Review: Big Cheap Motel ’09, Alternative Music Talk

Reprinted from: Alternative Music Talk

The Axemen: A NZ Protest

Big Cheap Motel '09 LP

It’s understandable that Australia and New Zealand have a contentious relationship. I used to live in Cleveland, don’t anymore, but still cringe whenever I see a Stealers logo anywhere. The fact, though, that the Aussies recently claimed that New Zealanders are hermits, or some such, seems a bit beyond me. Anyway, New Zealand, as much Australia, has a pretty rich and important musical history. The Tall Dwarfs (sic) and Chris Knox have impacted current indie musical trends in a pretty noticeable way. You’d be able to hear it even if Jay Reatard didn’t tell us straight out.

But a less lauded band – the Axemen – in the early ‘80s mined similar territory to Knox. They were a bit more noisey. Ok. A lot more noisey. The trio comprised some scene veterans and when Bob Brannigan, Little Stevie McCabe and Stu Kawowski came together, a more twisted vision of what pop should be was spat from speakers. Perhaps their most enduring – and time specific – document comes in the form of Big Cheap Motel (it’s there, but you gotta look for it).

At a time when British punk bands wrote songs about Maggie being some body part and American punkers criticized Reagan on a daily basis, the Axemen took a more localized view of politics. Being slated to perform at a festival early in 1984 at a public park, the band was prepared to run through a set of their previously written material, but sponsorship of a milk company – Big M – prompted the trio to compose eleven new songs to comment upon the perceived problem.

Supposedly, the band took issue with the sexist imagery displayed at the festival. Although, there aren’t any specifics to be found in the interwebs as to what, exactly, the problem was. Either way, it inspired some stripped down, rock thudding. Most frequently, the Flying Nun label and its stable of acts are in some way checked in relationship to the sound found on this disc. But the Axemen sound way more furious than anything else that I’ve come across on that label.

The occasional inclusion of a sax, as on the anthemic “Stupid Symbol of Woman Hate,” points to the breadth of work that these folks were listening to. It isn’t quite Funhouse from the Stooges, but that track does ratchet up repetitive punk tropes along with the bleated chorus. And for some reason, this track sounds a bit better recorded than a few others.

A few other tracks leap out of the pile, which, for a great deal of the long player suffers from less than desirable sound. But even if you can’t understand the words to “Pornographic Milk Drink,” you can sense the band’s dedication to what they have to say as the disheveled punk track plays out. The inclusion of an extended Stones cover – “We Love You” – is a bit confusing since this performance, in part, was meant to defy corporate shenanigans. But if you’ve heard the Cock Sparrer version, you may have already heard the best rendition of the track.

If the historic and political perspective of this work was removed, I don’t know that we’d still be talking about this disc twenty some years after it was recorded. But it’s an artifact. And it’s one that fits into the linear narrative of rock history.

Post: Came Best Vice

Gig Report – The Ambassador, Pt Chevalier, Auckland, March 20 2009

March 20,  2009

Axemen, Hairdos, Smokin Daggers at the Ambassador

Ambassador Gig, Auckland, March 20 2009
Ambassador Gig, Auckland, March 20 2009

Following the flames of resurgence in punk music in Auckland being fanned by the wind from beneath the wings and between the buttocks of the recent phenomenally successful and oversubscribed AK87 gigs, Dogs Bollix new years eve gig, North Shore kids parties and others, punk in Auckland is once again rearing its ugly (or is more often the case on the isthmus, cutesy) head.

Axemen – Animals Have Rights Too
(soundcheck version, mp3)

Smokin' Daggers, The Ambassador, Pt Chevalier, Auckland, 2009

Smokin' Daggers, The Ambassador, Pt Chevalier, Auckland, 2009

Opening proceedings were the Smokin’ Daggers, Mr Tolley and his cohorts providing a typically energetic set; Tolleys guitar slung so low it conjures the image of a cricket player sizing up a yorker, the band knocking out the singles throughout the over and setting off the odd spinner, occasionally pushing out to the boundaries.

Closing off after a respectable innings, the mostly well behaved crowd expressed their approval and the band members melted into the crowd.

Hairdos, The Ambassador, Pt Chevalier, Auckland, 2009
Souvenir Poster

Next up were the Hairdos, Grey Lynn’s next big thing. The vibrant three piece hammered out their trademark edgy punk-pop numbers with their usual irrepressible glee to an appreciative audience.

The movie theatre foyer-themed movie theatre foyer venue suited the hairdos (pronounced hare-doos) music to a tee, you could almost imagine the torches and spilt popcorn as they played and jaffas rolled freely about during their show.

Mo Money Mo Money Mo Money
Mo Money Mo Money Mo Money

“That has to be one of the whackiest Axemen gigs we’ve ever played!” Stu Kawowski was heard to pronounce at the end of the Axemen’s set.
“Snailclamps closing was pretty whacky…” chimed in Steve.
“One of the whackiest gigs I remember” qualified Stu.

