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Disasteradio Returns With His First Album in Seven Years

Listen to the title track from the New Zealand synth pop king's new album "Sweatshop."

Since Luke Rowell released his 2002 self-titled debut album as Disasteradio, the New Zealander has established himself as a veteran within the country's independent music community. With kitschy humour, and an eccentric style and infatuation with technology Rowell shaped the character of Disasteradio into a bright ray of pop goodness.

But after the release of 2010's Charisma, it looked like Rowell was focused more on his new-wave project Eyeliner. Thankfully Disasteradio is alive and high-kicking and Rowell has just released the album Sweatshop.


During a break from painting his landlord's property in Wellington we had a chat to Rowell who shared some information about the album.

1. Sweatshop
The title Sweatshop reminds Rowell of a summer when he screwed up his knee playing his usual high-aerobic sets and was forced to spend time inside.

"I became bed-ridden for a couple of weeks and ended up on crutches for ages and had this whole summer where I was inside. I couldn't really leave the house. Just playing video games, being really hot, being high on codeine and peeing in a bucket [laughs]."

2. Influence
Rowell names Yello, Thin Lizzy and Tom Petty as musicians who had some degree of influence on the sound of Sweatshop and his songwriting topics. He says that he started to try to "worm in songs that are more general about heartbreak or time travel and heartbreak and being more of a songwriter as well as doing computer dance music."

3. Technology
Whereas Charisma was a love letter for technology Rowell later discovered some of the evils of computers and the internet.

"I write songs about technology but then I've been moving towards to the distrust of tech or distrust of the internet as a whole, which has been a recent thing. Like, wondering what all this stuff is for. I'm still obsessed with the idea that everyone should be making albums with their computers and expressing themselves but it's this coming-of-age where I've realised that maybe technology isn't helping us so much. Synthesizer pop music always speaks for technology and speaks about technology and it's kind of this idea that not all technology is good."


4. Exploitative Labour
During the time Rowell was writing Sweatshop, a series of suicides relating to extremely low-wages and poor working conditions by Chinese employees of electronics manufacturer Foxconn took place.

I started writing 'Sweatshop' in the middle of the stuff about Foxconn and factories in Guangzhou where people were jumping off roofs. And I was like 'Oh man, I'm making music with the fruits of these people's labour'. What do you do with that? I don't know how to make a Motherboard but I need to it do what I do. There's a lot of questions and I don't think it is easy to answer them all as an artist but just trying to point in that direction and sing about what I'm worried about."

5. Lower Hutt
Disasteradio grew up in Lower Hutt, a smaller city near Wellington and a place that the instrumental track "There's Nothing in the Valley" is about.

"I was sort of watching as I would take the bus from Downtown Wellington to Downtown Lower Hutt and every time another shop I grew up with would be closing down. It's kind of weird growing up and getting into your 30s and being like 'that shops gone, that shops gone, and that buildings gone'. It's this idea when hometown isn't your hometown anymore after a certain amount of time. Lower hutt is still dear to me."

'Sweatshop' is available now on Spotify.

Jess Fu is an Auckland broadcaster. Follow her on Twitter