An Emerald City
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An Emerald City


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"Live At Happy"

An Emerald City was the last act and they were utterly sublime. They are set to become the darlings of critics throughout the land, who will doubtless be at a loss to describe their sound and end up inventing a new genre in which to place it. As it happens, An Emerald City fit more or less under the ‘post-rock’ label (itself a phantom genre invented by music journalists). Their songs sound something like the middle bits in Led Zeppelin or Doors songs: the freak-out, climactic jammy parts that represent those artists’ most experimental and often most impressive work. It’s as if An Emerald City took these parts and expanded on them, and never got round to making an actual ‘song’ to fit them in to - Salient

"WOMAD 2008 Live Review"

AUCKLAND six-piece An Emerald City played an impressive set in the heat of WOMAD’s Saturday afternoon a month ago. Their music fitted right in at the festival, a blistering mélange of Eastern and Western instrumentation and riffs, and some impressive interplay between the performers. The band have just released a self-titled EP, complete with four, hypnotic tracks that give a taste of their talent. With more music coming later this year, they’re definitely one to keep an eye out for in the future - Lumiere Reader

"Time Of The Gypsies"

Something strange and colourful is going on in Auckland's inner city rock scene, care of a bunch of bands sounding like they've fallen off the back of a caravan somewhere in Eastern Europe. Scott Kara reports on why guitar rock is making way for a wave of partying weirdos wielding accordions, clarinets and fiddles...

For An Emerald City, a six-piece who combine Eastern influences with droning psychedelic rock, the fact they are playing this style of music came as a complete surprise.

"It snuck up on me," laughs guitarist Reuben Bonner. "I taught myself to play [guitar] but I certainly never learnt to play Eastern music, that's for sure. I've always liked how Led Zeppelin tinkered with stuff like Kashmir. But I don't think any of us consciously thought that this band would ever evolve the way it has and the real surprise has been the response to it. People have got into it."

Since starting in late 2005 they have gigged regularly, played to 1200 people at this year's WOMAD, and the track Quing Song, from their excellent four-track EP released earlier this year, was used as the opening song for fashion designer Karen Walker's show at New York Fashion Week.
The band, Bonner and Sam Handley on guitars, drummer Reyahn Leng, violinist Felix Lun, lute and sitar player Ede Giesen, and percussionist Matthew Hanson, had hardly listened to world music before getting together.

Recently they went through a stage of "getting stuck into" American gypsy folk musician Beirut, they are fans of Mali desert rockers Tinariwen, and were inspired by WOMAD guests Taraf de Haidouks from Romania:"They played violins like they were on P, man.

"But the range of music we listen to is so wide, like everything from Dragonforce to Brian Jonestown Massacre, to Beirut, but I don't think it really affects what we create," says Bonner.

"We just kind of tinkered with this whole strange psychedelic buzz but tried to get this nice beautiful Eastern sound in amongst it.

"It wasn't like we were listening to world music, nothing like that. It's just that we've always wanted to make music that's interesting and we didn't just do it because no one was doing it, but we just thought, 'F***, this is rad'. It's just a big cooking pot of all these weird sounds."

Now, as they look to record their debut album, they are "tinkering" with piano, mandolin, finger harps, and accordion. "Anything we can throw at it really to give it a bit of a nicer flavour."

Bonner loves the celebratory feel and universality of the music they are making. "I invited my dad to WOMAD to come and check out the band and he'd never listen to this music, but he reckoned he had the weekend of his life."

