Breeding a new dance sound
Emerging from the shadowy, kinetic world of dance music is a hybrid creature mixing electronica with live vocals - with a Nelson trio proving increasingly popular with its new sound.
They're called Minuit (French for midnight and pronounced "men-wee"), and Artery manager Dave White says that among the live electronic bands in Nelson, they have gone the furthest in terms of establishing themselves nationally.
Performances at the Gathering and the Artery's annual Intergalactic Ball have raised their profile in the New Zealand dance scene, he says.
"They have carefully developed an original and unique sound, based on the intoxicating vocals of Ruth, and with the right promotion and management could go a long way to helping put Nelson on the dance production map."
Ruth is Ruth Carr, a drummer turned singer who also writes the lyrics for the sounds produced by Paul Dodge and Ryan Beehre.
Paul says Minuit's music belongs to a "strange genre - it's dance music, but very song-orientated as well because it has singing".
When Minuit started performing in Nelson, Ruth sometimes wished they could play behind a curtain so people wouldn't know they were a live band, but would think it was just a DJ and enjoy the music.
As it is, people tend to dance, then stop and look, dance and watch.
"Most people who make music electronically usually play as a DJ - they press their music on vinyl and play it at clubs," says Ryan. "But we play our music live and manipulate it so we can do it live, which means we can change it, it's not always the same."
The formation of Minuit was a gradual process. Ryan, 27, had his own blues band while at school in Whangarei, and then a covers band. He came to Nelson to join a friend to play original music, forming a band called Kishon Brook.
Paul, 28, grew up in Nelson and become involved with various Rockquest bands, notably the successful pop-rock band No Time for Talking.
Ruth, 29, born in Nelson, attended Nelson College for Girls and found herself envious of bands like Paul's because the boys got to do everything. As a result, she decided standing on the sidelines watching was not for her, and learned how to play drums.
Paul and Ryan say playing live in those early bands was beneficial.
"You can practise as much as you like in your room, but one live gig is worth a hundred such practices," says Paul.
The trio got to know each other through the Nelson music scene. In 1998 they formed, with a fourth member, a covers band called Kishon, with Paul on bass, Ryan on lead guitar and Ruth on drums.
But they wanted to do original music, and at the same time found themselves attracted to bands such as Prodigy and Trickeze, who were electronically manipulating their music. Meanwhile, Ryan started becoming involved with studio recording and technical production.
The elements of the as yet unnamed Minuit began to coalesce when Ryan bought a sampler and Ruth came out from behind the drums to sing.
Minuit had their first gig in 1998 at the Medusa Lounge at the Shark Club, but their first major gig was at the end of the year at the Gathering New Year dance party.
"We were mucking around before then, and thought it would be great to play at the Gathering, the ultimate place for a band like us to play," says Paul. "So we sent in a tape, they said we could play, and then we hurriedly had to work out just what we were going to play."
The deadline pressure of the Gathering performance made them put together a set they liked - and also led to them sending recordings to student radio stations.
At a subsequent gig in Christchurch, they were surprised to not only find the venue packed out, but to hear the crowd singing their songs.
Other national gigs followed, including playing the 11pm to midnight slot at the 2000 Millennium New Year's Eve festivities on the Wellington waterfront in front of 3000 people.
Minuit had a hiatus during the past year when Paul and Ruth travelled to Europe, but they had an unexpected opportunity to perform as Minuit in Kosovo.
A friend with the United Nations invited them to visit when Paul, a graphic designer, was offered work. They discovered that Western music was very popular there, with half the population being under 25 years old.
"Ruth and I played there in clubs and they loved it. They were really enthusiastic."
Ruth and Paul returned to Nelson last month, but Paul has been offered another graphic design job, this time working for the UN in East Timor. He will leave on July 16 and will be away for 3 1/2 months.
So this Saturday night at the Artery, Minuit will play an "au revoir" gig, which will be a bit different from their usual ones.
"It's not going to be like a house set or a drum 'n' bass set or a trip-hop set," says Paul. "We're just going to play the kind of songs we like. It's going to be a mixture of genres."
Ryan sees Paul's upcoming absence as a chance to get into the studio and hone some sounds. Minuit have already produced three four- song EPs. "It was all very low-key. We produced it ourselves and mastered it ourselves with Ryan's gear."
"It's an opportune time," says Ryan, who has his own recording studio, Edge Sound, "to concentrate on recording, getting stuff down and think about an album. Our production standard in the studio is getting up to a level I'm really happy with."
As for Minuit's future after Paul's return, the trio say anything is possible.
"I don't think Minuit is suited to commercial radio in New Zealand, but we really enjoy doing it and, in whatever form, I think we will keep on going," says Paul.
Ruth believes there is much that is positive about Minuit and doesn't think seeing things in terms of success or failure is positive.
Rather, Minuit will evolve and what will happen, will happen. Or as they say in France, que sera, sera.
Caption: Photo PATRICK HAMILTON 9999