Last night, Aotearoa’s premier one-night indie music festival, The Others Way came to Wellington for a side-show for the very first time. It’s a move that makes complete sense, with Cuba Street offering an even more walking-friendly and close-knit setting and group of venues than Auckland’s Karangahape Road, so I was looking forward to seeing how the arrangement would work out. It was clear that the festival was very much testing the water in the new city and finding its footing, but the solid musical quality of all the acts more than carried the night to success.
While the main Auckland festival the night before was packed with 46 local and international acts, the Wellington side-show was built up of a more swallowable, though limited, 7, split between the two close venues of San Fran and Valhalla. The short walking distance between the two venues and the arrangement of the timetable with alternating acts at each meant it was easy to see all of the artists without rushing - something that obviously can’t be said for the Auckland festival, and a payoff for the smaller lineup.
I enjoyed every single act I saw throughout the night, an uplifting experience, with no letdowns, though a significant proportion of the acts were Wellington or New Zealand bands that it’s easy to see at any time outside of the festival. My night started with one such band, Wellington’s local student-gig regulars Stink. Their set was the best I’ve seen them give, despite the relative emptiness of San Fran at this early hour. A good way of kicking things off with fun lighthearted funky rock tunes, tight musicianship, and an entertaining stage presence which the small but enthusiastic crowd lapped up eagerly.
Then it was over to Valhalla for another group of Wellington regulars, girlboss. A big drop in tempo from the previous act, they played beautiful classic slowcore at a plodding hypnotic pace. With gorgeous melancholy vocals, steady gentle drumbeats and patient reverb-soaked guitars, they drew clear influence from bands like early Low and Bluetile Lounge. The unrelentingly languid and relaxed rhythms seemed to cause a drift in focus for a lot of the audience, who unfortunately talked through the set quite a bit, but I loved their whole performance, which happened to be their first with a new second guitarist thickening up their atmosphere.
Next up was the Chris Cohen, the one visiting overseas artist I saw (I missed the other, the evening’s first act Gary War), an American solo artist and ex-Deerhoof member. He delivered a lovely blend of alternative rock through hazy Americana and rootsy psychedelia, complete with some great “messy” guitar work. The band were very solid and watchable, though for some reason they didn’t seem to fully capture the attention of the talkative San Fran crowd.
Back at Valhalla, New Zealand’s own Purple Pilgrims delivered the night’s most strikingly unique set, standing out from the rest of the rock-centric lineup in terms of musical style and performance. The sibling duo performed standing side-by-side on stage, accompanied only by a synthesizer to control their backing tracks, an occasional electric guitar, and their conjoint vocals. Their music is massively atmospheric, grandiose, synthy, 80’s-flavoured gothic pop in the vein of Cocteau Twins, coming through powerfully in their pre-recorded backing tracks and watery echoing guitar lines. Their spookily straight-faced and austere vocal delivery, soaring witchy melodies and semi-ridiculous mystical hand movements gave them an occult-ish new-age vibe which was enchanting to watch amidst the smoke machines in the small vibey Valhalla. Highly recommended.
The next act was, for many, the night’s most anticipated act - Flying Nun legends The Chills. With a spotlight currently on them cast by a recent documentary, the band played a much more arresting set than the previous time I saw them, last year, in the same venue. An early Pink Frost brought the crowd to life, as did Doldrums. They played plenty of material from their last album (and one track apparently from an upcoming one) and closed their short set with the classic one-two punch of Heavenly Pop Hit and I Love My Leather Jacket. Frontman Martin Phillipps was in a talkative mood between songs, requesting lighting and sound changes, reminding the audience to go see the extended version of the documentary about him, introducing songs and explaining their meaning, and sharing a great moment from their set at the Auckland Other’s Way the night before when he had seen the current Minister of Finance (Grant Robertson) singing along to Doldrums - “The benefits arrive and life goes on.” The crowd was larger than it had been for any other act up til now, but it still surprised me how relatively empty San Fran was, and how talkative the crowd were throughout the all-but-headliner’s set.
The night finally wrapped up at Valhalla with one of Wellington’s most respected bands, Mermaidens. Their set, beginning at midnight, ended up being my favourite of the mini-festival, a nice turn of events considering they were called in as replacements for USA’s John Maus, this year’s biggest headlining name, who had to pull out due to “unforeseen circumstances”. The trio pulled what felt like the largest crowd of the night into the small cramped venue, achieving a focused vibe and energy that the smaller crowds had denied the previous performers. Their music is spacey alternative rock and washed-out post-punk with soaring vocals shared between the guitarist and bassist. Equal parts energetic, heavy and moody, they played fantastically, and were a perfect ending to the night.
Overall the scaled-down event unsurprisingly lacked the bountiful vibe and energy of the Auckland festival, maybe because it needs time to grow into the new city. However, I was still surprised at how empty both the venues and the section of Cuba Street between them were, with San Fran only around half full at most throughout the night. Perhaps this underwhelming audience turnout was due to the cancellation of John Maus. In the end, though, the quality music pulled it through, and I really have no complaints to make about a seven-act festival where I enjoyed every set I saw.