These are Aotearoa’s favourite cool kid artists (who I probably would’ve bullied in high school)
New Zealand is a pretty weird place. Supposedly, we stand out for our dry humour, our flightless bird namesake, and as the perfect place to film long movies with difficult-to-describe plots. No wonder we stay on-brand with how wacky our artists are. From their music to their personas (and sometimes a collision of both), we’re proving we’ve got our own eccentric tastes at home. For New Zealand Music Month, we’re ranking a few New Zealand artists by wackiness and giving some of our oddball artists the love they deserve.
1. Aldous Harding
If you’re gonna think strange, look no further than Aldous Harding. Just watch her KEXP session—she’s an artist not fully there and completely in the moment, seeing something we can’t begin to understand. Harding weaves unhinged lyrics with folk simplicity of stripped back guitar, piano, and the occasional cowbell that leave you both disoriented, soothed, and a bit baffled. Half the time, you’re asking yourself, “What the fuck is she saying?”, but the music is such magic you don’t care about the answer.
2. Connan Mockasin
Connan Mockasin holds supreme domain over all things odd, quirky, and slightly deranged in New Zealand’s psychedelic indie scene. From a stage name taken from crafting moccasins as a kid, Connan Mockasin was destined for an unorthodox trajectory. A Hawkes Bay brother, Connan puts new spins on nostalgic synths and idiosyncratic percussion behind seemingly off-colour lyrics to forge new paths into the genre. It’s exciting and disturbing and utterly wicked all at once.
3. The Brunettes
Rest in peace The Brunettes. But please leave whatever shit you were on when you made Holding Hands, Feeding Ducks, because that must’ve been some mind-bending stuff. With whimsical ditties like ‘If You Were Alien’ and ‘The Moon in June Stuff’, you know that you’re in for absurdity. And with their silly lyrics and instrumental that felt like they’d taken primary school music class instruments and chucked it in a song for laughs, this twee pop duo from Auckland knew what they were doing in creating some absolute absurd gems.
Pucker up for Lips, the Auckland four-piece with a musical personality bigger than their sound. The band’s mascot? Ex-girlfriend? Visual representation of their addictive vocals? “Lips”, a girl whose head are massive lips, makes them stand out as weirdos in the indie pop crowd. With wild lyrics delivered with deadpan wit, their bangers ‘Your Deodorant Doesn’t Work’ and ‘Her Friends Are Friends With My Friends’ make for fickle and fun listening.
5. Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchestra is not unknown to anyone who’s ever dabbled with the psychedelic rock genre (or been to a hipster cafe on Karangahape Road). Sure, Multi-Love and Sex & Food are your staple trippy albums with warm guitar, synths, and warped vocals. But it’s the band’s instrumental ventures which leave you scratching your head in wonderful confusion. The album IC-01 Hanoi and the tunes ‘SB-06’, ‘SB-07’, ‘SB-08’, ‘SB-09’, each their own 20-minute soundscapes, give you whiplash with their style changes and slightly jarring soundbites. It’s these recent forays into new sounds, spearheaded by Orewa native and Elam alumni Ruban Nielson, which make UMO out-the-gate certified.
Okay, so I know Lorde isn’t underground anymore to be considered weird—but I couldn’t not make a ranking of wacky New Zealand Artists and snub our Takapuna golden child. Before she was mainstream cool pop alty, she was pop alty with the persona of Robert Pattinson’s Batman. Her unreachable and John Green-esque coolness and wacky stage moves have cemented her as an indie legend, and makes her a New Zealand weirdo in our books.