And while Bonner says it is slightly unusual playing this curious and colourful music in New Zealand, they don't feel as though they're ripping anything off. "It feels really natural because it's music that we all enjoy as a group. It fit's our personalities and the whole thing with this band was, 'We can do anything we want'." - NZ Herald

"EP Review"

Four Stars..
An Emerald City illuminate our landscape with luscious orchestration, tabla-sounding drums and all manner of effects. Layer upon layer of organic violin, cello, guitar and percussion rise and fall in huge seething crescendos that build up to hectic climaxes… This ep captures them perfectly at their present peak. With an inherent element of progression that seems destined to take them far beyond our shores to the land of their Arabic-esque sound’s origin, this doesn’t sound like anything else being produced in New Zealand right now. - Real Groove Magazine

"Circa Scaria Album Reviews"

I do not want to sound insulting saying this is one of the best New Zealand albums I have ever heard, even though there is a part of me that does want to feel proud in saying that, so I'll just say what I really want to put down in print: this is one of the best albums I have ever heard. "THE DOMINION POST" *****

"Many bands claim to have an original sound, but I have never heard a collaboration as unique as this, especially from our own shores:this is avant garde psychedelic experimentation in it's purest form. A hugely eclectic palette of sounds making up this solely instrumental release. The album opens with themes of India with an instrument list including sitar, tablas, and the Persian long necked lute... Each song takes you to a different place, and deserves it's spot."WAIKATO TIMES ****1/2

"New Zealand has never produced anything that sounds like exotic Eastern-influenced take on psychedelic and experimental rock. World music doesn't get more rock'n'roll than Circa Scaria." NZ HERALD ****

"It was recorded among the black sand caves in Whatipu on the southern tip of Auckland's Waitakere Ranges but you could easily think it was recorded in Goa with its experimental Indian-style guitar riffs and percussion textures. If Ravi Shankar slipped some LSD with Hawkwind, Circa Scaria is what they might've come up with. Too good to dismiss as bong music, the album is a richly-produced meander through eastern-influenced soundscapes, epic violin solos and intricate drum patterns that tumble haphazardly like a gypsy bacchanal. It merely hints at what promises to be a great live set from the Auckland-based troupe. Listen with open ears." REAL GROOVE ****

"Middle Eastern sounds overlaid with waves of Flying Nun-style guitar" NELSON MAIL

"For my money this band is the most interesting, musically ambitious and creative I have seen in this country in many years. They possess that rarity in New Zealand music, an aesthetic sensibility -- and it manifests itself in instrumental music which exotic, evocative, rides intelligent dynamics and is endlessly evolving. The instrumentation is based around rock (guitars, keyboards, rhythm section) but into that they pull Persian lute, sitar, violin . . . It makes for an album that almost seems to grow in your hearing, to take on a life of its own. It is quasi-psychedelic, improvised world music at one level, but sounds like nothing else in New Zealand's musical landscape."GRAHAM REID, ELSEWHERE - various

"The Sky High Vision"

To hear guitarist/keyboard player Sam Handley tell it, there was a magical moment when they knew: “That first hit on the drum, it just sounded 10 times bigger than normal”.

In this suburban villa in Kingsland, Auckland there are nods of recognition from the assembled members of An Emerald City. They are talking about setting up their gear in a cave at Whatipu in January and the impressive breadth and depth of the sound they achieved. This was exactly the right place to record their debut album, and worth the effort.

They’d assembled at 6am in the carpark some 20 minutes away -- 10 people in all -- and had carried their gear, a generator and other necessities in a series of trips back and forth over two and a half hours. With the Auckland six-piece was engineer/co-producer Dave Holmes.

“I passed him on the way back one time and he was carrying this huge load,“ says guitarist Reuben Bonner. “He looked at me and went, ‘record in a cave, they said’. Then he laughed. He was actually as excited as we were. He has the same mindset as us, the idea of, ‘let’s do something different’.”

And An Emerald City are certainly different, as anyone who heard their self-titled debut EP of last year will confirm. Or those who have seen their ambitious, extended instrumental sets which have elements of Indian and Middle Eastern music in their dynamic, quasi-psychedelic explorations which can spin out well past the 10 minute mark.

At the recent Big Day Out they pulled a huge crowd to the Boiler Room in the afternoon and, better still, kept them. They’ve played at Womad, the Rhythm and Vines Festival, in a theatre in Point Chevalier, in small clubs . . . and that cave.

