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Five band members of Head Like A Hole

The other week I was asked if I could review Homegrown, the all-NZ music festival in Wellington. Unfortunately, it was a last-minute request and I was unable to do it, which was a shame as one of my favourite New Zealand bands was playing for the first time in a long time - Head Like A Hole. Funnily enough, that week I had found an old cassette tape of their third album ‘Double Your Strength…” and had been blasting it non-stop on the tape deck in my old Toyota Corolla. So in honour of my re-found love of the band, here is my rambling history of growing up listening to HLAH.


If you’re a Kiwi Gen-Xer, you’ll no doubt have heard or seen HLAH over the years. They kicked off in Wellington in the early ‘90s alongside eventual Wildside labelmates Shihad. Early HLAH was a tumultuous mix of metal, lanky funk, shitnoise and dirty rock, with a demented tribal element characterised by frontman Booga Beasley’s chanting vocals and drummer Hideebeast’s pounding rhythms. Live they were known for playing naked (guitarist Datehole and Hidee) and whipping crowds into a sweaty, moshing (remember moshing?) frenzy. The first album ’13’ was an admittedly rushed affair, but has an early ‘90s shambolic charm, featuring tracks like ‘Fish Across Face’ and ‘Nevermind Today’ that mixed elements of reggae, metal and a Ministry-style industrial flavour.


Their second album ‘Flik Yrself Off Yrself’ was a marked step up - the music was more varied, still heavy and dirty AF, but with the tunes starting to resemble actual songs. ‘Spanish Goat Dancer’ had that classic tribal HLAH sound but with hooks, ‘Chalkface’ was a mix of thrashing verses, howling vocals and a huge chunky chorus. ‘Dirtface’ had a wall of sound guitars that reminded me of a sped-up version of the classic Dunedin sound and the album closer ‘Velvet Kushion’ had a ‘60s psych-pop feel to it. The album was released in 1994, when I was in my last year at high school, playing bass in the Psycho Puppets (yep) with my two brothers and going to every live gig I could get into with my fake ID.


My parents had been running an annual music festival, the Whitecliffs Music Festival on our farm since 1982 and by 1995, they decided to run three separate festivals, the Country Music Fest, a Jazz Fest and the Rock Fest. And I got to a) design the poster for the fest and b) recommend my favourite bands for the lineup - so Love’s Ugly Children, Salmonella Dub, Excellent Soul Therapy and of course, Head Like A Hole played on the main stage on my family farm. Over the festival weekend, I came across a small porcelain dog sculpture that had been dropped on the ground - with a hole in its head. So I filled it up with flower petals, wrote Head Like A Hole on it and presented it to the band at the end of their set. As you do.

A Head Like A Hole cassette tape

Two years later, the band released ‘Double Your Strength, Improve Your Health & Lengthen Your Life.’ Whereas the first two albums were dirt-noise-metal bangers, this was another evolution of their sound. This time they had well-crafted songs and an extra guitarist with Tom Watson’s addition to the band. The album, recorded in Melbourne, has raw punch to the mix, not unlike the production of Steve Albini, with huge live-sounding drums, and crunching guitars. ‘Cornbag’ is a sped-up country punk rock gem with the chorus refrain ‘See you on the other side’ coming across as equal parts threat and farewell. Tom played the catchy trumpet melody on ‘A Crying Shame’ (the closest thing to a hit single the band probably ever came) and the pounding shout-along of ‘Hootenanny’ which was classic HLAH. Booga’s vocals run the gamut from sleazy Elvis-croon to low guttural growls to his trademark wild boar squeal - his version of the death metal growl and way cooler if you ask me.


Around this time the band played a couple of free concerts in Christchurch - one was a World AIDS Day concert. Given the funder and messaging of the day, there was the proliferation of condoms and dick-shaped demonstration apparatus. After the show, me and my mates grabbed one of the plastic dick demos and got the band to sign it. I asked Booga if he remembered the porcelain dog I gave them the year or two previous and he told me guitarist Date had it on his mantlepiece at home. It could have been a friendly little lie but either way, I was chuffed. And that signed plastic dick sat proudly on the mantlepiece of our scummy Addington flat also.


There was one more album (“HLAH IV: Are You Gonna Kiss It Or Shoot It”) which I was less enamoured with at the time, but it has some great tracks such as ‘Wet Rubber’ which is classic HLAH sleaze rock at its finest. And then the band imploded in on itself due to classic band shit - drugs, money, resentment. They reformed in 2011 for the ‘Blood Will Out’ album, but I was living in Australia then and utterly out of the loop with what was going on musically in NZ. Their most recent album, 2017’s ’Narcocorrido,’ passed me by as well. Their music is a bit slower now, chugging along in a more straight rock vein, but Booga still sounds like a glorious demented preacher, growling and howling as good as he ever did.

A band photo of the five members of Head Like A Hole

So the natural extension to this musical binge was to finally watch their 2017 doco ‘Swagger of Thieves’, which tells their whole twisted tale, the ups and downs, or more accurately the highs and lows. Like the best musical docos, it is a completely unfiltered look at the band, past and present. There doesn’t seem to be any editing done to make any members look better than the others, it truly is warts and all. But what comes through most of all is that at the end of the day, they are a bunch of slightly mismatched guys that really love making dirty ass rock’n’roll, even if they are their own worst enemies at times. The moment when long-time bassist Andrew Durno quits the band is painful to watch, the result of a nasty email about his playing ability being sent to him and another low point in the band’s checkered history.


Ultimately though, the band are rock’n’roll survivors and seem to be grateful to still be doing what they love 30 years in and still have an audience. I’m hoping they will play again soon as it’s been a good 25 years between drinks for me and them. And, AND - they have a new song out, called ‘One Foot In The Grave.’ You can check it out (and their back catalogue) on Spotify HERE.


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