Recorded in Kirikiriroa, Aotearoa (Hamilton, New Zealand), Empasse is the musical project of Nick Johnston, a local government bureaucrat by day and musician by night. Some of Nick’s previous bands include post-rock band Sora Shima, and indie pop bands The Changing Same and Dynamo Go.
The music for Ultraviolet EP was primarily composed during New Zealand’s first COVID-19 lockdown, a creative escape away from civil defence and community recovery work during the day.
Nick jokingly refers to the musical style as ‘post-rock baroquetronica’, but it can be more simply described as having cinematic qualities… something that would not feel out of place on the big screen. The ‘baroquetronica’ aspect refers to the blend of synthesisers with an eclectic range of instruments including the Marxophone (a type of fretless zither).
“My musical background is mainly in pop and rock bands, so when it came to creating electronic music, I was not very familiar with how to manipulate synthetic sounds” says Nick. “Rather than manipulating the sound of the synthesisers, I ended up blending synthetic sounds with organic sounds to create new instruments and textures”.
Nick describes the tracks as a “soundtrack to a story that is not well known in New Zealand outside the Waikato Region where I live” – the story of the town of Rotowaro, a former mining village that was entirely removed in the 1980s to make way for an opencast coal mine. The mine fuelled the Huntly Power Station, the largest thermal power station in New Zealand which has been identified as responsible for over half of New Zealand’s carbon emissions from electricity generation.
The evocative cover photo for Ultraviolet EP was taken in 1985 by David Cook, a photographer who has spent nearly four decades recording the effects of the coal industry on Rotowaro and Rāhui Pōkeka | Huntly.
“Ultraviolet is about the damage and wounds that we cannot see – in this case, it is the rural communities that have battered over many generations to grow and power our larger cities, as well as the carbon emissions damaging the health of our planet.”