Next month is New Zealand music month.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of Lorde and possibly Kimbra, they are New Zealand’s self-proclaimed pop princesses but this is just the tip of NZ music’s iceberg. There are many other Kiwi musical greats that have come before them. This here, is your crash course in the history of NZ music.
New Zealand’s age and geographical location has a big impact on what New Zealand music is. We are too young to have a folk history and too far away that that International artists don’t often visit our shores; we only get around 2-3 big acts a year. Our music history is therefore based off international trends being adapted by local artists.
New Zealand’s first pop song was Blue Smoke in the 1950s. The first North American popular music that reached the shores of NZ was from Hawaii, and you can definitely hear the Hawaiian influence in this song.
Moving on to the 1960s, we had Ray Columbus and the Invaders with their hit She’s a mod, our answer to the early British Invasion. We even had a Wanganui Elvis, aka Johnny Devlin.
In the late 1970s, Herbs was formed and went on to become pioneers for the Pacific reggae sound. During the latter half of the 1970s, NZ started to see an emergence of a local punk rock scene and in the early 1980s, NZ music was changed forever with the establishment of Flying Nun Records in Christchurch. Flying Nun released a number of influential bands including The Clean, The Verlaines, The Bats, King Loser, Straight Jacket Fits, and The Chills who are a big inspiration to a lot of Californian bands such as Jay Retard, Ty Segall, and Wavves.
Around the same time, bands such as Split Enz, Th’Dudes, Dragon, and Hello Sailor were gaining chart success in NZ and other parts of the world. The members of Split Enz then went on to form Crowded House, one of NZ’s most successful bands. Another ex-Split Enz member formed The Swingers, who released Counting the Beat in 1981.
In 1984, one of New Zealand’s biggest pop hits was released; it is called Poi E and is sung entirely in Maori, a NZ first. In 1988, Dave Dobbyn (member of Th’ Dudes) and Herbs released Slice of Heaven, a song you are guaranteed to hear at any NZ sports game.
Then we have the sad story of Darcy Clay, a troubled musician who released one album of great songs including Jesus I was evil. In 1995, OMC release How Bizarre, a very catchy pop tune that all Kiwis know. This song topped the charts in six countries and peaked at number two on the United States’ Billboard Top 100.
During Spice Girls mania, we also had our own girl bands, True Bliss, who won the first X-factor/American Idol type show, and Deep Obsession. In the early 2000s, we had artists such as Bic Runga and bands including Fur Patrol, Stellar, The Datsuns (one of NZ’s best rock bands), and Goodshirt. In my opinion, Goodshirt released one of the best music videos ever made with their hit Sophie. At the same time Scribe and Che Fu, arguably New Zealand’s most famous rap artists, started to release their hits.
New Zealand’s electronica scene is not huge but what we have is great. Two successful bands in this genre are Shapeshifter and Minuit. Mainstream reggae and dub took off in the mid-2000s, with the release of Fat Freddys Drop’s album, Based on a True Story. This time period saw the emergence of a lot of dub bands including Salmonella Dub, Katchafire, Kora, Rhombus and The Black Seeds.
Flight of the Conchords gained international success and introduced America to New Zealand’s dry sense of humour with their HBO show of the same name.
In the 2000s, New Zealand saw a lot of alternative bands releasing their great tunes; bands such as Naked and Famous, Die Die Die and The Mint Chicks. The members of The Mint Chicks went on to form Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Opossum. We also have the indie band, The Phoenix Foundation, and artist Liam Finn (son and nephew of Split Enz’ members).
A NZ artist who really pushes musical boundaries is Connan Mockasin with his psychedelic pop music. New Zealand’s recent successful musicians include the likes of Kimbra, Broods and of course, Lorde.
New Zealand’s passion for music doesn’t come from monetary value or fame, as we don’t have a music industry big enough to support that mindset. NZ musicians do it purely for their love of music. To see local talented musicians in your region check out Under The Radar and Cheese On Toast online, or The Fold in your local café. New Zealand music month is celebrated for the month of May with special releases, gigs and shows.