Elleana Dumper, Nah Zone co-directorr (photo: @ciderdoncorleone)

Nah Zone: NZ creative culture’s new kids on the block

Jogai Bhatt talks to the talent behind Nah Zone, a new underground collective showcasing music, writing and art on the internet and in the club.

There’s no shortage of young talent in Aotearoa – it’s just a matter of keeping your ear to the ground. This is the ethos embodied by Nah Zone, an ambitious new youth collective hoping to shine a light on the underground creative scene by providing a platform for the platformless. From local gigs, showcases, cultural commentary pieces and community initiatives, the group is multi-faceted and forever evolving.

Starting as a secret Tumblr blog inspired by KanyeUnivereCity.com (Kanye West’s original Pinterest board for music, art and impassioned rants), Nah Zone has since developed into a thriving virtual hub for budding artists to share their work and push the local scene forward.

The idea had been brewing in the mind of director Jonique Purcell for years. But it wasn’t until October of last year that she decided to bite the bullet and launch Nah Zone for real. I sat down with the core members of collective on the humbling floors of Westfield St Luke’s to learn more about the what’s gone on in the last eight months, and why it truly takes a village.

Jonique Purcell, Nah Zone founding director (PHOTO: @ciderdoncorleone)

Anytime I’m talking about Nah Zone to someone, I always find it’s kinda tricky to explain. It seems like you’re involved in all pockets of modern culture. How do you define Nah Zone?

Jonique Purcell: I would just say it’s a community. It’s very fluid what Nah Zone is, it’s up to each person’s own interpretation, but it’s mainly a youth-led community platform, with the community being the young creatives of New Zealand. And even then, creative’s a loose term. Anyone can be a creative.

Elleana Dumper: When you say anyone’s a creative, that includes people participating in the creativity as well, like audiences, people who come to shows. I see us as connecting bridges between audiences and artists.

Jonique: People behind the scenes have to get the light as well. It’s never just one entity. You know how everyone praises Beyoncé? She’s got a whole team behind her, man.

Elleana: I guess we just want to give opportunities to people and not deny them expressing themselves, or even participating creatively, because it’s something which is so natural and meaningful to a lot of people.

A lot of young creatives do flock to Nah Zone and sort of see it as a platform to express themselves. It sort of fills this important void for people who might not have the necessary access or resources to put their work out commercially.

Elijah Manū (AKA Church): Yeah, exactly. We all got together and created it because we all saw things that needed a bit more attention within our scene. Just people that care really. At the end of the day, we all want to help people within our different scenes locally – we just felt like we needed a platform where we could support other creative endeavours and be that kind of conduit.

The trajectory of Nah Zone is quite fascinating, because you only started up in October but I feel like you’ve achieved more in the past eight months than people dream of achieving in a year or so. What does that come down to?

Jonique: It’s teammates, man. I can’t describe it any better than that. That’s why I hate when people message me or give me credit alone. From everyone that sends in their music to people that just like the page, they all play a part. I never thought Nah Zone would be where it is today this fast. It kind of just accelerated, and that’s because there’s a whole community behind us.

Callum Elder, Nah Zone music curator (PHOTO: Hamish Johl @justunderbroke)

How did you form the current team? Did you all know each other beforehand?

Elijah: I signed up as a writer mid-to-late last year. I just wanted to address some issues within the local hip-hop scene that I felt weren’t being addressed. There wasn’t really any type of platform for that. My English teacher wasn’t gonna look at this as an English report and care about it, but Nah Zone was the place where we could get some eyes towards it.

Deadnakedparty (DNP): I was recruited as the in-house photographer in February. I’ve always wanted a platform to make things, or even just lend my vision to something that shares the same values as me. I liked Joni, I saw what she was doing, shedding light on a lot of underground acts. I legit just jumped up at the chance to get involved. It’s a hub of creativity.

Maina Jade Fale: I don’t make any music. I can barely write. But yeah, I’ve just been a fangirl for ages, that’s all I do at Nah Zone.

Jonique: Nah, Maina has a really extensive knowledge of the scene, and you can’t just find that around. She listened to Baccyard when he had like 80 Soundcloud followers. She listened to all these people that I see as up-and-comers when they literally had no following. Then she came to one of the parties that we threw – it wasn’t even an official Nah Zone thing, it was just a house party – and I was like, ‘Oh hey, by the way, do you wanna be part of team?’ I was pretty drunk.

Elleana: I got in kinda backwards. Jonique slid into my DMs one day, she asked if I wanted to help out. Elijah had told her who I was.

Elijah: Albert and I had just done a gig. Elleana didn’t come to the gig but she was on K’ Road.  

