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A Love Letter to Auckland’s Gig Scene

By Lyric Waiwiri-Smith

My exposure to Auckland’s local music scene was in 2015, when my friend and I huddled together at the back of class to watch a video of Miss June performing Drool. We observed with impressionable eyes the way Annabel Liddel effortlessly swayed her hips and sneered and sang “you think you’re so fucking cool!” It was the coolest thing we had ever seen in our lives, and my friend couldn’t believe this was my first time hearing about Miss June, and that I had no idea they belonged to an underground world of artists doing this locally. I obsessively began scouring Facebook for my first chance to get in.This opportunity came to me in the form of Messed Up, a little festival featuring a number of Auckland’s local bands - Yukon Era, Joe Says No, The Moots, Miss June - spread across two stages in a run-down hall off K Road. This was a high stakes situation - finally a chance to immerse myself in the hidden world I was obsessed with, but my friends pulled out last minute so I had to go alone, as a very uncool and unsavvy 15-year-old. Getting past the fear of the large, buzzing crowd outside, and the musicians at the door trying to crack jokes with me (I suddenly felt very small and unimportant in my baggy jeans and white shirt), I entered a world where the people danced without fear of being judged, dressed like the people you saw in movies and I watched kids who were still in high school perform to cheers. The floor was sticky with sweat and I had to duck when mosh pits formed and keep my head down when everyone around me was singing along and I wasn’t. I remember after Miss June’s set, the final one of the night, I waited nervously as the crowd thinned and Annabel started packing up her gear. I approached her very tentatively, and as we made eye contact in low light I said “I really like your music.” She grinned, “thank you so much!”

It’s hard to put into words how deeply this experience stirred me. Being teenagers, and young girls especially, music meant everything to my friends and me. Our lives felt so mundane at the best of times, but we had our collection of residential heroes that held up a brighter and more glamorous mirror of our lives. The gig scene felt like our own little universe, hidden down some steps in St Kevins Arcade or a library hall in Grey Lynn or someone’s apartment-turned-venue on K Road, accessible only for $10. When the light in the crowd is low enough, the music loud enough, the people waving their limbs around you strange enough, you have the liberty of choosing who you want to be. It was easy for us to hide under the guise

of being 16 - a true chameleon age. We wouldn’t ever admit it, but we were dumb and easily influenced, and we made mental notes on the older and cooler gig-goers around us. How to dress, what to listen to, ways of speaking and what we should be smoking and drinking. We quickly learned who and what was cool. Friends and lovers were made along the way - some lifelong, some temporary - all while dancing in the dark to a soundtrack that sounded like it was made just for us. Songs about drinking double browns, love, heartbreak, going to parties - these were our experiences.

Some of my fondest memories come from late 2016-2017. A golden age of live music where some months there’d be multiple gigs to attend every week. New sounds to be heard and our favourite songs to experience again. At the time I was dating one of the drummers so I always had to secure my space at the front of the crowd with my friends, where we’d close our eyes, raise our arms, and get lost in the music. Afterwards, when we were sweaty and thirsty we could hide out in the nearest park and relive the experience.

There were pitfalls, of course. Some of the guys would sexualise and harass and belittle us younger girls. Police also made frequent appearances at the all-ages gigs, we learnt how to perfect the art of hiding alcohol and appearing cool and collected (or just gracefully speed walking away). These were also our best opportunities to get completely wasted, and we did a lot of things we’d rather forget (or maybe that was just me).

We always complained about having to pay $10 to see our friends play our favourite songs, but we had no idea how lucky we were. These were some of the most formative years of our life, and we spent our time experiencing unfiltered art for cheap, co-existing with fellow creatives, building our identities and appreciations. Looking back, those years from 2015-2019 feel like the Auckland music scene’s final victory lap. The venues we created memories in have since closed or relocated or restricted their age limit. You’d now be hard pressed to find an all-ages venue operating away from the council’s strict regulations, and anyway, venues are now struggling to breathe above COVID-19. The bands we loved broke up or moved away or found a spotlight away from the local scene.

Nothing compares to the feeling of being able to enjoy music that is locally sourced and influenced. At 15 I never would have been able to truly comprehend the magic that was going to become a part of my world, and my friends' worlds, and the other regulars we’d see every weekend dancing with us. Hopefully when the fog of COVID-19 clears, and we’re allowed to go back to our beloved venues, and the hidden creatives that have been harnessing their craft while in isolation finally get to show off what they have to offer, we can enjoy Auckland’s music scene again.


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