The Mockers had a breakthrough year in 1984. Their sixth single 'Swear It's True' caught New Zealand's attention, and in May their debut album peaked at number four on the Kiwi charts. In June they played Mainstreet for one of 1984's batch of Radio with Pictures specials, spawning the live album Caught in the Act, which was released in July. Vocalist and part-time poet Andrew Fagan cuts a piratical figure in his sailor's jacket and trademark fingerless gloves. Dunedin band The Idles were a lesser known proposition. They made ripples in 1984 with their first EP, 'Agroculture'.
'Sierra Leone' was one of those songs that quickly stood out from the pack. Andrew McLennan's synth-pop track won his new band Coconut Rough a deal with Mushroom Records, then became a runaway hit in 1983. The video, slick for the time, features bright colours, a running motif, and African imagery. But the pressure of being in demand for a single song became an albatross around the band's neck. As McLennan told website AudioCulture, "‘Sierra Leone’ became the only song from our repertoire that people wanted to hear and no matter what we did we couldn’t follow it up."
Boh Runga and Stellar* enjoyed a breakthrough year in 1999 with their synthesis of guitars and electronic beats realised on Mix, a chart topping debut produced by Tom Bailey (of Thompson Twins fame). Jonathan King's video for 'Part of Me', the album's second single, creates a repressive, futuristic world of glass, concrete and steel where the only plants seen are those grown in strictly controlled conditions. But in amongst the soulless conformity, surveillance cameras and sterile suits, it might be too soon to completely write off Mother Nature.
Harking back to early New Zealand electronica (e.g. Body Electric) The L.E.D.s programme is to synthesise music made by man and machine. Evolving from the group Thomas:Parkes, the synth-popsters made their grand entrance in 2007 with the samples, blips, beats and beeps fuelled debut "... We Are The L.E.D.s", via a home pressing in Christchurch. The critically acclaimed release was followed in 2008 with Still, described by the band as "harder, faster, better, stronger and simply more - more synth, more bass, more drums".
The video for BRF's second single contrasts images of youths in gas masks with This is New Zealand-style panoramic scenery. The song ominously describes a complacent society ignoring apocalyptic possibilities: it could be the theme song to The Quiet Earth. But like BRF's UK contemporaries the Cure and Joy Division, behind the brooding, melancholic music is a pop song with deceptive hooklines. The haunting melody emerges slowly from a funereal marching beat, while the chorus is almost ecstatic, with phased synthesised strings that seem to take flight.
United by a love of synthesisers, Mark Turner and Johanna Freeman began making pop music together in 2007. Their sole album, Owl+Owl (released on label Lil' Chief Records), won enthusiastic reviews the following year. Turner began playing music at a young age, from wind instruments to guitar and drums. Little Pictures split in 2009. After forming band The Eversons, Turner won controversy in 2012 for a song seemingly aimed at Freeman. After relocating to London in 2015, The Eversons eventually morphed into indie popsters Superorganism, after recruiting young Japanese vocalist Orono Naguchi.
Artists Prepare was an NFU series that featured prominent performance-based artists of the time. In this episode 'sonic artist' Chris Cree Brown discusses composing with new media, and how he orchestrates particular sounds into formal compositional structures. Some sounds are made instrumentally; others are recorded from his environment. In 1980 few classically-trained musicians in New Zealand experimented with synthesised sound, and the gloriously large and sturdy equipment Brown uses to create his music will be of anthropological interest to many musos.
The fall of the Iron Curtain was still several years away when Shona Laing wrote her first APRA Silver Scroll winner 'Soviet Snow'. The world had been "teasing at war like children" over decades of the arms race and Cold War brinksmanship and the threat of nuclear winter was very real. The video is a suitably chilly but dizzying montage that marries Russian iconography and Soviet imagery to the song's urgent synthesised beats. Laing later stripped 'Soviet Snow' of its synthpop trappings in an acoustic version on her 2007 album Pass the Whisper.
TVNZ series Viewfinder was aimed at making news and current affairs accessible to a teen audience. Topics ranged from underage drinking to the new breakdancing craze, to a campaign to see School Certificate exam papers after they had been marked. Reports were filed by the show's three presenters. Over the show's run these included Phillipa Dann (in her first presenting gig), Uelese Petaia (star of 1979 movie Sons for the Return Home), David Hindley (also a gay rights campaigner) and Michael Barry. The show's distinctive synthesiser opening infiltrated many young minds.
Shona Laing's career began as a teen, when she performed her song '1905' on talent show New Faces. In 1973 it reached number four on the local charts, and Laing won several music awards, including Best New Artist. During seven years in London, she spent time in Manfred Mann's Earth Band. Back in New Zealand by the mid 1980s, Laing explored a synthesiser-based sound on albums Genre and South. Single '(Glad I'm) Not A Kennedy', got to number two in the NZ charts, and sold globally. Later albums included New on Earth and the live Roadworks. In 2013 Laing was inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame.