Pylonz helped facilitate the local rise of electronic music through rave, jungle/ drum and bass, and soul and roots music. A crucial part of Christchurch's music scene for two decades, he has contributed stylistically to the evolution of music through his theorisation and development of the "3-Beat" micro-genre. More recently, Pylonz has been involved in vinyl record cutting and sleeve/jacket design and production as an art practice.
Thoughtful and friendly, Meharry has a cheeky Cheshire Cat grin that can turn serious and focused at a moment's notice. He was a key early supporter of Salmonella Dub, Shapeshifter, Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Black Seeds, Pacific Heights, Pitch Black, DJ Kaps, Teknik, Solaa, Switch (from Truth), DJ Kinetix, and Flex.
Born in Christchurch in 1974, Meharry and his siblings were raised by his solo mother in Linwood. His grandmother, New Zealand landscape painter Doris Lusk (1916-1980), lived behind them on the same block of land. Her influence on him was crucial.
"I fundamentally believe in creativity and the expression of the creative process through seeing, living and growing up with Doris," he told me. "Her basic motto was once in the morning, once in the afternoon, once at night. She gave me a raison d'être and taught me about the discipline needed in a practice. My mother's determination as a solo mother inspired me to succeed."
After finishing high school, he made plans to study fine arts at university, only to have his application rejected. He went flatting, began collecting private training certificates in sculpture, fashion, graphic design, sound engineering and adult education, and started frequenting Christchurch's now defunct Echo Records. While browsing the new release vinyl section (curated by the imports manager Matt O'Brien, AKA DJ Slipmatt) and talking with other friends like DJ Riddle (James McKay), he was introduced to a range of electronic music.
He quickly developed a passion for the forward leaning sounds of jungle/ drum & bass.
He quickly developed a passion for the forward leaning sounds of jungle/ drum & bass. "The thing I really appreciated about jungle was how far they were pushing the technology and the envelope in production. It sounds naïve now, but I used to describe the sound as an orchestra of drums. I couldn't describe it any other way."
With a small but growing collection of records released on labels Suburban Base, Good Looking Records, No U Turn and Metalheadz in his possession, he hire-purchased some turntables and a mixer. With triple dubbed cassette mixtapes of radio shows and club nights from the UK as his reference and advice from close friends as his guide, he began DJing.
By 1993 his good friends Slipmatt and Damon were already throwing rudimentary raves at their Carlton Mill flat under the title Cyborg Productions. "They'd bring in some speakers and sub-bins, block out the windows, throw in a smoke machine and a strobe and we’d have a party." Inspired, he convinced them to let him help out. Initially working the door, he moved into assisting with organisation, promotion, graphic design, and began DJing at the parties. They began making use of warehouses and disused theatres as well as taking themselves out into the Port Hills and Canterbury plains, creating the outdoor experience for a growing audience.
As he places it, the rave era in Christchurch ran for five more years. It was an exciting time where the futurism of the music stood in stark opposition to the tone of the region. "I was propelled by what we didn't have. Christchurch was a dark, sleepy, gothic and religious town with not a lot going on. We were these young minds that were looking to connect with a growing phenomenon, which lead to this anarchic sentiment. I wanted to do things people said you couldn't do, or didn’t understand. This is how every youth feels in their community. It's an age-old story."
By 1998, the genres within electronic music had become labelled variously as trance, house, happy hardcore, techno, jungle/ drum & bass, minimal, etc. This purism created a tension between genres and a separation in spaces. While Pylonz had traditionally been a multi-stream DJ, he followed jungle/ drum & bass and began working more closely alongside DJ Mosus (real name: Joe Moses) as part of Scientific. Together they had a two-year run where they set new local standards for jungle/ drum & bass event promotion in Christchurch and toured well-known UK DJs on both sides of the Tasman.
These days DJ Mosus is one-half of a respected London based jungle/ drum & bass production/DJ duo known as Need For Mirrors. Back in the late 90s, Mosus' Scientific events brand was a key force in the Christchurch jungle/ drum & bass scene. In 1998 when Pylonz came onboard, things stepped up.
"I joined him and DJ Wizard," Pylonz told me. "I have a lot of respect for how they ran shop. I occasionally didn’t agree with the direction, but together we were legitimate players."
Aside from DJing and promoting shows, Mosus was also a b-boy, graffiti artist and youth worker. "He had some great M.O's going on. He established ‘Project Legit’, interfacing the local council with graffiti artists to achieve art murals during a time when people didn't respect the practice of full-scale bombing. It was a hard task. Christchurch streets were being hammered with the uglier side of the form – tagging."
Through handling Scientific's graphic design and print production, Pylonz developed larger print routines and marketing strategies, often servicing several events and clubs needs in one print outcome. On Friday nights, he would join DJ Mosus on-air during Scientific's well-loved 7-9pm jungle/drum & bass mix show on the University of Canterbury's student radio station RDU 98.5FM. Afterwards, they would catch the bus into the city and play DJ sets at their gigs or around town. "Mosus sat on the fax every week, paying overseas record labels money via international exchange to get the freshest promos in the post. He was very, very up with the play. As a result as an entity, Scientific was always packed with the most up to date material."
Pylonz's graphic design work took influence from cyberpunk, sci-fi and Japanese manga/anime imagery.
Intensely active in events, they also did interesting things within the realm of promotional material as art. With a fluency in early versions of Adobe Freehand and Photoshop under his belt, Pylonz's graphic design work took influence from cyberpunk, sci-fi and Japanese manga/anime imagery, giving their events an upfront and technical look.
"Our digital print work was very experimental, never really ever the same. We'd make interlocking flyers that developed over three months. They'd be die cut and have tear off or folding parts, or rotating components and ‘specials’ with silver, gold or embossing. I loved the mechanics of printmaking and really pushed the printers to do more."
Where Scientific's name rang out clearest was through touring UK jungle/drum & bass DJ scene leaders like Dom & Roland, Tech Itch, Shy FX, DJ Brockie and DJ Bailey. As their star was rising, Mosus encouraged his girlfriend MC Tali (real name: Natalia Sheppard), who began working within Scientific, before quickly distinguished herself on stage. Soon afterwards Pylonz split from Scientific and DJ Mosus moved to the UK to develop his relationships there, signalling the end of Scientific.
Having long played around with electronic music production, as the new millennium arrived Pylonz realised there was a pool of young jungle/drum & bass producers in Christchurch. As locals like Concord Dawn and Bulletproof began making headway in the international scene, he decided to start a record label.
That year he also got together with Karyn South, who became his wife. At the time, she was living out her childhood "L.A Law dreams" as a young Crown Prosecutor at the Crown Solicitor's Office in Christchurch. During the evenings and weekends, she started helping Pylonz with his GST returns, budgets and promotional plans. She saw him as having outstanding creative ideas, instincts and intuition. Coupled with her eye for detail, they made for a powerful combination. In Karyn's words, "His perception and direction and my detail and documentation meant nothing was impossible, and we could out-run everyone."
Taking inspiration from storytelling, messages, mapping and mini-myths, Pylonz established Fabel Music with assistance from Karyn and another business partner, Range (Rangi Johnson) in 2001. After some preparation, they released their first compilation album, Deep Needs Vol.1, following it up with Deep Needs Vol.2. They continued their run with Metrobeatz (a collection of New Zealand and Australian jungle/ drum & bass) and Pacific Heights' debut EP and album Frozen Fears. There were other bits and pieces, including a vinyl 12" from Fabel studio engineer-producer Kaps (Michael Petrie).
"It was a very difficult time to begin a label. Napster was born the same year as us. The music industry was just about to get it in the neck." While they were moving several thousand physical copies per release, the numbers just didn't stack up. In response to the downturn, Pylonz returned to promotions. This time, however, he was working on a grander scale than ever before. Enter Fabel Events.
In 2003, Pylonz started working as a sales rep at RDU, where he had been a DJ for close to a decade.
In 2003, Pylonz started working as a sales rep at RDU, where he had been a DJ for close to a decade. "I realised I needed a regular income," he admits. "I didn’t think I could do sales, but I knew everyone in town. It's easy to sell something you're passionate."
Alongside his work with RDU, Pylonz began rapidly expanding the events side of what he was doing. In the process he began handling South Island shows for The Phoenix Foundation, SJD, The Black Seeds, Fat Freddy's Drop and Shapeshifter. Concerts for Solaa, Hollie Smith, international acts Lee Scratch Perry and Mr Scruff (and others) followed.
In 2004, Pylonz convinced Karyn to step away from her legal career and work with him full-time. As Karyn puts it, "I didn't know what we'd end up doing, but I believed in his abilities. I thought that with the right structure and support, he could do anything. I felt like it was a real crossroads for me."
Together they expanded into creating festivals like Cheap As Chips and Sounday, as well as corporate events for wineries like Pegasus Bay and Peregrine Winery in central Otago. At their peak, they were attracting thousands of attendees. "It was extremely stressful. We were turning over quarter of a million dollar budgets, but I was really into the bigger productions for a while." With immaculate marketing and high production values, Fabel Events quickly became a gold standard. In the process, it also served as the set-up for Pylonz next venture with Karyn.
In 2006, after six months of negotiation Pylonz and Karyn became the creative director and business director respectively at RDU. In 2010, Karyn told NZ Musician, "There was a particular feeling amongst USCA’s management at that time that they didn’t want to continue funding the station." While the student-based business had struggled to stay financially viable for years, the couple quickly set about turning it around. Pylonz explained to Idealog in 2008, "There were a lot of options being floated and at first I really didn’t consider it would be something we would be interested in doing, but I wasn’t very inspired by the options being discussed. None of them meant the RDU that we knew and loved would continue."
With support from the acting Station Manager at the time, Andrew “Hat” Meier, Pylonz and Karyn drew on their pool of talent (120 or so hosts and DJs) and RDU's broader audience outside of the student demographic. They refitted the station, maintained the sound of RDU and focused on amplifying what was already working. Their annual Decknology (DJs) and Round-Up (bands) competitions became important calendar dates, and in 2010, they started handling Orientation for the USCA. Things were looking good.
On the 22nd of February 2011, the second of the major Canterbury earthquakes rocked Christchurch. Given the damages to the University of Canterbury student association building, they had to vacate and chose to relocate RDU into a converted horse float, fitted out by Pylonz and Karyn. From there, the business model was redrawn, leading to the introduction of Gabriel Calcott as Programme Director and the development of breakfast co-host Rachel Morton into the senior role of Station Manager. Pylonz became station director while Karyn returned to law.
"The Christchurch events game was hard enough prior to the earthquakes," Karyn recalls. "We did seven years of eventing and that's enough. I missed law and never really intended to leave for as long as I did ... I would have never done any of this if not with James. I didn't create what we did. I just took his direction and created the platform that made it possible. He was the genius and did all the work that made it look and feel good. I was usually off wringing my hands somewhere."
Working with a small skeleton team, Meharry steered the station through the last few years and diversified their working portfolio along the way. Key factors included a close partnership with the university's media studies and communication department and New Zealand On Air Funding support. New Zealand On Air's support also assisted them in producing two radio documentaries, “A Flat City” and “Music Is Sport”, both of which have been re-broadcast on Radio New Zealand. As Pylonz told NZ Musician in 2013, "[Funding is] crucial to our existence but we by no means rest on it. The other two-thirds is something we work very hard to maintain."
