Each May is New Zealand Music Month. It’s a promotion that has outstayed its welcome, especially as New Zealand has outgrown the cultural cringe for homegrown music that was evident in the 1960s and 1970s. But, perhaps not coincidentally, I’ve been covering three of New Zealand’s most prominent mainstream musical acts recently, and between them they actually do a good job of showcasing New Zealand’s diversity and musical history from 1972 to the present day.
Split Enz: 1972-1984
Split Enz started as an arty band, like a New Zealand answer to early Genesis, but found their biggest success with new wave hits like ‘I Got You’. Here’s a song from their early career with Phi Judd fronting:
Supergroove: late 1980s-1997
Supergroove were a party band, but they were a smart party band, taking the funk/rock/hip hop hybrid that was popular in the early 1990s, and producing anthems that were huge in New Zealand but didn’t enter the mainstream elsewhere. Maybe they were a year or two too late, and the music landscape had darkened with Nirvana by the time of 1994’s Traction, but songs like ‘Scorpio Girls’ could have been huge hits.
Bic Runga: 1997-present
I dismissed Bic Runga at the time of her first album; the monotonous arrangements of Drive didn’t do her any favours. But with 2002’s Beautiful Collision, her poppy sensibilities were at the forefront, and she’s the reigning queen of New Zealand pop. ‘Winning Arrow’ features Split Enz’s Neil Finn on piano, and Anika Moa, Anna Coddington, and Shayne Carter (Straitjacket Fits, Dimmer) on backing vocals.
These three acts are ubiquitous in New Zealand; for example when our modem at work was playing up last week, when I went downstairs to check it, Supergroove was playing, and when I called our ISP, Split Enz was the hold music. But as much as I don’t like to admit it, New Zealand has under-achieved at popular music – these three acts all have their foibles, with Split Enz’s discography inconsistent, Supergroove short lived, and Bic Runga not very prolific. But they’re three of our better acts to infiltrate the mainstream, and I’m curious if people have heard of them?