Before this new batch starts to arrive.

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What's the best local song of 1981?

07:25am 16 Jul 2015


You might have seen the news the other day, the Silver Scroll award for a top song of 1981 is finally to be decided. Yes, we carry on with whatever else in our lives soon enough. Finally we'll know just what the best local song of '81 was.Tally Ho!

John Key won't recall whether he liked any of these songs or not. But he might have. He's just not going to say. And at the end of the day, that's a fair enough response for Nu Zilan. What he will say is that he may or may not have listened to all of them or none of them or some of the ones in-between.

But - what a great year it was. And that's reflected when you see the final five candidates for 1981's Silver Scroll award. All of the singles from that year were considered - apparently - before industry gurus whittled it down to the Top Five.

So, the "lost scroll" is going to go to one of the following.

Counting The Beat by The Swingers (writers: Phil Judd/Wayne Stevens/Mark Hough)

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