Dunedin sound

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The Dunedin sound was a musical and cultural movement and a genre of indie pop and alternative rock, created and pioneered in Dunedin, Otago, in the early 1980s. The Dunedin sound is considered to have been a key factor in the origination of indie rock as a genre. The scene was closely associated with Flying Nun Records,[1] an independent label which has become one of the world's most renowned.[2]

Many American indie rock bands, such as R.E.M., Yo La Tengo, and Pavement, have cited the Dunedin Sound as a key influence.


According to Matthew Bannister, Dunedin sound "was typically marked by the use of droning or jangling guitars, indistinct vocals and often copious quantities of reverberation." Many Dunedin sound bands drew inspiration from punk rock, as well as pop, rock, and psychedelic music of the 1960s.[3]


The Dunedin sound can be traced back to the emergence of punk rock as a musical influence in New Zealand in the late 1970s. Isolated from the country's main punk scene in Auckland (which had been influenced by bands such as England's Buzzcocks), Dunedin's punk groups, such as The Enemy (which became Toy Love) and The Same (which later developed into The Chills), developed a sound more heavily influenced by artists like The Velvet Underground and The Stooges. This was complemented by jangly, psychedelic-influenced guitar work reminiscent of 1960s bands such as The Beatles and The Byrds, and the combination of the two developed into the style which became known as the Dunedin sound.[4]

New Zealand-based Flying Nun Records championed the Dunedin sound, starting with its earliest releases (including The Clean's single "Tally Ho!" and the four-band compilation Dunedin Double EP, from which the term "Dunedin sound" was first coined[5]). Many artists gained a dedicated "college music" following, both at home and overseas. In July 2009, Uncut magazine suggested that "before the mp3 replaced the flexidisc, the three axes of the international indie-pop underground were Olympia [in Washington State] ... Glasgow, and Dunedin..."[6] The growth of the Dunedin sound coincided with the founding of the student radio station Radio One at the University of Otago, helping to increase the popularity and availability of the music around the city. Christchurch student radio station RDU, popular in student flats at the time, was already playing plenty of Dunedin music as early as 1981, while commercial radio stations in New Zealand barely featured any "homegrown" music until a voluntary code was introduced in 2002.[7]

The Chills in 1989, promoting Brave Words

The development of parallel musical trends such as the Paisley Underground in California and the resurgence of jangle pop contributed to growth in the popularity of the Dunedin sound on college radio in the USA and Europe. The heyday of the movement was in the mid-to-late 1980s, although music in the style is still being recorded and released.

Pavement, R.E.M., and Mudhoney cite the Dunedin sound as an influence,[8] and other overseas artists, such as Superchunk,[9] Barbara Manning,[10] and Cat Power,[11] have covered Dunedin sound songs on several occasions. Post-2000 a new batch of Australian bands, often referred to as Dolewave were heavily influenced by the Dunedin Sound.

A 2009 tribute album to Chris Knox (who suffered a major stroke that year) included contributions from Will Oldham, The Mountain Goats, Yo La Tengo, Lou Barlow, A. C. Newman, Stephin Merritt, Jay Reatard, and Lambchop.[12]

In 2000, a "Dunedin sound" showcase was presented as part of the Otago Festival of the Arts, held in Dunedin. This showcase featured performances by The Clean, The Chills, the Dead C, Alastair Galbraith, the Renderers, Snapper, and the Verlaines. KFJC 89.7 FM, an American college radio station based in Los Altos Hills, California, broadcast all six nights of the Dunedin sound showcase live to the San Francisco Bay Area via its FM signal and worldwide over the internet. The following year, a double CD documenting these broadcasts was produced for the station's annual fund-raiser.


  1. ^ "Dunedin Sound - the sound of honesty? - Article | AudioCulture". www.audioculture.co.nz. Retrieved 8 September 2023.
  2. ^ Stafford, Andrew (27 January 2017). "Flying Nun Records: 10 of the best songs of the Dunedin sound". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 8 September 2023.
  3. ^ Bannister, Matthew. "Anything Could Happen - Flying Nun History 1980-1995". Under the Radar. Archived from the original on 28 October 2017. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  4. ^ Roy Shuker Understanding popular music Routledge, 2001
  5. ^ Staff, Bryan & Ashley, Sheran (2002) For the record: A history of the recording industry in New Zealand. Auckland: David Bateman. ISBN 1-86953-508-1. p. 144.
  6. ^ Uncut issue 146, July 2009, p81
  7. ^ "New Zealand music quota for radio". New Zealand Herald. 26 March 2002. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  8. ^ Williamson, laura, "Three decades under the influence," 23 July 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2014. Archived 23 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Superchunk have covered songs Archived 19 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine by The Chills, The Verlaines, and The Clean.
  10. ^ Manning's album In New Zealand included covers of tracks by The Clean, The Bats, and Chris Knox, among others.
  11. ^ Cat Power has covered Peter Jefferies' The Fate of the Human Carbine.
  12. ^ Breihan, T. "Chris Knox tribute album details revealed", Pitchfork. 11 November 2009. Retrieved 17 April 2014.

Sources and further reading[edit]

  • Bannister, M. (1999) Positively George Street. Auckland: Reed Books. ISBN 0-7900-0704-5
  • Bertram, G. "Great still sounds great", Otago Daily Times, 7 December 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  • Chapman, I. (2016) The Dunedin Sound: Some disenchanted evening. Auckland: David Bateman Ltd ISBN 978-1-86953-895-8
  • Davey, T. & Puschmann, H. (1996) Kiwi rock. Dunedin: Kiwi Rock Publications. ISBN 0-473-03718-1
  • Dix, J. (1988) Stranded in paradise: New Zealand rock'n'roll 1955–1988. Wellington: Paradise Publications. ISBN 0-473-00638-3
  • Eggleton, D. (2003) Ready to fly: The story of New Zealand rock music. Nelson, NZ: Craig Potton Publishing. ISBN 1-877333-06-9
  • Higgins, M. (1982) The Clean and the Dunedin Sound. In Rip It Up magazine, April 1982.
  • Flying Nun 25th anniversary edition of Real Groove magazine, 2006.
  • Flying Nun: Anything can happen (Television New Zealand documentary, 1990)
  • Heavenly pop hits: The Flying Nun story (Television New Zealand documentary, 2002)

External links[edit]