music | 11th February 2017
On our recent trip to Dunedin we caught up with two-piece shoegaze band Astro Children. Made up of singer/guitarist Millie Lovelock and drummer Isaac Hickey, they have lived in the city their entire lives - so they know what’s up. On a typically blustery summer afternoon, they showed us around their five favourite haunts.
words: gussie larkin
photographs: russell kleyn
1. The Attic
Finding a decent practice space is a mission for most musicians - let alone somewhere that’s affordable, moderately vibey and doesn’t smell like a cave. The Attic filled this need for Dunedin musos when it opened its doors in 2011 as a workspace for artists to rehearse and record. Millie and Isaac have been part of the collective for almost four years, so it’s pretty special to them. The loft studio has been host to countless band practices and recording sessions, as well as serving as a workspace to Lee Nicholson of Lightning Wave pedals - he even created a modular phaser pedal called the ‘ASTRO’ inspired by Millie’s guitar tone.
“Hopefully everywhere there’s some sort of sense of responsibility in creative communities to keep spaces alive”
Since the loss of iconic venue Chick’s Hotel, Dunedin’s DIY spirit has been rekindled with like-minded venue None gallery taking on bookings from out-of-town acts. I asked Millie if she thought that South Islanders have more of a responsibility than the rest of the country to keep their venues going: “Hopefully everywhere there’s some sort of sense of responsibility in creative communities to keep spaces alive,” she says, “But I think especially in the south island - if we don’t work really hard to keep these spaces we’re not gonna have anything left.” Millie admits that she sometimes fears Dunedin will become more isolated from the rest of the country’s music scene than it already is, and bringing bands from further afield is one of the ways to stop this from happening: “It’s a mission for these spaces to let touring bands know that they don’t have to play at the remaining venues. They can actually winch their way into the existing scene and get involved with what people are doing in Dunedin.”
The second stop on Astro Children’s fantastic guide to Dunedin is where the land meets the sea and where Millie and Isaac find quiet time - the wharf. Gigantic old storage sheds are scattered amongst newer warehouses and your classic shipping containers, giving it an appropriately drab and eerie vibe. Millie used to live in this area in a converted warehouse: “It was a terrible flat - it was so cold and not really equipped to have people living in it,” she says. During that time she would often go for walks down by the storage sheds; taking pictures, writing lyrics, and wondering what the hell was stored in there. Both Millie and Isaac have hazy memories of visiting the wharf as kids, with Millie recalling a strange boat turning up near the dock: “It was this spooky boat that was just floating in the harbour. These Russian fishermen had just left for whatever reason,” she says, “If you could get close enough you could see into the portholes and see all of the stuff still in the boat.” Sounds like the ingredients for a song to me!
The bedroom is where the fun stuff happens for most songwriters - it’s where the songs are born! This is no exception for Millie who relishes in hanging out with her guitar in her room, although sometimes she doesn’t have a choice: “I spent a lot of time making demos in my bed in the freezing cold Dunedin winter,” she says, “I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
“It’s kind of the only space I have in my life where I can just express myself however I want.”
Some of the best material comes out of times when you’re feeling really shitty, and much of Millie’s latest songs were written when she was bedridden with the flu, she says “I was literally trapped in my room.” She feels her bedroom is an expression of herself, clutter and One Direction posters included: “It’s kind of the only space I have in my life where I can just express myself however I want.”
4. Scribes Second Hand Bookshop
For the past five years, Millie has spent her days either with her face buried in a book or her ears glued to the songs of One Direction - she’s been busy writing her masters dissertation on the complexities of the British boyband. Our fourth stop was second hand bookshop Scribes which she assures me is the best bookshop in Dunedin. Step inside and you’ll find a cosy labyrinth of well stocked shelves reaching all the way to the ceiling. Scribes has always been one of Millie’s favourite haunts and has become even more essential during her time studying english literature as she worked her way through an often daunting list of course texts. Scribes is connected to Millie’s creative life as well as her academic life, with Astro Children’s latest album being inspired by Djuna Barnes novel Nightwood: “Because I’ve studied english for the past 5 years a lot of my songwriting is very focussed on imagery and ideas that I’ve come across in books that have been particularly important to me.”
5. Botanical Gardens
The Dunedin Botanic garden has been blooming for over 130 years. The internationally acclaimed site features the best hidden picnic spots, a lush rhododendron dell and an aviary filled with feathered friends. The gardens’ centrepiece is the tropical glasshouse which is filled with plants that would have no chance surviving outside in Dunedin’s toe-numbing environment - so it’s an ideal place to hang out at most days. Isaac has lived most of his life near the gardens so knows the best chill spots - his top pick being the hill overlooking the greenhouse. The sprawling terraces are the perfect place to sink a romantic beer with your mates as the sun goes down.
astro children: bandcamp
astro children: facebook
astro children: @astrochildren
millie lovelock : @repulsivewoman
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