Dartz, “the best band ever in the history of Aotearoa”: a Silver Scroll, a dumpling house, and staying loyal.

Solomon Powell

Portrait of DARTZ by Margherita Cornali.

Among songs nominated for the 2021 Silver Scroll Award was Reb Fountain’s ode to the mother-child relationship, ‘Hey Mom’The Beths reflection on fame and connection, ‘Jump Rope Gazers’, and Troy Kingi’s funky ‘All Your Ships Have Sailed’, reflecting on his experience of being a father. Also on the list of nominees was the slightly less familiar punk group DARTZ, with a track about listening to Dave Dobbyn whilst getting high on laced MDMA: Bath Salts’. “I just wanna grind to slice of heaven / Not fucking die at age twenty-seven” goes a line from the song. The band, who only formed in 2019 to open for Australian group The Chats, have become so synonymous with their humorous antics that even their own fans treated the nomination with scepticism. “It was just a lot of people saying: how did you guys get it?” says lead singer Daniel, better known as Danz. “People automatically thought that we’d schemed it somehow” says Clark, who plays bass. Yet, while Clark’s reaction to the nomination was admittedly humorous: “we have to meme the fuck out of this”, DARTZ’ ambition to leave a mark on New Zealand music is anything but a joke. 

When mullet-rocking Australian punk band The Chats announced they were coming to Wellington, Danz and his friend Crispy had an idea: invent their own punk band and apply for the opening slot.  So, when their fictional band ‘DARTZ’ was booked they were overjoyed, but they had only two weeks to make the band, and the setlist, a reality. They found Hakopa, their drummer, through a mutual friend, and were recommended Clark, who they invited to play bass. “Once you hear the name DARTZ, you’re pretty much in” says Clark. With the clock ticking, they decided to write what they knew. The state of Danz and Crispy’s flat inspired their ode to flatting: ‘40 Riddiford Street’. It included the line: “I haven’t done meth but now there’s no stopping me / Cause I pay rent on the set of Trainspotting three”. Experiences of kicking around town late at night inspired the track ‘4:00 AM’, which went: “Out for the night cause we wasted the day / We down a 12 pack of beer and some MDMA”. So, two weeks and seven raucous punk songs later, the group of boys walked onstage at Meow, confident of one thing: they were about to totally embarrass themselves. Expecting a lukewarm reaction, they had prepared by getting wasted. However, as their set got underway, they realised the thrown-together band was being received with nothing short of ravenous enthusiasm. 

“Everything we put out is really balanced between the fun side and any serious stuff we wanna include. But when a song can really ride the line of those two sides, that’s when it’s perfect. That’s DARTZ in a nutshell”.

Clark

The group decided to continue the project, and quickly began crafting a public persona: Daniel and Hakopa had adopted the pseudonyms Danz and Rollyz, and to ingratiate themselves with Wellington’s student populous, attempted to play at every crate day in the city. Crate day being, of course, the first day of summer, during which people across New Zealand get together and attempt to consume a crate of beer. The attempt, during which they played at 14 different houses, ended up stretching till 2am, leaving Clark with a fuzzy memory when, mid-set, a large glass bottle fell off someone’s fridge onto his head. “The rest of crate day towards the end is a bit, umm, I can’t remember a lot of the end ones” says Clark. They began releasing regular documentary style music videos, showcasing all sorts of mischief. Whether it be smoking with a pair of drumsticks, cooling down their overheating car by dousing it with beer, or simply kicking around in matching ninja turtle costumes, it allowed fans a sense of familiarity with group.  “They know the four of us based off our names and the characters we’ve built” says Danz. “I think it makes us very approachable”.

A year and an EP in, DARTZ would jump onstage to play a new release, only to hear the audience scream the lyrics back.  “People would already know the hooks and the punch lines to some of the jokes in the songs” says Danz. Their songs, often about otherwise mundane aspects of life in New Zealand, had struck a chord with audiences in Wellington and across the country. “I was like, holy shit, people are really liking the relatability of these songs” says Clark. “It’s like, well, clearly there must not be that many songs that are hitting this niche for people”. As well as being relatable, many of the songs also had a political edge, taking shots at landlords and colonisers alike. For example, they challenge James Cook to a one-on-one fight in ‘One Outs Captain Cook’. “It said he was the first to break ground / Well ya can’t discover something that was already found” goes a line in the second verse. Also, in perhaps their most controversial shenanigan, they were advised to lawyer up ahead of the release of their music video for ‘Pray for Prey’, a track taking shots at Brian Tamaki. It seemed audiences far and wide were lapping up DARTZ, and the widespread appeal really hit home when they arrived to play a music club in Invercargill, the southernmost city in the South Island, and were greeted by a group of devoted fans. The group, which Danz says consisted of “50 kids”, forced them to stay late, and they ended up playing through their entire discography.

