Auckland band the Headless Chickens went against the grain of the so-called Dunedin Sound that dominated the roster of legendary record label Flying Nun, by making extensive use of beats and electronica. The band won the Rheineck Rock Award in 1987, and the prize money funded their innovative (for its use of sampling) debut album Stunt Clown. Singer Fiona McDonald joined the band in the early 90s, and it was during this time that they attracted their widest audience. Headless Chickens split up in 1998, but in 2008 performed reunion gigs in Australia and New Zealand.
Record label Flying Nun is synonymous with Kiwi indie music, and with autonomous DIY, bottom-of-the-world creativity. This collection celebrates the label's ethos as manifested in the music videos. Selected by label founder Roger Shepherd: "A general style may have loosely evolved ... but it was simply due to limited budgets and correspondingly unlimited imaginations."
This collection rounds up almost every music video for a number one hit by a Kiwi artist; everything from ballads to hip hop to glam rock. Press on the images below to find the hits for each decade — plus try this backgrounder by Michael Higgins, whose high speed history of local hits touches on the sometimes questionable ways past charts were created.
In 1995 Flying Nun released compilation CD Abbasalutely, made up of ABBA covers from their stable of artists. Headless Chickens contributed with this decidedly heavy cover of 'Super Trouper', ABBA’s ninth and final UK chart topper. The monochrome music video for the remake takes place at the RNZAF Base at Whenuapai, with the Chickens adopting many precarious positions on top of aircraft. It was directed by Jonathan Ogilvie, who helmed numerous Flying Nun music videos. The song's title was inspired by a popular concert spotlight.
Named after the German word for a type of gas chamber used in Nazi concentration camps, 'Gaskrankinstation' was the first single off Headless Chickens' second album Body Blow. Actor Peter Tait (Bogans, Kitchen Sink) stars as gas station attendant Ivan, whose desperate monologue drives the track, while the band play some comically tortured-looking instruments in the parking lot. Anita McNaught also makes a cameo appearance as the "lady newsreader" of Ivan's affections.
Co-written by lead singer Fiona McDonald, 'Juice' celebrates the days when she watched morning music shows as a child. Alongside scenes of children playing outside, things take a more sinister turn indoors, with one particularly nightmarish sequence showing her younger self restrained in a dentist’s chair. 'Juice' was released paired with Chickens song 'Choppers', and won Single of the Year at the 1994 NZ Music Awards. It was originally recorded by McDonald’s other band, Strawpeople, under the title 'Dreamchild'. It featured on 1994 Strawpeople album Broadcast.
Headless Chickens were a rogue electronic act on the traditionally guitar-dominated Flying Nun label, so it makes sense that this Chickens video would be equally outlandish. Inspired by both the Mexican Day of the Dead and Eastern European circus traditions, it has the band dressed as gypsies, beckoning us towards the chaotic carnival which they inhabit. Accompanying the band are a brigade of performers, including knife throwers and stilt walkers, only adding to the surreal feel.
With its skittering drum loops and unsteady vocals punctuated with bursts of industrial-strength noise, Donka is an early example of Headless Chickens’ ever-evolving sound. Director Stuart Page (working with the Chickens' Grant Fell) cuts together a wild collage to echo the song’s mood swings. Chris Matthews' deadpan delivery to camera — occasionally in butoh-type face paint — provides a spot of calm amongst the blizzard of grotesque close-ups, absurd costumes, time-lapse and triple exposures. Fell wrote later that the video cost $527.55 to make.
George was the first Flying Nun single to make it to number one in New Zealand, and the video is also a strong one. Brooding black and white shots of singer Fiona McDonald are frenetically cut together with dark images (tattooed man crawling on concrete, wily old bloke holding birthday cake) that match the menacing lyrics of the song.
‘Cruise Control’ is one of the Headless Chicken’s most poppy and accessible songs, and became a hit in New Zealand, and (in remixed form), in Australia. This studio shot promo, for the ‘Eskimos in Egypt’ remix, has Fiona McDonald and the Chickens packed into a touring car cruising to old school rear projected nighttime cityscapes. It’s dark and moody: a wry touch of Hollywood glamour mixed with early 90s Auckland - dated by Knight Rider, bling and brick-sized mobile phones.