The Dead C are considered a bit of an anomaly in the New Zealand music scene. While their contemporaries were engaging in the jangly pop-punk associated with the Flying Nun label, the trio were honing noise-scapes both brash and thoughtful. Three decades later, Bruce Russell, Michael Morley and Robbie Yeats are still going strong as a fiercely independent improvisational act.
Walking on stage to a sound collage of crackling voices and noises, the trio slowly start to disclose their separate functions, distinct enough to that you could tell, knowing nothing of them, that they’re dynamics have been honed over decades of playing together. Morley’s guitar is washed in reverb, delay, looping in on itself, a rough seascape over which his chants are occasionally just loud enough to cut through. In stark juxtaposition to this are the heavily distorted wails, drones and bleeps from Russell. His tiny amp has a pickup taped to the speaker, a technique I vaguely recall being used by Dead C fan Thurston Moore.
The drums follow the guitars rather than vice versa, their rudimentary rhythms there to enhance the chaos of Yeat’s bandmates. The impossibility of the task to impose a structure seems a premeditated satire of the idea of structure itself, couple with a distant, romantic reminder that at their heart the Dead C are a rock band.
You see this in Russell’s increasingly convoluted guitar techniques, as he abandons his strap to drag the instrument upside down on the floor, grating the strings with a beer can or abandoning it altogether to fiddle with his pedals. Because of that extra pickup taped to the amp itself the signal chain is so odd that the most improbable sounds start to emerge. Apparently satisfied with his latest effort, Russell turns to Morley with an obvious look of “I’ve done my part, let’s bugger off”, and after a few more truculent loops from his bandmate, eventually they do.