From Flying Nun to Melted Ice Cream, Aotearoa has a fiercely proud history of independent music. In this new Rolling Stone AU/NZ series, we take a closer look at the independent labels committed to supporting this country’s emerging artists. First up, Tāmaki Makaurau’s Sunreturn.
Established in 2019, Sunreturn is an independent record label based in Auckland. The label strives to amplify the work of artists who find freedom in imagining new and unique sounds.
Sunreturn has taken influence from local collectives and labels like The Grow Room, 1:12 Records, Melted Ice Cream, Flying Nun; heritage labels like Jayden, Pagan, Ripper & Tangata, as well as international labels like Mute, Chapter, Sacred Bones, RVNG Intl., Sahel Sounds, and Ghostly.
Zac Arnold is the label founder of Sunreturn, as well as acting as the Creative Director of Naked PR. After moving back to Auckland in the late 2000s, he soon found his place within the city’s musical ecosystem.
As a musician he was a driving force behind Mean Girls and Sere, and has performed in acts such as Little Bark and K M T P. Previous employers include 95bFM (where he was Breakfast Host from 2011 to 2015 and hosted Freak The Sheep from 2017 to 2019), RNZ (Music Content Producer and Producer of Music 101), the NZ Radio Trust (host of The Hills Are Alive – New Zealand Music radio program), and Flying Out (Online Sales and Distribution Manager).
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Aside from his work with Sunreturn, Zac has been involved in curating and promoting events such as NZ Psych Fest, the Dirtbag Awards, and the monthly club night that evolved into The Others Way. Zac is also affiliated with Independent Music New Zealand, holding a board position between 2018-2019 and again since 2021.
The musical project of Amelia Berry, a musician currently based in Tāmaki Makaurau. Amamelia’s sound combines jungle and drum & bass breaks a sugary pop sensibility. Her second album, Bananamelia!, came out late last year.
Already featured in Rolling Stone AU/NZ multiple times, including as one of our Eight Kiwi Artists Tipped to Take Over in our September issue, Babe Martin is the musical project of Zoë Larsen-Cumming.
Her short but memorable debut EP, The Versoix, came out in September, and contains hauntingly sparse songs written with Jazmine Mary as part of NZ on Air’s New Music Develop Programme.
Composed of the aforementioned Amelia Berry (Amamelia) alongside Madison van Staden and Sam Denne, Babyteeth is a “queerbo pop-punk band” who released their debut EP, Poser, in 2021.
Aaliyah Zionov’s musical project needs to be seen live to be believed. Baby Zionov’s music is an unstoppable whirlwind, a fascinating mix of 90s happy hardcore, 70s space disco, and vintage 16-bit video game soundtracks thrown in for good measure.
One of Rolling Stone AU/NZ’s Eight Kiwi Artists Tipped to Take Over earlier this year, Dateline is an indie pop supergroup of sorts: led by Katie Everingham, the singer-songwriter’s relatable songs are aided by local performers including Hans Pucket’s Callum Devlin and Bub’s Priya Sami.
Liam Dargaville is the musician behind Dbldbl. Under the moniker, they place thoughtful raps over minimal production, discussing subjects as wide ranging as chronic pain, identity politics, board games, and fine dining.
As deepState, Jessica Morgan journeys through electronic experimentation, trying her hand at house, downtempo, garage, breakbeat, and everything in between. deepState dropped her excellent second album, Dreams, in September.
Durham Fenwick last released a record as under the Green Grove moniker in 2020 with Of Isthmus, a collection focused on contemplative ambient and soundtrack soundscapes.
Karl Sölve Steven
Karl is a composer and producer currently based in Pārāwai. Earlier this year, he released All of Human Emotion on Microfiche (The Remixes), an album of remixes by prominent personalities in Aotearoa’s experimental electronic scenes.
K M T P
Whether he’s producing jangly indie, alternative rock, or even fourth wave emo sounds, K M T P is always an interesting performer. As K M T P, Keira Paterson released their debut album, With Love, K M T P, in September, a welcome and worthwhile step into the solo spotlight after playing drums for Polyester, Dirty Pixels, and Dead Famous People.
Long Distance Runner
Composed of Simon Oswald, Jono Glenday, Sam Cussen, and Sam Shepherd, Long Distance Runner are an “aggressive rock group” not afraid of indulging 90s shoegaze and East Coast scream influences. The band’s latest album, Shadow, was a loud and furious listen last year.
Mokotron is a Māori producer from Ngāti Hine who utilises breakbeats, deep bass, karakia, and mōteatea to create their dark, trauma-driven tracks. Mokotron released two 12″ EPs in 2022, both out on Spanish label Electro Records. Their TAWHITO EP was awarded Te Tohu Hopunga Puoro Mariu (Favourite EP/Mixtape) at last year’s Student Radio Network Awards.
N.T. Honey is the musical project of Anya Henis, whose sound takes influence from genres such as surf rock, garage, and folk. Henis released a standalone track last year, the 90s-indebted “Road Rage”, a raw ode to the feelings you get when you’re stuck in traffic jams, being tailgated and being cut off by a passing driver.
As OP Lilypad, Long Distance Runner’s Jono Glenday forgoes the busy guitar work in favour of soothing and lush ambient textures, aided by field recordings and analogue electronics. OP Lilypad’s debut album, OPLP, came out in April.
When he’s not helping to keep everyone up to date with Aotearoa’s gigs as editor at Under The Radar (winner of He Tohu Kahurangi/Outstanding Achievement Award at this month’s Student Radio Network Awards), Chris Cudby moonlights as the musician Power Nap.
He released a single, “Out of the Pit”, in 2021, a curious sonic journey filled with psychedelic pop, looping samples, imaginative grooves, and much more, which was given a cool remix by Amamalia on the B-side.
Zac is committed to growing Sunreturn sustainably over time. The label already has several scheduled releases for 2024 from Baby Zionov, Dbldbl, Mokotron, Power Nap, and Van Staden & Böhm. Sunreturn is also currently working with some new artists who will soon release music under the label.
On Saturday, November 11th, the inaugural Festival of Sunreturn will be held at Whammy Bar, promising to be a celebration of the musicians who call the label home. The festival will feature live performances from Amamelia, Babe Martin, Baby Zionov, Dbldbl, deepState, K M T P, Long Distance Runner, Mokotron, OP Lilypad, Power Nap, and Van Staden & Böhm.
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Tickets to the Festival of Sunreturn, which will act as a fundraising event for the label, are available now via Under The Radar. If all goes well, Zac hopes to make the Festival of Sunreturn an annual event.