Level Up Or Lip Service?
New Zealand Music Month (NZMM) is in full swing - and there’s lots to like about it. The theme this year being ‘Level Up Our Local Talent’.
But it’s sometimes a little hard to get away from the feeling it can become a spotlight on those who have already ‘made it’ to the level being referred to.
Is every time you hear Six60, L.A.B, Lorde or BENEE during May a missed opportunity to have brought some other band or artist up to that level, even if just for a moment?
The answer is, of course, complicated - ‘why not both?’ would be the ideal answer - as those listed above have earned their success. In competitive and commercial worlds, radio stations and content providers still have audiences to maintain and revenue targets to hit.
The same goes with concert-going. Given the barren run performers, promoters, venue owners and technical staff have had to endure from pandemic restrictions, any time is a good time to get out and support them, But if you take NZMM seriously, perhaps it’s time to check out someone new.
We decided to check in with those at the coalface.
Paula Yeoman, Music Manager of the likes of rising artists Theia and Paige for NicNak Media, told The Big Idea “it’s been heartening this NZMM to see so much activity and support for emerging acts and those less visible than the big names who dominate the charts and radio.
“But the real challenge will be in keeping this momentum going.
Theia performing live. Photo: Tom Grut.
“There’s clearly no shortage of cash to throw at tickets for the big international acts about to flock to our shores - and I welcome these big shows returning. But my sense is punters are still reluctant to fork out to see a local band that charges around the $10 to $40 mark.
“The stark contrast is a bitter pill to swallow. For artists to develop and grow, we need a healthy live scene. For artists to make any money from their music, we need a healthy live scene. But a healthy live scene depends on people supporting acts and actually buying tickets.
“It breaks my heart that people don’t hesitate to buy a $6 oat milk flat white and an $8 sandwich, but they’ll um and ah over paying $10 for a show that’s been the culmination of months/years of blood, sweat and tears.”
Vocalist for The Not Okays, Lauren Kate Borhani told The Big Idea that this month’s ‘Level Up’ theme “is an appropriate challenge for the powers that be who control what New Zealand is listening to, reading about and watching to extend their support further to lesser-known bands and help 'level them up' to a place of recognition or landing opportunities.
“However, it's also an opportunity for the general public to challenge themselves to dip into a local band they may not have experienced before. Everyone shares responsibility for celebrating the incredible wealth of talent we have in this country.
“We see NZMM as a time to challenge NZ's 'Tall Poppy' thinking and just let it be about the music.”
Aum Festival. Photo: Nabulen.
Rob Warner has a wealth of experience, having spent decades DJing at venues all over Auckland. The nightlife advocate told The Big Idea “the amount of events cancelled at short notice - small and large - has been gruelling for musicians, promoters and venues. It's taken a lot of faith by them to plan events for the comeback, knowing that there's a decent percentage of people who rightly are cautious about going back to dance floors.
“But it is happening and the weekly goings-on is getting better - even with the knowledge that the pandemic is not over and more curveballs could arrive.
“Many musicians and performers have been stretched to their limits so being able to perform again has been a huge relief. People venturing out and being enthusiastic about events is great to see.”
Warner thinks there’s been a renewed appreciation for homegrown talent, one kernel of good news from the pandemic. ”With two summers being mostly local artists, Kiwi talent shone big time. I think this could have a longer-term positive impact for local artists. Events and festivals being so good without internationals will lead to event-goers having a new appreciation for local talent, especially up and coming talent."
DJ Keepsakes. Photo: Haven Records.
He points out “this week alone in Auckland there's some amazing Kiwi-focused events going on. Europe-based Kiwi Freq Nasty is playing at Neck of the Woods on K-Rd on Friday. A few doors down at Whammy Bar is "Mutant" by Haven Records - a techno event created by one of the top hard techno labels globally, run by Kiwi producer and DJ Keepsakes. The Grand Dubbers Picnic with electronic music pioneers Pitch Black playing live alongside Europe-based Grouch and a bunch of other DJs being held at the Aum New Years Festival site, north of the city on Saturday night.
“Tons on - and across the spectrum too - so get out for a dance.”
You don't have to be in Auckland, of course. There’s sure to be heaps happening in your region too, so seek out local musicians ready to put on a show. You can find plenty of activity at the NZ Music Month website and comprehensive gig guides like at Undertheradar.