In 2014 Pylonz signed a lease for new premises on High Street in central Christchurch, neighbouring the CPIT New Zealand broadcasting school. "We hope to build a world class broadcasting studio. We'll be right next door to CHART (Christchurch Music Industry Trust) who have a million dollar recording studio. It will include three high spec practice rooms. I'll bring my In Real Life record cutting practice into the building, and ideally all the rooms will be linked together. I'll be able to have someone in the practice room doing a live-to-air performance, broadcast on RDU while it's being cut direct to a disc master. That is quite a unique outcome."
During the height of Fabel Music, Pylonz proposed an idea to DJ Kaps (Mike Petrie). "I suggested we should do something outside of the box. I wanted to explore how you break the mould. The key concept was taking something away from the format everyone is used to hearing and working in a new format." For them, this led to writing mid-tempo club music in 3/4 time while retaining the aesthetic of early jungle/ drum & bass. Slowly developed over the years, “3-Beat” as they called it came together in 2010, during a show held at the now defunct El Santo venue in Lyttelton.
With Pylonz serving as the ideas guy and Kaps on engineering and production duties, they created half a dozen 3-Beat songs.
With Pylonz serving as the ideas guy and Kaps on engineering and production duties, they created half a dozen 3-Beat songs. They then split them into a set of breakbeats, basslines and atmospheres to be mixed together live on the night by two DJs. "We had two set-ups of CD-J’s which we used to do this live mix between the parts. It was a real exploration of a different type of rhythm set. What I really love about 3-Beat is it's a different time structure. It's not just a waltz. We wanted to take influence from something like jungle, which is a complication of samples and poly-rhythms, while making use of atmospheres and sinusoidal bass lines on other layers."
The list of producers who have experimented with 3-Beat includes Flex, Kaps, Pylonz, P vans, FIS (Oliver Peryman), Switch (from Truth), Crushington and Kamandi. While none of the music has been commercially released, several 3-Beat songs were cut to extremely limited edition hex disc by Pylonz earlier in the year as part of his “Fuck The Format” art vinyl series. This brings us to the last part of the Pylonz puzzle, In Real Life.
"I'd always burned this fire for the idea of being able to cut or press records," says Pylonz. "After researching the topic over the last ten years or so, I discovered that I could technically cut records at a fraction of the cost of pressing them." With this knowledge behind him, he headed over to Europe in 2012 to learn the basics of vinyl lathe cutting and made a documentary with Gareth Moon of Nektar films about the whole process and culture.
Thanks to some assistance from Creative New Zealand, Pylonz was able to bring a record cutting lathe back with him. In 2013, he began offering short run vinyl recording, full-colour printing, sleeve and jacket design and production services at boutique prices.
"I dig the packaging part as much as I love the fact I'm making actual records. I've cut hex discs and other interesting shapes as well. I've done a triangular disc for FIS and I have a die cutting machine so I can make custom shaped labels, packaging and all sorts of things. There's been some really interesting outcomes so far."
In collaboration with RDU, Pylonz produces a super limited edition monthly run of 7" records by New Zealand musicians under the RDU 7" Collection brand. Aside from promoting vinyl to a new audience, the programme is also allowing RDU to build a physical library of local music for the ages. On an annual basis, he cuts a limited edition record run for the winners of RDU's Round-Up band competition. Past recipients include Sparkle Kitty, Connie Benson and Ipswich.
By way of a return to his focus on design and print in the late 90s and early 2000s, Pylonz is currently working towards producing a "rave flyer culture" coffee table title. He's also preparing a history book covering RDU's 40 years of existence. Due for release in 2016, The History of U will be paired with a retrospective exhibition about RDU at The Canterbury Museum. Between these goals, RDU, In Real Life, and his interest in custom motorcycles, it makes for a hectic yet rewarding schedule. Twenty years in, he continues to contribute to and support the cultural fabric of Christchurch in a meaningful and genuine manner.
Pylonz is the grandson of esteemed New Zealand landscape painter Doris Lusk (1916-1980), and the brother of 2013 World of Wearable Art supreme award winners Tatyanna and Natasha Meharry.
In Real Life
James Meharry - DJ, promoter, radio host, engineer