From the loud “Dunedin sound” of the early 80s to the more recent sensations of Kimbra, Lorde, Aldous Harding and Marlon Williams, it all had to start somewhere. And that somewhere is often a small local place, the kind of social meeting place that is as crucial to a city as its places to go, its accommodations and its sights to see.
Here’s a guide to six places to pin on the map if you’re a live music fan.
Whammy Bar, Auckland
It’s dark, grungy and intimate. Welcome to Whammy, Auckland’s best dive bar. The venue has long been an incubator for burgeoning underground bands, but it’s also a favorite spot for established artists who love the intimate atmosphere and interaction with crowds. Located in the middle of the nightlife action on Karangahape Road (down the stairs inside St Kevins Arcade), this is a must visit for anyone in need of their alternative music fix.
Crown Hotel, Dunedin
The “Dunedin sound” came to define a musical genre in the early 1980s, when the southern city nurtured bands such as the Cleans and the Chills. Like those heady days, live music enthusiasts gravitating to laid-back gigs in local pubs remain the cornerstone of any scene. Built in 1862, The Crown is Dunedin’s oldest pub and pays homage to the city’s jangly guitar ancestors with photos of bands from the glory days hung in frames behind the stage. The laid-back vibe is somewhere between a pétanque club and a lounge, with a maximum of 150 people able to dance, order jugs of beer, and soak up history while discovering something new.
Wellington’s premium mid-size venue, Meow, is a modern bar with retro touches and one of the capital’s coolest late-night music spots. Located in the hidden party district of Edward Street, it’s easy to be drawn into the eclectic and spacious venue, even if no bands are playing. The kitchen serves generous shared plates and more delicious burgers, while hop-rich craft beer flows through the taps. Bands love to play here for the ambiance, spacious stage, and top-notch sound and light system. Happy hour usually takes place on Friday nights, and don’t be surprised to come across something completely unexpected, like a weird ping pong tournament.
Power Station, Auckland
A mainstay of Auckland’s live music scene, the iconic Powerstation has hosted national and international bands for over 30 years. Think of any band and chances are they’ve taken the stage, from the Pixies, Radiohead and Lorde, to Australian Courtney Barnett, Flight Facilities and the Temper Trap. The black building on Mount Eden Road has a balcony level, an exceptional sound and light system and a guaranteed list of top artists. For some reason this feels raw and intimate for a 1000 seat venue, especially when big name bands fill the venue, and there’s even a new multi-purpose Compactstation in the building for smaller groups, configured for 200 punters. .
Stomach, North Palmerston
The town of Palmerston North, a two-hour drive north of Wellington, is better known for its agricultural college than its music. But scratch below the surface and you’ll find a verdant art scene. The nonprofit Creative Sounds Society has been showcasing local talent for more than 30 years and regularly performs at The Stomach, an alcohol-free venue for all ages a short walk from downtown. Run with a distinct DIY ethos, with bands renting the venue and promoting their own shows, the 100-person venue is an inclusive space with a real sense of community. Expect everything from electro, rock and reggae to indie, heavy metal and folk.
The scene may be small, but the vibe is big at Christchurch’s Darkroom, a converted warehouse on St Asaph Street in Christchurch’s CBD. Friendly staff, a great selection of local craft beers and a tasty bar menu make this an ideal destination for any lover of original music. Opened in 2011, the darkroom has been instrumental in supporting the creative community of the garden city. It might only hold less than 100 people, but that hasn’t stopped luminaries such as Marlon Williams from gracing the stage. Concerts are always free and the venue is open Thursday through Sunday evenings, plus the first Wednesday of the month for an open mic night.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism New Zealand.