Richard MacFarlane talks with local indie-rockers The Undercurrents about being a band in Christchurch.
The Undercurrents are definitely a Christchurch band. Whether it’s in their upbringing, location in history or the band’s sound, there is something undeniably local to this city that surrounds the band. With a style of indie-rock described as “meditation at volume”, their influences can be traced to older Christchurch acts like The JPSE, The Hiss Explosion and Squirm, as well as international indie bands like Pavement, Silver Jews, Sebadoh, or even Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Their emotive onstage presence saw them recently win the 2005 RDU Roundup Band Competition, but many would have heard of them before this, thanks to extensive radio play on New Zealand’s b-net stations (namely singles “She Was Not Absurd” and “Wish Upon a Star”, the latter of which was nominated for Best Un-released Single at the 2004 b-net awards). Live shows with Dimmer, The Shocking Pinks, The Bats and Gerling have helped, too. Their location within the Christchurch music scene, has helped, too – with a short spell from Pine’s Stephen McCarthy on drums, before finding their now-solid line up of Nik O’Keefe on bass and vocals, Marcus Winstanley (ex Barnard’s Star) on guitar and vocals, Simon Nunn (U.S.S. Hit Machine) on drums, Jamey Holloway (ex Centre Will Hold) on guitar and vocals, and Mike Summerfield on violin.
Since forming in 2003, the five-piece have been casual, if not a little timid in their approach to making music. “We’ve just been taking our time. It’s kind of a social thing; it gets us all out of the house.” Jamey says. “We had this old garage out by jade stadium. We just went around there, and because we had a computer and recording equipment we could just muck around and record some stuff. It took us a while before we put out something – we’re kind of a bit ‘take your time’ – slow at things. We didn’t have a big plan of world domination or anything.”
It could almost be thought of as unusual that the band haven’t left for greener pastures, with the (debatable) presence of a “cultural cringe” that Christchurch is unfortunately often labeled with. Instead of taking the oft’ traveled trip to Sydney or Melbourne to “make it big”, The Undercurrents continue to work hard in the city they know and love.
“I think a lot of bands see moving away as something you have to do. So it almost increases the credible market here, and there’s a lot of potential for a better market here. It seems a bit stupid to talk about a market because it sounds like it’s engineering towards money, but more a market in terms of people being interested. There’s a lot of interest here – there’s heaps – it’s just a matter of being a little bit persistent.” says Mike.
“There’s so much culture here that hasn’t been embraced yet” adds Jamey. “You can make any move in Christchurch. There’s a lot of different possibilities and different worlds, just depending on which tracks you run. It seems a lot more interesting that way, rather than just packing up and leaving”
Aside from the odd foray into Dunedin and Auckland, The Undercurrents have consistently played shows at venues like the Dux de Lux, The JetSet Lounge and The Wunderbar. But it was still with great surprise (to themselves, at least) that they won the Roundup Band Competition. For Jamey, “It has all been pretty positive so far. Fortunately, tall poppy syndrome doesn’t apply yet. We’ve been around for a few years, and the idea of some really new band winning isn’t that realistic, really. You don’t get great bands that form three days before the competition.”
There is certainly a history of indie musicians doing well on their own terms in Christchurch. The Undercurrents embrace the do-it-yourself attitude that, while not assuring any great “mainstream” success, has proved successful with lovers of real, genuinely crafted music. “I think a really good example for us, has been bands of the Failsafe Records kind of generation, like Squirm who could do it themselves on their own terms, or even Salmonella Dub, who have never compromised what they do, it’s all just sort of come to them.” says Jamey. “We do want to have our music heard by a whole bunch of people. We’re certainly not going to compromise ourselves or our music to achieve that. It’s right how it is.”
The Undercurrents play with The D4 and Che Fu and The Krates outdoors at the Dux-de-Lux on NYE. The single "Oceans Wide" and the Video being made by Gorilla Pictures will be out in Feb 2006.
* Published in The Christchurch Press, December 1st, 2005.
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