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My Favourite New Zealand Artist: D.C. Maxwell on Skeptics

“Skeptics marks out everything that is brilliant about NZ music,” the ‘Lone Rider’ artist says

D.C. Maxwell


For all of our comprehensive NZ Music Month coverage, head to the Rolling Stone New Zealand homepage.

D.C. Maxwell might be an alt-country-meets-experimental-pop artist these days, chronicling the lives of those on the outskirts – the broken-hearted horse thief, the betrayed bank robber – in his measured storytelling, but he’s really a punk at heart.

Before becoming D.C. Maxwell and supporting Future Islands and earning Taite Music Prize nominations, Daniel Smith, the musician behind the persona, was another punk music obsessive, fronting his own punk band, Roidz, listening and learning from whatever harsh noise the genre threw his way.

And no group of punks ranked higher in his estimation than Skeptics, the loud industrial post-punk band from Palmerston North known for excellent releases on both Furtive Records and Flying Nun Records.

To celebrate NZ Music Month, Smith returned to his punk roots with a cover of one of Skeptics’ signature songs, “Agitator”, which you can listen to below.

Find out why Smith considers them “New Zealand’s greatest musical sons” below, and catch him performing as D.C. Maxwell at The Wine Cellar’s 20th birthday celebrations in Auckland this week (more information here).

Skeptics marks out everything that is brilliant about NZ music.

They were weird as all hell, performed like crazed hellhounds, and broke so far into new sonic territory that they sound like nobody else even decades after they tragically ended, after singer David D’Ath died of leukemia in 1990 at age 26.

They put forward such a uniquely strange combination of harsh industrial noise and tender, almost operatic songwriting. When I was living overseas and got homesick I would watch their videos on repeat. Creatively I feel they are the best representation of just how far NZ music can push things.

I love how singer D’Ath uses images like a surrealist painter. The song ‘Agitator’ sounds rooted in a different kind of reality, but still somehow ends up reflecting cold truths.

To me, ‘Agitator’ is about standing awed and shocked by terrible things going on in the world. But when we see it all happen from Aotearoa/New Zealand, we feel far away from it and a bit helpless despite our emotional reaction. I think it’s a song that reckons with our own complicity in the suffering occurring in a far away place. Because of this, I feel it is very much a song for right now.