10 of New Zealand’s Best Live Music Venues
Having just returned from a trip across the pond I can safely say New Zealand is like no other. I strode across plains so flat I could see the back of my own head, I saw lightning clap over snow feathered mountains and natural beauty unrivalled at Milford Sound. But guess what? This is a music magazine and there wasn’t an amplifier within 100 clicks of those places.
Although the tranquillity of her scenery was intoxicating, I needed a couple of power chords and incorrect vowels sung my way. Here are ten places worth stopping in for a Speights and some great live music in New Zealand.
Whammy Bar – Auckland
Having grown up studying tour posters with a magnifying glass, there was always a venue present on every band’s NZ tour leg – Whammy Bar. A mainstay for bands both international and domestic as well as a backbone for the Auckland music scene, Whammy Bar gets wild.
Once down the stairs you find yourself in a dingy basement and it couldn’t be more perfect. A discrete entry adds to the underground charm. Jez from The Pinheads likens it to a maze of “hidden chambers and different slimo bars”. Having known Jez for a long time, I’m well acquainted with his love of all things slime – this is nothing but praise. The Whammy looks after their local acts and stays open late if you’re up for something wicked.
The Wine Cellar – Auckland
Split between two rooms, The Wine Cellar is half bar, half live venue. Its dimly lit ambience and cosy atmosphere can makes a few drinks easy, while the band room is regularly jam packed. Located on Auckland’s infamous Karangahape Road, the venue offers everything from acoustic to noise rock.
Self-described as a bar run by musicians for musicians and fans, the organisers provide full backline and have reasonably high production standards while retaining a very DIY ethos. This sense of community is felt throughout the bar.
Powerstation – Auckland
With a capacity of 1050, Powerstation has your bigger gigs covered. I saw Leftfield here and it was really, really good. The sound system is immense and its two levels make for comfortable viewing and dancing. It’s just the right size to feel intimate before being engulfed by a swamp of people.
With a 30-year history and somewhat of an iconic stature in Auckland, Powerstation has hosted the world’s best and will continue to do so for pretty much ever. Fingers crossed anyway.
Lowtide – Eden Terrace
Burrowed into the inner suburbs of Auckland is Lowtide. Celebrating local talent, Lowtide is an arts label and creative performance space for Auckland’s brightest. From its humble beginnings as a blog in 2014, the venue has recently evolved into a multi-disciplinary studio run by a collective of ten creatives.
It’s a platform, shelter and launch pad for those wanting to pursue a passion.
“We aim to combine and immerse various scenes and cultures in the Auckland area together. We believe that through open collaboration, the thriving, yet largely understated Auckland arts scene will continue to flourish.”
Yot Club – Raglan
Reminiscent of a younger Byron Bay, Raglan is a surf town through and through. There’s a lot of John John Florence everywhere, and people saying “yew”. Yot Club is the place to turn it on after a big day of coastal leisure; and to save your legs they have a bus on call to pick you up.
With a reputation for getting rowdy, the bar offers live music and DJs every night of the week. Apparently Hockey Dad’s latest stop over had the place heaving.
Lucky Bar + Kitchen – Whanganui
Tucked between the Whanganui River and rolling green pastures is Lucky, an unassuming venue that’s doing wonders for music lovers out of the major cities. It offers those situated more rurally an opportunity to get on stage, as well as network with larger bands that tour the country.
A somewhat small slice of bohemia, the space is a great stop for bands on their way up or down the north island. On top of this, the venue hosts comedy and drag nights to keep the party going between live music events.
The Stomach – Palmerston North
First of all, fantastic name. The Stomach is nestled in the creative hub of Palmerston North. An initiative lead by Creative Sounds Society, The Stomach boasts a not-for-profit, judgment free live music venue, a recording studio, and rehearsal spaces.
Celebrating their 30th birthday this year, Creative Sounds Society even run workshops and masterclasses from within the venue. It’s fast becoming a regular stop for NZ touring bands.
Meow – Wellington
Placing importance on “actually giving a fuck” and ensuring their punters are having just as much fun as them, Meow is a genuine place of leisure in Wellington.
“If live music stayed the same, we would all get bored. I feel the same about live music spaces.”
With an MO of constant change, don’t be surprised if you walk into a completely different bar each visit. Along with providing an outlet for local bands, Meow runs a stage at Wellington-based street parties Newtown Festival and Cuba Dupa. All this and they love cats, so yeah, cats too.
Moon 1 – Wellington
Diversity is key for Moon 1. On any given night you can find yourself grooving along to a selection of jazz funk, art rock or indie shmindy. Moon 1 presents a well-equipped platform for the local Wellington music scene, so local that one punter wheels his piano in from up the street.
There are pinball machines, disco balls and a funky space theme throughout. The venue has hosted the likes of Chain & The Gang and Talk Black Guy, so keep your eyes peeled for an opportunity to see an international act in a smaller setting here.
The Crown Hotel – Dunedin
The ‘Dunedin Sound’ is cool as shit; it’s not wavered since the dawn of Flying Nun and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Established in 1862, The Crown Hotel has nurtured some of the most progressive sounds to come from the south island, nay, New Zealand. It’s your classic pub and counter feed, pool, friendly staff, cold beer – but with a rich music history.
By Jareth Leslie-Evans
Happy Mag’s NZ Week is a new initiative spotlighting New Zealand as one of the world’s most exciting cultural hubs.