Gareth Shute digs around to create a best-of-2018 music list with one criterion: the tracks all have less than 1000 streams on Spotify.
One cruel thing about online music services like Spotify is that they instantly put a number next to every track, which is intended as a sign of its popularity. Particularly cruel is the designation ‘<1000’, especially at this time of year when big acts are parading their monstrous numbers via “Spotify Wrapped” summaries. Of course, these numbers are no sign of quality and are sometimes just a sign that an artist’s true motivation is elsewhere. I have some sympathy given that my own band, Fever Party, has its only song down in three figures (though in that case, it’s probably more down to us not getting our shit together!).
So let’s have a look at what Spotify data leaves out and put together a playlist that will hopefully push some deserving acts over the line.
‘Hen’s Teeth’ by Bad Sav
This band have been a mainstay of the Dunedin scene for around a decade. The city is known for melodic indie guitar bands, but Bad Sav also underpin this track with a driving rhythm and huge, washy guitars (no jangle to be heard here). The album ‘Hen’s Teeth’ comes from had a long gestation which possibly siphoned off some of the band’s energy to promote it, especially since the group members are a busy trio too – Michael McLeod runs local venue the Captain Cook Hotel (and plays in Shifting Sands) while the other two members are also in Death and the Maiden (Hope Robertson and Lucinda King). It also seems likely that this band are more interested in Bandcamp sales than streams since the financial framework makes more sense for bands that aren’t likely to make the official playlists put together by Spotify, Apple Music etc. Though a real fan will buy it on Bandcamp and then stream it as well…
‘Down’ by K4m3
It’s a struggle getting your name out when you’re a rapper based in New Plymouth though some acts from the city’s Never Not Blazed crew have a decent profile (e.g., seedy phonk rapper, Hxrman). K4m3 isn’t helped by having a confusing, inconsistent name either (his Facebook is under KAME). Yet this self-produced track deserves more listeners: it takes the dark mood of downbeat trap, but with lyrics that avoid the usual cliches and repetitiveness that sometimes go with that genre. Of course, the online home for this genre is Soundcloud and it’s true that K4m3 wracks up slightly better numbers there, but no reason not to give his Spotify presence a boost too!
‘Teenage Crybaby’ by Contenders
Hamilton has had one of the best hardcore scenes in the country for over two decades now and even has its own regular festival based around the genre, The Hamtown Smakdown. It’s produced some amazing bands over this time (Ghidrah, Shinkasta), but I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of them produce a single as catchy as this one (while still remaining heavy AF).
This band also played a killer set at Whammyfest this year so while I’m sure a hardcore band couldn’t give two shits about Spotify plays, it seems inevitable that their numbers will fly up when word gets out (though by releasing two versions of the same track, they doubled the time it will take to get above 1000 streams).
‘Turn Out The Lights’ by Water
This one most surprised. I would’ve thought having two-thirds of Rackets would be enough to generate a bit more Spotify buzz (not to mention Rikki Sutton from Eyes No Eyes, Space Ventura, etc). They’re a great live act, with lead singer Oscar Davies-Kay showing such enthusiasm that you half expect him to thank every member of the audience individually. Their first EP, Enjoy (2017), was packed with indie rock gems and this new tune is even better. But, oh man, what a terrible band name to search for. Type ‘Water’ into Spotify, then look under the artist tab and they are 117th in the list, so lucky I found them for you.
‘O.K.’ by Tei, Emilio, Leaping Tiger, Swami
This collaborative effort comes off a compilation by Daddys Records, Two Daze, which gave the acts involved only 48 hours to write and record a song. The resulting album featured some surprisingly solid tracks by established artists like garage trio SPAWTS, psych-pop outfit Onono, and smooth soulman Sal Valentine – all of which shared enough of a similar relaxed vibe to sit alongside each other well.
