Best Rock Bands From New Zealand

Top 35 of New Zealand's greatest rockers.

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Best Rock Bands From New Zealand
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New Zealand has a proud history of guitar bands – right from the outset of rock 'n' roll as it permeated all over the globe. We have our unique ones – and quite a few that are largely unknown, on these shores or anywhere else. However, we have always held our own. At the start of the musical revolution – and for several decades after – local bands had to rely on cover versions of popular songs to both survive and to be noticed; whether playing live or in recorded material. Thankfully, this finally changed in the early 90s with the popular explosion of two quite distinctive groups – the sax/beats/rap/jazz hybrid of Supergroove (the band from which hip hop artist Che Fu struck out on his own from) and the guitar magic of Wellington's finest, Shihad – who are still conquering the world as we speak. Since then, Kiwis have had no qualms about buying music from their own country, and seeing it as at least equal-to – if not better than – any equivalent from overseas. We've come a long way! In no particular order I present to you 35 stunning examples of Aotearoa's finest guitar-based exponents. In no hierarchy whatsoever, it makes sense to start with one of our earliest exports... 

 

This article is brought to you by Ania Glowacz from the NZ Musician.

NZ Musician is a print and online music magazine that deals with music in and from New Zealand. They write about events, gear, industry, news, lessons & more.

35. THE LA DE DA'S

NZ's own version of the Rolling Stones, they made their impact with successful residencies, touring and choosing the right cover versions and making them their own. This one is their best known, and still sounds kick-ass to this day. The band made sure they were well established on these shores before heading further afield. They were the first local band to top the NZ Hit Parade in March 1967 with their version of “Hey Baby”. A total milestone!
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34. HUMAN INSTINCT

NZ's own version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, this 3-piece band remains legendary, with copies of their classic album 'Stoned Guitar' remaining both rare and coveted. Billy TK (and his son Billy TK Jr) retain local guitar hero status – now and beyond...
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33. HELLO SAILOR

Not only one of our bands to successfully get noticed overseas (at a time when no such thing would be contemplated), but they made it on their own steam with original songs instead of covers, commandeering respect in the pub rock scene from which they started. Sadly singer and songwriter Graham Brazier's wit and wizen cannot be added to as he has left this mortal coil... We still have a handsome very Pacific-flavoured legacy to enjoy, and no list of definitive NZ bands would be complete without this band.
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32. TH' DUDES

One of our original local successes (songwriter Dave Dobbyn has forged a HUGE solo career since), Th' Dudes also made waves on the pub rock scene with a healthy swathe of brilliant originals. NZ music was finally starting to turn on its heels (away from overseas copyists and the need to compromise). This one's so shiny it'll make you cry!
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31. THE DANCE EXPONENTS

Thanks to the songwriting genius of Jordan Luck, this Christchurch band soon captivated every audience with their catchy, poppy but still totally rocking out tunes. Despite not quite clicking with the Aussie pub crowd when touring there, they found when they went to the UK that their legacy was well established with the ex-pat crowd who worshipped at their feet, and their songs remain in our lexicon forever. Chris Sheehan (with his own band The Starlings), helped invigorate the band whilst a member, and his songwriting skills only amplified the talent of Jordan. This is one of their absolute gems.
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30. THE CLEAN

Dunedin's finest! The famous Flying Nun label, born in Christchurch) began or was largely motivated by the underground sounds of this band, originally recorded on a very simple 4-track, but echoing through the cosmos ever since. The Great Unwashed was a follow up with big merit and Hamish Kilgour has his own band now with the Heavy Eights. Simple songwriting genius.
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29. The GORDONS/BAILTER SPACE

The Gordon's are NZ's holy grail. They remain legends for their originality, heaviness and downright intensity. They burned relatively short, but they burnt bright – and we have the scars to prove it. An illustrious follow-up career as Bailter Space explored different musical territories, melding pop with heavier moments, this 3-piece basing themselves in New York in the 90s.