Songs by Axemen - Steve's Hair by Birdstock
Songs by Axemen - Steve's Hair by Birdstock

The Axemen, dormant for 15 years but exploding back on the scene in Auckland like an eighth volcano in a training run for their upcoming US tour with indie rockers Times New Viking came along tonight to see if they could out-punk all the young punks, all the young dudes, the brothers and sisters young enough to be their sons and daughters, the movers, the shakers, the young ones.

The Axemen - Stu, Steve, Bob
The Axemen - Stu, Steve, Bob

Airing out some of the more ascerbic and acrid tracks from their bulging back-catalog (‘Animals have rights too’ [from the soon-to-be-re-released on Vinyl ‘Scary!’  LP], ‘Big Cheap Motel’, ‘J.O.R.J’, ‘Money’ to name a few), the Axemen’s tiny overdriven amps were swamped by the booming drums and vocals for the most part giving the show an almost acapella feel, with Bobs keyboards and Steve’s guitar squeaking out in the (infrequent) drum breaks from pentarion beatmaster Stu Kawowski, still pounding the skins like he was 25.

“We really gotta get some bigger amps” commented Bob after the show.

“Its the thought that counts” Steve  muttered cryptically.

Post: Mecca Be Vest

Review: Big Cheap Motel ’09, Volcanic Tongue

Reprinted from: Volcanic Tongue


“…free jazz skronk…radical prole violence…”

“…punk primitive avant garde smarts…”

Big Cheap Motel

Fantastic vinyl issue of what was originally a cassette from a group that were an anomaly even within the relatively eclectic environs of the original Flying Nun catalogue. This New Zealand group released a bunch of vinyl and cassettes, all of which took the basic Kiwi-pop blueprint and exploded it with classic UK art/damage moves, crude free jazz skronk, radical prole violence and punk primitive avant garde smarts. Big Cheap Motel was recorded live at Hagley Park Ritual and Peterboro Studios and was conceived as an anti-corporate/sexist action aimed at the sponsorship of a Christchurch Summer Rock festival by a milk company: “Stoopid Symbol Of Women Hate/The Pornographic Milk Drink”. Still, the sonics are nowhere near the kinda ‘worthy’ protest music that have sunk so many student duds, this kinda rallying owes more to the blunt, subversive style of the early Fall or the art-punk aggression of the Swell Maps/Steve Treatment cultus, referencing classic rock/roll yucks like Steve Mackay’s signature saxophone sound or the tantrums of Half Japanese while maintaining the kinda dazed topographical haze that defines alla the best NZ/FN action. This sits perfectly on the Siltbreeze label, joining the dots between early avant garage moves and the label’s own deeply-embedded crude-fi aesthetic and if you’re into classic outsider modes in the hands of musical Neanderthals but dig ’songs’ more than ‘noise’ then this is the white stuff: highly recommended.

Axemen “Hey Alice” in Tom Lax mix, THE WIRE magazine online





A passing search for “Axemen” at THE WIRE today discovered The Axemen’s ditty “Hey Alice” within a special guest mix from Tom Lax, that was itself within a 90 min downloadable set called Adventures In Modern Music 06 November 2008 by Derek Walmsley. (who is one dry-arse nigga, but he plays some frikkin wack shit !!!)

Here’s the entire tracklist:

James Brown
Funky President (People It’s Bad)
from Reality
(Polygram CD)

Joel Stern
Stradbroke Verse

from Objects Masks Props
(Naturestrip CD)

Anders Dahl

from Doorbells
(Bombax Bombax CD)

Valerio Cosi
Making Love In Lhasa

from Collected Works
(Porter CD)

Harry Pussy
Showroom Dummies

from You’ll Never Play This Town Again: Live, Etc 1997
(Load CD)

George Coleman
Innocent Little Doggy

from Bongo Joe
(Mississippi LP)

** mix from Thomas Lax of Siltbreeze **

1. The Manatees, No Good
2. Tone Deaf And The Idiots, Why Do Politics Turn Men Into Toads?
3. What, Cynical Blitz
4. Saccharine Trust, Disillusion Fool
5.Kosmonautentraum, Werkzeugmacher
6. Slight Seconds, New Me
7. If Only, if Only
8. Axemen, Hey Alice
9. Second Layer, Zero
10. Iceplants, Hanoi Jane


Black Uhuru
Going To Zion

from Randy’s 50th Anniversary
(North Parade CD)

Impact All-Stars
Ordinary Version 3

from Randy’s 50th Anniversary
(North Parade CD)

Eleh 009: Phase One – Sleeps Golden Drones Again 

from Floating Frequencies/Intuitive Synthesis III
(Important LP)


from Tilburg
(Korm Plastics LP)


Audio1995 8_2
(Apple Pips 12″)

THE WIRE magazine online