A treasure trove of Kiwi dance music is accessible to a new generation for the first time
Imagine a time when nightclub beats didn’t make the soundtrack to commercials, brunches, and clothing shopping.
Keep on going. Try.
You probably can’t, but it wasn’t that long ago. House music, and its relentless ‘oonst oonst’ beat, only began its journey into the New Zealand mainstream at the turn of the century, driven by a then-new George FM and glossy magazines like Pavement and Remix.
What had been a strictly underground beat for most of the 90s exploded, with giant dance parties, taking over Auckland’s St James complex, Alexandra Park and Ellerslie racecourses and more.
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The boom was fueled by a growing group of local DJs rushing to buy the latest vinyl releases from a burgeoning string of record stores.
But as the millennium approached, something was missing: hardly any songs played here were created here.
There were good reasons – mostly around geographic isolation. Granted, the equipment needed to make house music was much more expensive here than in the UK and US, where a generation of producers had been releasing music made in their bedrooms since the early 1990s.
Enter trusted records. The Auckland-based label is the brainchild of a musical polymath who loved clubbing so much he wanted to release early adopter music with no other outlet.
Dutch by birth, Joost Langeveld arrived in Aotearoa on the last day of 1979. An elite bassist, he has played punk, ska, dub, techno and trip hop alongside luminaries such as Greg Johnson, Paul Casserly and “Stinky” Jim Pinckney before focusing primarily on house music in all its forms. Reliable started after a chance encounter.
Langeveld was performing at the second Gathering – those multi-day New Year’s festivals held in fields an hour from Nelson – in 1997. There he met members of the Kog Transmissions crew.
Kog was a label family started by a bunch of buddies. It had at least a little to do with the debut of globally successful artists including P-Money, Clive Lowe’s Mark, Pitch Black, Scribe and Concord Dawn.
Early releases were dominated by somewhat cerebral electronica and dub: from this meeting at the Gathering, it was decided that Langeveld should compile a compilation of club tunes made by Kiwi.
The result was Algorhythm, published by Kog in 1999. Its sequel, on the new Reliable, arrived a year later.
Two more compilations – this time titled Sun Valley Sounds and reunited with house music royalty Roger Perry (who got his first gig from Russell Crowe in the mid-’80s) – arrived in 2003 and 2004.
In between was a string of vinyl releases and an album from Subware – Langeveld’s project with club and radio DJ Jason “Rockpig” Hall.
Across the four compilations, a series of instant Kiwi club classics: Reactor Music’s Caliber ’98 (named after a club in the center of Auckland’s scene), Cuffy & Leon D’s 19c Trumpet, Subware’s Disco Hoopla ; work of Dick Johnson, Greg Churchill and the late great Soane.
For almost the first time, people could make dance music at home, have it released by a local label, and then go to their favorite club and watch how it went.
“My personal quest was always to create a track that a DJ would play, that was the buzz for me,” says Langeveld. “But it was also about working with DJs to build that local thing.”
Churchill, who has gone on to a recording career that includes success on the UK charts, says the compilations are a great insight into the vibrancy of the Auckland and Wellington house scenes 20 years ago.
“[In] In five short years, the local scene (from a production perspective) has gone from virtually nothing to some international recognition.
(At this point, I should note a significant conflict of interest – I co-produced tracks on both Sun Valley Sounds volumes. I consider Langeveld a friend and helped him with the project to donate to the Reliable Catalog its first digital version.)
Dozens of pieces made in rooms, apartments and makeshift studios across Aotearoa are available for now in a generation.
Langeveld had often pondered whether to revisit the past. Ahead of a full label relaunch and new music, he explains why the time has finally come.
“The most important thing is to give people credit, especially the producers and the people who were involved at the time,” he says.
“I also think music goes in cycles of about 20 years, and I think, especially where house is, people are interested in learning more about some of the things that were going on.”
This is due, in part, to the large number of people interacting with Facebook pages such as The Lost Nightlife of Inner-city Auckland, run by Simon Grigg’s Audio Culture brand.
Grigg, the former club and record store owner who orchestrated the WTO’s rise to international fame, says New Zealand only recently realized it had its own “sustainable culture”.
“Until then, we had this cultural cringe thing where we were kind of ashamed that we had bands like Ray Columbus and the Invaders.
“You tell the kids, ‘they’re pretty good, they’re our Rolling Stones.’ And once you start telling those stories to people, they become aware of the music. And it’s the same with the music of dance.
* Reliable’s full catalog is available to stream and download now. For a full list of sites, visit linktr.ee/reliablerecordings