Sounds like us

IT'S THAT TIME AGAIN: May is New Zealand Music Month.
IT'S THAT TIME AGAIN: May is New Zealand Music Month.

VICKI ANDERSON looks at the bullseye on her New Zealand Music Month T-shirt and wonders just who or what the target should be.

It's New Zealand Music Month again. This year we're celebrating the 10th anniversary of it, although it started in 2001. Maths anyone? Maybe I'm missing something. I have mixed feelings about the merry musical month of May. I love discovering good music made by people in my city and country. I like that the month is often just an excuse for mainstream media to bring our musicians to the fore - let's face it, any reason will do. But I have a theory that having Kiwi music rammed down our throats for a month has started to make us a nation of haters. We're a little sick of being told what to do in May, I think.

Besides, where's the quality control? Some New Zealand music is s... I shudder to think who I'm going to have to listen to on TV this month. Who'll be on Good Morning making it a bad morning? Please don't let me be on the Interislander any time this month. That said, if I don't like the music that someone makes, I just don't listen to it. I don't feel the need to start a social networking campaign to crush their souls.

All the while we're ra-ra-raing anyone who strums a guitar this month, the bigger issues go unresolved. For example, just what is happening at NZ On Air? While the funding schemes available are appreciated by those who use them, just when is this government going to get around to chucking a few "funding advisers" and their labelmate buddies off this gliding- on-type gravy train?

They really are taking the mick.

It's well and truly time for new blood. If any organisation needs a shake-up and a good prodding by a group of bureacrats with calculators, NZ On Air is it. There are some great people who work there who are passionate about their jobs, but it is just not working to its brief. The same artists get the funding year after year. Acts who are already established, who have record deals and who can afford to pay their way, get decadent funding.

Why is a government-run agency giving such large funds to artists already backed by record companies?

Of the 56 acts to receive funding in New Zealand on Air's March round, only one (Salmonella Dub) was based in the South Island. That is simply ridiculous. Not meaning to sound "regionalist" or anything (NZ On Air are always accusing me of this) but, by laws of averages alone, there should be more than one. South Islanders pay taxes too.

But hang on a minute, according to the mission statement on NZ On Air's website, they are driven by cultural imperatives and to exclude commercial ones yet, paradoxically, their funding choices are made largely on whether an act is going to be "viable commercially".

Some might say there's a serious breach of guidelines here.

NZ On Air is funded by Arts and Culture (spending about $5.2 million per year) yet they're essentially funding commerce - they specifically target music for commercial radio, no artistic merit considered. Not a big fan of the genre personally, but when was the last time you heard a country song on commercial radio? Shouldn't, then, those monies come from trade and industry sources?

I'd like to ask someone at NZ On Air these questions but NZ On Air no longer take my calls.

At an industry gig late last year, one of the head honchos went to shake my hand as my name was being told to him by a third party. He pulled it away so fast he caused a breeze. "Oh, it's you, you wrote that story about us," he said, turning around rather deliberately, so I was left staring at his blue-suited back.

I didn't feel embarrassed at all. I actually felt kind of proud. Besides, I was worried about shaking his greasy palm anyway.

That "story" questioning the transparency and issuing of funds and grants was published in The Press in 2008. Last May, I felt too weary about the whole saga to even contemplate looking into it again.

But I was looking back over that 2008 story this week and was struck by a number of things. Most notably, that nothing has changed. Well, one thing has changed, but I'll get to that.

Back then, NZ On Air music manager Brendan Smyth kindly explained the selection processes.

"We send all the songs to the music television programmers and get them to tell us which songs they are most likely to play.

"It's no use to us and no use to the band if we fund the video and it never gets played. MTV, C4 and Juice are the main people we ask. Using the video is a means to an end and the end is to get more songs played on the radio. Ultimately, the NZ On Air board makes the final decision."

Entertainer Lindon Puffin was quoted in this same 2008 article about being rejected for funding: "Apparently the problem was that I didn't have a profile in Auckland. The insinuation was that if I'm going to take this seriously, I'll have to move to Auckland."

Fast forward to 2010 and the likeable Puffin now lives in Auckland.

When New Zealand Music Month started, it was to increase airplay, but now the organisation is simply trying to get as much exposure for artists as possible. There's nothing wrong with that, but it should not simply be a matter of getting the requisite number of New Zealand artist miles clocked "on air".

These days people are aware of New Zealand-made music all year round but it is vital that this government doesn't forget that music is not just about radio-play and videos - it is a vital part of our culture and heritage and it needs to be treated with respect.

There's a lot of good things happening and people doing good things in this city. Take, for example, the bunch of youths who put together Tally Ho!, a free Christchurch monthly magazine. This month they are giving away a CD with music by amazing New Zealand artists that I would wager no-one at New Zealand On Air has even heard of. You can get one, if you're lucky, by going to Real Groovy and other likely stockists.

Or, as another example, the group of 14- and 15-year-olds who make up Crimson Metal Dragon, who are releasing their own CD, Dragon Wagon, themselves (nod to track eight, Media Machine). Thanks to people like Julie Wylie and Craig Smith, Christchurch is even leading Australia and New Zealand in the realm of children's music.

It is people like this who make me smile. People like this who deserve New Zealand's support.

Christchurch-based Ladi6 posted this on Facebook this week: "20 shows in 30 days we did it!! Last show supporting the infallible Gil Scott Heron, this entire tour's been mind blowing, and gigs are still coming in thick and fast. Europe rulz x." Christchurch group Bang! Bang! Eche! are in MTV's 25 Best New Bands in the World list, announced this week, and according to the poll, they are leading the voting.

Personally, I'm excited about watching what my favourite Christchurch band, the Transistors, can achieve. They have the ability to do great things on a global scale.

This music month, I suggest you check out or head out and support any one of the below acts (just 25 that popped into my head).

They're unique, hardworking and passionate about their music. Most importantly, they sound like us - they're our New Zealand on ears.

1. Transistors

2. O'Lovely

3. No Aloha

4. The Eastern

5. Sexy Animals

6. Bang! Bang! Eche!

7. Truth

8. JDubs

9. T54

10. Mark Vanilau

11. Pikachunes

12. Flying Solo

13. Anthesiac

14. Age of Empires 2 (Sleepy Age)

15. Cairo Knife Fight

16. A Hori Buzz

17. HaYne

18. Soulsystem

19. Green Like Go

20. Kate Taylor

21. Tainted

22. Crimson Metal Dragon

23. How To Kill

24. The Easy Hearts

25. The Unfaithful Ways

HAVE YOUR SAY: Comment on this story below.

The Press