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Two major music festivals received zero media coverage. Why?
New Zealand's biggest news outlets appear to have given up on music criticism.
This past weekend, New Zealand’s biggest band, Six60, joined forces with one of the biggest hip-hop stars of the 90s, Lauryn Hill, for the launch of a new event. Eden Fest, held at Go Media Stadium at Mt Smart, kicked off on Saturday with thousands in attendance.
It’s a big deal. The lineup included Giveon, Koffee and Katchafire bulking out a full day’s entertainment, along with a livestream for those at home to follow along, an expensive rarity among New Zealand music festivals.
It felt like a kickstart for what’s shaping up to be a huge summer of music – one much needed after two Covid-affected years and all those cancellations caused by Cyclone Gabrielle. The industry needs the next six months to go off without hiccups.
Clearly, with that kind of launch party, Eden Fest is intended to become an annual event. You would expect to be able to read about it the following day, perhaps with reviews and live reports. That’s what used to happen.
Yet, on Monday morning, I searched high and low for coverage. I found nothing. The only reviews I could find were from a bunch of attendees on Eden Fest’s Facebook page. Let’s call those reviews, ah, mixed. (Anyone who attended Lauryn Hill’s 2019 show would know she runs very hot and very cold.)
Maybe Eden Fest didn’t invite media, or maybe Lauryn Hill doesn’t allow review passes anymore. Sure, that happens. But it’s not the only festival local media have skipped lately. The weekend prior, this time on the Sunday night, Go Media Stadium hosted Listen In, an annual event attracting tens of thousands of kids down south for a lineup that included Ice Spice, JPEGMAFIA and Coi Leray, with dubstepping titan Skrillex topping the bill.
I was there. I was waaay too old to be there, but I went anyway. The line-up was too good to care about something as stupid as age. It was awesome. I loved it. On Monday morning, I wanted to read about it, so I searched for reviews. There was nothing. Stuff later got in touch wanting to use my footage of a Skrillex stage fire for a quick news headline, but there was no critical analysis, nothing saying anything good or bad about the event, and whether or not it was worth going.
I tried to fill that gap here. But it’s not my job. I don’t get paid to write about music festivals anymore. I would have hoped, by now, that particular torch had been passed on to someone else and I wouldn’t have to stand here on my stoop, ranting like an angry old man into the void, asking where the fuck our music critics have gone.
It’s easy to see where they’ve gone. As newsrooms continue to shrink and shed staff (NZ Herald and Stuff’s recent cuts have been well documented) culture writers are the ones that go first. When I left NZ Herald in 2019, there were six writers dedicated to putting together TimeOut, a Thursday magazine dedicated to film, TV and music. Not only does the TimeOut mag no longer exist, none of those jobs do either.
When I howled about this on Twitter recently, someone asked me this: “Is there a single employed, paid music journalist in NZ media?” The answer is, right now, no – at least, not in the written form, anyway. Newspapers don’t run album reviews anymore, and they haven’t for a long time. It’s a rarity to read about new artists, rising stars, see any kind of long-form deep dives or critical analysis. (One disclaimer: Tony Stamp is an award-winning journalist for RNZ and does a great job; he recently had his own excellent howl about this very topic, but about film criticism, for Webworm.)
Forgive me if I get emotional for a minute, but the lack of critical music coverage in Aotearoa fucking sucks. It hurts. It means young writers don’t have the chance to write about things that really matter to them. It means artists don’t have their work highlighted for the masses. If they’re not critically appraised, then maybe they don’t get the chance to improve. It means huge cultural changes go undocumented. It starts to feel like none of this really matters.
I spent 20 years in the country’s biggest newsrooms proving to editors that it did matter. I provided rolling coverage of Laneway festivals and Big Day Outs from shit phones using crappy cell service. I went to concerts I hated (two Disturbed shows; three by Macklemore) and even more that I loved. I had to run down the street holding a phone aloft to find last-minute cellular service and file a Rihanna review by deadline. I interviewed rappers who didn’t want to be interviewed. I threw up on the front lawn before meeting Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. Courtney Love taught me how to castrate sheep. I nearly got hyperthermia covering Adele.
I loved every single second of it. Often, all that effort would result in stories that would be the day’s biggest reads on the websites I worked for. Done well, with criticism that is balanced, well thought through and argued in a compelling way, entertainment news can and should be just as important as coverage of All Blacks performances, high profile court cases, car crashes, and elections.
It seems nuts to me I can go read reviews of every Sweetwaters festival from the 80s and 90s, but I’ll never be able to read a review of the very first Eden Fest in 2023.
Unfortunately, I can’t see this changing anytime soon.
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