In a new music documentary series, Tribal, Glenn McConnell travelled the country to find the wildest parties, bands and dance crews. But, as he reports, he found something even greater.



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Musi cc an tell the story of every defining moment across generations of New Zealanders. Through melody, beat and performance, popular music depicts the essence of a generation of parties, protest sand progress. Look back to the 1980s, when New Zealand saw the rise of reggae and punk whil et he nation underwent huge political upheaval. With songs abo utt he French nuclear tests in the Pacific, the band Herbs took its place in New Zealand music history. As Māori rights were brought to the attention of the entire country through the late -20 th century, the Pātea Māori Club and Moana and the Moa hunters showed a contemporary side tow aia ta Māori. And as young New Zealanders sough tt o establish an independent identity for themselves and the country, stepping away from the British Empire and the conformity of earlier generations, labels such as Flying Nun and Dawn Raid provided the opportunity. But that was then. What about now? When the C ovid -19 pandemic promised to change almost everything about life as we knew it, Is tarted a project to documen tt he state of music in Aotearoa. I wanted to paint a picture of the current music scene by meeting the emerging creatives who have grown new communities through music. Our popular music can tell us a lot about the generation that fostered it. So what do the current trends tell u sa bo utt he futur ef or Aotearoa? The search for New Zealand’s most vibrant, passionate and trend setting music scenes took us to wildly different places. With film-maker Chris Graham, we met the people who makeup six of New Zealand’ s wildest, most passionate music scenes. You can meet them, too, in our new music series, Tribal. The six-episode documentary has just bee np ublished on Stuff. These six scenes show an incredible diversity among Generation Z. What is clear is there is no on et ren dt hat defines New Zealand’s pop cultur et oday. MĀORI IS MAINSTREAM The mahi to keep waia ta Māori on the air, and in our play lists, has only strengthened. The singer Reiison a mission to make waiata Māori“sexy ”. He is something of ar ecord-making machine, releasing back-to-back bilingual tracks tha te as e te reo Māori into the mainstream. Meanwhile, a singer previously known as Theia is on a mission to contin uet he long traditions o ft raditional waiata Māori. She arrived on the scene in 2017 looking like something of apsychedelic astronaut, making music that was “unapologetic al t-pop ”. These days, Em-Hale y Walker releases music as TeKaahu, writing mōteatea and waiata which follo wt raditions passed dow ng enerations throu ghh er whakapapa. “Ou rp eople have always been making music, but it’s only nowadays that it’ s starting to get recognised outside of our own people ,” Walker says. With wide rr ecognition ,t he amount of reo Māori music has ballooned an dy oung artist sno wf ocu son rock, reggae, pop, rap and mor et raditional waiata Māori. Looking back across her 40 years in music Dame Hinewehi Mo hi says the fusion of waia ta tawhito ,t he ol dt raditions, an dc ontemporary music has revitalised te reo. “Over time, we’ve started to build an appreciation for wai at areo Māori and it’ s really taken hold ,” says Mo hi. DIY DUNEDIN We saw the revitalisation of Dunedin’ salt-rock heritage, with young musicians throwing massive house parties. There, they convert bedrooms into concert venues and invite a few hundred music lovers and party goers to squish into their flats. Regulars to one old wooden house reassured me that the shaking and swaying floorboards were nothing to worry about. In recent years, with restrictive council rules and th eu niversity and property developers buying u pold music venues, there have been huge concerns about the future for Dune din music. There are increasingly fewer places to perform but that only appears to have reinvigorated a grungy, DIY culture, which booms from Dunedin’s students. No recording studio? Record yourself .Nov enue? Load some wooden pallets and build your own stage. There’s no particular system or programme that keeps Dunedin’s music scene ticking along. Everyone connected toits eems to have their own bespoke plan to create a path or, importantly, a revenue stream so they can keep making music once StudyLink dries up. That’s no easy task. Hamish Calder, a Dunedin rapper who is making major waves as the artist Wax Mustang ,de scribed his home as a “DIY city”. In our travels between flats, w ef ound recording studios built in garage san d many more bedrooms that converted into conce rtv enues, recording studios and practise spaces. Nothing is single use in Dunedin. Calder’s mate, Damin McCabe, went as far as to start ar ecord label, Garbage Records, so that musicians such as Calder could start making money from their art. There’s hope that, with nothing but their instruments, guerilla marketing technique sand Southern resilience, Dunedin’s musicians can finda way to keep making music together, forever. THE BIRTH OF AFRICAN KIWI Our music culture is shaped through our links with the world, asw ell. In Hamilton, a city which Ray Ruzibiza AKA Raiza Biza claims is the “best city in the world”, we learnt about the growth of an African Kiwi style of music. Ruzibiza has been mentoring a ne wg eneration of African Kiwi artists, after moving to Aotearoa in the 1990 s.H efi rst mov edf rom Rwanda to Gisborne with his parents, before settling in Hamilton. From there, he has