The Ones to Watch programme has landed in New Zealand, providing up and coming musicians with a platform for their work and an opportunity to showcase their music to a wide range of audiences. The Spinoff talks to emerging artists RIIKI and Park Rd about where they’ve come from, and where 2020 has taken them.
RIIKI is one to watch. She’s in the final year of a commercial music degree, she’s got four bright pop singles out, and she’s been playing to crowds since high school. As far as 20-year-old up-and-comers go, she’s coming up with a lot of experience.
Her real name is Raquel Abolins-Reid, and RIIKI isn’t her first musical rodeo – in high school she was in an indie band. “I kind of started this RIIKI project two years ago, but I weirdly feel like it’s only properly starting now,” she said.
She’s not just on our list of people to watch; she’s part of the global programme for promising artists. Ones to Watch gave artists like Dua Lipa and Halsey boosts when it began in 2017, and now its ranks are filled with musicians like Benee, Ashnikko, and Channel Tres.
Live Nation has now launched the New Zealand-specific Ones to Watch programme in collaboration with Vodafone, featuring 12 local artists. The one year programme provides a digital platform to profile the musicians and is designed to be a place to learn more about the artists’ background and their music. The artists will also perform at exclusive showcase events. RIIKI and Park Rd are part of the chosen 12.
It’s been a disruptive year for everyone, but the performing arts was at the pointy end of the fallout of Covid. It definitely wasn’t how RIIKI imagined 2020 playing out.
“My goal for this year initially was just to get more music out and play as many shows as I could,” said RIIKI. “It definitely isn’t how I thought it would go.”
She describes the pandemic and its resultant lockdowns as bittersweet. “I’ve got a bunch of festival shows coming up at the end of the year, and I’m not necessarily sure I might have had as much of an opportunity to get them if it wasn’t for this year.”
Despite the social and professional lulls created by the pandemic, she’s had the chance to perform to local audiences that seem keener than ever for live music. RIIKI only has four songs released, and although she’d like the world to hear what else she’s got up her sleeve she’s happy to surprise audiences with her act. It’s grungier than the pop image Spotify presents. “I think it’s kind of important to keep apart the recorded style and the live style,” she said. “A live band changes the whole sound, too.”
“It’s taken a bit of time to develop my sound and scope out where I want to be in the music industry. It’s not a career I necessarily feel like I need to rush into.”
Vodafone and Live Nation launched New Zealand’s Ones to Watch programme at Auckland’s historic Hopetoun Alpha in October. The first four local acts to be part of the programme – Imugi, Paige, RIIKI and Park Rd – performed to a room full of music industry professionals and blew them away.
“It’s pretty wild,” said Leo Crawshaw-Bond, a guitarist in Park Rd, of the reception the surf-rock band has received. He’s just out of high school. Tom Chamberlain, the band’s lead vocalist, agrees. “It’s kinda like, how did this happen? Everyone’s singing along, everyone’s having an awesome time.”
The lads of Park Rd formed on a whim almost three years ago, and very few of them had musical aspirations at the time. Chamberlain just wanted to start a band, and drew in some mates. “I think there were about 13 people in our class,” he said. “It was a really small Steiner school in Titirangi. We didn’t have enough musicians in our class, so the drummer actually learned the drums to be in the band.”
Crawshaw-Bond picked up the guitar to be in the band, and now he’s one of its main songwriters.
After performing at the school ball the five-man band gave themselves a name – Park Rd – and made the national finals of Smokefree Rockquest. They released their first EP, Sandcastles, earlier this year.
Titirangi’s famous bush-covered Park Road was where they first started practising. “It’s our roots,” said Crawshaw-Bond, before clarifying: “It’s the West Park Road. There’s a lot of Park Road.”
Chamberlain, like RIIKI, feels that while 2020 has been devastating in many ways, it’s given up-and-comers like them a chance to reflect on what they want to do with their craft. It helped them forge new creative processes. And it gave them access to an audience they might never have found.
“We did a whole bunch of writing in quarantine,” he said. “There’s actually a whole bunch of songs that came out of quarantine that I don’t think we ever would have written if that hadn’t happened.”
While Ones to Watch has helped put those songs in front of local audiences, online support is still a part of the band’s post-lockdown life. They did a live stream last week. It’s just something people do now. “Our floorboards just got done, so the acoustics were real mean,” said Chamberlain.
During level two, Chamberlain and Crawshaw-Bond joined bubbles so the band could continue creating. They even made socially distanced music too. “We got Angus [Hampton-Carr] to come outside the window and plug in to record some demos.”
Mark Kneebone, managing director of Live Nation New Zealand, said the Ones to Watch programme was about more than stage showcases. “Live Nation and Vodafone are committed to developing local emerging artists, not only by exposing them to new audiences but providing platforms for professional development.”
RIIKI said the events of 2020 have made her appreciate being given space and support to develop herself. The pressure of Covid-19 has helped develop her musical process and understand where she wants to take her music.
“It’s made me want to connect and be closer to people I’m working with,” she said.
“We’ve been pushed to think in a new way, which is really exciting and really progressive for music.”