The explosion in media coverage of New Zealand music is a few years old now. New Zealand Music Week (first celebrated in 1997) broke into the mainstream (that is, beyond b.net) in 2000, and has since grown to be New Zealand Music Month. That same year, NZ On Air's music budget was almost doubled from $2 million to $3.78 million as it launched its "Fourth Phase" with the promise of helping more kiwi music make the charts. In 2001, Broadcasting Minister Marion Hobbs raised the idea of voluntary NZ quotas for commercial radio (having pinched the idea from Aussie, Ireland and Canada) and was probably stunned when she got what she wanted. That things have only grown for the industry since then is pretty obvious.
When quotas and the like were first raised, a quite understandable argument broke out. Leaving aside the issues surrounding government intervention into the running of private businesses, one side argued that since New Zealand music was so unlike imported stuff that it deserved to be heard. The very reason that was keeping homegrown goods from our airwaves - the fact it didn't fit commercial expectations or existing pop radio formula - was the reason that it should be on our radios and TVs. (It can be hard to believe now, but Che Fu and Goodshirt didn't sound like what ZM was already playing a few years ago, and so wouldn't have been guaranteed much airplay without a little helping hand.)
This rich vein of originality is all well and good, the cynical response went, but all quotas and so on are actually going do is encourage the production of radio-friendly, Americanised crap. Not so much "New Zealand music" as "music that just happens to have been made in New Zealand". It was fair enough to assume that radio networks wouldn't have the balls to air anything outside of their import-driven sphere of influence, and that essentially nothing would change as far as the average listener would know. Apart from a whole lot more Finn and Dobbyn on Classic Hits, and a new radio-focused production line of bland rubbish that kiwi musicians had never had the incentive to make before, some people didn't think there'd be much to look forward to.
A couple of years on, pessimists can still find a few places to grind their axes. Acts like Zed and Dai Hamo have come through in the bold new kiwi quota era, but sound for all the world like they don't come from here. Listening to 'Hard to Find Her' or 'We Gon Ride', it's clear that these guys are following overseas trends more than anything else (although Dai Hamo's probably the only rapper to name-check Anna Paquin and Paul Holmes in the same song.). There's probably a bit of evidence that some of the fears people expressed have been borne out. With guaranteed radio play to compete for, some performers are playing it safe creatively to win air time rather than try to achieve anything else. This was always going to happen, though, and isn't enough to declare the quota era a failure.
It looks like the push local media has given kiwi music has essentially achieved what moderate optimists would have been looking forward to in 2000. Playlists aren't packed with "safety first" choices, and Crowded House classics are no more prevalent than they once were. There's still room for musicians to play with creatively, and more possibility of recognition for what they do. But it's not only broadcasters that have changed their game for the better. The increase in supply of local music has caused an increase in demand. That may not be the order in which economists like things to happen, but in this case the ends justify the means. It's the listeners and buyers of music that have changed the most in the past few years, and that's got to be the most satisfying outcome of the whole experiment. The huge swell behind, say, Aotearoa hip hop shows that your average radio listener is a lot happier these days to identify with local music, and even to treasure it as something only New Zealand could have made. It's a pity that political force was required to get the ball rolling, and that it didn't happen years or decades earlier, but right now we're in a really happy place.
Inverse Order is best described in metaphors. Imagine going to the beach. It's warm, there's nothing around. It's comfortable. There is the regular tang of salt in the air. But as you walk you realize there is something underlying everything - something bigger then what you thought. Every step taken lets you realize exactly how long the beach has been there, and how much natural creation has taken place in conceiving such beauty. It's about standing in the face of a hurricane and looking past the imminent death to see the beauty that it possesses. Inverse Order won't kill you by any means. But they have the ability to expand your sense of self and your understanding of the world around you. Of course, you can appreciate Inverse Order at face value, but when there's treasure underneath why would you simply scratch at the surface?
Stay and watch this hurricane.
Well there are a couple worth mentioning this week. The first is the brand new album from Katchafire. The follow-up from the hugely successful "Revival" is called "Slow Burning" and is in stores now. If you're keen to catch them live, check out their release party at Indigo in Wellington on the 3rd and 4th. Otherwise if you're elsewhere in the North Island, they're touring next month and should be in a town near you. Check out the muzic.net.nz Gig Guide for more details.
Another great release this week that I thought was worth mentioning was a new compilation from FMR called 'Get A Haircut'. It features 31 tracks from 31 of New Zealand's beat rock'n'roll legends ever. Step back in time all the way to 1958 with Johnny Devlin and journey through to 2001 with acts such as Max Merrit, Ray Columbus, Toy Love, The Enemy, The La De Das, Bored Games, The Axel Grinders, Shaft, The Spelling Mistakes, Flesh-D-Vice, Nothing At All!, The D4, The Warners, The Androids, The Datsuns, Chants R&B, The Terrorways and more!
Both CDs should be available from all good record stores.
We've given away another huge pile of CDs. Still more on the way! Here are the latest:
Feelstyle - 'Break It To Pieces' - S. Campbell, Blenheim
Stardrunk - 'Complete Control' - G. Gellert, One Tree Hill - M. Storey, Takapuna
48May - 'The Mad Love' - Y. Kogelman, Lower Hutt - P. Baas, Lower Hutt - M. Kelly, Newlands - P. Minty, Christchurch
Remember to check out our competitions page for details on how you can win some great New Zealand music!
There are a few tours/concerts coming up that you'll probably want to check out: