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@Peace’s album of cosmic nihilism

Wednesday 19th March 2014

It’s a Friday night at Auckland’s Monte Cristo Room “a beautiful basement courtyard, where the crowd’s good, but there are so many goddamn pillars once it fills up, it feels like the part of the CBD that time and planning forgot.

When I get in @Peace are set to play in 15 minutes. Over an hour passes, is it nerves? Weed? Both?

Tom Scott, Lui Tuiasau, Christoph El' Truento, Dandruff Dicky, and B Haru take the stage; solemnly clad in hooded robes, resembling a black procession to a strobing synth-drone and a drunken cheers. It’s the way a SunnO))) gig or something should start, making it easy to forget that you’re watching a group who wrote about bombing Kiwi Lager and getting mushies “or getting your heart broken.

Welcome to the Plutonian Noise Symphony. @Peace’s existential anxieties writ large in 10 minute, post-Beatles medleys, using filters that leave the crew sounding like tweaking extraterrestrials. This makes their debut album-proper sound more imposing than it is once you get inside, and a good clue is the ad for the launch; a rehearsal goof-off featuring one of the most unconvincing death scenes ever. They’re the guys who want to sound massive in the deadest part of town, the guys who are playing a run of stop-and-sit cosmic bummers to fans who just want to hear ‘Home’.

They’ve also had to rehearse like a real band for the first time, and it still feels strange. “Most times you know, we’ve thrown one or two songs we’ve been working on next to stuff we’ve done a bunch of times,” Scott says when I speak to him after the weekend.

“Friday night, I think we played seven tracks for the first time “ that’s sort of unprecedented for us and it’s a big ask. It’s playing live and there’s always something where you think shit, and hope your mistake wasn’t as big as you thought it was. I just feel better knowing the release show is out of the way.”

It’s entirely possible to imagine versions of these songs gone wrong; a bloated jazz-bo mélange of hand-drums and Moog ...

A band is only as confident its last soul-destroying gig, and any hard-working New Zealand act gets a lot of those. “I just always think about this horrible New Year’s Eve gig we had to play in Tauranga in this bar “ you know, you’ve got the dude yelling ‘PLAY FLEETWOOD’, and then eventually a guy got up on stage and grabbed a microphone for himself. It’s definitely a challenge deciding to do something slower and spacier in front of an audience and hoping they’ll twig to it.”

This isn’t some big reaction. It’s the natural end-point of where their first EP left off “a two-year culmination. “Plutonian’s been underway the whole time,” Scott says. “On the first EP, you can tell we get kinda existential with ‘@Peace’, the track itself, and then ‘Nothing’. It ends on a nihilist’s view of everything. We are, sadly, quite nihilistic people.” Last year’s Girl Songs is still the big outlier, Scott’s post breakup binge and purge. “I just couldn’t write any other songs, so the group had to go down with me. It was always the idea to take the group towards a more philosophical point. And musically, I know the boys have always wanted to go as far leftfield as possible with the music.”

On the Plutonian Noise Symphony, @Peace consolidated as a five-piece; Dandruff Dicky was responsible for some of the biggest dares “ the lone squalls of ambient sax, the cacophony of shortwave radio that ‘Weightless’ resolves in focus form, while Brandon Haru lent an ear for “ridiculous chord structures” and more live instrumentation than they’ve toyed with before. El’ Truento, meanwhile, settled into an executive-producer role.

“Those three dudes have very short attention spans, but they love music," Scott says, "They just need a little more than a 4/4 time signature and a sort of token boom-bap chord progression. They’ve always pushed for the album to be that weird. Chris had rules like, Hey! No Rhodes! Turn that off!"

I guess this album starts from that fatalistic place, at 6am in the morning, and runs into the next day. So we’re all going to die. How’re you going to deal with the hangover?

It’s entirely possible to imagine versions of these songs gone wrong; a bloated jazz-bo mélange of hand-drums and Moog “often, the album’s appeal lies in the uncanny valley between it being ‘An Important Album With Things To Say’ and the more universal experience of ordinary guys at a bach, drinking around a lino table, suddenly sobered by the deep stuff.

“When you’re sitting down and thinking about things for six hours, I think you eventually end up there. It might start out with the weather and your missus, and then it gets deep.” Scott affects a wail ...“We all die at the end! What’s the point?

