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May 25, 2009 | by  | in Arts Music | [ssba]

All Kiwi music is good. Yeah right.


This week, NZ Music Month 2009 draws to a close. That’s right; the party’s over for another year, which means the end of free and frequent gigs, and the marking of one’s torso with a bull’s-eye courtesy of Hallensteins. The event succeeds in its aim to “showcase homegrown talent”, giving local bands support and exposure. However, it indicates dangerous territory for music writers, as it tends to relay to the media and the public that NZ music is all good by definition—despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This raises thorny questions as to the role and integrity of Kiwi writers writing on Kiwi musicians. Is it better to regurgitate the official line—that ‘it’s all good’—than risk rocking the boat?

In March, The Dominion Post’s Simon Sweetman blogged about Fat Freddy’s Drop, confessing that he found their music “underwhelming, insipid and uninspired”. He didn’t mince his words, but hell, why should he? It’s his opinion, and moreover, it’s a blog. In any case, his readers took it as an open invitation to bring da ruckus. As tends to be the case with discourse on the Internet ( included), the article’s 206 comments are witty, insightful and grammatically correct. Sweetman is accused of being soulless, attention-seeking, and “mean and boring”; Chris Schulz,’s Entertainment Editor, stated, “if you don’t like Fat Freddy’s Drop, you’re not a true New Zealander”; and in an interview with Kim Hill, the band member DJ Mu accused Sweetman of racism.

In his response, Sweetman states that the origins of what we’re listening to shouldn’t be as important as its individual merit, and that the role of reviewers is to give a fair and intelligent account of their opinions. A comment on the Fat Freddy’s Drop post, suggesting that reviewers refrain from writing on music that is not to their tastes, embodies the entire problem: the role of music writers is not to list their likes and dislikes, but to an express an opinion of an artist’s works, regardless of their origin. Sweetman’s recent article ‘What makes it ‘NZ’ music for you?’ is an interesting read on the same topic. It’s about time we take off the kid gloves and express an honest opinion, rather than damn with faint praise—so, if you feel the need to pan Little Pictures on (and it seems a lot of you do), go ahead and do so. After all, Mark and Johanna’s mums sending you a firmly-worded letter: possible. Telling it like it is: priceless.


About the Author ()

Elle started out at Salient reviewing music. In 2010, she wrote features and Animal of The Week, which an informal poll revealed to be 40% of Victoria students' favourite part of the magazine. Alongside Uther Dean, she was co-editor for 2011. In 2012, she is chief features writer.

Comments (15)

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  1. Paul says:

    Careful you might not be a true New Zealander either. Damn straight you don’t have to like the music just cause it’s homegrown. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. Mu may have a point with the racism angle, because Simon’s subsequent blog lauded the Pheonix Foundation. I don’t have a problem with Fat Freddies, I’d never buy it, but I don’t DISlike it. I do have an issue with The Pheonix foundation though. They are awful. Do we need NZ’s answer to Coldplay? NO!!!

    It’s probably not really racism per se, just Simon’s outlook as a middle aged, middle class whitey that makes him gravitate to middle aged middle class white music that sounds good in an elevator.

    We produce heaps of great music. But we also produce plenty of sound alike dross, which is totall where PF fit, that doesn’t have to be celebrated just because it’s local dross.

  2. Martli says:

    I think New Zealand and New Zealanders love to see “their people” succeed in both the national and international arena. Our love for successful sports teams is a great example.

    The same sort of thing tends to apply to New Zealand arts, whether it be movies, music or whatever. It tends to not matter whether or not the product sucks, if it’s got New Zealand slapped on it and it’s there for international consumption then it’s seen as a great achievement for such a small nation.

    The fact is this is attitude is compeltely retarded. In sports you can get an objective measure of who is good and who is shit, the good team/individual wins the shit ones lose. When you add subjectivity to the mix, you get idiots who will support acts that are as shit as 90% of the mainstream New Zealand acts.

    All it does is build a flimsy foundation for the acts in question. The fanbase is false, they make shit art but get undevoted support simply because they’re from the same country. Of course they wont get nearly as much international fame from overseas audiences who don’t have such an emotional attachment to the art. This is the difference between someone like Flight of the Conchords and Fat Freddy’s drop.

    The internet should help separate the men from the boys though. New Zealand have at least two death metal bands that I know of who have overseas record deals, one of these has toured Europe (and possibly more). Of course it’ll never get mainstream recognition as New Zealand music, despite being arguably more successful in their particular genre than many of the current musicians the sheep-like New Zealand public idolise. What’s great about metal is that the fans don’t seem to have as much of a geographical-bias as other more superficial genres. Metal is metal and these two bands make metal that is of an international standard.

    Promoting New Zealand music is great, but it has to be quality, and people have to like it for what it is and not because of where it’s from. If we want to do New Zealand music a service we should support art that is actually good instead of building it up as something it’s not. This way our artists can strive for excellence, and we can have art we are actually proud to call homegrown.

