NZ Music Month

30 12 2009

A repost from May:

It’s New Zealand Music Month, while local gigs quadruple and local albums get the big push, Megha Kehar finds out how our Kiwi musicians are going globally.

Sitting around in her K Road flat in central Auckland, bassist Mailee Matthews is eagerly waiting for May 11 – the day she and her band Charlie Ash take off for an action-packed six-week tour of the UK and Europe to exhibit their Kiwi talent and win some new fans.

“We will be playing festivals and going to a few shows. One of them is Great Escape Festival in Brighton. It is like the European version of SxSW,” she says.

Charlie Ash will also be supporting Kiwi rising star and “old friend from Wellington” Ladyhawke at sold-out shows in London’s iconic nightclub KOKO. “It will be great. She is quite inspirational. She is obviously from New Zealand and is doing an incredibly amazing job.”

Matthews says she looks forward to meeting Ladyhawke and catching up. “I’m looking forward to it. Our hotel is right on the beach and it’s gonna be quite cool”.

As for the gigs, Matthews says a dose of Kiwi helps.

“We are quite theatrical with our costumes and things like that. And we have our ‘who cares mate’ attitude – that’s so New Zealand,” she says.

One of the advantages of going and playing so far away from home is that audience members are complete clean slates. “We can be whoever we wanna be. I look forward to going to Amsterdam and being a little naughty. We have been working hard, so need a little break.”

Charlie Ash – who will be playing Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris – are not the only Kiwi band spanning many international longitudes.


With May kick starting New Zealand Music Month, many more local acts brimming with talent are waiting to explode onto the global scene.

The New Zealand Music Commission, a government-funded agency that promotes New Zealand music business both at home and overseas, says things have never looked better for Kiwi musicians.

Alan Holt, an export coordinator for the commission, says at the moment Ladyhawke and Cut off Your Hands are getting a lot of attention. “They have got lots of international exposure. They have been covered by the likes NME,” he says.

Some of the other bands creating massive sound waves abroad are three-member punk band Die! Die! Die!, alternative pop quartet Kingston, and current chart-toppers Midnight Youth.

“Die! Die! Die! are touring the UK right now. They are playing to packed shows. Kingsland are on their way back home from the US. They are just starting out but they have already done some amazing gigs in Los Angeles. Midnight Youth toured across the US earlier this year and I think they have amazing potential,” Holt says.

Another artist who features on Holt’s list is singer/songwriter Brooke Fraser. Already quite popular in New Zealand and Australia, she has tasted success in the US as well.
Her 2006 album Albertine skyrocketed to number 5 on the iTunes US chart.

Wellington band So So Modern, who have toured internationally three times, say it has been pretty good for them so far.

“The response has been varied. We were a lot younger when we started. We were very DIY at first,” band’s drummer Dan Nagels says. “It was very different.”

He too sounds optimistic of Kiwi musicians’ global scorecard. “The New Zealand music scene is very healthy and productive. There is massive potential for international exposure. I know a few bands that are not huge but have gained moderate, realistic exposure abroad,” he says.

New Zealand’s sound has luckily not been trapped in a genre stereotype. Holt reckons the appeal lies “across the board.

“However, our dub, house and electronica are quite popular – especially in the UK and Europe,” he says.


But even as I explore these success stories, my mind wanders off to new bands trying to make it big. I turn back to Holt who addresses my concern. He explains the New Zealand Music Commission promotes music in two ways – grants and showcasing talents.

“Four times a year, bands can submit applications to the New Zealand Music Commission to receive funding. This helps the bands do a number of things, such as release an album, showcase their talent and so on,” he says.

But not all bands get grants from the commission. “If the bands can come up with a tour plan, we have a panel that looks at all applications. We see how good the plan is and how evolved the bands are.”

No band has applied so far this year. “Last year Naked and Famous, Bang! Bang! Eche! And Cut Off Your Hands were there,” Holt recalls.

The second way in which the commission helps is personally showcasing the bands at international events like SxSW held in Texas every year. “We were at SxSW earlier this year. The reaction there was amazing. We had about 3000 people RSVPing to our showcases, the line of people went down the road. It was amazing,” Holt says.

The commission is already gearing up for the CMJ Music Marathon, scheduled to take place in New York in October.

