If you’re a true music lover as well as an avid traveller, then you’re probably inclined to check out the local music scene in every new destination you visit. New Zealand may be small, but travelling music buffs shouldn’t be surprised to discover the thriving community of local artists offering a distinct Kiwi sound.
New Zealand’s music scene is truly special and unique, and it’s easy to see why it stands out in a league of its own. For starters, New Zealand has a population of just over five million people, yet its music scene punches well above its weight in terms of creativity, innovation, and diversity.
One of the defining features of the New Zealand music scene is its emphasis on showcasing local talent. Kiwi music is all about celebrating homegrown talent and giving local artists a platform to shine. This has led to a vibrant and thriving music culture that is rich in variety, with everything from indie rock to hip-hop to electronic music.
Check out who is who in the Kiwi music scene in our guide to New Zealand music.
Lorde is a New Zealand singer-songwriter who first gained international attention with her debut single “Royals” in 2013. Her music is often described as alternative pop or electropop, with a distinctive sound that blends moody, introspective lyrics with lush, atmospheric instrumentation.
Sound: Lorde’s style is characterized by her haunting vocals, which have a raw and emotive quality that perfectly matches the introspective themes of her songs. Her music often explores themes of adolescence, fame, and relationships, with a keen eye for detail and a gift for crafting memorable hooks.
Why see this artist: If you’re looking for an artist who can deliver thoughtful and emotionally resonant pop music that stands out from the crowd, then Lorde is definitely worth checking out. Her music has been praised for its authenticity and depth, and her lyrics have resonated with fans around the world who are looking for something more than just another pop banger.
Top songs to check out: “Green Light,” the lead single from Lorde’s second album, “Melodrama.” Other notable songs from Lorde’s discography include “Royals,” “Team,” and “Liability.”
Sound: A uniquely Kiwi blend of rock, R&B, drum and bass with a dash of soul
Why see them: Formed in Dunedin when the members were attending university, Six60 is a firm local favourite known for their legendary live shows. They are often one of the first bands people think of when you ask about notable Kiwi music acts. Despite international success and recognition, they still love playing on home soil in Aotearoa.
The name Six60 comes from their old address in Dunedin, 660 Castle Street. Their first album was called Six60, and their most recent 2022 album was called Castle Street. It seems as though they don’t forget their roots…
Top songs to check out: “Don’t Forget Your Roots”, “Rise Up”
Sound: Heavy soul with drum and bass, liquid funk
Why see them: One of NZ’s most popular bands has been around since 1999. Also, their track record of live performances is pretty good, having already played at festivals like Glastonbury, Parklife, Big Day Out and The Big Chill, as well as touring in Australia and Europe.
During Prince Harry and Meghan’s then Royal tour of the South Pacific, the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern, presented the couple with two Shapeshifter albums, The System is a Vampire and Stars.
Top Songs to check out: “Stars”, “Life is a Dancefloor”
Shihad is a New Zealand rock band that has been making music since the late 1980s. Their sound and style can be described as a mix of hard rock, post-grunge, and alternative metal, with heavy riffs, driving rhythms, and melodic hooks that make for an electrifying listening experience.
Sound: One of the defining features of Shihad’s music is the powerful and emotive vocals of lead singer Jon Toogood, who is known for his intense stage presence and his ability to convey a wide range of emotions through his singing. The band’s music often explores themes of alienation, angst, and the struggle to find meaning in a complex and confusing world.
Why see them: If you’re looking for an artist that delivers hard-hitting, emotionally charged rock music, then Shihad is definitely worth checking out. Their live shows are legendary, with the band delivering high-energy performances that leave audiences breathless.
Top songs to check out: One top song to check out is “Home Again,” a powerful ballad that showcases Toogood’s vocal prowess and the band’s ability to craft emotionally resonant songs that speak to the human experience. Other notable songs from Shihad’s discography include “Run,” “Bitter,” and “Pacifier.”
