The 3Ds were the biggest ‘third wave’ Flying Nun band, formed by musicians from earlier FN groups. Starting out in Dunedin in 1988, they recorded three albums and several EPs, the best-known being The Venus Trail (1993). They achieved worldwide critical and commercial success, and toured extensively overseas from 1992-95.
The 3Ds came into being in Dunedin in mid-1988, after the male members all relocated from Auckland in search of cheap rent, booze and 24 hour-a-day rock’n roll. Their arrival swelled the ranks of many bands, including Snapper, Chug and Plagal Grind, but they all became best-known as members of the 3Ds.
After initially forming as a trio (hence the name) they were joined in early 1989 by David Mitchell. He introduced a third song-writer and singer, as well as the twin-guitar attack which became the defining feature of the group. Mitchell’s intricate and demented artwork also featured memorably on most of their record covers and posters. Once you’ve seen an entire city sodomised by giant rats, you never forget it.
With the completion of the alchemical transformation from a loose jamming agglomeration to the 3Ds, and the band immediately began their assault on New Zealand’s then-burgeoning underground rock scene. They stood out from the start in their ability to sway both the critics and a broader audience. The 3Ds were a band with something for everyone - a knock-out combination of over-loaded guitars, horror-show imagery and toothsome vocal harmonies. While the Pixies were often cited as a formative influence, it’s more correct to see them as the bastard offspring of Black Sabbath and Fairport Convention. Their point of difference was the unique combination of Celtic lilt with berserk metal fury.
Their first recordings were delayed by over a year as the band tried twice to secure CreativeNZ funding support, amazingly without success. Their first recordings were a bunch of demos, one of which, ‘Meluzina Man’ became their first release on the 1990 compilation Xpressway Pile-up. The band recorded their Flying Nun debut Fish Tales in early 1990, starting a long close association with Dunedin’s Fish St Studios. Their second EP (Swarthy Songs for Swabs) and debut album (Hellzapoppin’) followed over the next two years, the latter spawning the unstoppable single Outer Space. After the first record all their sessions were produced by their live engineer of choice, Tex Houston.
The first three records saw US release under licence to First Warning, an RCA-affiliate that almost immediately went pants-up, rather negating the crazed wave of critical adulation that greeted their release. The band first toured the US in 1992, followed by an Australian tour with the Lemonheads. They were among the first New Zealand bands to take advantage of the international connections established in the later 1980s to tour and release records in both the US and the UK.
Their second album The Venus Trail (1993) has proved to be their classic. This included their best known singles Hey Seuss and Beautiful Things. It was released in the US by Merge (train-spotters please note, the Merge single of Beautiful Things is an entirely different version, sung by Denise), and also in the UK by Flying Nun, once more to a critical response akin to that given to a free cigarette-scramble in a prison yard.
The year 1994 was dominated by a three-month tour to the UK and the US. While in England they recorded a Peel session and were widely lauded by the music press. Their extensive US tour included gigs with the likes of Pavement, but proved a gruelling effort. Still, this was pretty heady stuff for a New Zealand band of that era. The following year they recorded the stop-gap Caterwauling four song EP and toured Australia as part of the main stage action at the Big Day Out festival. They also scored the NZ supports on the massive Zoo TV tour by U2, typically taking advantage of the opportunity to plunder the headliners’ liquor rider. This led to a handwritten thumbs-up from Bono and the gift of yet further top-shelf liquor in recognition of their contribution at the shows.
Finally in 1996 the 3Ds managed one more LP, the darkly-morose Strange News for the Angels. This was well-received but contained no singles to match their previous efforts. The band, feeling that the fun had gone out of the experience, announced their split in early 1997. Coaxed from retirement to perform at the 20th anniversary Merge Fest in 2009, they followed this in early 2010 with a series of shows in New Zealand and a UK appearance at All Tomorrows Parties. Future plans are unclear.
By Bruce Russell (The Dead C)