New Zealand is far away; traveling here from the U.S .means you arrive on a different day. That isolation has always had the obvious negative effects, but rather than sit around and complain about it, early New Zealanders just “gave everything a go.” New Zealand was settled by both European and Pacific people who travelled here on boats mostly before they even knew where “here” was, pretty much just to see if they could.
That ethos is still a part of the fabric of New Zealand culture, and is probably one of the main reasons that New Zealanders can hold their own on any world stage. In the music scene, that manifests itself in a way that creates an organic, collaborative, and unique scene. International metal heavyweights team up with local symphony orchestras , Dub darlings collaborate with U.K Soulbirds, and the guy who was the guitarist in everyone’s favorite reggae band was also an elf, and then moved to New York to work on a comedy with HBO.
New Zealanders love to shine on any stage, and though making waves internationally hasn’t always been easy, being hampered by our isolation is starting to become less of a roadblock. New Zealand music is starting to get consistent representation at SXSW, more acts are starting to get noticed and signed by labels state-side, and one of our own recently topped the Billboard charts (albeit with a little help from a few Australians).
Here’s some music from New Zealand that you should know about. Check it out, get familiar, and keep an eye out for NZ.
Click “next page” or hit shift+right to read on and listen to the music…
Loui the ZU
Recommended Listening: LBSB: The Fruits Of My Labour
Loui the Zu is a 17-year-old born in Zimbabwe, but he’s been in New Zealand since he was 6. His style is left-field hip-hop that brings in elements from pop, rock, and other realms, but as different as it is, it’s also easy to stomach. According to one New Zealander, he’s one of the most unique rappers in the country.
The Naked and Famous
Recommended Listening: “All Of This,” “Young Blood”
One way to gauge how big a song is: the remixes. “Young Blood” saw dozens of remakes from big names in indie, electronic, and hip-hop, and the song offically caught them a formidable buzz. The track ended up being their “Pumped Up Kicks” of 2010, but this New Zealand group is more than a one-hit wonder, and they proved that with their debut album, Passive Me, Aggressive You. The album is full of synths, guitars, fuzzy new wave vibes, but above all it’s the unforgettable melodies that stick.
Recommended Listening: “Candyman Shimmer”
Indie rockers coming off the release of their third album. They’re bluesy style has had them all over the New Zealand charts, and when big bands come into town, The Checks are one of the go-to acts for support. They’ve opened for bands like The Killers and AC/DC, and in 2012 they won a New Zealand Music Award for best rock album for Alice and the Moon.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Recommended Listening: “How Can U Luv Me”
One-half of the Neilsen brothers, from post punk heroes The Mint Chicks, went on to form Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Ruban (Neilsen) stopped making music seriously when The Mint Chicks disbanded, then sent this track out to a few music blogs anonymously to see if they had potential. Within a few days, he had a mailbox full of labels wanting more. It’s hard to pigeonhole the sound into any particular scene, but genre-melding has it’s benefits—the music has spread around the indie, rock, electronic, lo-fi, and post-punk audiences and been approved by all.
Recommended Listening: “Settle Down”
You know her as that lady from Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know.” With that song, she became become the second kiwi ever to reach #1 on the Billboard charts, and she’s revamped her album, Vows, for a release in North America. Her eccentric brand of pop has been received well regardless of geographic location, and at only 22 years old, we can expect that she’ll be an international presence in the years to come.
Recommended Listening: “Sunday Drive”
The “from adversity comes opportunity” theme is something that pops up throughout NZ music, and Pip Brown’s story is another great example of how a shattered dream (her band “Two Lane Blacktop” breaking up days before playing SXSW) can lead down a path that allows an artist to find herself and eventually, to find success. Her mix of indie rock, synth pop and new wave hit a sweet spot locally, as well as in Australia and the UK (culminating in a Brit Award nomination for her 2009 self-titled debut). Her sophomore album Anxiety dropped this month on Modular, Island.
Recommended Listening: “Jump Your Bones”
Even after touring with Eddie Vedder, The Black Keys, and Wilco, headlining his own tours in the US, and even a performance on Letterman, Liam Finn somehow carries the “underdog” tag in NZ, largely ignored by popular radio and mainstream press. 2011’s FOMO shows that he is an artist worthy of carrying his famous name (in NZ, possibly the MOST famous surname in music), with his second solo album capturing his maturing abilities as a songwriter.
Recommended Listening: “Feels Like Magic,” “Dust”
Recloose started out in Detroit studying music and playing jazz saxophone and shifted into the electronic music world of mixing and cutting. He relocated to New Zealand in 2001 and has had a profound effect on the electronic scene there, fostering talent through production, collaborations, and parties.
Recommended Listening: “Revolution,” “Phoenix,” “Used To Be”
There have been plenty of bands that try to fuse hip-hop with rock over the years. Most of the time it’s a compromise—a forced combination of two separate genres that don’t always mesh nicely. New Zealand’s The Wyld has managed to pull it off with a completely natural ease, giving a unique, mature spin on the hip-hop/rock pairing.
Kids of 88
Recommended Listening: “My House”
These Electro sleaze wizkids have an ear for a hook, and they’re signed to Sony so expect big things. On influences, the duo cites “groove, mood, and slutty arrangements. 16th hi-hats and hand claps. Culture and couture, Gangster and glamour.” Sounds like a good fit for 2012.
Electric Wire Hustle
Recommended Listening: “They Don’t Want”
Bringing together psychedelic, soul, and hip-hop for a unique brand of laid back R&B/soul, Electric Wire Hustle gives a fresh twist to music of the the past. “The music of New Zealand’s EWH reaches forward while referencing key points of music’s past. Thick drums and percussion layered with synth lines, hints of the Fender Rhodes and nylon stringed guitars have your neck snapping while your ear cranes to the evocative vocals of Mara TK.”
Recommended Listening: “Bathe In The River”
Hollie Smith’s “Bathe In The River” was included in the New Zealand movie No. 2 and quickly became a kiwi classic. It spent 22 weeks in the top 10 of the New Zealand singles chart from 13 March 2006 (when it was No.2) to August 2006
Recommended Listening: “Yellow Snot Funk,” “Listen To Us”
Home Brew’s early releases, live radio performances and legendary shows had seen them build their profile locally (as their website jokes, they played the Big Day Out in January this year where “over 12 people watched”), yet the success of their album release this month caught many locals by surprise. Their self-titled (double) debut album has received both critical and commercial acclaim, something which is a rarity for any local act (let alone a hip-hop crew from West Auckland), taking them from underground favourites to household names nearly overnight.
While many NZ hip hop acts often look offshore for inspiration, Home Brew’s heavy jazz influence provides both an audible pedigree to the classics of hip-hop as well as a sound that is unashamedly “homegrown.” Add this to their unique brand of social commentary (cutting, poignant, and more often than not interpreted through an ironic drug/alcohol induced haze), and it’s near impossible not to nod your head and laugh along.
Recommended Listening: “Sierra Leone”
After setting YouTube on fire with “Sierra Leone”, as well as various heaving remixes (including Sarah McLachlan’s “Silence” which has racked up over 13 million views), Mt. Eden’s Jesse Cooper and Harley Rayner have found themselves leaving the safety of their bedroom studios and playing gigs around the world, including this years Coachella. The hard work is obviously paying off, and 2012 promises to be a huge year for the Auckland duo, who should have a full length album out later in the year. Their 2010 EP Meds is available through iTunes.