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The Best of Kiwi Music

2012 March 30
Posted by saramelvin

Who would have thought that that these tiny, far-flung islands deep in the South Pacific bordering icy Antarctic waters – population of 4 million – would have such a thriving, contemporary independent music scene? From reggae to indie-pop to pulsing drum & bass, New Zealand’s local bands produce a surprising amount of original music that will surely reach international audiences, if they haven’t done so already. However, the real beauty of the Kiwi music scene is that the bands tend to stay local, and often incorporate political and social realities of Kiwi youth into the lyrics of their songs. And like true New Zealand ethos, musicians here express their opinions and frustrations casually, and with great ease. Bands listened to by practically all Kiwi’s, like The Black Seeds, keep their fans loyal by touring frequently in cities, festivals, and smaller, intimate venues in obscure locations that only the die-hard fans tend to know about. Kiwi music is also hugely influenced by the laidback lifestyle and party culture: sitting around a bonfire on the beach with a few guitars is much more prevalent than urban-type clubs. Recently, I heard about a very kiwi thing called the “tall poppy syndrome”, a culture of cutting people down to size and remaining equal, or at least appearing to. This is very evident in the independent music industry. The whole “making a name for yourself” is appreciated, but being showy about your big achievements is considered flashy and very tacky. In other words, if a famous kiwi musician or band doesn’t remain humble in the wake of stardom, they’ll lose a significant amount of fan respect. A lot of artists that produce more unconventional get lost to the Australian market. Lady Hawke is a great example: she has a few Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards and multiple nominations. Scribe’s rapping talent (or lack thereof) apparently got him nowhere in New Zealand, so, he broke into the Australian market, and as a festival coordinator Kiwi friend of mine once said, “the Aussie’s are all over scribe like a fucking rash. But here, he’s considered commercial, and a huge sellout lacking any real musical talent”. Well put. So, if you’re in need (or want) of an iPod update and are ready to be pleasantly surprised with hours of great tunes from some notable New Zealand bands, I suggest you refer to the list below for your next iTunes purchase.

The Black Seeds: No one here can get enough of The Black Seeds, and for good reason. After four months of constant listening, their unique afrobeat-reggae style infused with top-quality jazzy instrumentals, soul, and funk has proved timeless. At the Great Kiwi Beer Festival held in the sprawling Hagley Park of quake-destructed Christchurch, the Black Seeds closed out the day for a few thousand local audience members. Their 8-piece band¾comprising of vocals, guitar, saxophone, trumpet, bass, drums, bongos, keyboard and a wood block¾uplifted the Christchurch audience and distracted everyone from the Earthquake aftershocks rumbling underfoot (actually). The next day, as my friends and I made our way through construction and resultant traffic congestion, we ran into lead vocalist Barnaby Weir, who was hanging out at a newly reopened café, a very friendly guy with not an ounce of celebrity-ego syndrome. Albums: Keep On Pushing LP (2001), On the Sun (2004), Into the Dojo (2006), Solid Ground (2008), The Black Seed Lives – Vol 1 (2009), Specials: remixes and versions off Solid Ground (2010), Dust And Dirt (2012). Notable Tracks: Cool Me Down, Turn it Round, Let’s Get Down.

Fly My Pretties: This band’s repertoire is more like an eclectic collection of recordings than anything else, a collaboration spearheaded by Weir of The Black Seeds and Mikee Tucker of Loop Recorders Aor(ear)oa. Fly My Pretties consists of 34 musicians jamming out in a range of groupings: sometimes just a duet belting out a gorgeous ballad, sometimes ten musicians performing a catchy folk-indie acoustic song. If you’ve ever been to Wellington, you’ll understand how this band emerged out of the artistic bohemia of this tiny capital city. Known for a charmingly hip downtown core, there are more café’s per capita in Welly than in any other city in the world. This means there are plenty of cultural hubs for the Oceanic hipster to congregate, collaborate, and discuss local films, contemporary art, and of course music. In the song “Fly My Pretties,” the primary contribution to the band’s name (The Wizard of Oz is secondary), Weir sings about the talent and subsequent “brain drain” of New Zealand, singing that the “best moves offshore to make a buck or two”. Despite this reality, Fly My Pretties calls for all kiwi artists to fly away (so they can “make it”), and to stay true to their roots “hope to see you back someday.” Albums: “Fly My Pretties Live at Bats” (2005), “The Return of Fly My Pretties (2006). A Story (Part 1) (2009). Notable Tracks: Fly My Pretties, Champion, Clarity (Hollie Smith), All the Goodness, All That Could Be (D.Weetman & L.Benge & S.Scott).

