Rock stadium or intimate nightspot, New Zealand should be proud of its many and varied music venues, writes Poppy Tohill
As our small country punches above its weight with creative talent, we similarly do so with places to discover and enjoy such talent. From the top of the north to the bottom of the south, from stunning to grungy and intimate to colossal - here are 10 live music venues in Aotearoa that are definitely not to be missed. Time your next short break around a performance in one of them and celebrate the freedom we have in New Zealand to be in the midst of a crowd.
1. Powerstation, Auckland
Undoubtedly one of Aotearoa's most iconic live music venues, I'm unsure what's bigger - The Powerstation's reputation or its sound. Amassing a history that spans 30 years, the central Auckland establishment has long been a favourite for local music lovers and international music royalty alike. Striking the perfect balance between hosting some of our very own rising stars and some of music's biggest names, including Kendrick Lamar and Radiohead, they've perfectly merged the technical nuance of an arena with the intimacy of a small-town dive bar. Split across two levels, boasting great acoustics and a clear stage view at any vantage point, there's a clear reason why they've countlessly taken out the award for Best Large Venue, and without it, the Tāmaki Makaurau music scene would be a sad and dull place.
2. Whammy Bar, Auckland
If only walls could talk, Whammy would sure have a lot of wild tales to tell. Situated along the electrifying Karangahape Rd, nestled inside the stunning architecture, vibrant graffiti and array of bustling boutique stores of St Kevin's Arcade, Whammy remains one of the last gatekeepers of the underground scene.
Undeniably the backbone of the Auckland music scene, it's a well-loved second home to rock, metal and indie bands and fans. A supportive hub for all, its intimate capacity provides a more personal encounter with those performing. Lively mosh pits, crowd-surfing and stage-diving are all fairly common practices, with notable memories of instruments smashed and blood shed.
Lest we forget the time The Mint Chicks famously booked a Wednesday night show during the height of their success that ended up so packed out an Australian group playing at the Kings Arms on the same night had to cancel their show and beg to be added to the line-up.
3. Hollywood Theatre, Auckland
As the first constructed cinema in Auckland, built in 1915, and New Zealand's oldest working cinema, The Hollywood may seem like an unsuspecting venue for live music, but its elegant neo-classical facade is what makes it so remarkably different to any other.
Occupying a prime spot on the busy St Georges Rd in Avondale, the venue remains a well known local landmark, and with its ever-growing number of carefully selected concerts and events, a magical haven for music lovers. Marlon Williams is its most recent sell-out performer.
Preserving a fascinating history, with displays of its illustrious heritage scattered throughout, the two-storeyed venue can cater to fans of all ages. There's a seated balcony overlooking a spacious wooden floor and depending on the night, it could either be strewn with an audience energetically dancing along to the likes of hip-hop heavyweights Avantdale Bowling Club or a sea of those seemingly still and silent as the mesmerising voices of Aldous Harding, Nadia Reid and many of New Zealand's finest musical talent echo throughout the space long after you depart.
4. Leigh Sawmill Cafe, Auckland
Just one hour north of central Auckland lies the small coastal community of Leigh, known for its love of live music and laid back atmosphere. The Leigh Sawmill Cafe, a vibrant, warm and rustic venue, quite like no other, is where these two things come together best.
Inextricably intertwined with several generations of New Zealand music, the Sawmill has played host to many major musical acts including Fat Freddy's Drop, Trinity Roots and Fly My Pretties. It has been winner of the award for Best Small Venue three years in a row and is legendary for hospitality to artists and fans alike, making the leisurely trip north to witness some of our nation's finest musical talent incredibly well worth it.
5. Mangawhai Tavern, Northland
Less than two hours out of Auckland lies this immensely popular summer hotspot, home to the Mangawhai Tavern - a heritage hotel with a stunning view overlooking an estuary and striking sand dunes.
Famed for hosting a wide range of events from weekend summer sessions to massive and more intimate gigs, it has long been a frequent hotspot for local rock icons such as Shihad, the Datsuns and the Jordan Luck Band. Infamous perhaps for the wild crowds the venue attracts, the tale of one punter chipping a tooth in the Datsuns' mosh pit and later marking the memory with a tattoo of said tooth still proudly lives on among the locals.
6. Yot Club, Raglan
One thing we're extremely lucky to have many of in New Zealand is beautiful coastal towns, and Raglan is certainly one of our best. A surf town through and through, the lifestyle of locals is very laid back, a vibe that permeates the town's main live music venue, the Yot Club which has long been a regular hot spot for many touring musicians.
With a reputation for getting rowdy, rock and reggae gigs are particularly prevalent here and the bar offers live music and DJs at weekends.
7. Stomach, Palmerston North
One of Palmerston North's best kept secrets for 20 years, this brilliantly named venue is an incredible creative mecca for young locals with a passion for music. An initiative lead by Creative Sounds Society, The Stomach boasts a not-for-profit, judgment free live music venue, a recording studio, and rehearsal space for all.
Solidifying itself as a popular stop for NZ touring bands of all calibres, the venue last year hosted Kiwi heavyweights The Beths on their Jump Rope Gazers Album Release Tour.
8. San Fran, Wellington
Just as Auckland's Whammy Bar is part of the undefinable Karangahape Rd vibe, San Fran is the same to Wellington's bustling Cuba St. At that perfect in-between size for established local acts and upcoming internationals, San Fran has hosted countless legendary evenings, with its humble stage a home to acts such as The Breeders and Fleet Foxes. Elsewhere they would likely perform in venues triple the size.
Sitting at the centre of Wellington's live music scene San Fran has a remarkable reputation among bands as one of the best places to play, and among music-lovers as the best venue to witness a show. Whether it's pummelling heavy metal from Alien Weaponry, or a stunning folk set from Reb Fountain, you're never in bad hands here.
9. Wunderbar, Lyttelton
Curious or creepy? Wunderbar prides itself on oddity and being the "weirdest, coolest little bar and live music venue in New Zealand". It's certainly among Aotearoa's most unique.
Intrinsically decorated with hair roller light shades, infamous dolls heads and other strange items and antiques scattered throughout, it's worth the visit from far and wide just for these peculiar interior touches alone.
However, If you find the decorations too odd for your liking, the venue also overlooks the Lyttelton Harbour and binoculars can be found at the bar for you to enjoy an even more picturesque view. Or you can choose to be easily swallowed up by the great atmosphere that the bar, staff and live entertainment provide, as they showcase up-and-coming musicians and local talent each week.
10. Darkroom, Christchurch
Not far from the wacky Wunderbar lies Darkroom, another quirky, intimate venue; this one hidden away in a converted warehouse at the industrial end of Christchurch's St Asaph St.
In October 2011, Darkroom commendably became the city's first dedicated live music venue to open after the Christchurch earthquakes. Priding itself on encouraging diversity in its lineups and audiences alike, the venue has since become a musical institution, hosting the likes of Marlon Williams and Die! Die! Die! as well as providing a platform for the next wave of potential stars.
Offering up a little something for everyone with regular open mic nights, art exhibitions and gigs spanning from rock to hip-hop, folk and electronica, Darkroom may be dark but it's one of the warmest, most welcoming venues of the south.