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My Favourite New Zealand Artist: Elliott Dawson on Ben Lemi

“There’s no one else in Aotearoa doing anything remotely similar,” says the Wellington artist

Elliott Dawson

Elliott Dawson

Kenzie Pigman

For all of our comprehensive NZ Music Month coverage, head to the Rolling Stone New Zealand homepage.

Wellington musician Elliot Dawson’s music is an interesting mix of “jarring and pretty,” just as he describes it.

You can hear it on his debut album, Hang Low, where he mixes heavier indie rock elements with full-bodied jazz instrumentation.

This blend of opposites is what he loves most about music.

For NZ Music Month, Dawson’s got a favourite: Ben Lemi of Dawn Diver. Not only did Lemi produce Vera Ellen’s award-winning album that earned the 2024 Taite Music Prize, but he’s also a master at combining calm and contradiction, just as Dawson explains:

Ok, so this is an extremely difficult question and I’ve flitted through going for a deep cut or someone who’s still around.  However, today the artist that takes the crown is Dawn Diver (aka Ben Lemi). Dawn Diver has everything I love executed to absolute perfection, and the live band is full of some of my favourite musicians.

The strange time, horns and ghostly harmonies are fully out of this world, and there’s no one else in Aotearoa doing anything remotely similar to the same level. It’s the kind of music that feels like dismantling a really intense problem with the calmest disposition possible until everything unravels and you’re left at peace, even if in a place that you didn’t think you would be.

I think there’s also some kind of a sense of desperation in that which personally I relate to, because I struggle to write if there’s nothing that I need to address head on. I love things that pair opposing ideals or commit to carrying them together, and Dawn Diver is a delicate pairing of calm and contradiction.

Also because I really could not decide, honourable mentions to Louisa Nicklin, Soft Bait, Wiri Donna, Salt Water Criminals, Mā, Mermaidens, School Fair, Recitals, and Revluva.