Features

10 Essential New Zealand Artists to Watch

For a country with a relatively small population, the amount of musical talent New Zealand houses is staggering.

We’re all familiar with their most popular forces, from pop dynamos Lorde or Kimbra to the more wildly unique Connan Mockasin or Unknown Mortal Orchestra. A little further down the ladder, however, there are a score of artists who bring the same untethered sense of creativity to their work.

Here are 10 musicians who are currently leading the charge in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Alien Weaponry

A band of three North Island teens, Alien Weaponry are being hailed as one of the most groundbreaking contemporary artists in the global heavy music scene. Their name and indeed a few of their songs reference the Musket Wars, an especially brutal period in New Zealand’s history triggered by the first Māori tribes obtaining muskets from British settlers.

They sing in Māori and play a furious breed of thrash metal, their overall sound coming across as powerful and demanding. Alien Weaponry use their voices to address the history of their people, never shying away from the bloodshed that built their country.

Soaked Oats

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Photo: Michelle Foran

The Dunedin sound is alive in Soaked Oats, a three-piece crafting laid-back guitar anthems with startling consistency. 2017 album Stone Fruit Melodies and 2019 EP Sludge Pop are both wonderfully coherent releases – whether they’re concerned with fruit or life in general.

Witty, sometimes philosophical lyrics and simply gorgeous guitar melodies come as naturally as breathing to this group. Top it all off with a cheeky attitude, and you’ve got yourself one of New Zealand’s most exciting rock bands.

Randa

randa Frances Carter
Photo: Frances Carter

A bright and charming force in Kiwi hip hop, Randa has a rep for bouncy beats, bitingly efficient lyricism, and some of the best damn music videos you’ll ever see.

In 2019 Randa seems to be back with gusto, dropping two incredible new tunes named Rock Bottom and Toughen Up. The latter showcases a grungier side to this artist’s sound, happily denouncing the outdated ‘suck it up’ mentality too many men are raised on.

“Everyone’s saying toughen up/but I feel more like a buttercup”

Jonathan Bree

Johnathan Bree is pure melancholy, distilled into a formless white substance then pumped into a human-shaped bodysuit. His rich baritone most often overlays ever-so-slightly disconcerting string melodies and razor sharp percussion, creating an air of old-world charm and new age experimentalism.

2019 single Waiting On The Moment is the first we’ve heard from Bree since his formidable debut album Sleepwalking, hopefully the herald of something new entirely. Whatever else is due from this corner, we’ll be listening intently with our blank, white ears.

Miss June

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Photo: Fabian Svejkar

“We were never going to be a band that’s easy to categorise. All I can do is be authentic to myself. But also, I’m not the kind of person who sits and broods over lyrics for days and days. I normally go with the first thing I write and stay on that track.”

That’s what Miss June’s Annabel Liddel said when we spoke to them in Sydney this year, shortly after the release of their debut album Bad Luck Party. A furiously genuine four-piece echoing the punk bands of yore, Miss June have quickly earned a reputation for explosive shows and rambunctious rock albums.

A reputation which, quite simply put, they deserve.

Same Name Confusion

Same Name Confusion write the kind of lyrics 99 percent of indie bands wish they could write. Bitingly forward and endearingly satirical of band and fan culture, their 2019 In Theory EP contains that many pinpoint observations, your brain will hardly be able to keep up.

“In Theory isn’t meant to make you laugh, but if makes you feel better about yourself we’ll let it slide.”

Yumi Zouma

What started as a trans-continental bedroom recording project has become Yumi Zouma as we know them now; a brilliant indie pop band with two albums and a trilogy of EPs to their names, now properly based in Christchurch.

Latest single Bruise is yet another cut of too-cool-for-school indie gold, supposedly the first of many new songs to come. Though Yumi Zouma have been kicking around for a few years now, we still find ourselves devotedly hanging upon each new release.

Daily J

A four-piece from Auckland, Daily J craft a pristine brand of soft psychedelia echoing early Mac DeMarco with a touch of Foxygen  – New Zealand’s own answer to The Ocean Party.

2019 single Left Me Like Summer is as rose-tinted as they come; the perfect compliment to five minutes in a hammock, or the perfect antidote to a long work day you straight-up want to forget about.

Ben Woods

Ben Woods may be a relatively new name, but these tracks are something else. His debut single, Lozenge, came out with guns blazing; a ruthless cut of nostalgic grunge peppered by some vocal melodies we still can’t get out of our heads.

Come 2019 he has an album out to the world, simply titled PUT. Self-identifying as an ‘Antipodean Gothic’, a term ascribed to outsider musicians based amidst the “desolate, xenophobic, flat” Christchurch, the album seeks to capture a city’s story from Wood’s own darkened perspective.

Lawrence Arabia

lawrence arabia Amelia Handscomb
Photo: Amelia Handscomb

Lawrence Arabia has been around for over a decade now, but his records never fail to stop us in our tracks. A musical chameleon through and through, the artist known to his friends as James Milne has played in more bands than some people have ever even seen live.

His latest, Lawrence Arabia’s Singles Club, is simply a wonderful rock record – though the same could be said for everything he’s released under the Lawrence pseudonym. If you haven’t started paying attention yet, consider this your open-armed invitation.

Happy Mag’s NZ Week is a new initiative spotlighting New Zealand as one of the world’s most exciting cultural hubs.
Special thanks to NZ On Air Music for supporting Happy Mag’s NZ Week.