  3. Stella says:

    I suspect the comment you’re referring to was mine. There’s a difference between saying something is rubbish because you don’t like the genre, and saying something is rubbish because it’s poorly written, badly produced, or is a cheap rip-off of something someone else did 10 years ago. It’s not very fair to the artist or their fans to say something’s rubbish for the first reason, but that second reason for calling something rubbish needs to recieve a whole lot more attention in NZ.

    We do seem to be confused in this country about whether “New Zealand made” is synonymous with “good”. Only yesterday I heard Hauraki shamelessly plugging The “Great” New Zealand Songbook. I expect better than this from Hauraki.

    It’s good to be patriotic, but lets be honest. All the patriotism in the world won’t turn shit into gold.

  4. Matt Fairhurst says:

    Heh, it’d be pretty silly to argue that anyone (let alone Simon Sweetman) is a racist based on what sort of music they like. Personally I think that most of the music this country produces is rubbish, Fat Freddy’s Drop being among the worst of a bad bunch. Although even they’re better than Hollie Smith. This year’s NZ Music month has been the best yet for me though – I hadn’t even realised it was on until I read this article.

  5. Ryan says:

    I totally agree. Now, if only everyone will come to their senses and realise that NZ music isn’t actually that great. I am sick of people yelling at me cos I don’t like Shihad. They aren’t that great. By any standard. Neither is 95% of music that comes out of this country…

  6. James Beavis says:

    similar sentiments, guessing it’d make for another bit of interesting reading for yalls

  7. Butthead says:

    Shut up Beavis! Uh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh.

  8. DIck Porkstick says:

    Fat Freddy’s are great live but boring and samey on record. Sweetman is right. It isn’t racist just because he doesn’t get a woody over ever two bit hip-hop and dub crew in Aoteroa. Since when did this become the be-all and end-all of NZ music?

  9. Martli says:

    I’d also like to add that calling someone a racist because they don’t like your music has to be one of the most pathetic responses to criticism I’ve come across. How deluded and egotistical do you have to be to think that your music is so good that the only people who don’t like it do so because of your skin colour. The answer is very.

  10. Adam Goodall says:

    I like Fat Freddy’s Drop a lot, and I think Simon Sweetman is wrong, but not because they’re a New Zealand band. In fact, I’m sure I could name plenty of New Zealand artists I don’t like – Dave Dobbyn being the key target of my ire, insipid hokum songwriter that he is. But I’d hate to be in Sweetman’s position, in a position where your voice is heard in a country where to not like something your country’s produced is akin to a crime against humanity for many.

    Music is music. Film is film. Television is television. Theatre is theatre. And while we seem to have no problem ripping into New Zealand productions of the last two (though God forbid you say Outrageous Fortune has gone off the rails in the last couple of seasons), the first two seem to have all the universally shit exemplars swept under the rug while everyone flies the flag for ‘good’ New Zealand film and music. It saddens me to see reviewers attacked for not liking something from NZ in those fields, as it feels like they’re treating the artist or filmmaker like children, in need of protection (in fact, the parallels between the response to the Kia Ora Khalid review in Salient earlier this year and this Sweetman brouhaha is eerily similar). It particularly disgusts me to see the artists wade into a debate as if they were just another pundit, and then either be completely disingenuous (DJ Mu adding to the misuse of the word racism in New Zealand news this week) or plain petty (Costa Botes on the reaction of some to Forgotten Silver springs to mind, writing letters to reviewers who didn’t like it, going “you’re wrong because other people liked it”). It’s a mindset we need to remove from our country before we can take what we produce truly seriously.

  11. EK BROWN says:

    New Zealand music rocks, you get to tell your story how you know it, add in a bit of bullshit, thats how it goes performing artist’s is what New Zealanders are, so yea, say your bit like freddy and enjoy your bloody day.

  12. EK BROWN says:

    Bro and as for Holly you must be deaf, chick can mean sing.

  13. Matt Fairhurst says:

    Hah! I don’t know how I came across this thread again, but EK BROWN, you are…you are, well, I really don’t know. I must be deaf huh? Sweet. You must be completely lacking in any musical taste, and you also must have never heard any actual “chick[s]” (sic) who can “mean sing” (sic). Whatever that means. And you must also be an idiot. Wasn’t the whole point of this post about music reviewers’ taste? And that comments along those lines don’t. actually. mean. shit?
    But hell, whatevers. Yup, that “chick” Hollie (note I got the spelling of her name right, unlike you, douche), “can mean sing”. “Cause she’s a Kiwi, ay bro, and that makes her, like, way better than, you know, Ella and Bessie and Nina and Edith and all them foreign singaz”. Geez.

  14. Matt Fairhurst says:

    Gosh, I didn’t realise I was in such a bad mood.

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