MUZAI Records: The Next Chapter

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I’ve been through about three different drafts of what to write about for this piece. Some have been antagonistic, others have been an overt love letter which I thank everyone who has helped in some way shape or form. Other shifting between varying degrees of iconoclastic thoughts on what is wrong with New Zealand’s music industry and euphoric nostalgia of what is right with New Zealand’s musical community.

I’ve been tasked to talk about MUZAI, having done this for five years now – why I am moving overseas and what that means for the bands. Rather than act like a pyromaniac and starting burning all bridges left right and centre I decided not to. Mainly because there aren’t too many bridges I want to burn.

Despite moaning on Twitter sometimes, and the braggadocio nature of our Facebook page, we’ve gotten this far being, well…positive. A “can-do” attitude, as it were, and despite getting the hump with some people within the music scene, our polite, friendly, communal demeanour has for the most part taken us here – and taking us to Europe now too.

I say “us” because it’s not just my family and I going over to the United Kingdom. Sunken Seas happen to be touring there soon and there’s talk of other bands coming over to play Europe, having played before in Australia and China. It’s the idea of “if you’re going to lose money, why not make an adventure out of losing money.” Could almost be the credo for the label, but alas, not quite.

Times have changed across the five years doing this thing; street press is virtually non-existent (aside from The Fold, which to its credit, manages to accomplish a good amount within its limited space), venues have opened, closed, reopened and then reclosed, there’s less and less space now to fly-poster (which, when I arrived in 2006, was a common thing), and almost seems like the humble light or electric pole is now being used by companies as “their” space too.

Though I should be surprised by it, the idea that buying advertising space equates to buying content within publications is something that has been on the wall for a while now. A symptom of the rise of the online reporting community and the perceived death of traditional media, meaning places are trying to gather a little money as they near palliative care.

It’s amazing also to have lived through an all-ages scene which has defined a lot of the current musical climate we see today. How the Bandicoot’s have gone on to become their own EDM collectives or Critic’s Choice Award winners, or a nerdy ginger kid become this informed critic within the younger social circles dumbfounds me. That’s perhaps unfair to say and it means I didn’t see much in the way of potential in them at first; but it’s amazing that they’re doing it.

So why am I leave when I’m getting all doe-eyed reminiscing about the past? I’ve spoken about the importance of family – my family – and spending time with them as the world seems to spin faster and months become a matter of minutes. I also, honestly, feel that to prove myself to some detractors out there in New Zealand, I have to try something different, which in this case is taking the label elsewhere and trying it from there.

I don’t hate New Zealand – this isn’t going to be one of those situations where I’m interviewed by Brooklyn Vegan or Rolling Stone in a years time and I bag on the fact there is no culture. That’s a lie – there is a heap of innovation in New Zealand music. From Orchestra of Spheres and The All Seeing Hand to Eyeliner and Aldous Harding, compared to the rest of the world things here are pretty forward thinking. But is that just because I am insular to things outside of New Zealand and Australia, and not delving into the murky depths of the rest of the world as I used to? That’s perhaps one reason for the move.

The other is, I don’t want to become complacent; which is a fear that I already have in running the label. I don’t want to be “content” with what I am doing, and throw out the odd release that might get some airplay but people will buy it because it’s a MUZAI release and we have a track record. I want to be proud of what we put out, even if it has limited commercial success or appeal. Were that the case, you’d probably see more power-pop bands on the label than the likes of Girls Pissing on Girls Pissing, or god bows to math, or Proton Beast. I can feel it happening already; happily just being on cruise control in New Zealand, resting on my laurels and telling everyone that I released Bandicoot, Zen Mantra and a pre-Doprah Steve Marr project.

That’s certainly not me, and that’s certainly the nucleus for coming to New Zealand in the first place, having caught myself pouring a beer back in early 2006 and thinking “I could do this for the rest of my life.” It’s eight years later and I’m feeling the same way now – I could happily just run MUZAI in New Zealand and be “content” with what we’re doing.

What that means for the bands is they get this guy leading, I guess, the charge on foreign soil, a renewed sense of trying to prove himself once again. It creates a sense of excitement – taking what I’ve learned (and loathed) from one country and using those lessons/skills in a bigger, more frantic market. It means I have to apply myself all over again and take a few steps down the rung of the ladder, but I’ve always been happy to climb it. Half the fun in life is the challenge – the results, good or bad, seem boring in a sense.

And despite all the changes that are happening, you’ve got it good here, New Zealand. This is a place where most nights you can go and enjoy fantastic music, with an assortment of local personalities all warm and welcoming. Yeah the print press isn’t what it used to be, but you’ve got a radio station in 95bFM most of Europe would be envious of. God – you’ve a radio station in Dunedin most of the world would be envious of.

It’s been a blast, New Zealand. Until Maeve and I return and most likely move to Dunedin, stay in touch and I’ll send you postcards wherever I can.

- Benjii

2 Comments

  1. You’re a sweet dude Benjii, I look forward to hearing about your European accomplishments with MUZAI or otherwise. See you in Europe!

  2. What a legend! Such a good guy. Best of luck to you and Maeve.

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