Skank Attack were stalwarts of the New Zealand alternative music scene in the mid to late 1980′s and became well known for their high energy live performances and tireless support of local musicians.
Phil Simpson_Guitar/vocals Steve Cochrane_Drums Jeff Eden_Bass/Vocals
Photo credit_Bill Vella
The group formed in the winter of 1985, when Phil Simpson and Jeff Eden were bored and freezing in a drafty Wellington flat. There was nothing good on telly, so they began messing about with guitars, as much to be distracted from the wind chill factor in their bedrooms, as from any defined musical aspirations. To their own surprise, they had soon written a handful of songs and become so excited about the idea of forming a band, that they immediately recruited drummer Steve Cochrane and Skank Attack was formed.
Within weeks they played their first gig, a private party, where they appeared alongside the Primates. Dave Nendick made his debut on vocals, but upon his departure soon after, lyricist Phil Simpson took over and the band continued as a three piece, quickly gaining a reputation for the energy and enthusiasm of their live shows.
Simpson and Eden remained the creative engine of the band, constantly writing new material (they steadfastly refused to play anything but originals). Meanwhile Cochrane exhibited a flair for promotion and set the group a punishing schedule of gigs, which meant that they evolved quickly into a tight unit.
Greatly inspired by certain UK bands of the day, they set out to create a sound that relied on a driving, propulsive beat, overlaid with a rhythmic dynamic between the instruments and their intelligent, socially aware vocals. One live review described their sound by saying ‘the songs were built up layer by layer, until it was almost difficult to believe that only three people were responsible for such an overpowering aural assault’.
Skank Attack were always interested in creating strong visual elements to their performances and they became known for projecting abstract visuals over the stage. Meanwhile Eden’s developing involvement with graphic design led to some striking poster designs. Although they quickly developed a loyal following, their music was ultimately too intense to appeal to mainstream audiences and too ‘arty’ to be accepted by many in the post-punk, concrete bunker era Wellington music scene. Their time came however, when they began embarking upon national tours, trolling around the country in a huge ford impala, affectionately known as ‘The Skankmobile’. Audiences in other cities welcomed them with interest and Auckland’s BFM were particularly supportive in airing their demos whenever they arrived in town. A strong camaraderie developed with fellow musicians in the city, like Fish for Life, The Warners and Cicada.
Skank Attack soundcheck at the Gluepot, Auckland Photo credit_Andrew McAlistair
In the spirit of self reliance that was so much a part of the time, the group released a self titled E.P under their own ‘Skank Records’ moniker, which received positive reviews from influential figures like Colin Hogg, but ultimately failed to capture the fullness of their sound to their satisfaction.
Skank Attack were always about supporting other musicians and while Simpson championed local music on his weekly New Zealand music show on Radio Active, Cochrane released a compilation of Wellington bands entitled ‘Where The Wind Blows’, again on the ephemeral Skank Records label. The two date release party organized by the group (this time operating under the tongue in cheek moniker ‘Skank Undertakings’) broke attendance records at ‘The Cricketers’ venue and was a huge success.
Nick Roughan of the Skeptics became important in shaping the group’s sound and a love-hate relationship developed, based on his incessant demands for ‘skank beer’ and the groups irritating perfectionism. The acrimonious banter that resulted livened up many a tour journey in the Skankmobile. By 1988 the group had evolved into a tight professional outfit and the highlight of their live performances came when Doug Hood booked them to play support for Hunters and Collectors at Wellingtons Union Hall. The group relished the opportunity to play through a powerful sound system to an audience of thousands rather than hundreds and despite initial heckling they won the crowd over with a totally committed performance. It was one of the last times the band played together.
Before going their separate ways, the group determined to record an album. In 1988 a number of sessions took place at ‘Writhe recordings studios’, which was jointly owned by Skeptics and Bailter Space. The bands sound was finally captured in a way that did it justice. Local filmmaker Grant Lahood shot a promotional video for the track ‘Limbs Akimbo’, but sadly the group’s momentum and cash had run out (Roughan now had it all) and while the video was screened on Radio With Pictures, the recordings it was intended to promote were never properly released. Until now!
Where are they now?
Phil Simpson_Works as a professional photographer in Auckland, New Zealand. During many years working in London he shot influential musicians including Catatonia, Super Furry Animals and Velvet Underground cofounder and all round legend John Cale. Since his return to NZ in 2006 he has worked for leading U.S music magazines Spin and XXL and has made portraits of respected New Zealand musicians including Tiki Taane, Shayne Carter, Julia Deans and Liam Finn. Phil recently shot a set of cinematic promotional images for New Zealand techno stalwarts Pitch Black. To view his work visit http://www.phillipsimpson.com
Jeff Eden_Jeff designed many of the great posters that gave Skank Attack a strong visual edge back in the day and has worked as a graphic designer in London for the past 18 years. He played and recorded with U.K band Acetate who in 2011 released the EP Enough is Never Enough. In addition to forays into short film making and photography, Jeff recently had his remix of Harmonia by Pitch Black included on their Harmonia Pt2 EP
Steve Cochrane_is still based in Wellington and spent most of the nineties playing in, managing and promoting bands, while also running his poster distribution/advertising company The Stick Up! He has never lost his passion for playing drums and has been in numerous bands since Skank Attack, including Wazzo Ghoti, Wall Of Surf and rockabilly act The Thrillbillies. He also managed successful Wellington grunge rockers Fat Mannequin. For several years, until 2014, Steve owned a music/record store in Upper Hutt called The Revolution. He is currently drumming with Wellington band The Uncools.
