Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomes the crowd at St Jerome's Laneway Festival on January 29, 2018 (Photo by Dave Simpson/Getty Images).

Jacinda Ardern on New Zealand music: ‘Creativity is what will continue to set us apart’

Elleana Dumper asks the PM about all-ages shows, the problems facing the music industry and whether she ever considered a career in music.

This New Zealand Music Month, I’ve really been enjoying the social media chit-chat – it’s that time of the year when everyone’s Kiwi musical sentiments are high, and we get to celebrate everything there is to love about the New Zealand music industry. Even the prime minister jumped in on the action and curated her own homegrown Spotify playlist (fire taste might I add, Jacinda).

Then Paula Bennett came along to burst our happy NZMM bubble with a red card for the PM. Paula didn’t have time for music when she was a minister, she tweeted, and Jacinda should be focused on running the country. If I’m to take anything from her trigger-happy tweeting, it’s to not let Paula get a hold of the aux cord.

As a second-year industry major of the Bachelor of Commercial Music degree in Wellington and a graduate of the 2016 Ignite Programme*, I have to disagree with Ms Bennett. I believe music has become one of our most precious commodities, and I think Jacinda Ardern is right to care about music made by New Zealand artists.

Lorde, Aldous Harding, Marlon Williams and Montell2099 are a few artists who are doing the most for New Zealand’s eclectic musical footprint at the moment. If their global success is anything to go by, surely it’s about time we invest more into our local music scene and encourage young people to pursue careers as artists and in roles behind the scenes.

It’s from our young local scenes that passionate artists and punters emerge, and where the roots of our future music industry will grow. We need more access to live music for young people in order to maintain a thriving and inclusive live landscape. Instead, the number of venues that cater to all ages continues to dwindle.

As the ears of the world continue to tune in, the value and necessity of future-proofing our music industry will only increase. Our current government should care about nurturing the next generation of New Zealanders who want an opportunity to make a living from music. So, who better to ask about how we can do this than Jacinda Ardern who is not only our prime minister but the minister for arts, culture and heritage? (oh yes, and she’s also a DJ).

Jacinda Ardern DJing at the 2014 Laneway Festival in Auckland

Elleana Dumper: Attending your first live show is often a special memory for many people. What were some of your first experiences with live music?

Jacinda Ardern: There definitely wasn’t a local scene in Morrinsville! That’s probably why my first live show – Portishead in Auckland – was so memorable.

Your enthusiasm towards the music scene, shown with your appearances at the likes of the VNZMAs and Laneway Festival, continues to intrigue the nation. Did you ever consider pursuing music as a career?

Anyone who overheard me try and play a musical instrument will know the answer to that! I’ve always been a very important supporter of the music industry, but never considered anything beyond that.

The New Zealand music industry is thriving with some of the best artists in the world right now – Lorde, Aldous Harding – to name but a couple. How do we nurture and continue to grow the industry and its reputation for producing world-class music?

I genuinely think it starts right at the beginning and the work we do to foster creativity at a young age and build careers from there. That’s my focus anyway.

You must speak to a lot of people in the industry in your capacity minister of arts, culture and heritage. What is one of the biggest challenges New Zealand artists face and how do you intend to tackle it?

Sustainability – whether it’s building career pathways or ensuring the careers our artists are well supported. There’s a lot we can do in this space.

Developing a compelling stage presence is an integral part of becoming a great artist. Look at acts like Anika Moa, Dave Dobbyn – their careers started through endless gigging, which just isn’t an option for so many young and up-and-coming Kiwi acts. How can we fix the problem?

Venues matter and so does creating platforms where young people can perform, like Rockquest. It’s all about the eco-system.

One of the issues I have personally encountered is the lack of suitable venues which are available for young bands to play in, as well as keen punters to experience the thrill of live music.  Surely this lack of suitable spaces – which is a growing problem – will impact the growth and development of many young acts and artists?

It certainly has the potential to – but at the same time, every school hall, every community space has the potential to be a form of venue.

Nowadays, being ‘underage’ is almost always tied to young people missing out on age-restricted gigs.  I for sure had my fair share of whinges from feeling shut out of venues and events from small club shows through to festivals . How do you explain to a young person that they can’t enjoy music simply because they are not of legal drinking age?

Another good reason to ensure we have a range of options!

It seems that a lot of young people who love music don’t take music as a subject in high school – what do you think are the reasons for this?

Probably a fear about what the future holds. My message would be that creativity is what will continue to set us apart alongside STEM subjects.

* The IGNITE Programme is a free, not-for-profit organisation that aims to encourage young people aged 15-18 to pursue a career in music. The participants are paired with industry mentors and attend seminars, workshops, tour local venues and do work experience. They’re also guided by their mentors through the process of running their own shows, culminating in four all-ages gigs in Auckland. IGNITE has just launched a Boosted campaign to raise funds to help support the cost of running these shows. For more information click here!


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