Punk'd

by Jim Pinckney / 22 November, 2008
The Terrorways, Proud Scum and others reform for AK79 Live.

Punk rock has never been, and never will be, a vicarious pursuit. Inevitably, the term has become diluted with age, and the mostly dross that now labels itself punk is only going through the motions in a way that is abhorrent to original punk ideals. It was music that had to be experienced. To an outsider, especially in those conservative times, it was just a fearsome racket with a grab-bag of ideologies and nihilistic tendencies. But that catalytic period in the late 70s when the music scene exploded remains unremittingly close to many hearts, my own included.

As my punk rock epiphany was in England's manky Midlands when bands from London were considered virtually from another planet, I have no intention of attending the AK79 reform shows where the magnificently named Proud Scum, the Spelling Mistakes, X-Features, the Terrorways and the Scavengers will once again lace up their boots and aim to buck the system in two minutes fifty-nine or less.

The punk-rock movement was a life-changer and definer for kids from Aberdeen to Invercargill, but the idea of trying to posthumously frame the New Zealand experience as basically an outsider three decades later seems ridiculous and doomed to failure.

Instead, I spoke to Kerry Buchanan, these days the proud father of teenage girls and author of the only hip-hop column - Superbad in Real Groove magazine - that can get Nelly and Nietzsche in the same sentence. Back then, and for two nights this month at Auckland's Monte Cristo Room, Buchanan was the drummer for the Terrorways.

"Well, naturally, the New Zealand spirit had a defining effect," he says when asked what made Kiwi punk different. "When we first formed as this punk outfit, we called ourselves Rooter, a very singular New -Zealand expression. However, all the bands reflected a more internationalist element following overseas styles - there's nothing Kiwiana in playing Ramones covers. But it was punk Downunder in conservative late 70s Auckland, still dripping with a fading English colonialism, so it was fun being the 'rebel' and shit. Hell, just getting your hair razored was like a perverse act of social anarchy; it just seemed incomprehensible to those not involved in the punk thing.

"Punk does have a national flavour in different countries, but to me it was always this mass consciousness thing. One thing very New Zealand, though, was the composition of the boot boys, boot girls and skins, with a high number of Polynesian and Maori characters involved. That was New Zealand working-class culture, hard-out."

Though Buchanan claims to have "demanded an oxygen bottle" for the reform shows, he is expecting high--spirited behaviour and responds affirmatively, if hesitantly, to the suggestion that this gig is "unfinished business".

As he points out (for all the never-ending inflation of the Flying Nun legend), the AK79 compilation is one of this country's most internationally known albums and a gem in its own right, attracting the attention of everyone from the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra to Bruce Springsteen's guitarist and The Sopranos' Silvio, Steve Van Zandt.

I put it to Buchanan that we are well overdue another turbulent agitation to stir the music scene up.

"Hell, I'm all for a shake-up on all levels. It's not only youth that seem surrounded in a malaise of sorts, it's like an age of conformism all over. Nothing left to protest, communism proclaimed dead, terrorism the new threat, control instituted on all levels. Music and culture reflects that. Hip-hop was the last great cultural attack, now sadly venerated as some form of business and corporate venture. Forever the optimist, I long for the next shake-up."

AK79 LIVE, Monte Cristo Room, Auckland, November 21-22.

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