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PANDEMICAVERA: THE OTHERS WAY THAT WASN'T


The 2020 edition of The Others Way was set to be the sixth such gathering of the musical faithful along Karangahape Road. Preparations were advanced and in motion, before another roadblock forced the event's indefinite postponement. Last year shortly after the second Auckland lockdown, Kate Powell spoke with organisers, artists and venue owners involved about their experiences and what they've learnt. 
PANDEMICAVERA: THE OTHERS WAY THAT WASN'T

by Kate Powell

Kate has been a published arts columnist and critic since 2013. Her work has featured in the New Zealand Herald, Waikato Times, Rip It Up, Audioculture, The Big Idea and more.


It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Over five years, The Others Way has built a reputation of being an eclectic evening that is equal parts an homage to local alternative icons and a vital platform for up and comers to begin establishing themselves in the ears and hearts of Aotearoa. It is a love letter to the grit and glamour of Karangahape Road and the venues that are its lifeblood, and an annual showcase of the depth and breadth of our local talent.

2020 was set to be another triumph for the festival, until Covid-19 struck.

The impact of the initial lockdown was almost instant. In New Zealand, Recorded Music reports that 55% of all music sector employment stems from live music. Their ‘I Lost My Gig’ survey unearthed further sobering numbers; in the first 48 hours of its creation, 300 submissions noted a total of $3.2 million in lost revenue. Music communities rallied together, setting up Givealittle pages to keep beloved venues afloat. Levels gradually shifted down and for 100 glorious days, Aotearoa was Covid-free. Venues were sold out as people rushed to experience music outside of the solitary realms of their laptop screens. For a while, The Others Way looked to be still on track.

But the second lockdown in Auckland proved too much for The Others Way, and eventually organsiers made the call to postpone the event. 

This article was supposed to be a look behind the scenes at the amount of effort it takes to put on one of the best music festivals in Aotearoa. To shine a light on a passionate community. It still is that. But there is an added sense of importance to it. Make no mistake, our arts sector was on life support. Grassroots festivals such as The Others Way are vital to the growth of our musical landscape. It is imperative that it remains a staple on our calendars where we can celebrate the past and present of our live music scene. Let’s ensure that it has a future.

Sam (left) and Hunter Keane working on the festival.

Sam Harman - Booking Agent for Others Way

“Pulling together Others Way is always a bit of a mad dash because we’re such a small company” says Harman. “We actually had a discussion last year about whether we should come back or not, because we weren’t sure if everyone had the capacity to do it. [As a festival] we are a little bit too small to demand new staff, but too big to not have enough. We applied for ATEED regional funding but even though we had a strong case, we didn’t have the numbers. We intend to increase the size of The Others Way though.”

“There was no point doing anything during lockdown” Harman continues. “So we started organising as the levels started creeping back down in June.” Unfortunately, the issues remained the same. “It was a hell of a lot of work. Matthew [Davis] and I handle the day-to-day and he was worried about being able to keep Flying Out afloat.”

Understanding of Davis’s situation, Harman went “on a fact-finding mission to see what we could get in terms of [Others Way] sponsors.” It proved to be challenging, and Harman found himself writing a pros and cons list. In the end, “we felt like we should do it because people need something to feel good about - the punters, everyone working the festival - and it would be sustainable with sponsors and ticket sales.”

Once the decision was made to soldier on, the line up came together in a record two weeks. “It affirmed what we were doing was right - it proved the enthusiasm and goodwill everyone had; they wanted to do it.” Financially, The Others Way doesn’t make a huge amount of money” explains Harman. “But planning wise, this year would’ve been enough to get it to the next level.”

But then the second lockdown hit.

“We couldn’t sustain another loss otherwise we would sink forever” recalls Harman.

Ten days into Level three lockdown, The Others Way received ATEED’s Domestic Funding. “It’s just going to cover our losses, which we are grateful for. But it’s still a real blow.” says Harman. Having over 40 venues and artists' schedules to juggle has meant that for now, the festival will be restaged at a later point. “We figured it was better for everyone, especially venues, that they don’t have to keep shuffling their dates around - a lot of people there have basically been working for free for three weeks.”

