It’s hard to figure why 9/10 Christchurch author and songwriter Bill Direen hasn’t been accorded the legend status of many of his peers from the New Zealand pop underground.
It might be geographic – the Dunedin Sound of groups like The Clean, The Chills and The Verlaines has often received more attention. It could also be down to aesthetics, with the music from Dunedin often more easily grasped than the darker, less direct music from Christchurch. But Direen’s easily one of the most significant figures in late’70s, early ’80s NZ music: his first group. The Vacuum, channelled the Velvets and garage psych with a wryly lifted eyebrow; the self- released singles Direen made after they split, including the self-titled “Six Impossible Things” EP, Bilders’ “Soloman’s Ball”, the Builders’ “High Thirties Piano” and Die Bilder’s “Schwimmen In Der See”, are four of the grounding moments for NZ post-punk. Beatin’ Hearts has long held claim to be the Builders’ and Direen’s finest moment, though, and it’s easy to see why – with his songwriting at an early peak, Beatin Hearts takes in prowling. Television-influenced mantras like “Magpies” alongside scruffy bedroom shuffles like “Bedrock Bay”. Staggeringly articulate, deeply beautiful, and brimming with nervous energy. ✪