Sound: mainly reggae, with a mix of blues and electronic funk
Why see them: Hailing from Whakatane, Bay of Plenty, L.A.B. are like a Who’s Who of the NZ music scene. Band members include Brad and Stuart Kora, from the band Kora as well as bassist Ara Adams-Tamatea previously in Katchafire.
Their single “In the Air” topped the NZ charts in 2020, and after 73 weeks in the top 10, became New Zealand’s number one selling single of all time, replacing Tiki Taane’s song below.
Top song to check out: well, it has to be the most successful ever NZ single, “In the Air”, although the follow up “Why Oh Why” is also worth a listen.
Fly My Pretties
Fly My Pretties is a New Zealand musical collective that was formed in 2004. The group consists of a rotating cast of musicians and singers, who come together to create unique and innovative music that blends elements of folk, rock, blues, and soul.
Sound: The sound and style of Fly My Pretties is characterized by its organic, acoustic instrumentation, lush vocal harmonies, and dynamic arrangements. The group’s music often features complex, multi-layered compositions that showcase the talents of the various musicians involved.
Why see them: One of the main reasons to see or listen to Fly My Pretties is the sheer talent and diversity of the musicians involved. The group has included some of the most talented and respected musicians in the New Zealand music scene, including members of The Black Seeds, Fat Freddy’s Drop, TrinityRoots, and many others.
Another reason to check out Fly My Pretties is the group’s commitment to innovation and experimentation. The collective is known for pushing the boundaries of traditional musical genres and creating music that is fresh, exciting, and truly unique.
Top songs to check out: One top song to check out is “Bag of Money,” a funky and upbeat track that features the soulful vocals of A Girl Named Mo. With its infectious groove, catchy chorus, and uplifting message, “Bag of Money” is a perfect introduction to the unique sound and style of Fly My Pretties. Other notable songs from the group’s discography include “Sing It Over,” “Lucky,” and “Turnaround”.
Sound: Experimental Dub and Roots thrown together with acoustic
Why see him: As well as being one of New Zealand’s most well-known musicians, Tiki Taane’s impressive CV includes stints as a music producer, live audio engineer and an extensive list of compilations with other notable Kiwi bands and artists.
He was in leading NZ band Salmonella Dub before pursuing a solo career, has been the live sound engineer for Shapeshifter as well as producing albums for Six60.
Top song to check out: “Always On My Mind” (previously the most successful single of all time in NZ – see above)
Sound: Soaring soul mixed with elements of jazz; early Celtic music
Why see her: One of NZ’s most iconic singer-songwriters (and most famous female artists), Hollie Smith has been giving powerhouse live performances at prestigious outdoor festivals around the world since her award-winning NZ debut as a 16-year-old.
She has also toured with Fat Freddy’s Drop (below) and had 4 NZ number 1 albums, as well as a string of critically acclaimed international shows.
Top song to check out: “Bathe in the River”
Fat Freddy’s Drop
Sound: Dub, reggae, soul, jazz and techno
Why see them: A 7 piece band originally from Wellington, they are well known for their fantastic spontaneous live performances. They were originally a group of Wellington musicians who jammed together, and still has members from other NZ bands like The Black seeds and TrinityRoots.
Their style is solid “Aotearoa Roots”, the laid back dub/reggae sound from their Maori and Pacific Island backgrounds and culture.
Top Song to check out: try some of their early work like “Wandering Eye”, “Hope” or “Ernie”, or some later stuff like “Blackbird” or “Clean the House”.
Sound: Alternative Indie R & B
Why see her: BENEE brings us bang up to date in the NZ music scene. She was born in 2000, that’s after some of the iconic NZ bands on this list were formed. Despite releasing her debut album Hey U X as late as 2020 (remember that year?), she had already found international recognition as two of her songs, “Glitter” and “Supalonely” went viral as dance challenges on Tik Tok in 2019 and 2020.
Born Stella Bennett, she made her solo debut under the name Bene, supported Lily Allen in Auckland, finally becoming BENEE (pronounced Benny). Here’s a weird fact: she nearly abandoned music to pursue her dream of representing New Zealand at water polo. Who knew?
