Machines Of Loving Grace

The solo synth work of Pikachunes kicked off the action at what was essentially a Lil’ Chief record label showcase at the Monto Water Rats. Pikachunes’ DIY approach to electropop is intriguing not just for the tunes, but also for the fact that he’s ploughing his own particular path and demonstrating that artists don’t have to cleave to the template established by the more classic end of the synthpop spectrum.

There’s a global trend for this form of grassroots electronic music, from Grimes in Canada to Japan’s Sapphire Slows. Now, musicians can write and record whole albums in their bedroom studios thanks to the availability of technology that’s no longer out of the price range of budding artists. It’s also a refreshing sign that the next generation are stepping forward, rather than backwards.

So then to Pikachunes, whose bassy rhythmic compositions via his Akai MPK25 controller and laptop appear deceptively simple, but get the feet tapping and, as evidenced tonight, inspire more than a little dancing. Pikachunes’ lyrics weave angsty tales of kitchen sink dramas on New Zealand life with standout songs such as ‘Nervous’ (also available as a free download via the Lil’ Chief website) and ‘Metronome’.

For the arrival of Princess Chelsea, the stage gets busier with Jonathan Bree on drums, Jamie-Lee Smith on synth/xlyophone and Pikachunes taking up bass guitar duties.

Opener ‘Machines Of Loving Grace’ (also the opening track from the album Lil’ Golden Book) is a wonderfully evocative slice of electronica whose charm is effortlessly transported into the venue this evening. Chelsea Nikkel’s vocals are the key element of the material – and that’s clearly demonstrated in a live performance. There’s a very light, but pronounced delivery to her vocal style that gives a lot of her material a distinctive and unique edge.

In fact the material from the album doesn’t suffer from any live performance issues, especially as the team on stage appear to be quite flexible in their abilities: halfway through the set Pikachunes switches to drums while Jonathan Bree assumes guitar duties, particularly for his part in the captivating ‘Cigarette Duet’.

Meanwhile, Chelsea Nikkel proves to be just as adept by playing bass during the song. ‘The Cigarette Duet’ gets a good response from the crowd, which isn’t surprising as it’s almost become Princess Chelsea’s trademark tune (and special 7” vinyl copies were available to purchase from the merchandise stall!).

What was a surprise of the evening however was a cover version of White Town’s classic ‘Your Woman’. In the hands of Princess Chelsea this electropop classic becomes a slice of baroque electronica.

The live version of the wistful ‘Ice Reign’ incorporates recordings of New Zealand rainstorms, while closer ‘Goodnight Little Robot Child’ bookends ‘Machines Of Loving Grace’ nicely. Its nursery rhyme lilt has a charm that’s simple but effective.

What emerged tonight was a demonstration that Princess Chelsea is capable not only of crafting simple strong tunes, but can make them work in a live setting as well. There’s an interesting scene developing in New Zealand and we look forward to seeing what they deliver next.

Lil’ Golden Book is out now on Lil’ Chief Records.

Text and photos by Paul Browne
17th June 2012


New Zealand’s PRINCESS CHELSEA presents a magical and captivating brand of Electropop that’s guaranteed to charm even the most jaded listener.

Auckland-based musician and producer Chelsea Nikkel is a classically trained pianist whose pop roots stretch back to the likes of indie outfits Teen Wolf and The Brunettes. Her debut album Lil’ Golden Book was released on the Lil’ Chief Records label last year.

New Zealand does seem to have its own ‘bedroom pop’ scene at the moment (check out similar solo act Pikachunes for more lo-fi goodness) of which Princess Chelsea appears to be an essential segment. There’s a witty, sardonic humour to Chelsea’s lyrics for the album, which is essentially a collection of stories about growing up as a teenager in New Zealand.





There’s a certain naïve charm to Princess Chelsea, from the faux Disney illustration on the sleeve art to the curious nursery rhyme style of many of her songs. Her record label describes the album as “the soundtrack to an old Disney movie meets Kraftwerk fronted by Enya in a 60s production of Les Mis… set in space” and that probably sums it up better than anything!

This fairy tale approach to song writing is typified in tracks like ‘Ice Reign’ with its regimented beat, quirky melody and evocative vocals. ‘Goodnight Little Robot Child’ continues the theme with a wistful and yearning song that’s carried by a delicate melody creating a dreamlike atmosphere.

‘Machines Of Loving Grace’ has nods towards more classic synth tunes while crafting its own dreampop space. Similarly, ‘Frack’ treads a more familiar electronic path, again with its own particular style.

‘The Cigarette Duet’ though is a standout moment from the album. A long organ intro leads to a sudden change in gear as Chelsea enters into a deadpan duet with Jonathan Bree (of the afore-mentioned Brunettes) about the perils of smoking. It suggests the Electropop version of Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood!

If you like to explore the lo-fi end of Electropop then Princess Chelsea is a good place to start.

Lil’ Golden Book is out now on Lil’ Chief Records.

Text by Paul Browne
8th April 2012