R.I.P. Peter Gutteridge


Legendary New Zealand musician Peter Gutteridge died earlier this week, at the age of 53.

Gutteridge was a dedicated musical explorer, and one of the key figures in the development of the “Dunedin Sound” of the 1980s, closely associated with Flying Nun Records.  He was a founding member of several of my favorite bands- The Clean, The Chills, and Snapper. I am a huge fan of his work, and his death triggered that confusing sadness that a fan can feel when a public figure dies; the kind where you have to remind yourself that it’s inappropriate to get too upset about the passing of somebody whose art is all you know of them.

Gutteridge specialized in hypnotic, distorted, repetitive rock vibrations. He approached his music with a laser-like focus and intensity, imbuing it with a devotional quality not unlike that of fellow Kiwi drone-conjurer Roy Montgomery, but always with a firm rock grounding. Gutteridge’s output occupied territory existing squarely between the garage-y, relatively straightforward pop nuggets of the Flying Nun groups and the experimental, free-form noise and sonic texture associated with Xpressway Records.

His songs typically consisted of just one or two chords, which he played on guitar, organ, or cheap-sounding keyboard, saturated with fuzz. His best music gave the impression of having no real starting point or end, but rather a sense of having been temporarily tapped into, like an electrical outlet: eternal music. In a terrific interview with Mess And Noise, he described his music as “a battle cry in a love song”, and spoke of “the energy field around us, and how to hook into it”.

At age 17, he wrote the droning guitar figure for the classic “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” by The Clean. It’s perhaps the earliest example of the churning style for which he is known, and it’s truly one of the definitive New Zealand rock songs. It reminds me of Can’s “Mother Sky”, another eternal, modal driving song, but it evokes something like a cruise down the Otago coast (how I imagine it, anyway) instead of the streets of Cologne.

Gutteridge didn’t stay with The Clean (or The Chills for that matter) long enough to appear on their records, but here’s a clip of him joining the band onstage for “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” in Dunedin earlier this year:

In the mid-eighties, Gutteridge rejoined his ex-Clean bandmates David and Hamish Kilgour in their new endeavor The Great Unwashed, and contributed what turned out to be some of their best songs, particularly “Can’t Find Water” and “Born In The Wrong Time”.

Gutteridge was perhaps best known as the leader and only constant member of Snapper, a band he founded some time in 1986 or 1987. Snapper operated somewhat in opposition to the “Dunedin Sound”, a label that by that time made him bristle, and which he associated with a certain lack of sonic adventure. Their self-titled e.p. was released on Flying Nun in 1988. Its sound, and in particular its best-known track, “Hang On”, remarkably anticipated the exact formula that Stereolab would independently arrive at two years later for their own early signature groove: a Krautrock-inspired motorik drumbeat overlayed with distorted organ and rhythm guitar playing the droning, two-chord The Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” progression.

Snapper released two albums, Shotgun Blossom and ADM, but the first e.p. is the one I come back to most frequently. The e.p. starts off with another corker, “Buddy”.

Captured Tracks and Flying Nun jointly reissued the Snapper e.p. for Record Store Day 2013, and as of this writing, it is still available.

In 1989, Xpressway Records of New Zealand issued Peter Gutteridge’s solo release Pure on cassette. It’s a sprawling 21-song affair, consisting of demos from 1986 and 1987 done on Gutteridge’s Fostex Portastudio, and featuring Snapper members Christine Voice, Alan Haig, and Dominic Stones. There’s a percolating drum machine chugging away behind most of it, giving it all a primitive, Martin Rev vibe. And it’s another winner. Pure was released on vinyl in 2014 by 540 Recordsand is currently in print.

Gutteridge played his first-ever U.S. show just a few weeks ago, in Brooklyn. He played all of the songs from Pure.

His influence can be heard in the sound of Moon Duo and other current acts, and Yo La Tengo notably covered one of his Snapper songs, “Gentle Hour”, in 2009.

I never knew Peter Gutteridge personally. I only know his records and a bunch of trivia about a scene I admire. I’m grateful for the vibrations he hooked into and documented and shared. The simple sadness I feel is for someone who made music I love,  so my thoughts and sympathies are with his loved ones, for whom his passing is a real and profound loss.

R.I.P. Peter Gutteridge.