Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.
SWIDT. Hopefully you know the name by now. If not, now’s the time to get up to speed.
Hussein: If only we knew that Scuba Diva were on the rocks before last Wednesday’s Critics’ Choice Prize went down. The band took out this year’s award, which aims to recognise potential future Tui winners, but it sounds like they’re all but over already.
There’s a good argument, a co-worker tells me, that winning the Critics’ Choice Prize is the kiss of death for up and coming acts. That’s not counting Kimbra, but still: out of all the other winners since the award was introduced in 2010, no one has gone on to become a NZ Music Award recipient (yet).
Hopefully that works in Onehunga rap collective SWIDT’s favour, who are still coasting off the release of their debut album SWIDT Vs. Everybody, which came out earlier this year. SPYCC & INF, who make up one third of the crew, were finalists for the award this year too – and they seem destined for so so much more than what they missed out on last week.
Just take a look for yourself:
You were at the Critics’ Choice last week to see it for yourself. What say you, Katie?
Katie: Acts like SWIDT are so rare in any genre, but for New Zealand hip hop they set an incredible standard. They’re smart and authentic and nuanced, but also super entertaining and fun and canny – and the way they engage with place and identity is something you just don’t really get from most of the K Road Elam kid bands.
Hussein: Hearing them talk hometown pride with the god Sam Wicks is such a pleasure. Where they’re from is essential to the music they make - and that doesn’t seem to be lost on them whatsoever.
Katie: Can we talk about the awards? Events like that are always super weird, but this one I thought was particularly strange: $11.50 beers; Jono and Ben hosting; distracting Taylor Swift memorabilia scattered around the venue; and, somehow the worst part, SPYCC & INF being unquestionably robbed.
Not to bash their rivals Kane Strang and Scuba Diva – they were both fine too, with very different vibes. And maybe SPYCC & INF had the advantage of going last with a much more fun, exciting, danceable sound than the other two acts. But man, the change in the room was incredible. Suddenly this weird, dry, industry event turned into an amazing gig full of people wearing Hawaiian shirts.
Really, if it had been judged based on the performances of the night alone, they would have surely taken it out. SPYCC & INF had so much stage presence and so much command over the crowd, their 30 minute set wasn’t just better than the other two acts, it was better than most gigs.
But, as you said, maybe not winning is the way to go. If you’re right, Scuba Diva don’t have much of a future – which makes you wonder what these awards are trying to achieve.
Hussein: The organisers switched up the criteria and judging process this year, which had its pros and cons. The finalists were chosen by a panel of critics (including, I should probably admit here, me) while the voting was extended to more people than usual. In previous years, the winner was determined by their performance on the night, but that wasn’t the case this time. As you can tell, that didn’t work out so well, especially since SPYCC & INF smoked everyone that took the stage ahead of them.
The venue change didn’t help things, either. The pricey beers were one thing, but moving the event from The Kings Arms to The Tuning Fork wasn’t quite the best fit. It still feels too much like an industry showcase, even though you can buy tickets on the door just like any other gig. I think that’s what’s holding it back from the general public taking it seriously.
I do have one suggestion: how about we hold it in May so it coincides with NZ Music Month? I still like the idea of shifting NZMM to November so it’s aligned with the award season, but if that’s not about to happen then it would be cool to find another way to improve things. We could also give the winner a profile boost by having them perform at the main awards later in the year.
It doesn’t feel as if the event is serving the purpose it’s supposed to, but it shouldn’t be so hard to get it right.