Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa is currently on at Auckland Museum. Don Rowe visits, is astounded, and comes away considering a Southern Cross tattoo out of love for this country.
Deep within the bowels of the Auckland Museum lurks the nucleus of music in New Zealand. Like some forbidden experiment, it’s sequestered behind sliding opaque doors, just opposite the cafe where I toss up between $8 fries or perhaps a $9 panini, eventually settling for black coffee. A poster proclaims ‘From Loyal to Royals’ – one is a little more famous than the other but I get the idea. This is about history. As an old woman at the next table works her way through $10 worth of Christmas mince pies, I make a break for the door, and am swallowed by nostalgia.
Museums store artifacts of the past, and looking at them gives some impression or echo of those times. But the stone arrowhead of some primal hunter has little emotional resonance in comparison with the soundtrack of the birth and adolescence of a nation. New Zealand’s delayed, bumbling, protracted, cringy and glorious entry into the modern world is chronicled in the riffs and lyrics and jingles that have propelled our people through cultural revolutions, riots, moments of national pride and moments of national disgrace.
There’s Tiki Taane’s guitar, Lorde’s shoes, a Grammy, original song lyrics on torn refill, band photos, guitars, outrageous costumes and an honouring of the collective contributions to music of artists from the past 80 years. Arranged in one place, it’s confronting in its quality. I felt immense patriotism and a strange regret in that I had never considered the overall canon of New Zealand music in this way. There is something special, something new and free and so fucking relatable about our music and our stories. They hold up to, and excel, the best of the vapid and empty ear-carbs shoved at us by the industrial entertainment complex in the US.
And as with all history, Volume begs the question, what will the future bring? Is the soundtrack of our next generation going to be autotuned imports (‘I got a feeling JANG JANG JANG JANG’), or will the same spirit that brought us ‘Nature’, ‘Bliss’, ‘Sway’, ‘Phlex’, ‘Home Again’ continue to deliver the goods, to tell our stories and be the harakeke which weaves together the New Zealand experience?
Perhaps a hybrid of both. Take what works, leave what doesn’t and create a sound that is uniquely our own. Just like we always have. God defend New Zealand.
Bonus round: 10 Kiwi Bangerz as prepared by Intern Alice, who was born in 1998.
I See Red – Split Enz
April Sun in Cuba – Dragon
Wandering Eye – Fat Freddy’s Drop
Why Does Love Do This To Me – The Exponents
How Bizarre – OMC
Every Day’s A Saturday – Elemeno P
Not Many – Scribe
Sultans of Swing – Dire Straights
Weather With You – Crowded House
Sophie – Goodshirt
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Visit Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa (also supported by Spark) at Auckland Museum from now until 22 May 2017 and get closer to the music you love.