 

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28. THIS KIND OF PUNISHMENT/NOCTURNAL PROJECTIONS/CAKE KITCHEN

Graham and Peter Jefferies came straight out of Stratford, Taranaki (a relative backwater) with their Joy Division-flavoured original material, and have never looked back. Both brothers have distinctive voices, and an incredible songwriting talent.
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27. CHILDREN'S HOUR/HEADLESS CHICKENS

Two sides of a very different coin here. Children's Hour rakes over the ashes of the dead, whilst Headless Chickens slays them in the aisles with twisty, turvy orginal pop gems. The songwriting talent (and unique voice) of Chris Matthews is the common thread. Sharp, sarcaustic (sic) genius.
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26. DOUBLE HAPPYS/STRAITJACKET FITS/DIMMER

Too much talent for one man! Screaming out of Dunedin, the Double Happys were at the forefront of the Flying Nun attack on the country and the rest of the world. Straitjacket Fits nearly cracked America, but you know how the biz goes... Frontman Shayne Carter is more legendary than any All Black could ever be...
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25. JOHN PAUL SARTRE EXPERIENCE/DAVE YETTON

Affectionately known as JPSE, this band set a new standard for polished pop gems. Another jewel in Flying Nun's crown, very few have bettered their efforts. They remain unique.
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24. The DEAD C

Underground legends from Port Chalmers, Dunedin, basically this band just doesn't give a f***. Their reputation is for chaotic, noisy, anarchic sets, that regularly just turn into chaos. What seems like random noise, is actually an orchestrated set of pieces, that may or may not add up. Cult status around the globe means there's serious interest in these noise-niks from down under. What makes you uncomfortable may just be what you need.
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23. 3Ds/GHOST CLUB

Dave Mitchell (one of the members with the required first name initial) is not only a gifted singer/songwriter and guitarist, but a visual artist as well. Clearly this all gets poured into a musical soup, that combines catchiness with chalkboard-scraping harshness and a melodic noise symphony. Simply stunning. Ghost Club like to record in abandoned subways.
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22. FLESH D-VICE

Legends from Wellington, this post-punk band were well ahead of their time. Combining horror with punk themes with a metal edge, they stood out on the Jayrem Records roster – and besides! Singer Gerald Dwyer believed passionately in the local music scene, and mentored both Shihad and Head Like A Hole to their relative successes. Tragically he died from an accidental overdose at a Big Day Out that Shihad were a major feature of.
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21. SHIHAD

Wellington heroes that made it OK to like heavier music along with pop. Beginning with Metallica/Slayer influences, their debut album recorded with Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman had a distinctive industrial edge, but they've never repeated any formulas. In their individual roster is a mix of poppy gems and hard out edgy metal tunes. Probably NZ's finest guitar exports – bar none – crossing all boundaries.
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20. LOVE'S UGLY CHILDREN

Born in Christchurch, with a reach far beyond, Love’s Ugly Children conquered the “indie” corner with their kick-ass tunes that sounded like no one else. Singer Simon McLaren went on to The Subliminals – a less vocal-focussed experiment.
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19. HEAD LIKE A HOLE

Wellington compatriots alongside Shihad, you could say they were our local version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers – with more balls! They slayed from the outset. Yes, playing naked etc. but the proof is obviously always in the music. Enjoying a renaissance as we speak with a new generation of fans.
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18. SANDRA BELL

Representing the female innovators is Dunedin's Sandra Bell. Her low-fi acoustic industrial guitar album (yes, you read that right) 'Dreams Of Falling' from 1992 sounds better and better with age – which is really quite something. Not afraid to push the envelope, and outnumbered by male musicians, Sandra nonetheless stands out on her own merits.
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17. THE RENDERERS/THE BADS

Some of NZ's finest country-rock influenced ambassadors. The Renderers were doing it when it wasn't trendy, and Brett Adams and Dianne Swan from the Bads used to be in a UK indie band called The Julie Dolphin some may remember.
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16. KING LOSER

Total legends! Our very own full spectrum rock n' rollers – with absolutely no excuses. Lots of chaos and noise wrapped around the guitar work of Chris Heazlewood.
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15. SOLID GOLD HELL

Birthday Party? Close, quite close. But nothing can prepare you for this beast. Along with King Loser, they got signed to Flying Nun, but they fly on their own steam. Visceral, vital and fangtastic!

