HDU comes out of hibernation

HDU drummer Dino Karlis. All photos supplied.
HDU drummer Dino Karlis. All photos supplied.
HDU bass player Neil Phillips.
HDU bass player Neil Phillips.
HDU guitarist and vocalist Tristan Dingemans.
HDU guitarist and vocalist Tristan Dingemans.

Psychedelic rockers HDU (High Dependency Unit) have made a welcome return to the music scene after having been largely off the radar for the past few years. Chris Ormond, of NZPA, reports.

It has been a long time coming, but a new album and tour from HDU is likely to bring plenty of fans out of the woodwork.

Guitarist and vocalist Tristan Dingemans, bass player Neil Phillips and drummer Dino Karlis have been doing their own thing for a while but have also kept HDU ticking over - despite some challenges - since forming in Dunedin in the mid-1990s.

The creation of the newly released Metamathics album took a hit when Karlis learned the hard way that anything significant saved on a computer hard drive should be backed up.

"Basically I was a complete idiot and didn't back up my work for a long time and lost pretty much all the mixes and overdubs for a finished record - or about 90% of it," Karlis admits.

That was about four years ago, and at a stage when the band was already beginning to get a bit frustrated about how long it was taking to transform its music into a finished recording.

It took some coming to terms with. Karlis says his reaction was "denial, bargaining, anger . . . I ended up with acceptance somewhere along the way."

His band-mates were nevertheless "polite" about it. Karlis says he moved on from the experience by coming up with new ideas about how to develop the music they had.

He was living in Auckland at the time and was able to draw on the talents of a few musician friends, who contributed in various ways to the songs on Metamathics.

It was an approach that got the thumbs up from Dingemans and Phillips and has added another dimension to the album.

Karlis says the songs on Metamathics are quite different now to the way they were shaping up to be before the computer incident.

"They're more experimental and less self-conscious," he says. There are new elements there and new approaches to the songs.

"It's the first album where we've used hand-claps, the first where we've used saxophone and the first where we've used piano. It's complex, but structurally very simple. In terms of instrumentation and sounds it's quite complex."

Karlis admits the band's music - which drifts between delicate soundscapes and intense and drawn-out barrages of guitars and drums - isn't for everyone, but says HDU generally got a pretty good response during tours over the years in Australia, the United States and Britain once fans came to grips with their sound.

"We would kind of have some of them up against the rear wall, but generally they would really enjoy it."

The band were bemused to find legendary British radio DJ and journalist, the late John Peel, once labelled them "one of the 10 best bands in the world you've never heard of"'.

It seems being from New Zealand draws a certain amount of intrigue and people overseas often attend gigs as followers of other New Zealand indie bands such as The Bats and The Chills, Karlis says.

Like earlier HDU albums, Metamathics remains unorthodox, with six songs each several minutes or more in length.

The music varies a lot in terms of tempo and intensity.

"We've always done that stuff," Karlis says in regard to the band's heavier elements. Even before we were in HDU we were doing this stuff and kind of putting it to one side.

"But when the three of us first got together and started playing it just came out. There was no premeditation or anything.

We got into a room after our old bands split up and started playing and that's what it sounded like. It was loud and heavy and we instantly wanted to be the heaviest band in the world, while still kind of doing the indie thing we loved."

He said bands such as Straitjacket Fits and Bailterspace, which emerged from the South Island under the Flying Nun label in the late 1980s, were strong influences.

Karlis, who has also been busy over the past couple of years as drummer for Dimmer, led by former Straitjacket Fits guitarist and vocalist Shayne Carter, says he is thrilled at the prospect of doing a tour of the main centres with HDU, but "terrified" at the same time.

He's now living in Wellington, Phillips is in Wanganui and Dingemans remains in Dunedin.

Despite the pre-tour nerves, Karlis says the trio will have no problems reuniting and getting themselves prepared.

He says playing live is, for him, the pinnacle of what is enjoyable about being a musician and he hopes to see some new fans among the old guard during the tour.

The trio has never seriously considered knuckling down and trying to make a living out of HDU, but Karlis says the band's future is still an open book.

He won't dismiss anything, including the prospect of coming up with a pop album.

"Who knows. Why not - but it would be on our own terms. I don't want to rule anything out . . .

"It's that confidence that comes with doing it for a while. If you're feeling it, then it's valid."

Be there

Dunedin, May 29, Backstage.


The Otago Daily Times has a double pass to HDU's Dunedin gig to give away. To enter the draw for one, write your name, address and daytime phone number on the back of an envelope and send it to HDU, ODT Editorial Features, Response Bag 500010, Dunedin, or email playtime@odt.co.nz with HDU in the subject line, to arrive before Tuesday.



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