worked with other Kiwi African artists such as Mo Muse, Jess B, Abdul Kay and Joe Rahim, another Rwandan Hamiltonian, who goes by the moniker Blaze the Emperor. It’s a relatively small scene, but filled with talent. “There was no such thing as an African Kiwi before. W ec reated that,” Raiza recalls. But through collectives such as BLKCITY, which also collaborates with visual artists, th ed istinct voice of African Kiwis is certainly growing. THE K-POP WAY OF LIFE While immigration brings a global influence to Aoteaora, the sudden rise of K-Pop shows the powe rof media and the internet. The global phenomenon of K-Pop has united people across the globe. Take a walk down High St, in Auckland’s CBD, on any Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and you’re like lytos eed ozens of young dancers perfecting their K-Pop routines. Terina Whaitiri mov ed f rom Whakatāne to Auckland to study dance, but has already been instrumental in fostering a K-Pop community, which has influen cef ar beyond just its music or dance moves. Whaitiri told us how music, for her, was not just a hobby or interest. “My whole life I’ d fe lt like an outsider, ”sh e says. But whe n sh ef ound this community, with hundred so f others who also enjoyed the same thing, “it was life-changing”. “My life felt like it had turned upsi ded own ,b ut in a good way.” The K-Pop community in Aotearoa is one of the most diverse music scene sw e visited –in clusive of fans from their young-teens to late-20s, all genders, ethnicitie san d sexualities. Many K-Pop fans, the ones who love the musi ce nough that they hang out on the weekend sto dance to it ,de scribe ali fe outside of this music where they have been crippled by shyness. “It didn’t start off as this whole ‘safe space community’ thing ,but we made it into this safe space,” Whaitiri says. “For K Pop fans, and people who feel like they don’t fit in. For quee rp eople, too, we wanted this safe space because we’ve seen how people can just flourish.” HOSTS WITH THE MOST For all its problems, there’s no doubt that the hyper-connectivity of the current age means that “niche” has taken o nawh ole new meaning. There’s always someone, or at least a few hundred people, nearby who share similar interests. W earec onnected to the globe. In Wellington, Olly de Salis and Camero nM orris, two enterprising young music lovers, have been working since they left high schoo l to bring some of the European club scene t oo ur capital city. When the bars along Courtenay Place failed to deliver, de Salis took it into his own hands by offering his parents’ home as sacrifice to host a party so huge it changed the course of his life. At 18 years old, just after leaving high school in 2015, de Salis started throwing house parties. It culminated with a “121 party” (that was the street address), which had been described to his parents as an “art exhibition”, but included a DJ standing on the kitchen table, a huge sound system, pizza and glow-in-the-dark paint smeared across the walls as “art”. It paid off. De Salis and Morris are now festival directors, as the entrepreneurs behind the brand 121. It will be a familiar name to many in Wellington, as they have also been running their own nightclub under the same name, thanks to hospitality veteran Tim Ward and a group of incredibly passionate dance music fans who want to change ho wy oung New Zealanders party. FINDING A TRUE HOME In Auckland, we met “house mother” Moe Laga. A dancer and visual artist, Laga’s work amplifies the perspectives of queer and Pasifika communities in Aotearoa. When I first met Laga, I asked what exactly it meant to be the “house mother”. It’s an unusual name for something that, on the face of it, is a dance troupe. She leads a group called the House of Coven. I first met them in a car park under a bridge in Auckland city. They’d parked up a 1996 Honda Accord, pumped up the music and may have a few cans o fs omething on offer as well. Strangers wandered past, throwing a few side glances our way. Holding the name “House of Coven”, it g oes without saying that we were all dressed in black. The style is witchy and ethereal. Stories about incredible parties, and late nights at Family Bar were shared. But as the conversations continued, a deeper meaning came to surface. When I asked Laga about Honey, one of her House of Coven “children” who had spread her wings to form her own ballroo mh ouse, the Coven mother teared up. The ballroom scene is about dance, competition and always family. It’s a place fo ry oung queer people to co me t ogether. Honey found the scene when she was 16 years old. “Honestly, it changed my life when I was 16. I’d recommend it to any young queer kid,” Honey says. “It’s really important that yo ug oo ut o fy our way to find the people who are going to understand you and who will help you develop into the authentic, unapologetic young queer person that you’re destined to be.” Laga gets emotional talking about her Coven family. Many have struggled with discriminatio nandn ot being accepted fo r wh o they are. So me d on’t even really like dancing that much. But this group of Halloween-loving creatives have built a culture of their own, and fo undac ommunity where they can be themselves. As we travelled the country exploring different music scenes, we ended up talking increasingly less about music and more about these tribes and communities that had sprung up because of music. Every scene is unique. Under the banner of dance and music movements, subcultures have sprung up all across the country, forming their own rules and worlds. Tribal is made with the support of NZ on Air. Watch Tribal at