Towards the end of February, in an all too familiar sight, our Prime Minister took to the UK’s flat screens and twitter feeds. But for musicians and fans, something was different. Something was new. A proposed end date. A conclusion to the nightmarish year that has seen so much progress lost and dreams forgotten. But before we jump ahead of ourselves let’s not forget the governmental yo-yoing that occurred during that window of resurgence in summer 2020. We’ve thought it was over before. This time is the time to be methodical, and maybe, just maybe, we can return to that fated idea of normal that’s ceased to leave our minds since day fucking one. On the other side of the world though, normal can already be found, and for a country seeking methods of transition, the hard work may have already been done. It’s time to look at New Zealand.
When at the turn of the new year, the Rhythm and Vines festival caught headlines with a 20,000 person non-distanced turnout – many were left scratching their heads, wondering if they’d been led towards some pre-2020 content. But a quick google search is all that stands between us, and the reality that eleven thousand miles away there’s a little island almost entirely untouched by the trials and tribulations of the past twelve months. New Zealand, the place you once only associated with Sheep, Rugby and Lord of the Rings, has yet another accolade to its name. After a short but purposeful lockdown in March, the country has experienced a controlled return to normality, an alien idea to the former gig-goers of the not-so-Great Britain. Following a year devoid of positivity and rife with finger pointing, it’s important to learn from New Zealand’s admirable turnaround. Christian, a good friend of mine, moved out to NZ last March, narrowly swerving the tidal wave of shite that was 2020. After enduring their first and only lockdown to date, he begun working at The San Fran in Wellington. An established spot for overseas artists, The San Fran, like the rest of the country, has had to survive on a diet of homegrown acts alone, an unusual circumstance that has as its pros as well as cons.
“It’s been a really cool opportunity for New Zealand acts, you don’t have the international heavyweights gobbling up your Friday and Saturdays at the big venues. Instead we’ve got sort of middling Kiwi band, who might only sell a couple hundred tickets, now they’re the only choice on a Friday and Saturday nights”.
Since reopening, up and coming artists such as The Beths, Marlin’s Dreaming and Soaked Oats have blossomed in what has to be the lone surviving music scene anywhere at this time.
“Festivals with big crowds are happening up and down, it’s cool because it’s all NZ acts, so you’ve got middling bands are now topping festival bills, whereas before they’d be fairly low down”.
Based on Christian’s experience, we’re able to get a sense of the transition to normality that we’ll hopefully (sigh) see towards the end of 2021. After a couple months out of the lockdown, New Zealand gave itself some breathing space, allowing aspects of society to careful resume.
“It wasn’t until cases flatlined that we went into level 1, the borders stayed closed but everything was open and fine. It’s pretty much exactly how I remember it from before”, “obviously we still track and trace on the way in and we have hand sanitisers all around, but otherwise it’s business as usual”.
With harsh restrictions between boarders one of the few proven precautions, can New Zealand be a relevant case study in understanding the appropriate methods of resuscitating live music? Since an emergency Auckland lockdown was announced in late February, it took a mere three days to isolate the three new cases and return to normal. There remains an argument that the country’s smooth transition to normal is systematic of an astute government matched with an obedient public, something that we’re yet to see in the UK. The proposed date for the ending of all law-abiding restrictions is preliminary set at the 21st of June. Between now and then experts will be scratching their heads over how it’s to be done, with music venues and clubs the most daunting prospect in terms of infection risk. Though what many of us have failed to realise is that on the other side of the world there already exists a proven blueprint for the transition to normal, it’s time we stopped ignoring New Zealand.