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Your Living Room and the Local Music Scene

A new approach to live music has swept through the capital in the form of house parties. Oscar Mein explores the new trend and the various reasons behind its recent popularity.  

Wellingtonians are in the midst of an explosion of a new DIY approach to local live music.

The city has become a laboratory for the new style, spreading throughout the flats, community halls, and bowling clubs tucked discreetly away in the suburbs of Wellington.

Don’t expect to find neon signs or plastered posters along the walls of Cuba Street however; to get the location of these secret house parties you need to be on the growing private mailing list that discloses the whereabouts of the party on the day.

The face of this new approach: The Eyegum Collective, “a bunch of musicians, artists, fans, and a lawyer who’ve got together with the aim of putting on awesome events.” –eyegum.co.nz

Eyegum, which has been hosting parties predominantly in the lounges of student flats, was birthed in response to a number of venue closures in the city in 2014. Most notably the iconic Cuba Street dive bar Mighty Mighty, which hosted an array of local musicians and, as Victoria University senior lecturer Dr Geoff Stahl believes “was a lot more accommodating and accepting than other spaces.”

Stahl, who frequented Mighty under the guise TV DiSKO, says the bar’s closure is inevitably part of the “logic of cultural spaces”, where things wax and wane and where something new like Eyegum has to “redirect the energy and find new places for it to settle in.”

The bar’s ending forced musicians and fans alike to take matters into their own hands, creating a live music platform that could focus more on music and culture instead of commercial success.

The DIY movement that took a new shape with the creation of Eyegum has a strong history in Wellington. Daniel Beban, owner of Pyramid Club – an artist-run space located on Taranaki Street – has been a part of the DIY community in the capital since 2000, fostering an environment more focused on the experimental side of music.

Beban says Pyramid Club is part of a tradition in Wellington that dates back to 2000, with a place called The Space in Newtown. The Space then moved to Tory Street becoming Happy, which later transformed into the venue/bar Puppies.

Beban says each of the different spaces, which eventually led to the creation of Pyramid Club, are all part of a loose community he calls “the ‘creative music’ community in Wellington.”

This ‘creative community’ involves anyone and everyone interested in improvisation; “experimental stuff, noise stuff, whatever you want to call it, stuff that doesn’t exist in the commercial sector.”

Through playing in local psychedelic group Orchestra of Spheres, Beban is also aware of the importance of having a variety of live music platforms in the city. Bars, artist-run spaces, house parties, “they’re all part of the puzzle”,  he says.

“You need Pyramid Club because it serves a certain purpose but then you need a 200-person bar like Mighty Mighty because it serves another purpose, they’re both equally important.”

A big problem with commercial venues however, is they’re inability to cater to new bands starting out in the music scene. Benny Jennings, drummer for recent group, Yor Cronies, found it almost impossible to get his foot in the door at venues.

“Starting out in a band is an extremely daunting process… no one cares about you, it becomes a vicious cycle,” he says.

Jennings had resorted to inviting fans to come and watch his band busk on the streets before being exposed to Eyegum and realising the possibilities that existed in his own living room.

“That’s what’s cool about Eyegum, they’re providing this toolkit that bands can use if there’s no gigs. ‘Cause that’s the important thing about music; there’s no saviours you’ve got to do everything yourself or with people.”

Joel Cosgrove, a founding member of Eyegum, says the idea came about when his own band, Big Rick, was at a loss as to where they could play. Cosgrove decided he would hold a party in a flat, inviting the band Sharpie Crows who were then situated in Auckland, to come along and play at the gig.

“It was like: Hey, we could charge ten bucks, eighty people have showed up, this could fucking work!”

Eyegum went on to officially start with six gigs, announced all at once, and the movement spread like wildfire with people all over the city offering their flats up for the next party.

The trend quickly became the most accessible outlet for new bands starting in the city; giving them a leg up in an in industry that was previously quite unwelcoming, something Cosgrove believes should be adjusted to benefit the greater music scene:

“You need a much more holistic approach to building and nurturing a scene, you can’t just be like ‘climb that hill’ you have to be like ‘climb that hill, I’ll give you a hand, here we go.’”

There is a constant need for proactivity in any city’s music community to keep the movement and energy alive, or, if and when a scene has its time, to develop new ways and approaches to redirect the energy.

“You’ve got to build the structure, build the community. You look at any sort of movement, you’ve got all this collective knowledge that’s been passed on and developed and built, none of them are accidents,” Cosgrove says.

The future is looking very bright for Wellington’s music scene with a huge number of new bands appearing in the city all thanks to the perceptual shift Eyegum has caused; inspiring bands to take matters into their own hands and be creative with their approaches.

While quietly proud of his effect on the new DIY movement in Wellington, Cosgrove is still conscious about the need for more discussion in the music community so as to keep the energy moving forward.

“A music scene is an ecosystem,” Cosgrove says, “you’ve got house parties, and you’ve got bars, they all interact and they all co-exist, but if there’s not a plan around how to build and grow then things aren’t gonna be greater than the sum of their parts.”

Fostering a community that welcomes and develops all of those involved in a scene, whether it is sound engineers, musicians or simply those hanging out on the door, is all part of Eyegum’s broader focus. Yet, at the collective’s core, there is a very humble and determined attitude toward improving local music’s importance in the city’s culture.

 Additional filming by Jack Hawke.

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