Top Song to Check Out: “Supaloney” featuring Gus Dapperton, or something more current like “Green Honda”.
Sound: Blues-based psychedelic rock
Why see them: Comprised of members sourced from a few of New Zealand’s other big name bands, Little Bushman are at their best live – they thrive at festivals where they can embrace a love of improvisation and let the music flow. Front man Warren Maxwell was with Fat Freddy’s Drop until 2006.
Top song to check out: “Peaceful Man”, “Baby”
Ahoribuzz (Aaron Tokona)
Ahoribuzz is a New Zealand musical project led by Aaron Tokona, a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who has been a prominent figure in the Kiwi music scene for many years. The sound and style of Ahoribuzz draw on a wide range of influences, including funk, soul, reggae, and rock, resulting in a sound that is both eclectic and highly danceable.
Aaron Tokona was a highly respected and influential musician in the New Zealand music scene. He was more than just the mastermind behind Ahoribuzz, he also played in several other notable bands over the years, including Weta, Cairo Knife Fight, and Fly My Pretties.
Tokona was a multi-talented musician who played a variety of instruments, including guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. He was known for his virtuosic playing style and his ability to seamlessly blend different genres and styles in his music.
In addition to his musical talents, Tokona was also a beloved figure in the New Zealand music community. He was known for his warm and friendly personality, his infectious energy, and his unwavering commitment to making great music.
Sadly, Aaron Tokona passed away in 2021 at the age of 45. His death was a great loss to the New Zealand music scene and to music lovers around the world. However, his legacy lives on through his music, which continues to inspire and entertain fans to this day.
Sound: The music of Ahoribuzz is characterized by its infectious grooves, catchy melodies, and expertly crafted arrangements. Tokona’s songwriting is sharp and insightful, with lyrics that explore themes of love, politics, and the human experience with a keen eye for detail and a wry sense of humour.
Why see them (on your favourite video channel): If you’re looking for an artist who can deliver high-energy, genre-bending music that will get you up and dancing, then Ahoribuzz is definitely worth checking out on Youtube or Vimeo. Their live shows were renowned for their energy and excitement, with Tokona and his bandmates delivering electrifying performances that leave audiences wanting more.
Top song to check out: One top song to check out is “Sugar,” a funky and upbeat track that showcases the best of what Ahoribuzz has to offer. With its infectious bassline, catchy chorus, and irresistible groove, “Sugar” is a perfect introduction to the band’s unique sound and style. Other notable songs from Ahoribuzz’s discography include “Into The Sunshine,” “Turnaround,” and “Burning Love.”
See what sets the NZ music scene apart
Some of the most popular music genres in New Zealand include indie rock, pop, and electronic dance music (EDM). Bands like The Beths and Six60 have been making waves internationally with their catchy, guitar-driven indie pop. Meanwhile, EDM producers like Sachi and Montell2099 have been putting New Zealand on the map with their unique take on electronic music.
But what really sets the New Zealand music scene apart is its willingness to experiment and push boundaries. Kiwi artists aren’t afraid to take risks and try new things, which has led to some truly groundbreaking music over the years. For example, the late singer-songwriter Prince Tui Teka fused traditional Maori music with contemporary pop, creating a sound that was both fresh and authentic.
Other notable Kiwi musicians who have made their mark on the international stage include Lorde, Crowded House, Fat Freddy’s Drop, and Flight of the Conchords. Each of these artists has carved out their own niche in the music industry, blending influences from different genres and cultures to create something truly unique.
In short, the New Zealand music scene is special because it’s a melting pot of different influences and styles, all coming together to create something that is truly one-of-a-kind. Whether you’re into rock, pop, EDM, or something in between, there’s something for everyone in the Kiwi music scene. So, whether you’re a local or a visitor to New Zealand, be sure to check out some of the amazing music that this country has to offer!
Experience the Kiwi music scene live
One of the best places to find New Zealand’s top artists is the amazing summer festivals on offer throughout the season – check out our handy Ultimate Summer Festival Guide to see our top picks. Which Kiwi artists are your fave? Let us know who we’ve missed out on in the comments below.