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May 8, 2017 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Sad by Sad South

Sad by Sad South (SXSS) — not to be mistaken with South by South West — brought forth a new dynamic to the traditional music festival, in that it featured other mediums of art, such as poetry and visual art, and showcased them in conjunction with music. Appropriating this feature from its Australian counterpart (Sad by Sad West), the Wellington festival placed emphasis on the emotional qualities within these forms and the spaces they inhabited as an ode to its namesake.

Heralding itself as an “emo” festival, but not in the stereotypical sense of emo-ness, SXSS placed visceral emotion at the forefront of its ethos by capturing collective feeling in a raw and unadulterated manner through its selection of performers. Staple Wellington acts such as Girlboss, Prizegiving, and Grayson Gilmour were an unquestionable choice for organiser of SXSS and founder of Papaiti records, James Stuteley. He believed these bands and the other performers were “humble, but also passionate about their music in that they embrace emotional content, rather than just being random indie rock bands.”

Ordinarily, music festivals are mainly comprised of, well, music acts, but at SXSS poets were an unconventional addition to the lineup, and were not any less notable. The thoughtful combination of poetry and music, while acoustically different, worked together in capturing the audience’s attention, so that the art could be fully appreciated. In the breaks between bands that are usually filled with drink refills, small talk, and bathroom visits, poets like Freya Daly Sadgrove and Hera Lindsay Bird addressed the audiences with personal utterings and original anecdotes that were simultaneously intimate and relatable. These poets were not fillers, nor a means to pass time, they were a continuation of feeling and explicit rawness that the bands had prompted.

Although the “emo” scene in New Zealand has regressed considerably and only occasionally appeared in alternative genres, its “revival” has been mobilised by the likes of SXSS. And while some may immediately assume “emo” goes hand in hand with screamo, based upon pop culture stereotypes, SXSS offered up an alternative perspective by defying often negative stereotypes of the term. It is about recognising the emotion in music and poetry, not just in the words, but in the acoustics, and how this is received by audiences in certain spaces. The medium and the direct environment share a symbiotic relationship in promoting genuine and empathetic feeling, and this was a shared sentiment among those attending SXSS, the performers, and the organisers.

Many festivals tend to default to larger, commercial, and specialised venues for their events, typically due to their capacities, which in turn allow them to profit through increased ticket sales. More often than not, festival organisers tend to settle on Auckland as a primary location, which sometimes feels unfair for those down in the creative hub that is Wellington. And while other cities like Dunedin or Christchurch could have offered up just as interesting spaces for SXSS, according to James “Wellington made the most sense out of places in New Zealand, it seemed friendlier to the prospect. Auckland is way more jaded and hard work.”

SXSS distinguished itself from being “just another festival” due to the carefully chosen and curated spaces for the three days. Last year’s Australian Sad by Sad West provided the model for the Wellington version in how it consciously opted for smaller, humble spaces where creativity could truly fill the area.


Sad by Sad South. ZK Photo, 2017

Sad by Sad South. ZK Photo. 2017


Doused in sunlight, with the notorious Wellington wind asserting its presence with a slight breeze, Princess Bay made for an idyllic performance space for Saturday afternoon’s event. Simple yet incredibly meaningful spots like this captured the festival’s overarching ethos of “doing it yourself” in locations which are often taken for granted. Though these spaces seemed effortless, what they put out, in conjunction with how they are used, are rife with meaning.  

South Wellington, particularly Newtown, worked as the central locus for the events over the weekend. Newtown is a notoriously creative and cultural centre in Wellington; the annual Newtown festival can attest to that. James Stuteley took note of this when choosing the locations, saying that it is important to “use the cool and beautiful spaces, and the local area, rather than defaulting to the city.” Often city festivals like Homegrown or Laneway have a commercial, sterile vibe, where it is constantly reiterated that you are at an organised, marketed event. Consequently, this draws away a lot of the creativity and homeliness that the artists and performers have tried to conceive. And while SXSS was intricately planned and curated efficiently, the spaces allowed for an intimate but communal vibe.

Sunday’s house crawl shows had an air of clandestineness to them. Like they were secret meetings, but for everyone. It is ironic how intimacy can be felt whilst in someone’s bedroom, with their personal belongings hanging around like an accidental art exhibition. 30 people were sprawled on the floor, bed, window sills watching Jess Locke play… silent, but in awe. These were the spaces where what had been seen over the last few days originated. The birthplaces of emotion, ideas, and creativity. In the end, it did not matter that we were in someone’s bedroom or kitchen; it was not invasive nor intruding, it merely added a degree of vulnerability and genuineness to the performances.

With a name like Sad by Sad South, some may be mistakenly discouraged to attend, relying on normalised ideas surrounding sensitivity to plague their expectations of the festival. What can be said of this though is that conjuring emotion through art is not embarrassing — it is a shared, meaningful experience for all. Valuing those emotions is also meaningful, and admirable. Even so, SXSS was not solely about appreciating emotions, or acknowledging them, but also simply about appreciating sick music, appreciating poetry, and appreciating art. The depth is there but it does not always have to be embraced.



Freya Daly Sadgrove, Evangeline Riddiford Graham, Hera Lindsay-Bird, Sinead Overbye, Faith Wilson, Callum Goacher, Joy Holley, Sudha Rao, Lily Norman, Eamonn Marra.


Thirtysomethings, Soda Boyz, Carb on Carb, Jess Locke, Long Distance Runner, April’s Fool, Shannen, Fruit Juice Parade, How Get, Girlboss, Grayson Gilmour, Prizegiving, Bad Friend.


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