Good music comes to those who wait. Sadly waylaid by several COVID-related postponements, The Others Way Festival made its long-awaited return to Tāmaki Makaurau on Saturday. 30 artists took to venues across one of the world’s coolest streets, Karangahape Road, to welcome back Auckland’s best street party.
After such a lengthy absence, the local organisers – Flying Out, 95bFM and Undertheradar – would have been forgiven for feeling a little nervous about putting on the festival, but aside from minor waits for some sets to begin, the whole thing went smoothly. It wasn’t all that surprising: as The Beths said in a recent conversation with Rolling Stone AU/NZ, “there’s a real DIY ethos” in New Zealand’s music industry.
Over the course of one blissful Auckland evening, the strength of the country’s music was evident everywhere, from beautifully performed traditional Māori waiatas to classic New Zealand reggae, venues filled with local gems and living legends.
The three international inclusions on the line up – Australian singer-songwriter Laura Jean, jazzy producer MDNSGN & The Rare Pleasures, and acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Steve Gunn – naturally drew large crowds, often with patient queues of people filtering outside, but the importance of this year’s festival felt like it belonged in acknowledging the quality of national artists.
After Daffodils kicked things off with some polished indie-pop on the Galatos Street Stage, TE KAAHU held a spiritual and stirring concert inside Pitt Street Church in a wonderful marriage of performer and setting. The moniker of the inimitable Em-Haley Walker, TE KAAHU and her accompanying band performed a stunning collection of waiatas from her debut album, Te Kaahu O Rangi, a vessel for her to sing compositions in te reo Māori. As she explained between songs, the music stemmed from a deep place of personal meaning, and by the end of her set, all the church pews had been filled up, with standing room left only. It was a powerfully vulnerable performance from TE KAAHU; even if one didn’t understand the words of the waiatas, it was a particularly moving beginning to the festival.
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Half Hexagon left the audience waiting very patiently for their set at Neck of the Woods, but when your group includes Lawrence Arabia, people undoubtedly give you a little more leeway. When they finally started, the trio of Yolanda Fagan, James Milne, and Julien Dyne were a formidable presence, a startling fact considering their first live performance came mere months ago. Their style of icy synth-pop was coolly performed with a detached quality; watching it all unfold peerlessly, you felt yourself watching more out of admiration than adoration. With Half Hexagon already confirmed to be on next year’s Nest Fest lineup, though, there’s clearly more to come from them; any group composed of three such accomplished performers should make a fascinating record if imposing first single “Ism” is built upon.
A quick transfer to The Wine Cellar was necessitated to see Look Blue Go Purple vocalist Francisca Griffin. Backed by her band The Bus Shelter Boys, the Ōtepoti legend was unfazed by the heaving crowd that had crammed inside the small venue to see her. The breezy catchiness of Look Blue Go Purple’s indie-pop wasn’t much in evidence, but it didn’t have to be: Griffin’s performance was wholly absorbing, relying instead on exquisite musicianship and tonal ambition. Her compositions were enveloping and thoughtful, at times tinged with a tender quality.
A sharp change of style was provided by young Wellingtonians, Bleeding Star. Looking very much like extras from Euphoria onstage at The Wine Cellar, their downbeat sound recalled excellent 90’s slowcore bands like Red House Painters and Carissa’s Wierd. Their performance was raw, certainly, but determined, showcasing a promising understanding of loud-and-quiet rhythmic rock. Not far away, PollyHill unleashed intricate soundscapes, the producer drawing an energetic crowd to Whammy Bar seeking a dance. She’s an invigorating producer, clearly indebted to MF Doom, and showed herself capable of effortless genre-hopping.
In the Whammy Backroom, Repairs drew a sizable crowd that was testament to their local renown. While not boasting the national reputation of others at the festival, the skilful trio put on a resounding set of no-frills rock; the tempo never dipped, the energy never dropped. Reliable bands like Repairs dot the landscape of all local music scenes, and long may they thrive.
If lagging was inevitable – 30 artists in 7 hours is a daunting prospect – arriving just as Dance Exponents filled Galatos with the unmistakable opening notes of “Victoria” provided one of those unforgettable dashes of unreality, a moment that felt almost too good to be true. The classic Kiwi hit was heartily sung back to the band; frontman Jordan Luck, clearly loving the experience, took a touching moment to kiss each bandmates’ cheek. “Should we do this again soon?” he happily cried. Again: a moment that felt almost too good to be true.
A perfectly imperfect duel then took place between the Galatos Basement and Street Stage, with the languid and atmospheric indie-rock of Soft Plastics competing with the unstoppable energy of Che Fu & The Kratez. Swirling introspection below, nostalgic partying above; opposites did attract, thankfully, with many in the crowd clearly dancing to Che Fu before also heading downstairs to take in some of Soft Plastics’ set.
Along K’ Rd at Whammy Bar, Mirror Ritual performed. This Rolling Stone article before The Others Way summed it up: they’re very, very good. The psych-fuzz four-piece have a sonic maturity that belies your youthfulness. Formerly known as Transistor, the Pōneke upstarts have definitively found their groove under this new name.
Led by George Harrison lookalike Lochie, their unrushed and atmospheric compositions feel equally inspired by John Cale and Stereolab, but their sound comes across as homage rather than pastiche, the band infusing their influences into something modern. “We didn’t expect to have so many people come see us,” the singer says halfway through their set, but it’s something the fledgling band should get used to witnessing.
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If anyone was flagging as the night drew to a close, the punishing rhythm of Earth Tongue at Galatos was the ideal antidote. The duo – Mermaidens’ Gussie Larkin and Soft Bait’s Ezra Simons – presented a powerhouse set of heavy psych-rock, their thunderous songs unrelenting on weary ears. Their intricate interplay was impressive, almost imbued with a Sabbath-esque touch. Both musicians were also extremely generous towards their bandmate, Larkin knowing when to allow Simons to drum frenziedly and vice versa.
The perfect end to The Others Way, it turned out, arrived in the most unexpected of places. “Hans Pucket Karaoke Challenge” was a perplexing inclusion on the lineup when it was first announced, but as the festival passed the midnight mark, the indie-pop band’s set was ferociously fun and lightly endearing. Awaiting the release of their new EP next week, the shackles were clearly off the Hans Pucket musicians, all performing giddily as they allowed other festival goers to take over singing duties.
Inside Whammy Bar, it felt like an encapsulating culmination: there was TE KAAHU, mulling among the crowd despite just performing herself a few hours ago; there was The Beths’ Liz Stokes, lending a prominent voice to her good friends’ band; at one point Flying Out Records’ manager Matthew Crawley almost brought the house down with an ecstatic performance of a Tom Jones classic. For New Zealand, by New Zealand, the return of The Others Way was long overdue.