While our industry might be small in comparison, there’s a lot to love about NZ music. Authentic, multicultural, at times humorous, and filled with a ton of love and pride, our sound reflects who we are as Kiwis and truly sets us apart from the rest of the world. In celebration of 21 years of NZ Music Month, here are 21 of our fave things to love about our awesome music scene.
1. We Love A Good Drinking Tune
Kiwis love pubs, it’s no secret. In fact, we love them so much that up until the mid 2000s pub rock was one of our primary genres of music. That might be in part because most of our gig venues are in bars or maybe it’s because we just really love a good drinking tune. But whether it’s a song about booze or a track that’s been made specifically to chant drunk with a group of mates, there’s been a number of alcoholic hits over the years that have provided us many great nights. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
2. We Back Ourselves
For budding local musicians, it doesn’t take long to find an outstretched hand willing to offer you help. NZ is absolutely fizzing with resources for our creatives, constantly offering workshops, summits, airplay and even dedicating the whole month of May to spotlight our talent. Also, because of our two degrees of separation, linking up with the right people in the right fields is arguably easier than anywhere else.
3. We’re Not Afraid to Give Other Artists Cheek
Here in NZ, nobody is held on a higher pedestal than the other and that includes our talent. We love banter so much that it should be hailed as an official language. Kiwi artists are unfiltered, 100% themselves, and love to have a laugh — and such is the case for our witty icon Anika Moa. Back at the 2015 Vodafone Music Awards, her and Gin Wigmore struck up a bit of friendly competition over who was going to win Best Female Solo Artist before the ceremony, leading to a winning Wigmore flipping Moa off in her acceptance speech and cackling “up yours, Anika!”
4. We Don’t Know How Lorde Did It, But She Did
Last time we checked, when a Kiwi manages to crack it overseas phenomenally it means that every one of us is entitled to their success too. Be honest, how many people have you lied to online saying Taika Waititi is related to you? Who would even question it?! It still baffles us how mammoth Lorde’s career has become but if anything, it only proves that anything is possible. When we see one of our own living out their dreams, it reassures us that even if we feel stuck a million miles away, there really isn’t a limit to the things that Kiwis can do.
5. We’re Multicultural AND Multitalented
One of the coolest things about our very own music scene is how diverse it really is. Not only do we dip in and out of genres, but we interpolate different languages and cultural instruments and rhythms to keep our sound authentic and honest. NZ is filled with a wide range of people from all walks of life, and our music reflects that perfectly. For the people, made by the people!
6. We Love Club Culture
Ever since we can remember, Kiwis have loved to party. Finding homes in clubs and safety in dance music, the world of shots, speakers and soaking shoes has lovingly become a rite of passage for all youths. But it’s more than just one big hot mess. The culture has opened up a pathway for budding EDM artists and DJs to perform, combining the idea of parties with live gigs to generate PR for the club, awareness for the artist and most importantly, one hell of a good night for those attending.
7. We Had Live Gigs When Everyone Else Was in Lockdown
Thanks to Jacinda’s swift eradication of Covid-19, NZ was one of the only places in the entire world that could host live gigs in 2020. We couldn’t get any international stars, but that didn’t stop Kiwis showing up for our awesome local talent. A rotation of old and new Kiwi artists filled up the summer festival slots and bands like Six60, L.A.B and Drax Project have pushed out a number of shows within the year.
8. We Cherish History
Because our music industry is so small, the people, the art, and the history all matter. We really pride our homegrown abilities and the musos that are into our music scene are really into it. Take AudioCulture, for example. A Wikipedia-type resource that unpacks the entire history of NZ music. A collaborative effort between local music journalists, you can find almost every artist that’s made an impact on our music scene as well as old records and photos from every era.
9. We’re Bilingual
We have 3 official languages here in NZ: English, NZ Sign Language (NZSL) and of course te reo Māori. But despite it holding a significant spot in our culture, te reo isn’t used as much as it should be which is why artists are starting to incorporate Māori into their tracks. The Waiata / Anthems project saw some of our biggest artists translate their beloved hits in te reo, which were then formed into a compilation album and eventually a seven-part docuseries.
10. We Have A Whole NZ Music T-Shirt Day
NZ Music T-Shirt Day is a fave tradition for Kiwis. Asking us to wear a shirt from one of our fave local artists, the day aims to further shed light on our emerging talent and celebrate our mighty little industry. Kiwis are also encouraged to donate to MusicHelps, an organisation that helps our live music sector and the artists affected from Covid-19. This year, it’s all kicking off on Friday May 28. Find out more info here.
