Melbourne/Naarm dance-punk band NO ZU are pulling up stumps after 15 years of ecstatic live shows and genre-juggling releases. Founder Nicolaas Oogjes has been the band’s primary creative force throughout its existence, but NO ZU has typically operated as an eight-to-ten-person rhythm and horn-centric collective.
Oogjes formed NO ZU after spending time playing in post-punk bands. He wanted to introduce sounds to the Naarm music scene that were otherwise lacking, combining elements of funk, mutant disco and no wave to forge a style he termed “heat beat”.
NO ZU – ‘Ui Yia Uia’
Heat Beat is also the name of NO ZU’s final release, a five-track EP that came out in November 2022 via Chapter Music. Heat Beat features NO ZU’s last studio recordings with the late vocalist Daphne Camf, who passed away in 2021.
After saying goodbye to audiences in Sydney and Brisbane in recent months, NO ZU will bring its tenure to an end with a couple of shows at The Night Cat in Fitzroy. Here, Oogjes looks back on the project’s origins, his motivations, and the essential role of community. He reflects on the great heights scaled and the tragedy of losing Daphne, and explains why now is the time for NO ZU to end.
Before NO ZU
Nicolaas Oogjes: I was in another band that was the first band I took seriously. It was like a post-punk kind of band. I was playing drums. I used to play drums in high school and Mitch [Clemens], who’s the percussionist in NO ZU now, was the drummer of our school – like, he was the guy that was good at it, and in high school there can only be one.
So I was in the shadows of Mitch, but I think I had a natural leaning towards rhythm and I really wanted to play drums in my early adult life. So, I joined that band and then things got serious and ambition crept in and dynamics got more stressful.
I love all the guys from the band, but I got to this existential crisis point. I remember I went on a holiday and I was like, I shouldn’t be feeling as stressed out as this. I was overseas and not wanting to go home.
It led me to me quitting that band. It was a leap because then I didn’t know if I’d be involved in this new thing that I loved, which was the music scene and culture and being involved directly in it and participating in it. And I just let myself go totally free.
NO ZU: Graffiti EP (2010)
The Origins of NO ZU
Nic: It was 2007 and I’d never even recorded anything. But I had all these ideas of the things that I liked; things that I didn’t hear out there but things that were definitely adjacent to it, like a lot of post-punk leaning things. Basically, groove-based music that I’d discovered mainly from the post-punk era that was groove-based but played with the spirit of punk.
So, like, not nuanced jazz playing. Using percussion in a way to make noise. And I was into no wave that embraced non-musicians and atonal sounds. But the really weird thing is when I did it, I really didn’t even know that I’d show anyone. I just had this drive to do it.
Finding an Audience
Nic: In 2009, I recorded some more things with the help of somebody on a better set-up and sent it to Triple R. And Simon Winkler – who’s still the music director there – really liked it and asked me for more CDs. I remember the day clearly and just feeling, like, really accepted as making something of worth.
I didn’t want to make too much space for myself, I just wanted to be a part of it. Maybe because it came from a really genuine place with no expectation, people seemed to gravitate toward it in this communal, kind of cultural way that I’d never experienced before.
NO ZU: LIFE (2012)
Nic: I had the impetus to play gigs because of that and got a really positive reception from people that I admired in the more experimental scene. I remember our second show was with Lost Animal in a DIY café space with this really experimental saxophonist, but more punk style. And I remember being so scared and nervous about that whole world.
It just built from there. People, like magnets, kept sticking to it. From the start, I said that it’s a no strings attached policy in this band. I didn’t want people to feel obliged, I think because I had felt obliged before. So, the policy was, if you’re not having a good time, just leave. And for some reason, that had the opposite impact on people.
Nic: NO ZU has taken us places that we honestly could never have imagined. You’d probably call it a cult following, but I’ve had so much amazing feedback over the years – whether that be someone saying about a set one of the times we played at Golden Plains how much it meant to them, or recently, someone asked for my other project, Cong Josie, to play at their wedding because NO ZU has meant so much to their relationship.
Because of Jimmy Sing at Goodgod in Sydney, our first Sydney show was at the Opera House for Vivid. We got to play Golden Plains two times. That’s the kind of festival that’s acknowledging that you’re a part of the culture. So, that was mind-blowing, and so was having community radio really support NO ZU and playing live to airs and being album of the week.
And then it was just wild – and probably batting above our average – to tour Europe for a couple of years there. That was just insane. That was amazing, playing Primavera and Mexico and playing the States.
NO ZU – ‘Spirit Beat’
Nic: Daphne’s death obviously left us heartbroken. Absolutely devastated. That’s the closest person to me – and I assume for many of the crew as well – that we’ve lost. Like, she’s someone that I would talk to on Messenger a crazy amount every day, on top of in person.
Daphne was completely free, in many ways, from the judgement of other people. She didn’t give a shit as long as what she was doing felt liberating and right for her. That really rubbed off on us over the years.
Daphne could find the funny side in anything, in any bad behaviour, but at the same time was so intelligent and the most emotionally aware person. She taught us so much, changed the whole dynamic of the group, and we all grew together.
Nic: I don’t know if I’ve even unpacked it. At the moment all I know is that it feels right. It’s not giving up, but a sense of acceptance, which can be really liberating. I feel so content that I’m making the call on the end.
We’re getting to use our lessons from Daphne as well. We wouldn’t have had this last release necessarily, and last shows, if it wasn’t for Daphne. The impetus came from these recordings from 2018, when Daphne was around and sang on some songs.
When Daphne passed away, the band was probably in a hiatus or maybe was even finishing without me even knowing. But when Chapter approached me about their 30th birthday celebration and asked me, months out, for us to play, I knew how overwhelming it would be to get the whole group back together.
Chapter agreed to release Heat Beat straight away when I mentioned the idea of not doing a whole album but doing the songs that we had with Daphne. It was something that seemed valuable and worthwhile and something I always knew would need to be done, especially for Daphne’s legacy.
So, that made it really easy to come back, and everyone was so keen, and they have been all the time – I love them so much. It’s a big part of everyone’s lives and this whole different type of release for all of us. The bond, especially with Daphne passing, it’s only deepened and made it all feel so much more meaningful.
NO ZU: Heat Beat (2022)
Words by Nicolaas Oogjes; as told to Billy Burgess. Edited for clarity.
NO ZU Last Shows
- Wednesday, 22nd March – The Night Cat, Melbourne VIC – Tickets
- w/Blonde Revolver, DJ Shorty
- Friday, 24th March – The Night Cat, Melbourne VIC – SOLD OUT
- w/Our Carlson, Shove, DJ Milo Eastwood, Adriana