Punk forever

James Gilberd on drums for Condemned Sector during the early 80s. Now he plays jazz-punk, or punk-jazz, depending on the crowd, with The Hipper Critters.

James Gilberd wouldn’t be running his own art gallery if he wasn’t a punk. For 14 years he’s owned and managed Photospace Gallery on Courtenay Place, not far from where he used to play at the long lost punk venue Last Resort, which closed in 1981.

“Before punk you had to be a really good musician. Punk opened the gates,” says Gilberd, who was a 17 year old Onslow College student by day and a drummer in Condemned Sector, getting driven to gigs by his dad at night. “I opened this gallery on that basis – if something seems like a good idea, just go for it. Don’t let the system intimidate you. I didn’t know how to run a gallery.”

Gilberd’s liberation began in 1980, the “summer of punk,” chronicled in Up The Punks, an exhibition of punk culture from 1977-2012, opening November 6 at Thistle Hall, itself a former punk venue.

No experience was necessary to be part of Wellington’s nascent scene and Gilberd and his friends Richard Watts and Jenny Whyte, jumped right in. Their move: show up at a venue and say they were the opening band just to score half an hour on stage, playing loud, angry, politically-driven music.

“Things were a lot more tense,” Gilberd says of the times that inspired him to get into the art scene and keep on drumming. (Gilberd now plays original, occasionally political, jazz-punk with The Hipper Critters.) “There was a bleakness, the Springbok tour, Reagan, Thatcher, the idea of imminent nuclear war. Ironically, we’re probably in more danger now.”

And, ironically, today’s music doesn’t reflect that. Gilberd calls the current scene “cruisey,” in spite of perennial political issues.
“In general, the music in Wellington is very mellow, reggae-influenced. There’s no anger and it’s not political. It seems to be about having a good time. There’s nothing wrong with that, but music doesn’t seem to be an outlet for personal politics.”

“There’s a real need for a punk attitude now,” he adds. “Young people need a bit of a shakeup to engage with things and be politically vigilant. People have insulated themselves from politics with gadgets and social media.”

However, gadgets like camera phones at gigs and social sites like Wikipedia have enhanced John Lake’s ability to document the ongoing punk culture, revealed in Up The Punks, a redux of a 2002 show he put together with Kerry Ann Lee after Te Papa’s 2001 Punkulture left them wanting.

Recent media fleshes out a section called “The New Shit” and Lake launched a Wiki site to publicly track the history. The exhibition will include various memorabilia alongside an interactive timeline to which viewers can add their own experiences and memories. A zine will be developed inside the gallery during the exhibition’s run and 12 monitors will spool videos of “material that wasn’t available during the original exhibition,” says Lake. “Raw footage, music videos, stuff we’ve uncovered that wasn’t in the first show, like Fran Walsh playing in the Wallsockets in 1980, which was one of the first bands to organize a gig at Thistle Hall.”

Two gigs bring the history onstage, the first with contemporary Wellington bands Numbskull, Influence, and The DILFs, of indy label Always Never Fun, playing a free show at San Francisco Bath House.

Saturday night’s closing gig references the seminal 1978 show New Wave Special, and resurrects some old faves, like Flesh D-Vice, to present “a diverse interpretation of punk,” says Lake.

Originally published October 31, 2012 in Capital Times

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