A few months ago, on a dark and drizzly afternoon, I was sitting in my classroom at college browsing through YouTube hoping to find something to relieve my intense boredom. I eventually came across the music video for ‘Anything Could Happen’ by The Clean.
I had never heard of The Clean before but as soon as the song started and I saw some shots of a junkyard and the lead singer wearing round sunglasses, I knew I’d like them. Their whole look and vibe was undeniably indie and D.I.Y. Their song just radiated happiness but what I really loved, which hooked me even more was that even though the song was flowery and sunny, in the video the trio were completely deadpan, no emotion, it was almost comedic. I loved the contrast.
I learnt that The Clean are a band from Dunedin, New Zealand and formed in 1978. They are said to be the most influential band from the Flying Nun label. Apart from them having a brilliant name, Flying Nun became a label I would spend a lot of time exploring and listening to.
The independent New Zealand label started in 1981 with a simple do-it-yourself post-punk attitude and became one of the most important record labels in the 80s and 90s. Flying Nun was launched by record store manager and ‘local man around town’ Roger Shepherd with the aim to work with all the bands that were filling up the local venues and halls in Christchurch. The labels first releases were from The Pin Group and The Clean, the nation started to notice these bands coming up through the Top 20 and Flying Nun gained some popularity. By 1985 the label had signed a well-rounded bunch of misfits which captured the nation’s alternative guitar sound. The label at its peak became New Zealand's Rough Trade, Mute, and Factory Records all in one however it still remained an extremely underrated label.
What attracted me so much to this label was the fact that I had never heard of any indie bands from New Zealand until I stumbled across the Clean, but I already had a huge love for indie music from the UK. Finding this label made me realise how universal this genre of music is. I can imagine young people from all around the world feeling so lost and bored that they pick up a guitar and start making noise. That's what indie music is to me, escapism.
I read a quote by Robert Scott from the Clean who put what it was like to be a young musician in New Zealand perfectly: “It was the right place, at the right time. I lived in Dunedin, a university town, so it was easy to live on the dole and spend all day plinking around on guitar. At the same time, we were very removed from the world: the NME would arrive three months late; the same happened with punk. So, influences were very watered down. But we could get John Peel, and we had a great TV show, Radio with Pictures, that showed overseas clips. But there’s a history of self-sufficiency in New Zealand. There was no danger of, ‘Let’s sound like Spandau Ballet because we’ll get an extra gig down the road.’ Rather than being influenced by overseas, we got more inspired by each other.”
Amazingly Flying Nun is still going to this day. It survived as an independent label through the changing marketplace even after it lost its founder and is still spitting out new indie talent along with some dream pop and dark noir punk thrown in there too.
Now go and check out Flying Nun, you’re bound to find something that’ll tickle your fancy!
Check out this playlist Scarlet’s put together for you over on Spotify.