Comment

Is Auckland the new music capital?

Too humid, too wet, too windy. This is not a slur against the hideous public transport options in Auckland or Wellington, or a comment on the trials and tribulations that come with headache-inducing rental prices. Let’s talk about music, baby. Impartial journalist Sasha Borissenko investigates.

Knowing full well that I may never henceforth have a couch to stay on in Wellington, I feel it’s my duty, as an alternative music-loving millennial (‘has-been hipster’ to some) who has lived in both cities, and who has an arguably superfluous music degree, to pontificate that the Auckland music scene has trumped Wellington’s.

Why? Gone are the days of wondrous Wellington music establishments such as Mighty Mighty, Puppies and the hipster paradise that is Camp A Low Hum. Instead, lesser, and arguably sadder varieties are popping up in their place.

Auckland, however, will house 30-odd bands next Monday for Laneway Festival. Spark arena and Mt Smart Stadium have been a constant pull for international heavy weights such as Celine Dion, Adele, Beyonce, and Madonna to name a few, and the formidable master and commander Donald Glover debuted his Pharos Festival just last year.

According to Regional Facilities Auckland, Since 2014, their summer stadium concerts have contributed $77 million to regional GDP since 2014, and $133 million in visitor spend, for example.

But this is not a new phenomenon. Rumours that Wellington was dying swept through the city in 2013 when then prime minister John Key made a comment around the migration of corporate head offices from Wellington to Auckland. Comment pieces and keyboard warriors were rife at the time.

Will I regret this comment piece? Probably. But in a music sense, it appears that Wellington maybe, possibly, probably, is no longer the music capital.  

Will I regret this comment piece? Probably. But in a music sense, it appears that Wellington maybe, possibly, probably, is no longer the music capital. 

Speaking to Laneway’s Mark Kneebone, he says Auckland was an obvious choice for the festival that’s been running for 10 years because it's both his home town - and it’s rich in infrastructure and resources.

The franchise had been running in Australia for four or so years and organisers were looking to expand when one of the co-founders met Kneebone at a Brisbane Hamburger bar.

“By the time we had finished the food we had decided to do Laneway in Auckland.

“The challenge is always to get big acts to New Zealand. But the festival has a good reputation now, we think it’s got the pull.

“It’s not New Zealand’s biggest festival but we’d like to think it’s a music lovers festival. And it’s something we’re pretty proud of.”

Festival organisation isn’t easy, otherwise everybody would do it, he says.

“[We’ve had] bands missing flights, had to move the site four times, we’ve had power cuts, any disaster and we’ve been through it [but] we get to throw a party for all of our friends with 30 of the world’s best bands playing - it’s a great way to spend a summer.”

Musician Lontalius is back in New Zealand to perform at Laneway next week. Hailing from Wellington, he left for LA in 2016 when Wellington was in “a bit of a lull because a lot of the venues were closing. I guess the scene was getting older and [people weren't] going out as much”.

“Auckland is a lot cooler than it used to be. It’s inescapable that there’s just more people there, so there’s more room for cool things to happen.

“Laneway in particular has become a kind of cultural staple in that it is the hub for alternative music. There’s stuff that doesn’t get represented at bigger festivals such as Homegrown or Rhythm and Vines. Laneway caters to an indie audience like no other now.”

“Auckland is a lot cooler than it used to be. It’s inescapable that there’s just more people there, so there’s more room for cool things to happen" - Lontalius 

Saying this, there’s a fresh batch of 18-year-old alternative kids coming through Wellington - in part because of the universities and Wellington’s ‘arty’ reputation, he says.

Double Denim co-founder and co-director Anna Dean is a proud Wellingtonian who’s been largely involved in the arts scene in various guises over the years.

The Wellington vs Auckland dichotomy is pretty painful, she says.

“I would say some ground has been lost to Auckland over recent years, however, per population, I’d argue we’re more cultural per head.

“At a civic level, yes, we’re less culturally diverse but as Wellington is so condensed, there is so much cultural activity that happens that it’s difficult not to engage with the huge variety of cultural action that happens 'round here on a daily basis.”

There’s a lot of public art and you always know when something big (or random) is happening in the city, she says.

“I often find with similar events in Auckland it's much easier for things to get swallowed up or lost in the sheer size. Also, areas can become so separate and require dedicated travel.”

LitCrawl has made its mark in an exceptionally Wellington way, she says. Then there’s WOW, the Arts Festival Cuba Dupa, the annual Newtown Festival and, of course, Beervana and Wellington on a Plate.

But since the closure of Mighty Mighty, Puppies and annual festival Camp A Low Hum there’s a real lack of venues to see live music, she says. Sure there’s a surfeit of craft bars, but unfortunately they don’t cater to live music.

Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development’s destination general manager Steve Armitage says nearly half of all people employed in the creative sector are based in Auckland (49.9 percent). And half of New Zealand’s creative sector businesses are based in Auckland (50.2 percent).     

“Our scale and accessibility will always work to our advantage, particularly when you’re looking at some of those big international acts that might only have time to do one show in New Zealand on a world tour.”

Adding insult to injury, all of the NZ offices of international record labels are based in Auckland, as well as much of the country’s music administrators and several independent labels.

And just last year Auckland was named a UNESCO City of Music recognising the region’s long and rich musical history and commitment to sharing best practice, developing partnerships that promote creativity, and strengthening participation in cultural life.  

“[I] don’t think it’s necessary or particularly useful to compare the two destinations. Each has its merits and challenges and attracts people, visitors and businesses for different reasons" - WREDA's Anna Calver 

Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency general manager Anna Calver says there’s no doubt Auckland attracts more international acts, but that comes down to population and resources.

“The cynic might say it’s maths, not culture.”

“[W]ith Auckland being so much bigger in size, the reality is that it also has a much larger economy than anywhere else in New Zealand.

“And I don’t think it’s necessary or particularly useful to compare the two destinations. Each has its merits and challenges and attracts people, visitors and businesses for different reasons."

"Our population is also a culturally hungry one. We treasure art in our lives and ticket promoters will tell you events sell really well in Wellington. Just take Eminem – the promoters of that concert did choose Wellington over Auckland as the only New Zealand concert.

“And I’m sure they were pleased with that choice. It will be the biggest concert ever held at Westpac Stadium with around 45,000 tickets selling out in under an hour.”

In a bid to draw a definitive line in the sand amid this clearly noteworthy conundrum, a friend who has similarly lived in Wellington and Auckland told me the following:

“Sasha, you’re going to get some serious trolling for this. You should stick to hard news.”

Well, there you have it.

Newsroom is powered by the generosity of readers like you, who support our mission to produce fearless, independent and provocative journalism.

Comments

Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

PARTNERS