Life in the shadow of the Dunedin sound

10 March 2018 by Fraser Thompson

interview opinion

On Tuesday the 27th of February 2018 two masked terrorists committed a heinous act of vandalism.

before and after coyote
before and after coyote
Baying for heretic blood
Baying for heretic blood

In an expletive-laden video, they recorded themselves graffiting a powerbox displaying The Chills inspired street art and, in doing so, desecrated a sacred altar to the Dunedin Sound.

Acolytes retaliated swiftly and violently in comments sections across social media. “Morons! Losers!” they chanted, “Without The Chills Dunedin music wouldn’t even exist!”. They bayed for heretic blood.

“There’s a couple of people saying that we’re a waste of sperm we have small dicks and we should be killed. I thought that was slightly harsh.” alleges Jeremy. He plays guitar.

Him and Louis are chilling on a Sunday evening in Jeremy’s flat. It should come as no surprise to anyone that these were the people responsible for scribbling “Coyote” over “The Chills” on a powerbox.

“A lot of people have come up to me being like ‘yeah, fuck The Chills’ or ‘fuck that art’ and I kind of feel like nah, that wasn’t the point we were trying to make, we were trying to be funny.”

“It definitely had no thought put into it” adds Louis. He’s the vocalist and writes most of the songs.

“We didn’t really think who was behind it [the art], we thought ‘hey some dickhead from the government probably painted it up there’. We were thinking it’d be a funny skit, we’re going to stick it to the government, paint over their power box, call ourselves Banksy…”

It was an act of rock n’ roll arrogance with punk “stick it to the man” sensibilities all wrapped up in self-aware irony. As it turned out though, the art was not a product of any governing body but of local arts student and The Chills fan Emma Craig who was commissioned by the lines provider to brighten up a drab gray box.

She wanted to express her love for her favorite band and help more people her age discover them. She fears the history will be lost. As she puts it: “No young students seem to really know anything about the Dunedin sound history.”

Emma spent the weekend repainting the work and has yet to receive a formal apology or even an admission of guilt from Coyote. Redoing it is annoying, but what bothered her the most was “that it was another Dunedin band who you’d think would look up to The Chills but clearly don’t have any respect for bands that paved the way for music in Dunedin.”

The target they picked might not have been the best and Putting down a young local artist was not Coyote’s intent. Despite not fronting up they seemed genuinely sorry about that. They weren’t trying to make any sort of statement about the Dunedin Sound zeitgeist either, but by desecrating a symbol of 1980s Dunedin music with the symbol of an up-and-coming Dunedin band they inadvertently started a dialogue about life in the shadow of the Dunedin Sound.

If anything, the vitriolic response only confirms an issue exists. One commenter expressed disbelief at how anyone could do anything to hurt the band who “invented” the Dunedin music scene. Another questioned why they aren’t making their own music instead of just putting down others, apparently ignoring the fact that they literally are. Others simply threw crude insults and the odd threat of violence.

Crude insults
Crude insults
They literally are
They literally are

It makes me wonder whether these people know what’s going on today, whether they cling to the past because they believe without it Dunedin has nothing else. Apparently The Chills are more than just a good band from the 80s to these people, they’re a god damn religion. Dunedin Sound is dogma.

Among the sea of negative responses were some more thoughtful ones expressing gratitude that someone had fought back at the attitude which they felt was suffocating today’s scene. Despite not being a motivating factor, Louis and Jeremy found themselves agreeing with this sentiment.

“A lot of things in life happen like that where you play it out and then you go oh, that’s why I did it.” muses Jeremy.

“I definitely feel like I’ve kind of been getting a bit pissed off at those people being like ‘The Chills made the Dunedin sound’” remarks Louis.

“Music has existed after the 80s. Stuff is always evolving and changing. This one comment really pissed me of more than the waste of sperm stuff, he was like ‘guys for fucks sake it’s The Chills, if it weren’t for them there wouldn’t even be a Dunedin sound’ and its like what does that even mean?”

“I find this obsession with the past kind of alienating.” agrees Jeremy “It’s like, I wasn’t there, I’m here now, I feel like the music we’re making is better than… Well I dunno, I feel like it’s really fucking good and the Dunedin sound or whatever is just all these old people obsessed with the past and it’s like, yeah, cool for you guys but shut up and let us make our own contemporary scene.”

“It does make you feel like oh so is that it? We’re never going to have another amazing music scene ever again, it’s already happened. There’s all these basically old men still patting themselves on the back for something that happened before I was even born. But I’m here right now and I’m ready to take over.”

“If you want to find good music you’ve got to search Coyote. It’s time to start celebrating what’s happening now, and Coyote’s a good place to start.” promotes Jeremy, shamelessly.

“We’re not saying we’re so much better than The Chills everyone can fuck off we’re better,” adds Louis, ”in my mind it was kind of just saying fuck you to the government. We were actually going to do a cover of a chills song for a tribute album because we do like heavenly pop hit.”

“It’s a fucking good song” agrees Jeremy.

While they have some regrets, they’re happy to have opened a dialogue. There was some fervent chatter about how they’ve ended their careers and will never play another gig in town. I feel this completely misunderstands todays scene (and how good Coyote are).

Either way, Coyote don’t mind the infamy.

“I’d rather a small handful of people love us and a whole horde of people want us dead than just no response whatsoever, I like eliciting strong responses, I think that’s a good thing.”

“Anyone who doesn’t think it’s crack-up I don’t think I want them as a fan so it doesn’t wrinkle my forehead.”

“I hope 30 years down the track someone scribbles their name on our powerbox”

The Chills declined to comment.