“The sound we like is a reverb-esque feel” says Handley, “and it has a spaciousness. But [the cave] supplied a natural reverb and we got it from the earth rather than a pedal. We’re all wanting to explore new ideas, so it was really, ‘why not?’. “

It is that inspired risk-taking which means An Emerald City are unique in the current musical landscape in New Zealand: they create magisterial and dramatic landscapes of sound, pull in sitar and Persian lute alongside violin and sky-scaling guitars, and their debut album Circa Scaria uncompromisingly includes pieces which reinvent themselves, morph into other moods and are oceanic in their movements. A number of pieces stride confidently past the seven minute mark.

“Our music is not of any set duration,” says Handley, “there are long improvised passages.”
They tell of a 45 minute jam at Whatipu which will be edited to make one side of a limited edition vinyl album released to coincide with Circa Scaria.

Inevitably a band which moves in such directions is the sum of its many parts, and the members of AEC come from diverse and different musical backgrounds.

Given the band’s ambition it is surprisingly only Lun has had any formal musical training: he studied violin to grade seven and currently also plays in the Auckland Youth Orchestra.

But the inspiration for AEC music comes as much from the various members’ itinerancy: Rob Croft (sitar, oud, North Africa drum) spent time in India and the Middle East, had sitar lessons in Varanasi, formed the world music/jazz ensemble Ishta (a self-titled album in 2006) and worked with Dystopia; drummer Reyahn Leng started on guitar in high school, embarked on experimental music projects (“weird instruments and samples”), played improv nights at the Odeon Lounge and the Depot, and confesses to an early love of reggae, the Pixies and Ween.

Ede Giesen (Persian long necked lute, acoustic guitar, tambourine “and wailing”) had a year of classical guitar lessons as a kid but is mostly self-taught. He learned as he hitchhiked around the country and through meetings with similarly minded musicians, among them Will Handley, Sam’s brother. Giesen had been given a sitar in his travels, Will mentioned this to Sam, and Giesen was invited to jam with the nascent AEC. He’d also turned his ear to the old folk music of Thailand and Laos when he had been there.

The core of AEC -- which loosely formed in late 2005 and played its first gig a year later -- formed when Handley and Bonner were in the short-lived (one EP) band One Black Shoelace and Lun guested with them. But after that band split Bonner went overseas and travelled through France, Italy, Croatia and elsewhere with his guitar.

In Turkey he saw a saz, a lute-like instrument, in a shop “and I had a tinker and loved it. The guy in the shop invited a real saz player down so we had a jam back at his place for hours. We could hardly converse but we managed to make music together”.

As with Handley and Lun -- also intuitively drawn to a more exotic and expansive sound beyond mainstream rock -- Bonner stored away the idea of exploring this style in greater depth.
When he returned to New Zealand he linked up Handley, Lun, Leng and percussionist/organ player Matt Hanson. Giesen arrived, they recorded the EP in January 2008, Hanson left shortly after and Croft came on board. Things got serious.

They practiced every week, embarking on long jams and recording hours of music to mini-disc. Almost organically, AEC emerged as a band attuned to expressive prog-rock, world music, aggressive guitar dynamics and a sensibility that every performance should be unique.

“We’ve been careful about where we play,” says Handley. “We want every show to be memorable and special. We’re not a pub band,” he says, somewhat stating the obvious.

AEC don’t lack for musical ambition, but they are also -- through their various travels and interests -- confident enough to make the big leap outward: after the release of Circa Scaria in April they will establish themselves in Berlin in early May. Tickets are booked.

“It’s purely instinctive to go,” says Bonner, summing up An Emerald City‘s over-riding ethic. “We want to explore Europe and it’s central, close to London and a realistic place to set up.”

