New Zealand Music Month: What ever happened to the turntable/bullseye t-shirts?

The Music Month t-shirts were a must-wear to any musical event.
Blechynden, Kent

The Music Month t-shirts were a must-wear to any musical event.

In 2007, for what I guess must have been my 14th birthday (it feels like I was much younger), I was thrilled to unwrap a New Zealand Music Month t-shirt.

If you had at least one working eye from 2006 to 2012, or thereabouts, you'll remember them. The black-and-white target logo on the front, "New Zealand Music Month, Puoro o Aotearoa" and the year in bold on the back. Usually the shirt itself was black, although I also recall sky blue and green variants.

You could buy them at Hallensteins for something like $30, and I guess that's where mine came from.

The 2003 shirt was a pleasant sky blue.
Maarten Holl

The 2003 shirt was a pleasant sky blue.

My shirt was black and at that time probably the coolest thing I'd ever owned. I'd been learning guitar for the past three years and it felt like the perfect expression of the thoughtful, musical persona that at 14 I thought was the Real Me.

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The t-shirt quickly became my go-to for any occasion when I needed to impress. Come mufti day, it was first out of the drawer.

The year on the back was often the only design feature to change from year-to-year.
Maarten Holl

The year on the back was often the only design feature to change from year-to-year.

I was far from the only person to own one of these t-shirts - all my hip uncles had one, and on those mufti days at school you'd spot plenty of them in the corridors. For a while, those targets were everywhere you looked.

A new series was printed in May every year. The only change to the design was the year on the back.

Over time, my 2007 t-shirt became faded like an old blackboard, cracks eating into the outside edge of the printed target logo. I stopped wearing it out and started sleeping in it or wearing it to the beach.

The 2017 New Zealand music month t-shirt is a radical re-imagining of the classic design.
Supplied

The 2017 New Zealand music month t-shirt is a radical re-imagining of the classic design.

I can't remember exactly when I finally threw it - holed and fraying at the collar - out, but I like to think it was around 2013, because that's when you stopped seeing so many of them.

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Simon Woods, who manages Music Month for the New Zealand Music Commission, says the t-shirts have been printed since before 2002.

Initially they were hard to get your hands on because they were only available as prizes for Music Month-related competitions, and as gifts for musicians and others working in the industry.

Even then, though, they were in demand. Woods was working at a record label in those early days and remembers the company's marketing manager being incensed that not everyone at the label had been given one. Their solution was to go and get a bunch of unofficial knockoffs printed.

Hallensteins got in on the action around 2007, turning what had been a niche item into a product for the mass market. "That's when you saw them everywhere," Woods says.

The Hallensteins relationship lasted until 2013, when declining sales brought it to an end.

"If you were to talk to any fashion people - and believe me, we're not fashion people - they'll say, brands and styles come and go, so part of the reason the Hallensteins relationship came to an end is sales were starting to decline," Woods says.

Since then, the t-shirts have been sold online only through the Music Month web site. The designs have changed but they always feature a reference to the Commission's record/target logo.

Woods isn't ruling out a return to the shelves of bricks-and-mortar stores.

"Hopefully at some point a commercial partner like Hallensteins has in the past will come aboard and say, 'We see lots of value and we'll do lots of them,' and otherwise we'll keep them nice and simple and keep doing them via the web shop," he says. 

"But definitely there's no plan to stop doing them. We like them and we wear them, and they present a little bit of work for us, but as long as every year we break even."

What made the shirt's so popular during that early era? Why did Woods' marketing manager pursue them so aggressively? Why did I start thinking I was hot stuff the minute I unwrapped that present?

To hear Woods tell it, the shirts represented a kind of acceptance of national and cultural identity for Kiwis.

"When I grew up listening to Flying Nun bands in the 80s and stuff, you were a freak for liking local music. Musical people would actually give you a hard time.

"No one's going to do that now, in fact if you couldn't name a New Zealand band you liked you'd probably be called a freak now.

"'Cultural cringe', for lack of a better term, used to be incredibly strong. And now we have national pride. If you make a shirt that can latch onto that, and be good-looking and robust and cheap, it's a good thing to purchase."

I think in a way those shirts have become a kind of Kiwiana icon, in the same way as gumboots, kiwifruit and the 1905 All Blacks Originals are - but, to me at least, they represent a very different New Zealand.

The New Zealand of the music month t-shirt is a place where people live in renovated villas with espresso steaming on the stovetop and Flying Nun LPs spinning on the turntable. Where they work in marketing or design or some kind of gig in government, and spend their spare time painting or sitting in cafes or reading The Listener

When you wore a Music Month t-shirt, you were identifying yourself with that version of our country. In my teenage years - years when just about everyone is groping around for some kind of identity - that was a tribe I wanted to belong to.

I really miss that t-shirt.

 - Stuff

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