‘Here on Out’ _album _CD and digital download
Independent _Recorded 1989/Mixed and released 2012_SKANK003
Skank Attack_Self Titled EP
Skank Records_1987_SKANK002 Recorded by Nick Rouhghan of Skeptics at Frontier Studios in Wellington, New Zealand
Where The Wind Blows_Compilation_LP
This record marked the beginning of Skank Records, an independent label formed to promote Wellington bands and featured Skank Attack, Number Nine, The Glass, The Primates, The Wild Poppies, Wazzo Ghoti and The Chosen Ones.
A very limited quantity of these original Skank releases are still available for sale on the original vinyl and in new condition. Email firstname.lastname@example.org Or if you are in the Wellington area drop into (former Skank Attack drummer) Steve Cochrane’s new record and poster shop, The Revolution and pick up a copy of these records and/or the new album! The Revolution is at 120 Main St, Upper Hutt
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q On 27 April 2012 you released the long awaited album ‘Here on Out’. Why did you release archival recordings nearly 25 years after you split?
A Having unearthed the master tapes from the album we recorded before we broke up in ‘88, we got excited about using digital outlets to get the music out into the world and claim our place in New Zealand music history. Coming across enthusiastic reviews from back in the day gave us confidence that people would be interested and releasing the album in time for NZ music month seemed like a great idea.
Q The album is very well produced for it’s era and has great artwork associated with it which creates an interesting optical illusion, will you be releasing it on CD as well as digitally?
A Yes, we’ve pressed a limited quantity of CDs. We wanted to create packaging that is in line with our original aesthetic, by making starkly graphic and well printed artwork. To that end the album is encased in a multi-panel cardboard case with cover art designed by Skank Attack bass player Jeff Eden (now a graphic designer based in London).
Q In on 1.2.12 you released the first single ‘Down Around Our Ears’ as a taster of what’s to come on the album. How was it received?
A The response was fantastic. The song made made Wellington’s Radio Active ‘hit picks’ list. It was also well received on Aucklands BFM. Silke Hartung who does the NZ music show interviewed (former Skank guitarist/vocalist) Phil Simpson and was taken aback to learn that the material was archival, commenting that it sounded like a contemporary recording. Prominent NZ music blogger Andrew Schmidt used the word ‘timeless’ to sum up Skank Attack’s place in New Zealand music history, describing the Skank Attack sound as ‘propulsive, and at times, expansive, modern guitar-based dance music with a chill Northern English breeze passing through it. Music for the mind and body’
Q Your producer Nick Roughan is well known as a member of NZ electronic pioneers ‘Skeptics’ and for his excellent production work with Dimmer and The Adults, what was it like working with him?
A Nick recorded the original ‘Here On Out’ sessions at Writhe Recording Studios, which were owned by ‘Skeptics’ back in the late ‘80s. We split before we’d had a chance to mix them properly, so it was great to recently discover the master tapes and learn that Nick now happened to live down the road from Phil in Auckland. It was great to work with him again to capture a sound that is true to the energy and excitement we felt at the time.
Q Isn’t your band name a bit misogynistic?
A The name really came about as a nod to the pleasures of skanking to heavy Jamaican reggae and dub rhythms. The negative associations of the word Skank have come about in more recent times. It’s led to some amusing misunderstandings though.
Q So were you a dub reggae band?
A No, that’s another common misconception. There are few direct references in our music, but the importance of early Jamaican dub and the production wizardry of King Tubby, Lee Perry etc can never be stated enough in terms of their influence on everything that came afterwards, right through to modern dance music. And what that movement shared in common with the guitar bands we were influenced by was an attitude and a drive to use music to talk about what was happening in the world through music. Lyrically we were inspired by the political and cultural awareness of groups like The Clash and musically by the rhythmic dynamics of bands like Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen. But because we came after these groups we were sometimes compared to high energy guitar bands such as Husker Du. We were soaking up influences from all areas of the musical map and striving to have an international sound, while simultaneously being totally involved in the local scene.
Q What was the defining feature of the NZ music scene in the late 1980s that shaped your approach?
A The post punk DIY philosophy that gave so many young people of that time the inspiration to form bands, make their own fun and comment on what was going on around them.
Q What were you notoriously passionate about?
A We became known for hosting gigs in ephemeral warehouse style venues outside the mainstream venue circuit. Vocalist Phil Simpson hosted the NZ music show on Radio Active and we advocated for NZ music quotas on local radio.
Q What are your favorite memories of that time?
A Supporting Australian band Hunters and Collectors was a real honour because we had loved their fantastically primal first album. And touring the country in the Skankmobile, a huge American Rambler Classic was always a great laugh. We also released a compilation of Wellington Bands (‘When the Wind Blows’) on our own Skank Records label. The crowd at the release party was so up for it that they literally drank the venue dry. For more background stories check out the Skank Stories section of this site