Yet it was the two tracks that were created by multiple artists online, which ended up being the most intriguing – ‘O.K.’ and ‘Playa Play The Game’ (which had seven contributors). The mix of sounds on these two tracks cohere perfectly and make a listening experience that deepens on each spin. Nice to see a breakout artist like Tei doing a collab with an up-and-coming teenage producer like Leaping Tiger, whose Cool Down EP showed his skill at laying vibey, textured sounds over chilled-out beats.
‘Frost Giant’ by JB the War Villain
When it comes to local old skool hip-hop, Facebook provides far more of a home than Spotify. Take for example the track ‘Greatness’ by Rush Wehipa, which has produced over 45,000 views for its video on Facebook but only generated a little over a thousand streams on Spotify (quite a difference, even given the vagaries of how Facebook counts streams). If you want to find out about the thriving South Auckland hip-hop scene, you’re far better scrolling the home page of Ermehn – 274 than searching Spotify (key acts like Lukan Rai$ey are largely absent). Though I did find this Wu Tang inspired track by JB The War Villain which sounds better to me than most of the stuff on their last album! He’s from Hamilton collective, Villains, which also includes Koma from legendary H-Town act, 4 Corners.
‘Grey Men’ by Wurld Series
Another great compilation of local indie music that came out was Sickest Smashes from Arson City: Legacy Edition (the second comp put together by the Melted Ice Cream label). It highlights (mostly) guitar bands from Christchurch, including the hometown heroes, Salad Boys. There’s a good mix of everything from riot grrl punk (PGX), country (Cowboy Machine) to … er … pump organ music (courtesy of the Waltham Home Organ Society). ‘Grey Men’ by Wurld Series sounds like a lost hit of the lo-fi ’90s, but its melodies are strong enough to make it stand out, while the compilation itself is a treasure trove of interesting newish bands.
‘Sleepin’ (at My House)’ by Créme Jéan feat Princess Chelsea
Nice to see Princess Chelsea (who probably has at least ten millions streams of her own music) appearing on this fun little track by her former bandmate, Brad Fafejta (they were two-thirds of Teenwolf back in the mid-00s). This indie rock with a bit of groove to it and the synth bit after guitar solo is quite exceptional.
‘Types of Dicks’ by Tooms
Okay, how about one more noisy one? This two-piece is made up of drummer Dorian Noval (Axes To Grind, Emily Edrosa) and bassist Nich Cunningham (Rope, Lost Rockets). The rawness of the song perfectly fits its subject matter – assholes you might meet if you’re out in the city during the early hours of Friday/Saturday night, which is something Noval knows a lot about.
‘All in Your Head’ by Jaggers x Lines
Jaggers x Lines are a duo of self-described ‘alt-pop weirdos’ from Dunedin, who had half-a-dozen Bandcamp releases before trying out Spotify. Their sound is usually pretty laid back and sparse, but on this track, they’ve created a legit pop song in a similar territory to Billie Eilish. There’s also an entertaining element of throwback in the vinyl scratches that open the track, so maybe ‘Wandering Star’ by Portishead would’ve been a better reference, but they swap out the London-in-the-rain vibes for a light, summery NZ feel.
So that’s my ten favourites, though feel free to suggest more on Facebook/Twitter/etc. It’s probably not surprising that I couldn’t find any reggae for the list, since it’s by far our country’s biggest genre on Spotify – anything that’s halfway decent gets insane amounts of play. But when it comes to most other genres of local music, a little digging will bring up an amazing amount of unappreciated acts making great tunes, whether it’s: hip-hop acts like Lost City Kid and Gurjyy; the R’n’B of MizsDLuxx and La Coco (who has a tune recorded with the APO!); the trap of Chronic Shnxman; the vaporwave of Stef Animal and ATLAS.exe; the guitar tunes of The Melancholies, Hot Knives, and Cheshire Grimm; or pop stars in the making like PRINS and Sophie Mashlan. If you get beyond the big number acts, you might just find something truly special.