The Naked and Famous: If you weren’t too busy analyzing the questionable content of the viral Kony2012 video, you may have disregarded the best part of the whole movie: the catchy theme song “Punching in a Dream” provided by The Naked and Famous, who have come straight from New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. Far before Invisible Children popularized The Naked and Famous (and possibly tarnished their reputation of self-made international popularity, a challenge of bands coming out of New Zealand), The Naked and Famous came out with their very catchy album Passive Me, Aggressive You in 2010 and provided some of the soundtrack that wicked backcountry snowboarding film “The Art of Flight.” I’m seriously hoping they come out with a new album soon, so that they don’t become just another one-album-hit-wonder indie pop group of the decade. Album: Passive Me, Aggressive You (2010). Notable Tracks: Punching in a Dream, Girls Like You, All of This, Young Blood.

Katchafire: Even though this band from Hamilton, New Zealand is comparable in genre and style to The Black Seeds, Katchafire has their own way of producing that kiwi style dub-y, reggae beat. Although they started out as a Bob Marley cover band (hence their band name, a play on words for the track “Catch a Fire”) in the late nineties, they have since produced four fantastic albums. Perfect for a bonfire beach party or sunset festival show, the horn sets, trumpet solos, and sax improvisations are impressive and entirely beautiful. Albums: Revival (2003), Slow Burning (2005), Say What You’re Thinking (2007), On the Road Again (2010). Notable Tracks: On the Road Again, Reggae Music, Giddy Up, Groove Again.

Shapeshifter: This band blends heavy soul with drum & bass, and puts on just about the funkiest, vivacious live show ever. Albums: Realtime (2001), Riddim Wise (2004), Soulstice (2006), Shapeshifter Live (2007), The System is A Vampire (2009). Notable Tracks: Realtime, One, Electric Dream, Dutchies, Twin Galaxies

The Six60: A University of Otago-formed band, this poppy youthful group has a huge local fan base and some very catchy tracks. Although they put on an unforgettably charismatic, energetic live show, I might get over them pretty soon. That being said, they’re worth a few weeks of listening. Albums: Six60 (2011). Notable Tracks: Don’t Forget Your Roots, Only to Be.

Other Great New Zealand Bands / Musicians: The Mint Chicks, Anika Moa, Flight of the Concords, Kids of 88, Tiki Tane.

Fly My Pretties recorded their Live at Bats album over 4 nights in Wellington. 100% live album. Its unbeatable.

Fly My Pretties taking a bow.

The Naked and Famous of Auckland, New Zealand.

The Six60 playing at the new years festival I attended called Rhythm and Vines. The festival grounds are on a vineyard in Gisborne, the eastern most area on the North Island. This meant that everyone at Rhythm and Vines were the first people in the world to see the first 2012 sunrise. Other notable sets included Calvin Harris, Katchafire, Cut Copy, Pendulum, and Foreign Beggars. Photo courtesy of Paul Hoelen Photography.

Barnaby Weir: the man behind The Black Seeds and Fly My Pretties. This is his second solo album, worth listening to. He released another one in 2003 called Flash Harry.

Lovely album artwork ... you should check out their music videos.

The debut album of The Naked and Famous, which hit number one right away in NZ.

Katchafires Revival Album.

The Black Seeds remixed album.


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