The real international man of mystery. Photos: supplied
The real international man of mystery. Photos: supplied

MusicDecember 9, 2019

Who is Cavetown, and how did he sell out in Auckland?

The real international man of mystery. Photos: supplied
The real international man of mystery. Photos: supplied

You’ve probably never heard of him, but an artist called Cavetown is coming to Auckland in January for a show that’s already sold out. We explain where he came from, how this happened, and why you should be listening.

What, pray tell, is a Cavetown?

Cavetown is the stage name of Robin Skinner, a 20-year-old from the UK who sings indie pop with a Californian skater boy accent. He’s the son of Cambridge University’s director of music and a professional flautist, but he’s flouted that traditional pathway and bought four ukuleles instead. He’s visiting New Zealand for the first time in January, for an already sold out all-ages show at Auckland’s Tuning Fork.

Like many young artists, Skinner started on YouTube, playing simple and uke-driven songs written and recorded in his bedroom. While his music is still often described as “bedroom pop,” five years on from his earliest Cavetown releases the understated indie ballads of his latest release Lemon Boy now boast the production value and (albeit minimal) polish of an artist with nearly three million monthly Spotify listeners. 

Surely I’ve heard his music before?

If you’re a zoomer/Gen Z-er, you’ve likely heard his work on TikTok (in which case why are you reading this article? You’re probably already going to the concert). He produced a song called ‘prom dress’ for mxmtoon which has now been used in almost 700,000 TikTok videos, and he continues to produce work for lo-fi artists, because that’s what every 14-year-old with a Bandcamp does for a side gig.

If you’re over the age of 20 (or not extremely online), you probably haven’t heard of Cavetown yet. For your benefit, this is what his music sounds like:

OK, pretty catchy, but why is he so popular with young people?

Like many artists of his ilk – Clairo and Brockhampton, for example – Cavetown maintains an extremely open and genuine social presence online. He’s much more likely to use Twitter and Instagram to drop news and speak with his fans than he is to go via traditional publicity channels, and he often answers anonymous questions from fans on his Tumblr account.

So people who enjoy his music are probably going to feel a strong connection to him, and they’ll definitely buy tickets. And with more than a million YouTube subscribers and almost half a million followers on Instagram, that’s a pretty solid base of dedicated listeners. Even more appealing for his followers is that there’s a pretty good chance they’ll get to meet him: he’s built a reputation for approachability even as his fame has grown, and still apparently hangs out post-gig to chat with fans.

That seems lovely, what’s he actually singing about though?

He likes intimate gigs and intimate songs, and he’s made it very clear that even though he identifies as aromantic, he still has a lot of love. On ‘Lemon Boy’ he learns to love himself, despite his anxiety and bittersweet nature. On ‘Green’ he sings about how much he still loves an old flame, but not in a weird way. It’s wholesome and congratulatory.

His music is described as indie-pop, bedroom pop, alternative – various code words for “soft and guitar-based”. He’s most often compared to Rex Orange County and Alex G, who are well-known zoomer/slacker-pop icons, but if you’re old enough you might pick up notes of Sparklehorse, Grandaddy and even Elliott Smith. It’s slow, languorous and never all that loud, but generally has the kind of drums that burst just in time to wake you up for the chorus.

I swear I’m not a boomer, but how do I still not know about him?

He’s gone mostly unnoticed by the major music outlets, so even if your finger is pretty close to the pulse, the only place you’ve probably seen Cavetown’s name was in a now-deleted tweet from January by super influential music vlogger Anthony ‘TheNeedleDrop’ Fantano, in which he shared the ‘Green’ music video.

Cavetown turned up just after the YouTube generation crested – he isn’t raking in the likes and subscribes for acoustic covers of ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears like millennials did. Instead he’s more likely to be found doing duet covers of Joji and Post Malone. And although he has a significant YouTube presence, most of his initial attention came through Tumblr and audio streaming services. Streaming audio is so vital to his personal brand that his CV – which is, very sweetly, available on his website lists Bandcamp as his most significant job.

It’s because of this approach that he’s achieved fame among zoomers; it’s organic reach, not marketing. He’s not sending blurbs to review sites, so he’s not featured on them. He doesn’t make party bops, so he’s not shared by your DJ mates either. Re-blogged on Tumblr and bought for $1 on Bandcamp – that’s how Cavetown quietly sold out his first show in Auckland.

OK, I’m down. What next?

He signed earlier this year with Sire Records, which is a big boy label that releases albums IRL, not just on Bandcamp. So far he’s dropped just a handful of singles and a live record through Sire, but apparently there’s a new album on the way too. Having actual management and a studio that doesn’t double as living quarters should give Cavetown resources to achieve fame of the third kind – millennial – which means you’ll probably be hearing a lot more from him in the near future. And that the next time he visits New Zealand, it’ll probably be at a venue slightly bigger than the Tuning Fork.


This content was made possible by Warner Music NZ. If you’re keen to continue your Cavetown education, check out his ‘big boy playlist’ here.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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