“Everyone has been so understanding, but I feel anxious about where live music is going” admits Harman. “Others Way is a really big show for people wanting to get booked on the summer festival circuit. A lot of acts do it knowing that the Laneway or Homegrown booker is going to be there. We pride ourselves on not just being a nostalgia festival, we’re a good reflection of what’s going on in all genres of music.”

Regardless of genre, Harman believes it’s going to be the emerging bands that suffer the most in the wake of Covid-19. “It’s going to be difficult for them to get discovered, to be able to build a performance without being able to play shows…[but] the whole ecosystem is at risk from the top down. If you’ve got Six60 saying they’re struggling you can bet smaller artists are doing it tough.”

To help support artists, Harman suggests “donate and be a patron to artists and venues if you believe in them....[artists and venues] don’t want to say that they are hurting but I can tell you that they are and morale is very low...the scariest part of the world we live in is that we have to take it as it comes and be less risky...make no mistake, we will lose capacity, big companies, little companies, artists and expertise because of Covid-19.” He believes that the current trend towards virtual experiences “is not what people desire - everyone wants to interact.” But he remains hopeful that “when live music does come back, it will come back very strong.”

Hans Puckett in the Mercury Theatre 

Rohan Evans  - Wine Cellar

While festivals such as The Others Way are vital because of the platform they give an eclectic array of emerging talent, we also have to consider the impact Covid-19 has had on music venues. Practically every night, they play a consistent role in nurturing talent in all aspects of the production of live music. Not only are they cultural centres that help shape the musical soundscapes of cities and nations, they generate a considerable amount of income for other aspects of the economy. Without venues, cultural and economic growth becomes stunted. Worldwide, the impact on venues is devastating; the music industry looks set to lose some USD$9 billion in revenue due to Covid-19. A survey in Australia found that 70% of venues nationwide face closure without immediate funding help.

It has been heartening to see communities band together to support live venues worldwide via crowdfunding, including in New Zealand. While The Others Way would’ve thrown them a lifeline in trying times, Rohan Evans, who owns Wine Cellar, admits that the decision to postpone was “not surprising given the continuation of Level 2; it was predictable. Others Way is not something that could happen.”

He describes The Others Way as “a keystone of our winter -  the big event that restores enthusiasm for gig goers. The weekly routine for live music venues is pretty predictable and bigger events like The Others Way and Going Global Showcase are not significantly different in terms of the work we have to cover as venues.”

“The public response and sense of community however, are very different” Evans continues. “For this year we had already lost so much traction, so the attempt to get Others Way over the line was a source of hope for a lot in the music community.” For him, there are “so many good sets and so much going on in the background it’s hard to narrow down [specific memories] of previous Others Ways.”

Evans hope for the future is simple: “Level One! I can’t really think past having shows running as normal. In general, I hope that the wider public keep up with their engagement with New Zealand artists. There has always been such a dynamic range of world class artists here and I feel that these days people are more engaged with them than in the past.”

Gussie (right) - Mermaidens at the Studio

Gussie Larkin (Earth Tongue, Mermaidens)

Singer, guitarist and songwriter Gussie Larkin has established herself as one of Aotearoa’s finest performers through her work with the ethereally sinister Mermaidens and blurry psychedelia of Earth Tongue. The latter were due to perform at The Others Way this year. 

“We’ve just got to be hopeful for next year” Larkin says philosophically.

During the first lockdown, her and bandmate Erza Simons were “rehearsing a fair bit trying to get some songs together so we could present new work at Others Way...we had been in a situation where we hadn’t played live in months and I think you kind of lose your live performance fitness quickly.”

As she began to suspect that The Others Way mightn’t happen, rehearsals tapered off. “We spent the Level Three lockdown in Kerikeri and we weren’t able to rehearse so much...there was a moment where we thought ‘if Others Way does happen, we will be screwed in terms of live performance’” laughs Larkin.

It was in stark contrast to how she is used to preparing for a festival. “Usually there are a lot of rehearsals and you need to up your game on social media and encourage people to come - there are a lot of other artists to compete with at Others Way” she says. Being in a relationship with Simons adds another dynamic. “It's a pretty unique arrangement and [preparing for festivals] all blurs into one; we can’t pinpoint a specific memorable moment because we are kind of always talking about the band and ideas for video artwork or music.” 