“I guess this album starts from that fatalistic place, at 6am in the morning, and runs into the next day. So we’re all going to die. How’re you going to deal with the hangover?”

Surprisingly well, as it turned out. Scott and Tuiasau would come at the same subject whilst writing separately; resulting in otherworldly conversations held on ‘Stranger’ and ‘Out Dear’, seeming like two people, deeply alone, communicating past each other by a trick of parallax.

Other times, the whole group pushed themselves to breaking point. Scott was inspired to make the album’s huge centerpiece, ‘Made’, after consecutive spins of the medley on Side B of Abbey Road. “Everyone had written their own piece about artificial intelligence, and it seemed like a great idea. Then we spent nine hours gathered around a computer and almost wound up ready to walk away.”

@Peace discuss Plutonian Noise Symphony on Radio New Zealand's Music 101:

@Peace are also a pack of unreconstructed nerd’s nerds, and pulp sci-fi fandom leavens out the heavier concepts. Scott was raised on a steady diet of Futurama’s big, imaginative tropes, while the spectre of Duncan Jones’ Moon has seeped into the whole thing “that haunting isolation, that fear and wonder of insignificance. “Everything dies eventually,” we’re reminded on the closing track, ‘Matter’. “The day that I was made for has come, for my energy to leave and travel back to the sun.” The group’s name’s never felt more apt.

“It definitely gets heavier at the end,” Scott muses when we talk about the record’s sequencing. “But I think it’s also back loaded, that’s where the catchiest material’s ended up too. Lyrically, it starts off lighthearted “‘Hug your mum, hold her hand’ “ but even then, ‘One day everyone I know, their name up on a headstone’. I like to think the last track’s a note of hope “talks about all matter being made of the same stuff. Maybe you can find some sort of consolation prize in that.”

All my contemporaries are getting to see the world through their art. Not that there’s anything wrong with here, but it’s kind of soul-destroying and discouraging.

Consolation prizes. Scott’s other gig is Home Brew, the Young, Gifted and Broke collective; they’ve achieved amazing things within this country; eschewing an established system of patronage by working hard, backing themselves and having good ideas. With hip hop’s regionally regimented overseas scenes, this doesn’t count for much internationally. And that’s the scare “that @Peace are making some of the most universal sentiments of their career, that they’re seriously courting the kind of spaced-out humanism of an all-time great like Outkast’s ATliens, but sounding utterly of their age and that they’re going to have to content themselves and stay world famous in New Zealand.

“I was at Rippon Festival last month with Home Brew talking with Sam from the Phoenix Foundation and Myele Manzanza and people like that and they’re like, ‘you ever been to this place in Germany that does this?’ And I’m like,‘nah, man!’”

“...You never travelled, man?’ I’ve been to Australia a couple of times, and all my contemporaries are getting to see the world through their art. Not that there’s anything wrong with here, but it’s kind of soul-destroying and discouraging. I would love to be able to go overseas “it’s the boost that the five of us need as well.”

Scott doesn’t begrudge other artists this, and he’s just happy the album’s being heard. But it’s hard to get noticed, and it’s frustrating that this is the way things are. “I guess like being a rock band is like being a rugby player “even if you’re not that great you’ll still be huge in Japan. But being a rapper, you take that to LA and it’s like you trying to impress NBA scouts. @Peace and Young Gifted and Broke ...We’re the Breakers, man!”

Is @Peace and the Plutonian Noise Symphony one of the best New Zealand albums ever? It’s stupid and somehow trivial to even go there, to start evaluating artistic output like that straight away. More interestingly, given some of the inevitable mismatched audience expectations it’ll create and the current trend for artists to refine, rather than overextend themselves, it could be seen as one of the worst. If it gets remembered as a high folly, it’ll be a remarkable artifact from a time when no one else bothered to aim all that high in the first place.

But I suspect that’s a very half-empty scenario “this is a record that’s taken the risk of being a grower. Sometimes those get overlooked. But sometimes they find their way into the hands of smart and sullen teenage kids who need them, and change the world one bedroom at a time. “Planet Earth is the Invercargill of the Solar System,” Scott muses, “and we’re the Invercargill of Planet Earth. But a lot of the ideas are meant to translate to a wider audience. We definitely wrote it with the world in mind. If it doesn’t take off overseas, it doesn’t matter. Saying that, I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever made.”

This content was brought to you with funding from New Zealand On Air.

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