Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Kog turns

Seeing as it's New Zealand Music Month, I thought I'd dig out some old magazine articles on local musicians that I wrote a while back. They give you a snapshot of artists earlier in their career...

Coming up, Shayne Carter, Dawn Raid and a few others, written for Pavement, Real Groove and Lava/Selector magazines. This is the first of several posts over the next few weeks, keep your eyes peeled for em.... This article was originally written for North and South magazine in 1999, but they never published it.

Kog Transmissions is the name of a collective of enterprising young long haired musicians, who specialise in making and releasing dance music.

Within an astonishingly short space of time, they have established themselves on the local music scene, with little or no help from the music industry. They have done it all their own way, setting up their own recording studio, releasing their cds on their own label, and selling them at their own cd launch gigs; you pay $15 to get into the gig and get a cd to take home with you.

It's great value for money, and a great night out. The business equation reads like this: they manufacture 500 cd's, get 500 people along to their gig, and hey presto, their cd sells out in one night, rather than sitting in record shops for months and months.

Last year the Kog team released one cd a month, a very ambitious plan, but one that paid off handsomely, rapidly building a loyal following for their musical activities. This clever technique bought them to the attention of major record label Universal Music, who offered to step in and help with the distribution of their cd's around the country.

"We started the studio about three and a half years ago", says Chris Chetland of Kog, "when we moved into this warehouse [situated in Kingsland, Auckland]. Back when we started the studio we had a Metal band at the time [the delightfully named Raw Meat For The Balcony], and we wanted to record our own album, and were getting more into the technology side of music. All the people here knew each other for quite a few years before that, because we all went to school together, and had been in bands together."

They mostly went to Sacred Heart, aligning them with a musical legacy that includes such local music luminaries as Dave Dobbyn, Tim and Neil Finn, Rikki and Ian Morris, Peter Urlich, who also attended that school.

Fellow Kog member Andrew Manning says that "Kog is a place to pool talents; we try to enjoy what we're doing as much as we can, we don't work with anyone we don't like. It's a group of friends, basically." Chetland notes that "By the fact that you're enjoying doing something, you do far better at it." The Kog collective is comprised of six people, most of who live and work together in the Kog warehouse.

Overseas dj's who have visited Kog have been amazed to see them doing everything in-house, unlike the standard methods where the tasks of music production get farmed out; recording, mastering, cd-rom, artwork, video etc are all done on site at the Kog warehouse, hence, they have a lot of creative control over what they do.

Also, having their own studio means never having to pay for studio time, which usually costs up to $150 per hour. Chris estimates that to set up a computer based recording studio would cost $10,000 for new equipment and software, or under $3,000 second hand. This is where computers are making it much easier for musicians to have their own home studio, bypassing the traditional methods of recording in expensive studios, where your creativity is hampered by constantly watching the clock, as your money ticks away.

Musically, the Kog releases have been exploring various musical styles within the dance genre: Chris says "Every release we do is in a different style, which from our point of view is interesting, because you get to learn a different style of music each time, and you get to meet people out of that particular scene. And if someone likes say one of our releases that is in the House style, then maybe they'll trust us and try another one of our releases, like Pitch Black, so it breaks down a lot of those barriers."

That diversity runs from Mark de Clive Lowes jazzy dance to Pitch Black's reggae/techno, to Epsilon Blue's melodic trance, to Baitercells drum n bass. They have also ventured into commercials, doing music for Sky TV, Saatchis, Telecom, and tv shows like Havoc, Queer Nation, and even reworking the Holmes Show theme for their feature on dance music.

Chris has studied complex systems theory and philosophy at university, which has influenced their business approach. "It's like looking at it more from that angle, rather than the standard, strict hierarchical business structures that a lot of businesses operate on. It's like the elephant and the mouse; one is big and lumbering and can squash you, but if you can keep on moving around, you're always evolving, continuously and and quickly there is never a fixed point, you never become a dead state. being able to offer new angles means you can offer a fresh perspective.

"It's the number 8 wire approach; you might not have all the super slick gear, but you just find different ways of doing it. We're putting it (the music) out there in the first place in ways that are unconventional, but also getting really good placement in that environment.

"We could've done it the standard record company way, where you do one release a year, put huge amounts of money in, and wait for it to trickle back in over the next year, or you can pay it all off in one night. We just reconfigured the rules to suit ourselves, rather than just do it like any other record label.

"When you look at any system, you assess what anyone else has done, then you look for different pathways that you can bypass the things that don't fit what you are doing. We wanted to get lots of music out there, and there was no way we could do it using the standard mechanisms that record labels operate under, or most businesses, in fact. By treating it less mechanically and more organically, it grows itself."

Kog are currently putting together a cd for The Gathering, an annual dance party held on Takaka Hill out of Nelson. This is the second year they have compiled a cd for this event, highlighting some of the leading lights in the local electronic music scene, who have also played at The Gathering. The first cd was supported by tv advertising from Universal, and sold over 3,000 copies.

Read more: Kog Transmutations, from NZ Musician, 2003.

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