11. We Make History!
Back in 1995, OMC’s ‘How Bizarre’ took the world by storm and became the first NZ track to hit number 1 on the US charts, as well as the first track from a strictly NZ label to do so well internationally. The same feat would not be achieved again until Lorde’s ‘Royals’ in 2012 and she currently holds the record as being the youngest solo artist to land a US number 1 since 1987.
12. We Like to Keep Things in the Family
Usually where there’s one musical talent, there follows an entire musical family. The sibling dynamic is one we see a lot in NZ music, whether they band together or go off solo, and it gives off a warm sense of familiarity. From Kora to Evermore, to the Finns to the Rungas, we have a significant amount of family connections in our music scene that really give us a unique edge. All for one and one for all.
13. We Incorporate Our Prime Minister
A woman of many talents, Jacinda Ardern has had her foot in the music scene for a while now. Popping up at the VMAs, cracking jokes with our local talent and even frequenting as a legitimate DJ (before becoming the prime minister, of course), her love for the arts has helped to cement her as such a community-driven leader. And the fact that she still includes herself, despite her status now, speaks absolute volumes. Let’s hope she cracks out that spinning deck again sometime soon.
14. We Make History Again!
Six60 are on a phenomenal rise and they’re doing wonders for our local music scene. Back in 2019, they made history when they became the first local act to ever headline (and sell out) Western Springs. They then did it again the following year and topped their record. And if that wasn’t enough, the band headlined the first ever concert at Eden Park back in April this year, subsequently opening up a new venue for live gigs in the country.
15. We Always Make Way for Other Creatives
Our sense of community is rich here in NZ and the love we express for one another’s achievements goes beyond just artists and their fans. Our artists are always looking for ways to help other creatives, offering joint shows, mentorships and even just opening up a path for others to follow down. A great example is the local talent Six60 have exposed by offering up their history-making platforms, such as kapa haka groups, dancers, rising musicians and even student photographers. By building everyone up simultaneously, it only makes our music industry bigger and bigger.
16. We’re Raw, Honest and Emotional
Kiwis always get straight to the point, and we never shy away from facing the hard stuff. That’s why a lot of our music references tough subjects and honest depictions of family, love and just general life in NZ. It’s an artist’s way of wearing their heart out on their sleeve, hoping that other Kiwis will be able to find something within their message and relate to their humanity. Back in 2009, Smashproof and Gin Wigmore collaborated on the massive hit ‘Brother’ which referenced the 2008 killing of an alleged tagger in South Auckland. Through the catchy tune, the heavy subject matter has always remained.
17. We Have Our Own Version of Hip Hop
The Urban Pasifika sound is one that has been in our stratosphere for years. Taking their experiences and elements from their own cultures, local hip hop and R&B stars truly stand out amongst the crowd. There just simply isn’t another sound like it. Featuring Māori and Pacific Island languages and traditional instrumentation, Urban Pasifika originated from primarily southern Auckland suburbs before officially becoming the entire country’s unique hip hop sound.
18. We Promote Carefree and Authentic Female Role Models
One of the best things about our music scene is the way we build up such powerful women. There is no blueprint for how a female star must act, instead it’s completely her own career and territory to decide. From Gin Wigmore’s mischievous cheek to Lorde’s social awkwardness and BENEE’s goofiness, we’re proud to say that our female stars have risen to the top being exactly themselves.
19. We Have Multiple National Anthems
There is of course ‘God Defend New Zealand’, but we’re talking about those other national anthems that pull all Kiwis together. The ‘Slice of Heaven’s, the ‘How Bizarre’s, the collective chant of “ why does love do this to me? “ It’s a common ground we’re always going to have. No matter where in the world we are, or how many drinks deep, there’s just always going to be those few Kiwi tracks we’ll never, ever forget. And isn’t that just magical?
20. We Blend Lines and Genres
As NZ music has evolved over the years, our range of genres has only expanded. You’ll find it hard to discover a local track that simply just has one flavour to it and that’s because our music is made up of a whole bunch of sounds, eras and cultures. Whether it’s indie pop mixed with garage rock, Urban Pasifika mixed with neo-soul R&B or a hybrid of reggae, dubstep and synth-pop, Kiwi music caters to all Kiwis and our artists continuously search for ways to break the mould.
21. We’ve Only Got One Industry
Above all, NZ music is ours. Regardless of how big or small it is, or how our artists fair in comparison to the top Western dogs, there’s always going to be just the one. And no matter where we end up in the world, NZ will always be our home. Our industry is unique, tight-knit and represents the world we’ve all grown up in. Nobody else will ever be able to share our experiences or be able to feel that communal feeling when chanting ‘Bliss’ in a local pub, and that’s pretty damn cool. We should love NZ music for a number of reasons, but mostly because it’s what makes us Kiwis.