Despite describing themselves as a punk band, and the regular roasting in their music, DARTZ downplay their role as a political force. “I don’t think we set out to convince anyone” says Rollyz. DARTZ write about what they are passionate about, and if it happens to be political, so be it, but preaching is never the goal.  They also point out the absurdity of even their most politically charged material. “One Outs Captain Cook has got that blatantly political side, but the chorus is objectively a really ridiculous thing to say” says Clark, referring to the meaning of a “one outs”: the challenge to a one-on-one fight. Danz points out that ‘40 Riddiford Street is about renting, but then most of the chorus is a chant about drinking”. “It’s okay cause I got solid plans / I got 24 beers and two free hands” goes the chorus. While a political perspective is often made clear, it is always contrasted with goofy humour; the two sides are inseparable. “Everything we put out is really balanced between the fun side and any serious stuff we wanna include” says Clark.  “But when a song can really ride the line of those two sides, that’s when it’s perfect. That’s DARTZ in a nutshell”. 

 “I’m being 100 percent serious when I say we’re the best band in New Zealand”

Clark

Alongside the mockery and onstage antics, the absurd music videos and goofy public personas, the members of DARTZ have a sincere love of New Zealand music, and they aspire to write their own Kiwi classic. “When I’m writing DARTZ stuff, I’m thinking a lot about ‘Nature’s Best’, the two CD compilation of the best New Zealand songs ever” says Clark. “I’m thinking about trying to write a song that’s good enough to make that compilation. Because that’s the anthesis of everything that’s New Zealand”. Clark also draws from his experience of going to rugby stadiums as a kid, hearing classic New Zealand tunes blasting over the loudspeakers. Clark’s passion for New Zealand music is perhaps best demonstrated by his recreation of the cover photo for Dave Dobbyn’s single ‘Loyal’, which features Dave standing in front of a dilapidated building in the countryside, wearing a suit. Clark worked with a museum in Cromwell to pinpoint the exact location the shoot took place, which, turns out, had flooded no less than 30 years ago. He took this in stride, wading waist deep into the water to stand in the exact same spot as Dave: quite literally following in his footsteps. The resulting shot, in which Clark wears a suit matching that of Dave’s, was used as the cover photo for DARTZ own single, ‘Bath Salts’.  

Photo of DARTZ / Ben Howe.

More recently, DARTZ paid homage to another New Zealand music legend, Don McGlashan, with the release of their part cover, part reinterpretation of Dominion Road’. “It was originally just a literal cover of ‘Dominion Road‘, and I wasn’t really feeling it” says Rollyz. “So I just sped the whole thing up, changed the drumbeat, changed the structure to kind of make it our own. And Dan rewrote all of the lyrics to represent our incredible love for dumplings on Dominion Road”. For example, in DARTZ version of the song “half-way house” is replaced with “dumpling house” and the line “he rests his head on the windowsill” is replaced with “he rests his head in a wonton soup”. In a bizarre life-imitates-art moment, Don McGlashan caught wind of the project, and shortly thereafter a dumpling house dinner was arranged. Nervous to meet one of their heroes, DARTZ worried they might not have anything to talk about. Turns out, they couldn’t have been more wrong. “He just sort of like logged on onto exactly what DARTZ was, and he was jumping along with us from the get-go” says Rollyz. Clark adds “I didn’t think there would be that many similarities between him and us, but talking to him, I saw a lot of it. Like I didn’t know that The Front Lawn was a music/comedy thing, which is, in a way, like us”. Clark jokes “If he wants to adopt four boys in their mid to late twenties then I’m open to it”. 

What Was That Thing? video series by Flying Nun Records.

Being recognised by a legend like Don McGlashan, as well as having ambitions to write music to an equally high standard, comes with it the inevitable smidge of self-doubt. For example, the members of DARTZ sometimes worry about the fact they are older than many of their peers. “I know a lot of the bands that are older than us” says Rollyz. “And now it’s at the point where I can see a newer generation that’s just slightly younger”. They also recognise they are older than much of their fanbase, a point driven home when, several years ago, a music publication referred to them as “the sexy uncles of the Wellington music scene”. “I was like, uncle? I’m 23!” says Clark. Given the venturesome nature of their content, they also worry they might become the equivalent of a one-hit wonder. “What if we become known as like, oh they did the ‘Dominion Road’ cover, and that’s all that people know about us” asks Clark. “When you’re doing music or anything like that, any single thing you do or put out could be the one thing that people know you for”. However, these doubts only seem to further motivate what is already a highly driven, and highly confident band. Clark clarifies that his coining of the catchphrase “best band ever in the history of Aotearoa” is, in fact, entirely sincere. “I’m being 100 percent serious when I say we’re the best band in New Zealand” he says. “And I’d really like that to be known, and I’d like us to get those kinds of achievements”. 

One would think that DARTZ nomination for the Silver Scroll award would be their most concrete example of such an achievement, placing them in the ranks of Troy Kingi, Reb Fountain and The Beths. The man himself, Don McGlashan, is a several-time Silver Scroll recipient. Yet, the members of DARTZ all seem to find their nomination a source of amusement. While Clark admits he wants to see one of their songs place in the top five, it would only be to witness the live cover version that would be done in its honour. “Just the thought of someone famous like The Beths or Marlon Williams having to sing ‘Bath Salts’ is funniest shit ever” he says. “So now I’m just like, I want to make a run for it again”. For DARTZ, it seems success is not a place on the awards list, but a place in the hearts and minds of people who love their music. Their primary concern is about staying loyal to the fans. “That’s a music industry thing, the Silver Scroll says Clark. “The bottom line is, we’re about the fans. The DARTZ fans”. 

DARTZ music video for ‘Dominion Road (Dumpling House).

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