It's not too big a stretch to say songwriter Martin Phillipps 'is' The Chills, one of the most distinctive pop bands to have come out of New Zealand. This documentary examines the complicated talent behind some iconic pop songs and finds him at a crossroads in his life, facing very real consequences after years of alcohol and drug dependency. Phillipps opens up about his desire to leave a proper legacy, while a selection of ex-band mates lay bare their experience of being a Chill. The film debuted at US festival South by Southwest, where it won the first of many enthusiastic reviews.
NZ On Screen’s Dunedin Collection offers up the sights and sounds of a city edged by ocean, and famed for its music. Dunedin is a bracing mixture of old and new: of Victorian buildings and waves of fresh-faced students, many of them carrying guitars. As Dave Cull reflects in his introduction, it is a city where distance is no barrier to creativity and innovation.
This documentary tells the story of the legendary Flying Nun music label up to its 21st birthday. The label became associated with the 'Dunedin Sound': a catch-all term for a sprawl of DIY, post-punk, warped, jangly guitar-pop. The Guardian: "[it's] as if being on the other side of the world meant the music was played upside down". Features interviews with founder Roger Shepherd and many key players, the spats and the glory. The label's influence on the US indie scene is noted, and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus covers The Verlaines' 'Death and the Maiden'.
The South Tonight was a Dunedin-filmed regional news show. In these excerpts, Martin Phillipps and The Chills return home from London, and find album Submarine Bells is number one; legendary local band Sneaky Feelings play a last gig; Velvet Underground muse Nico plays Orientation Week; a ball is filmed at Larnach Castle for TV series Hanlon; rhododendron nuts ramble at the Dunedin Botanic Gardens, and Jim Mora visits the Danseys Pass Hotel. Finally there’s a survey of dingy student digs circa 1985 (when rents went as low as $14 a week).
This 1982 Radio with Pictures report surveys the Dunedin music scene, and the bands who are starting to be grouped together under the label ‘the Dunedin Sound’. Critic Roy Colbert discusses the influence of punk pioneers The Enemy and Toy Love, and the benefits of being outside fashion. A roster of future Flying Nun notables are interviewed, including David Kilgour, Shayne Carter, and Jeff Batts (The Stones). Martin Phillipps is psychedelic, and Chris Knox dissects the new bands’ guitar-playing style (without using the word "jangly"!). And then there’s Mother Goose.
Richard Driver files this 1988 Radio with Pictures report from a Waitemata Stadium concert cobbled together after the failure of music festival Neon Picnic. He interviews The Chills, Graham Brazier and Live Aid legend Bob Geldof. Geldof, along with Tim Shadbolt and Phil Warren, had come to the aid of music fans by organising the consolation gig at the last minute. Geldof rates Neon Picnic’s demise as an international embarrassment. But he praises the local music community for rallying behind the replacement gig, and admits he enjoyed the rush of helping organise it.
This big, shiny, internationally-produced Chills video is still in keeping with the band’s low-key indie style. In majestic cliff-top scenery (Ireland stands in for New Zealand) Martin Phillipps looks like he is at the top of the world, and large rocks bounce across the screen like karaoke cues — perfect imagery to match the soaring sound of this classic pop song. Apparently Phillipps was nearly swept away by a rogue wave, whilst singing furiously along to a non-existent backing tape. The rocks were made of polystyrene.
In 2012 TV presenter Helena McAlpine enlisted a chorus of NZ music’s finest voices to cover Chris Knox’s classic love song, as part of a campaign to raise breast cancer awareness. They included Alisa Xayalith, Brooke Fraser, Julia Deans, Martin Phillipps, The Topp Twins, Don McGlashan, Warren Maxwell, Hinewehi Mohi, Princess Chelsea, Jon Toogood and Hollie Smith. The track was arranged and produced by Sean Donnelly (SJD). McAlpine was diagnosed with the disease in 2008, and died on 23 September 2015.
The Chills are arguably the band most indelibly associated with 'The Dunedin Sound' — and one of label Flying Nun's enduring figureheads. With Martin Phillipps at the helm, the band has seen more than 25 line-up changes while exploring their pared-back guitar-pop sound. Their "series of brilliant singles" (The Guardian) includes the moody 'Pink Frost', 'I Love My Leather Jacket' and 'Heavenly Pop Hit'. In 1987 The Chills played to 60,000 at the Glastonbury Festival. In the early 90s they released two albums through Warner Brothers imprint Slash Records. Snow Bound, their seventh studio album, dropped in 2018.
The video for this classic Chills song works not for its earth-shattering concept, nor its production values or performances (which are largely nonchalant). It looks miserable, nihilistic even. But — through luck or good management — the video for this Chills classic works, clinging to the melancholy essence of the song like a shrunken homespun. Observant viewers will notice a single bird — not unlike the lonesome outcast portrayed by Martin Phillipps — flying back against the flow.