The Commission has a checklist to ensure the ‘Kiwiness’ of the bands. “Obviously not all band members have to be born in New Zealand, but should have spent a majority of their life here,” Holt says.

However, it would be okay if an odd member wasn’t – as long as the rest fit the bill, he explains.

Charlie Ash’s Matthews says a lot of bands foot the cost for their overseas tour. “It is highly unlikely for the commission funding to come through before you actually leave.”

The indie dance/pop band bought their own tickets. “We put together an essay plan for the commission. Usually what you’ll find is that most bands get funding for their second tour as they have already proven themselves,” Matthew says.


Play lots and lots of gigs and play all the time – that’s the advice coming from the New Zealand Music Commission.

“If you go overseas, you will see that the bands there play all the time. You also learn how to compete as a band or a group. You learn what songs work and what songs don’t,” Holt says.

Playing together as a group builds confidence and if you played separately in your bed room, chances are you might just sound shit to lots of people. “It always helps playing to an audience. It helps you understand them and their expectations better,” he adds.

But does it only lie in bands’ guitar-wielding hands? Nagel’s from So So Modern says when people go out and seek entertainment; they need to increase their personal awareness about their local neighbourhood bands.

“Become an audience or a fan,” he suggests. “It takes courage in terms of social activity. I can see how people looking for mainstream entertainment can be afraid of spending money to see a new local band play. It’s all about reaching out to the community,” he says.

As for the bands, Nagels says the key lies in going out there and exposing the talent.

“There is great talent out there. There are lots of bands playing in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. It’s to get out and expose themselves. It is not a marketing thing. It is not trying to squeeze a band into a business contract. It is about having a DIY approach to learning,” Nagels says.

He also says it’s best to stick to your original style. “Manage yourself and do not aspire to be any other band. Do not try to sound like what is on the radio. Don’t hand your power over to other people,” he recommends.


Nagel’s personal Kiwi favourites who he thinks continue to make New Zealand proud are Cut Off Your Hands, Ladyhawke, The Mint Chicks, Golden Axe, The Ribbon, Brand New Math, the Family Cactus, Tommy Ill, Alphabet Head and Disasteradio who has recently left for a huge international tour of the US and Europe.

“He is really off to conquer the world. Make a note of that. He is not mainstream radio but he is an accomplished musician. I would definitely suggest keep a track on him,” Nagels says.

Holt says to keep an eye out for Bang! Bang! Eche!. “They have a US management company behind them. They are a very, very young band and touring quite a bit.”

Matthew Crawley, a music promoter for Strange News and Cassette Number 9, says the Brunettes and the Datsuns are doing well overseas but to also watch out for Lawrence of Arabia.

Auckland’s Real Groovy staff members Kurt Lye and Jared Rive say Fat Freddy’s Drop is one of the most highly anticipated albums, with Midnight Youth’s just released Brave Don’t Run being a close second. The musicians that believe are generally doing well are the Mint Chicks, Tiki Taane, The Veils, Die! Die! Die! and Pitch Black. “Oh and check out Surf City. They just released their EP and got covered by Under the Radar,” Kurt says.


It is weird that New Zealanders don’t seem to take domestic bands seriously until they’ve been overseas, music promoter Crawley says.

However, occasionally bands come back and complain “how it is so much better in London”.

But as conventional wisdom suggests it’s the down to earth ones that tend to do better. Crawley says they are the ones who put in more hard work and therefore get better results.

Charlie Ash’s Mailee Matthews finds that in this business it does not actually take much to build a massive ego. “The bands just have to play to an audience of a reasonable size to build a huge ego,” she says. Different people have different degrees of it and her band is certainly not the egoistic types, she clarifies.

However, it is important to be proud of what you are doing, and where you are from, when heading overseas, Crawley advises. “You’ve got to be proud of who you are – proud to be a Kiwi.”

Holt says one of the reasons the world finds it hard to pinpoint the Kiwi sound just by the singing because they are not talking about All Blacks. “It is a nice surprise to them when they find out the band is Kiwi.”

Alan Holt’s Top Ten Kiwi bands to be proud of
(In particular order)

The Brunettes
Die! Die! Die!
D 4
Crowded House
Liam Finn
Fat Freddy’s Drop
Cut Off Your Hands
Dead Sea
The Checks




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