As an artist in Aotearoa, Larkin “knew from the outset not to be too attached to the money side of things [but 2020] has reinforced that it is not worth it to get hung up on missing out on a fee....people's reaction to it being cancelled has proven to me that I am in a really good music community as well.”

Despite being a small, grassroots festival, the impact of The Others Way is immense. “It recognises the amazing diversity of music in Aotearoa; it’s got every genre from acoustic folk to iconic acts like The Phoenix Foundation” she continues. “It’s not getting a few token New Zealand acts like a lot of festivals have done in the past, but putting New Zealand music as the focus and people are stoked with that. There are enough big names to draw a crowd but it truly is about the music - you can go along even if you don’t know the bands and discover something new, it has that vibe.”

For punters wanting to support local artists, Larkin suggests they “listen to more local music - it doesn’t even have to be giving money. Lockdown was a cool opportunity for me to listen to new music and I’ve kept that habit up of making sure I listen to my friends albums when they’re out. Then if you can, buy records, digital downloads and merch.”

Larkin has found the “financial side of not playing live challenging - especially because I’ve just done my tax returns.” But the slower pace has been beneficial for her creatively, something which she believes other artists can benefit from. “I’d say to other artists ‘stay calm and use Covid-19 as an opportunity to hone your musicality and artistry.”

“2020 has been really up and down for me creatively, but I’ve had some revelations that I don’t think I would’ve had had I been distracted by live shows” she explains. “I find it really hard to multitask preparing for live shows and needing to write stuff at the same time. I spent a lot more time working on lyrics this year; really crafting the lyrics and thinking about what each song was about. Having extra time to go on walks and reflect allowed me to hone my craft more.”

Paul Kean (The Bats, Toy Love)

An integral part of Flying Nun since its inception as both a musician and record producer Paul Kean is a stalwart of the New Zealand music scene. He was due to perform at The Others Way in The Bats. Legend has it that they were the band that were the catalyst for Roger Shepherd to establish Flying Nun Records in the first place. In many ways, The Bats epitomised the jangly lo-fi Dunedin Sound, merging the elegant dishevelment of The Velvet Underground with the poppy choruses of The Beatles and they are a perpetually good watch.

In terms of prepping for The Others Way, it involved “checking we were all available, making sure the festival would fit with our current plans, including a new album build up (Foothills), negotiating a fee, rehearsing, booking flights, ground transport and accommodation” says Kean.

They were “excited at being able to perform in Auckland again, seeing family, friends and fans as well as meeting up with our Flying Nun team.” Now in the wake of The Others Way's postponement, Kean has learnt to “always have a contingency plan in place and book flexi fares.” 

For him, the significance of The Others Way is that it is “a great way to perform for audiences both old and new and to catch-up with seeing some other acts.” Looking to the future, he suggests that bands "be flexible and consider doing smaller shows and/or online performances where you can interact with a worldwide audience. Unity can be achieved virtually." Kean's advice to fans is that they “buy music directly from the artists online store such as their Bandcamp rather than through the greedy bloated Spotify corporation that siphon off funds from niche acts.” Regardless of where people sit in the live music ecology, Kean says now is the time to “keep up communications and don't dwell too much on the bad shit and dishing out blame. If you’re alive and well then sing, dance and make love. Hug a tree. Hum. Avoid smelly vehicles - and don't drink or consume too much stuff that makes you feel like crap the next day.”

2020 has been undeniably difficult for creatives of all stripes and it has highlighted the resilience of our communities. In times like these, it is heartening to be reminded of common kindness, and a collective goodwill. But this doesn’t pay the bills. If 2020 taught us anything, it is how much we rely on art and artists for our wellbeing, self expression and connection. It is a relief to see events trickle back into cities outside of Auckland. It is up to us as fans to ensure that festivals such as The Others Way survive. That 2020 is a pause rather than an abandonment. What we do in the next year – from how we choose to spend a Tuesday night to how we choose to vote - will go a long way to seal the fate of an entire arts ecology for decades to come. There really is no other way around it. 

All photos by Ben Howe.

Read "Past And Future: The Others Way Music Festival" here.

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