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Pop CultureOctober 5, 2017

Rock is dead! (And other thoughts on the VNZMA finalists)


Henry Oliver rants and raves about the 2017 New Zealand Music Awards finalists then lists them all at the end.

They got it (mostly) right

The names you see most on the list – SWIDT (six nominations), Lorde (five) and Aldous Harding (four) – made the best albums in New Zealand in the last year, followed closely by Nadia Reid (three) and Fazerdaze (three). I can’t remember the last time all the artists with the most nominations so closely mapped the artists who I thought made the best records in any given year, which is particularly pleasing given my opinion that 2017 will be considered a historically good year for New Zealand music – though I’m saving that rant for December.

If there’s an obvious absence, it’s Bic Runga, who the day after winning the VNZMA Legacy Award and being admitted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame released Close Your Eyes, an excellent album of mostly covers which included the Silver Scroll-nominated title song which stands as one of the strongest of her career. It just seems odd to induct someone to your hall of fame, then they release a really good album the next day, get nominated for a Silver Scroll, and you go “Sorry. Pass…”

Which leads me to…

They went young

It’s not just Bic Runga that’s out. Whether it’s an accident driven by who made records when, or just that the albums made by, um, slightly older musicians just weren’t that good this year, there are no heritage artists with multiple nominations. In most years, one or two young artists rack up nominations alongside an artist that’s been around for a decade or more. Last year, Broods won big over, say, the Phoenix Foundation who was nominated for some of the same awards (including, most importantly, Best Album and Best Group).

This year, the oldest acts with multiple nominations are David Dallas (three) and Ladi6 (two), neither of whom seem old enough to be seniors of the class. All the major artists nominated are relatively new, relatively young, and were formed in the age of the internet. Lorde’s debut already feels like a classic but was only released four years ago. Aldous Harding’s debut is only three years old. SWIDT are technically nominated for their debut album (last year’s nomination was for the Smokeygotbeatz mixtape which featured them heavily).

While it seems, at first sight, a little odd that there’s no-one of the Phoenix Foundation’s vintage on the list, I think it’s a healthy sign of both the vibrancy of New Zealand popular music and a forward-thinking selection panel. Imagine if in 1997, the year the Phoenix Foundation were formed, the awards were filled with acts formed in the late-’70s. Those acts would have seemed prehistoric compared to the acts that won big that year: Strawpeople, Che Fu and, yes, Bic Runga.

(And, to be clear, none of this is meant as a slight to the Phoenix Foundation. Their 2015 album Give Up Your Dreams is, in my estimation, their best and was deserving of every nomination it received last year.)

Which leads me to…

Rock is dead (or, at least, marginal)

The finalists for Best Rock Artist – Clap Clap Riot, Devilskin, Graham Brazier – all made albums that are worthy of their nominations. They’re not to my taste (I have not continued to listen to any of them for non-professional reasons after their release), but I understand that each has qualities that rightly qualifies them for consideration to be New Zealand’s Best Rock Artist for 2017. But, what this list really highlights is rock’s continued slide out of cultural relevancy.

While each of these albums made a significant impact within their own scenes and communities, none feel (or sound) connected to the current zeitgeist in any meaningful way. It’s (unfortunately) not an original thought to say that rock is the new jazz – an increasingly niche form, loved by connoisseurs, funded by public institutions and wealthy individuals, and taught at universities. But when you read that list again – Clap Clap Riot, Devilskin, Graham Brazier – and see that only Devilskin is nominated for any other award, Best Rock Artist starts to feel closer to the more obviously niche awards like Best Electronic Album or Best Classical Artist (okay, I’m trolling a little here) than, say, Best Hip Hop Artist, the finalists of which – SWIDT, David Dallas, Kings – are heavily featured in the biggest awards of the night.

Which leads me to…

Alternative to what?

What the fuck is alternative anymore? Seriously!

The ‘Best Rock Artist’ of 2017 was probably Fazerdaze for her album Morningside, but she’s not nominated as a rock artist, she’s nominated as an alternative artist. And Aldous Harding and Nadia Reid are essentially contemporary folk acts (whatever that means these days). Come to think of it, Preservation is actually a folk-rock album so Nadia Reid might be the another option for best rock act.

All of which is to say, Aldous Harding, Nadia Reid, Fazerdaze all made amazing albums but two of them (Aldous Harding and Nadia Reid) have almost nothing in common with the third (Fazerdaze). They’re women with guitars. What else? And, given that all three artists are nominated in the big awards (Best Album, Single, Solo Artist), all three are nominated for Breakthrough Artist, and only one of the rock finalists are nominated for anything else, it must be asked: Alternative to what?

If rock is becoming increasingly marginal (it is), what happens when the supposedly marginal side of rock is actually more central? (*Mind-blown gif*)

There’s no Critic’s Choice Award!

Apparently it’s taking a year off to retool. Bummer. That’s usually a fun night and a good prize for someone.

Which doesn’t really lead me to…

It should be an amazing show!

SWIDT and Lorde are playing! SWIDT and Lorde are playing! Man, if Aldous Harding (one of the best live performers of her generation) was playing, it would have made it one of the best live awards ceremonies ever. Can it be arranged? Still, with or without her it’ll be a hell of a night. I can’t wait.

And the finalists are…

The full list of nominees is as follows:

Godfrey Hirst Album of the Year
Aldous Harding – Party
David Dallas – Hood Country Club
Fazerdaze – Morningside
Leisure – Leisure
Lorde – Melodrama
SWIDT – Stoneyhunga

Vodafone Single of the Year
David Dallas – ‘Fit In’
Ladi6 – ‘Royal Blue’
Lorde – ‘Green Light’
Maala – ‘In My Head’
SWIDT – ‘Player Of The Day”
Theia – ‘Roam’

Best Group

THREE Best Solo Artist
Aldous Harding
Nadia Reid

Breakthrough Artist of the Year
Aldous Harding
Nadia Reid

Vodafone People’s Choice Award

Best Rock Artist
Clap Clap Riot
Graham Brazier

The Edge Best Pop Artist
Mitch James

Best Alternative Artist
Aldous Harding
Nadia Reid

Best Soul/RnB Artist
Tommy Nee

Best Hip Hop Artist
David Dallas

Best Roots Artist
Israel Starr
Sons of Zion
Tomorrow People

Best Electronic Artist
Chaos In The CBD

Te Māngai Pāho Best Māori Artist
Alien Weaponry
Maisey Rika

Best Worship Artist
Curate Music
Josh & Amberley Klinkenberg

Best Classical Artist
Jenny McLeod
Te Kōkī Trio

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