In preparation Lun has already learned a few crucial phrases: he can order beers. - Elsewhere

"Digging Rock, Mining Gems"

A SMALL audience has gathered
at the entrance to
Whatipu’s main cave for an
impromptu concert. Mum,
dad, and their little girl crouch down,
backs against the craggy walls of the
old cave, as hypnotic and spiralling
sounds fill the cavernous hole.
Deeper inside, away from the
scorching sun and burning black sand
of the rough and remote west coast
beach, Auckland six-piece An Emerald
City are slowly building into their
nine-minute epic, As the Storm Comes
‘‘It sounds amazing,’’ says the dad,
who was out strolling with his family
and chanced upon this performance.
He’s right. It sounds, well, almost
perfect with moments of complete
clarity — except for that muffled
whirr of the generator outside the
cave which is powering the
The band, who play a mix of
eastern-influenced psychedelic drone
rock, with seriously trippy tendencies,
have commandeered the cave for
two days to record their debut album,
Circa Scaria, which is out on April 6.
They are spread out on tarpaulins,
a series of bright blue and green sun
umbrellas shelter microphones from
drips from the cave roof, and the allimportant
chilly bin ofwine is close at
There’s willowy keyboardist Sam
Handley lurching over his instrument;
guitarist Reuben Bonner, who
sports Roman sandals, jeans and a
long kaftan-like shirt, hooks into his
axe; long-necked lute player Ede
Giesen looks like a caped crusader
with a heavy blanket draped around
his instrument; violinist Felix Lun
steals the show with his mix of
studied and torrid bowing; and drummer
Reyahn Leng and percussionist
Rob Croft propel the song along.
This cave, a 15-to-20-minute walk
from the Whatipu carpark, has a
musical history as it was the venue
for dances in the early 1900s. However,
over the years sand filled up the
cave, covering the dance floor.
It’s a unique recording studio
which matches the band’s otherworldly
Handley came up with the idea of
recording in a cave because he
thought it would ‘‘naturally suit our
‘‘I don’t see it as trying to be different,
just being open-minded. We came
across this cave and said, ‘Let’s do it.’’’
And as Dave Holmes, the engineer
and man who’s recording the session,
says: ‘‘They play music that’s born
from a place that’s different from all
the other usual bullshit out there and
they’re extending that to the recording
He’s recorded numerous albums
and never heard acoustics like it. ‘‘It’s
a big decadence. I’m in a cave that’s as
old as who knows what,’’ he smiles.
Today An Emerald City will play
until the sun sets, do a mini pack
down, and Holmes and his assistant
Dan Bosher (‘‘He’s like muscle man
and carried so much of the heavy
shit,’’ says Bonner) will sleep at the
cave to guard the gear.
Meanwhile, the band will head
back to camp, cook pasta on a bunsen
burner, roast some marshmallows
and hit the airbeds ready for the final
day of recording.
Fast-forward two months later and
the album is done, except for the
album artwork and a few tweaks —
that only the band would bother with
— to smooth out the sonic dynamics.
Sitting at a Kingsland cafe, Bonner
and Handley have no regrets about
the endless trips they made to the
caves fully laden with recording gear.
‘‘All that hard work, because it
was physically hard work, and the
two days we spent there were hitchfree,’’
says Bonner.
‘‘We were really happy with the
sound we captured and what we
achieved in that short amount of time,
because it’s not long to record an
album. Yep, we could’ve done it in the
studio but we didn’t. The cave was
about laying down the songs and getting
them done.’’
‘‘Fortunately,’’ offers up Handley
in his typically blithe tone, ‘‘we all
kind of played pretty well.’’
Their music is exotic, allconsuming,
and at times, like on the
metal enhanced Mull Pasha, it’s
heavy and weighty stuff.
And also in the cave they had a
45-minute jam, a selection of which—
24 minutes to be exact—will be on the
vinyl version of the album.
Compared with their debut fourtrack
EP from last year, the album
comes across as if An Emerald City
has been unleashed. ‘‘Not that the EP
is straight down the middle by any
means but the album goes in far more
stranger directions,’’ says Bonner.
But what are these instrumental
songs about?
Says Handley: ‘‘I think the beauty
and vibe we create amongst everyone
is that it seems to generate strong
imagery. Like cruising over a desert
with a hundred camels or something,
and there are octopuses flying
through the sky. But it’s not just
purely Eastern-based imagery either.
I like the idea of generating images for
people and for people to make their
own up.’’
Bonner: ‘‘There are no boundaries.
Just keep exploring and exploring.’’
This mentality is also part of the
reason they decided to record in a
cave. Although, as a backup, the band
booked two days’ recording time in
Devonport’s Victoria Theatre just in
case they needed to touch anything
up. They hardly needed it, with about
90 per cent of the album recorded at
Whatipu and some percussion and
sitar added in Devonport.
‘‘We wanted to keep it as natural
as possible,’’ says Handley. ‘‘And I
think it’s more like capturing the
atmosphere of us all playing together.
‘‘Listening back to it at this point
it’s not like you go, ‘Oh my God, they
must be in a cave or somewhere.’ But
there is almost like a subconscious
element to it that alludes it is from a
special place.’’
And for the band the sonic sound
adventure that the cave’s acoustics
took them on was just as significant as
the camping trip itself.
‘‘To us we can hear the cave, but
just the fact that we know we went on
that adventure and did this mission
was just as important as the sound of
it,’’ says Bonner.
‘‘And I haven’t explored caves
since I was a kid pretty much, so just
to be out there and utilise something
amazing like that was a really fun
thing to do,’’ adds Handley.
The band formed in 2005 and
admitted in an interview with
TimeOut last year that the fact they
play this style of music came as a complete
surprise. ‘‘I don’t think any of us
ever consciously thought that this
band would ever evolve the way it
has,’’ said Bonner.
They move to Berlin at the start of
May to see what European audiences
think of their music. ‘‘We all enjoy
doing it, and we just wanna go and
give it a crack,’’ says Handley.
‘‘There is no issue of missing the
boat,’’ laughs Bonner. ‘‘It’s not like
psychedelic experimental music is
going to come into fashion any time
soon. It’s about giving it a shot.’’ - New Zealand Herald