Elleana: I was going to but I missed the door sales…

Elijah: She was like, ‘I’ve heard of this thing called Nah Zone, it seems cool, I’m pretty interested in it.’ But she was based in Wellington at the time, so I was like, ‘Cool, I’ll tell Jonique that you’re interested,’ and it just happened from there. I think that’s a testament to us being organic, like, all that happened just from word of mouth. It wasn’t any type of, ‘Let’s network with this certain person and if they meet the criteria then maybe they can become part of the team.’ It was just like, ‘You wanna be a part of it? That’s cool, come along.’

Callum Elder: Last year my friend Lukas told me that there was this Nah Zone thing going on and that they needed someone to curate playlists. I just went from there, started helping around doing a few write-ups, then slowly became more and more involved.

Jonique: Nah Zone’s very easy-going with the roles, no one’s just strictly one thing.

Elleana: We’re all still figuring it out. 

Elijah Manū (Church), Nah Zone writer (Photo: @nvryh)

And Nah Zone was faceless for ages until you were forced out of anonymity, eh?

Jonique: Yeah, people would always message or email in being like, ‘Sup lads!’ or ‘Hey boys!’, ‘Shot fellas!’ It just makes things easier letting people think I’m a guy, because I feel like they lose a bit of respect when they find out I’m a woman. Then there’s the people who message in real corny stuff like, ‘Hey dude or dudette!’ I’m like… shot.

But now people know that it’s primarily brown women at the helm. Is it part of your agenda – or is it something you think about at all – to sort of combat the male culture of the local music scene?

Jonique: We didn’t create it thinking that. I wasn’t like, ‘I wanna go in as a brown woman and make all these changes.’ It was only recently, maybe last week, that we had this conversation like, ‘Oh shit, we actually have a responsibility being women in the music industry.’ Someone had said to me after our showcase – she’s been in the music industry for eight years so it was a big thing for me – she was like, ‘Finally, some girls coming in and showing everyone what’s up.’ I was like, ‘Oh, didn’t think of it like that.’

What do you make of some of the other groups around right now like YGB, Grow Room, SWIDT. Do they push you to work harder?

DNP: SWIDT’s solid, eh. YGB too.

Jonique: Those guys are like mentors to us. We’re not coming in trying to shake things up. We’re here because we wanna build from what we’ve learned from everyone you just mentioned.

Elijah: We’re all offsprings of what I guess you could call the old guard. All of these collectives have invested back into us, they’ve given us a lot of wisdom, a lot of inspiration, so without them we wouldn’t really be here. Whether it was directly or indirectly, we have to give credit where it’s due. All of those collectives that you mentioned, and the ones that you didn’t, those are people that we really respect and appreciate. The New Zealand scene is pretty small at the end of the day, we all feed off each other’s energy.

Tell me a little bit about the showcase you held in May. What was it like seeing that come to fruition?

Jonique: It was overwhelming. We didn’t even know how it was gonna turn out. We were stressing out over ticket sales. Then when it happened, I didn’t know how to react. It took me two weeks to be like, ‘Holy shit, we did that.’

Elleana: The scene is really small and we wanted to highlight emerging acts but also give people what they want – it was hard to determine whether it was going to be successful, but we ended up curating a really good mix. Our target audience is really lazy, they don’t by tickets till the day of. It’s just foot traffic mainly, but we were happy with how it turned out.

Jonique: We brought the energy, and everyone reciprocated.

I feel like starting something like this is kind of a daunting premise, especially in the early stages when it’s out of pocket. What compels you to keep going?

Jonique: Not gonna lie, there’s been times where I’ve been like, is this even worth it? But then you see everyone start to build their confidence, they start doing what they wanna do without fear, and that’s what keeps me going. It is worth it.

DNP: What keeps me going is knowing that I have a responsibility of some sort to just not slow down at this point. That’s quite a motivating factor.

Elijah: I think we’re all really involved. Not to discredit what anyone else is doing, but we represent the scene that we’re in. A lot of other websites and blogs are kind of looking from the outside, but we’re inside and we know what it is that we want to see. At the end of the day, we’re doing it for us.

Jonique: It’s really just about making the changes that we want to see and putting those community and family values to the forefront.

Maina: One thing for me was like, when we put on the showcase, just watching everyone enjoy themselves… man, that was buzzy as hell. It was like, ‘Woah, we actually did that.’

Elleana: When you see such positive change, it becomes quite addictive. It’s not a selfish thing, but it makes you feel good. Like DNP said, you have a responsibility, you know if there’s been such a good response then people are resonating with what you’re doing and it’s obviously needed. For me, coming from a background in events, seeing an exchange of energy is an incomparable experience to anything really. It’s so fun and exciting and you know you’re helping people. You just get so inspired to keep going. People inspire you.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of Jogai’s trip into Nah Zone, her interview with Church & AP


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