Homegrown is an annual New Zealand music festival that takes places on the Wellington waterfront. A couple of years ago, I’d walked past and seen pissed-as teens herded into fenced-off areas, and I decided it wasn’t particularly appealing.
But this year a friend had a spare ticket and I found myself on the other side of the temporary fencing.
The first act I saw was Coco Solid, performing in the vaguely indie-themed Studio Live stage. A line of teen girls took their place along the front of the stage, but they didn’t quite seem to be massive Coco Solid fans. The penny dropped when I noticed one of them was wearing a handmade Kids of 88 T-shirt. They were preemptively positioning themselves to be up the front to swoon when it was time for the electro-popsters to play their electro-pop.
By the way, I have a theory that on one level, Kids of 88 exist to make Generation X-ers feel old and irrelevant. Yes, seniors – people who were born in 1988 are old enough to be in bands.
Ms Coco Solid, though, was ace. There was something a little weird with the vocal mic on that stage – it seemed a little quiet or distant for all acts – but her sassy hip hop came over just fine.
Eschewing the aforementioned Kids, we headed over to the Pop & RnB stage to catch Nesian Mystik. It appears that the lads are calling it a day soon, but the audience was full of love for them.
New Zealand never managed to have its own version of a ’00s boy band. There was the ill-fated En Masse, but no direct counterpart to Nsync or Blue. I’ve always thought New Zealand audiences are quite picky. We like people who can play musical instruments and who write their own songs, and who are top blokes.
Well, Nesian Mystik fill that gap – six really nice guys who write their own songs, play guitar, and with plenty of rap among the melody. They are New Zealand’s stealth ’00s boy band.
They played their hits and the audience loved it, with an amazing moment in “Nesian Style” where the audience sang out the line “Polynesians all around”. I realised that 10 years ago, for a young Polynesian-New Zealand audience, Nesian Mystik would have been one of the few chances they’d have to hear Polynesian pop on the mainstream airwaves. (By the way, I still reckon “It’s On” is one of the best New Zealand pop songs ever written.)
Next I caught the Phoenix Foundation, and I’m not quite sure how I felt about them. It just all seemed a bit low-key, but maybe that’s just their thing now.
But I had a bit of a moment during “Nest Egg”, their ode to broken dreams. I wrote this in my notebook: “Nest Egg’ is Gen-X raising its middle finger to the Baby Boomers. You told us we needed to strive for things, but the truth is, you only value the things you could easily achieve due to your golden demographic fluke. Our nest egg may be rotten, but we’re not going bankrupt chasing your old dreams. The rules have been rewritten.
I think I was channelling my 18-year-old self.
Next on the indie stage was The Clean. Have I seen them perform live before? I’m not sure – possibly in the ’90s.
They weren’t what I expected. I was expecting the band to sound like they did on their old singles, but that didn’t happen. Instead the tight three did a lot of semi-structured jamming, and I swear their first song was about 15 minutes long. It was thoroughly enjoyable.
The audience was full of both old-timer fanboys and whippersnappers who were there because they’d heard the Clean were legends. Side of stage, the night’s previous bands stood watching in awe.
The Clean didn’t feel like some old band rehashing their greatest hits to shift some CDs (or worse – the track-by-track playing of a “classic” album). It felt like they were giving the audience a fresh, original performance that could never be duplicated.
Finally I headed over to the arena for the reformed Blindspott.
I’d seen New Zealand’s lords of nu metal perform once before – when I won tickets to X-Air in 2002. They were barely known back then, performing during the day to a crowd of teenage boys who were more interested in the extreme sports action happening all around the Claudelands Showgrounds.
This time, Blindspott were in full control. I wouldn’t consider myself a Blindspott fan, but I think they do what they do well. Damian Alexander is a confident frontman and knows how to perform to an arena crowd.
The band have always been ruthless self-promoters and pushed not only their new single, but cleverly had the crowd baying for blood around their current legal wrangle.
There’s one thing that was on everyone’s mind: Christchurch. With temporary fencing and portaloos around the Homegrown site, it was hard not to be reminded of those who are forced to live amongst such things every day.
Mr Alexander asked any Cantabrians in the audience to raise their hands (and there were quite a few). He then asked that other audience members give them a pat on the back, but it turned into a hand-shaking, fist-bumping, full-contact-hugging, love fest. Aw, guys.
This led into their lighters/cellphones-in-the-air song “Phlex”, the intro of which had been overlaid with the Prime Minister’s post-quake speech. The trouble is, while the speech John Key read was good, he’s not such a great public speaker and so it ended up sounding like a corporate team-building event. Hey guys – fantastic sales results for this quarter. Now the Blind Spots band are going to perform. Great stuff!
Blindspott finished with “Nil By Mouth”, which is a song that seems destined to be performed in an arena full of dudes yelling along “Stop and stare! What the fuck! You don’t know me!”, followed by the screamy bit that no one seems to actually know the words to.
And with that, I made my way out into the damp Wellington streets, surrounded by pissed-as bros who wanted the world to know what a great day they’d had.