An Emerald City - Circa Scaria - debut album, released on April 6th 2009 (Banished From The Universe)
An Emerald City - EP (2008 Monkey Records)
- Qing Song
(NZ Top 40 airplay song, NZ Top Ten Alt Airplay song, 95bFM Number 1 song four weeks running, 12 weeks in top ten)
-A Thousand Stars At Night (NZ Top 40 airplay song, NZ Top Ten Alt Airplay song, 95bFM 10 weeks in top ten)
- A Question (NZ Top 40 airplay song, NZ Top Ten Alt Airplay song, 95bFM 10 weeks in top ten)
- Mr. Finn



Forming in late 2005 this New Zealand six piece has created a sound that combines Eastern traditional instruments and psychedelic leanings with experimentation and musical liberation. Instrumental, thoughtful songs created by guitars, drums, sitars, violins, a Persian long necked lute, tablas, daabuka, piano and percussion found from various reaches of the universe.
An Emerald City have gathered an excellent following in their home country and have spent much of late 2007 early 2008 playing shows, festivals and tour supporting the release of their debut self titled EP. Which has received excellent reviews.
Their first three songs from their EP went on to high rotate on New Zealand alternative radio, and all were Top 40 New Zealand radio singles, despite commercial radio not being involved at all. Their first song Qing Song spent 12 weeks in New Zealand’s premier alt radio stations top ten. With four weeks at number 1.
Having been one of the stand out local acts at Womad 2008, Soundsplash, and Rhythm and Vines, they are gaining a reputation as one of the country’s most exciting and refreshing live acts. An Emerald City have spent the latter half of 2008 writing material for their debut album which they recorded in amongst caves of the West Coast of New Zealand and in old theatres long forgotten.
The album entitled Circa Scaria has been released in New Zealand on April 6 2009 to amazing reviews. Summer 2008/09 has held another string of live shows and festivals including Rhythm and Vines, a stand out performance at The Big Day Out 2009, The Auckland Festival and a national tour to support the March release of their debut album. The band leave New Zealand to relocate in Berlin, Germany in May 2009.