 

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14. HASSELHOFF EXPERIMENT/BLOODBAGS

Andrew Tolley (guitarist/singer) is an unofficial ambassador for pure rock n' roll, and he never stops. Like the energizer bunny, he just keeps going and going and going! Respect due and all that - particularly when operating as a two-piece in Hasselhoff. Jon Spencer would be proud...
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13. JAKOB

From Napier, this instrumental only 3-piece has conquered hearts and minds, home and overseas, for several decades now
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12. DIE! DIE! DIE!

From their initial escapades as Carriage H, this three-piece band just continues to soar. Indie, rock, whatever. Die Die Die not only continue to forge their own unique path, but give up and comers billing at their gigs.
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11. HDU

If you've ever been to an HDU gig you'll realise just how a wholly immersive experience it all is. There is to much to say, but is far more eloquently demonstrated by the band themselves. Their whole catalogue is superlative beyond belief.
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10. The DATSUNS

NZ rock ‘n' roll born in Cambridge, Waikato! The Datsuns had some time in the sun with the UK press (along with D4 in the 00s), about some kind of rock ‘n' roll renaissance, but they never really needed that.
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9. BLINDSPOTT

Where melodic power metal (for want of a better description) gets its due. Polarizing on the local scene – (total love/hate scenario), Blindspott go where few local bands have dared to – and they kill it! This is where we compete on the global stage.
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8. Fazerdaze

Guitarist Amelia Murray started creating shoegaze in her bedroom, and has by now taken it out into the world, touring overseas steadily, gaining attention from major blogs worldwide as well as none other than Sir Igward Pop.
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7. TAINTED

Possibly NZ's best metal Band, Christchurch's Tainted are committed to expressing and never giving up. Completely self-funded, there are been gaps in between albums, but that just gives you more time to hone the singalongs.
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6. Skinny Hobos

Hard to believe the sound is created by only 2 people; drummer Sam Holdom, and guitar nerd Alex Ferrier, who uses one of the bigger pedal boards around. Yet to show off their chops overseas, they’re one of our most engaging newcomers.
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5. 8 FOOT SATIVA/SINATE

Firmly establishing themselves on local soil, but always looking to the international metal scene. It's a small but highly dedicated following. These boys are prime exponents.
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4. SHITRIPPER

Representing the punk underground of Auckland, (and one of many active bands), Shitripper really stand out in terms of paying tribute to the punk bands of the past, but also putting their stamp firmly on the present. Love the dual vocals. Sometimes male, sometimes female.
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3. A Hori Buzz/Weta/Cairo Knife Fight

Guitarist Aaron Tokona is someone a lot of local guitarists look up to. The man has got the rock as well as the funk.
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2. BEASTWARS

Masters of Doom! A lot more uplifting than at first may be apparent, ultimately Beastwars deliver you to the side you're meant to be on.
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1. ARC OF ASCENT

Transcending all just by the power of music, is a truly magickal thing. Hamilton's Arc Of Ascent have never wavered from their spiritual, uplifting, groovy doom metal. There is a consistent theme and a hell of a lot of positive energy.
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78 comments sorted by best / new / date

    N-D
    My own addition to the list (some really cool bands here): Split Enz The Naked and Famous Flight of the Conchords The Bats Ulcerate Black Boned Angel Dawn of Azazel Supergroove
    ssneddon20111
    I had to look over the list twice? no three times. Split Enz , The Swingers, DD Smash and Crowded House (just to start the Australia vs NZ debate) not mentioned? Amazing! Could have throw in Mother Goose just for a laugh.
    darkania
    The Dudes (Dave Dobbyn) Are In. Split Enz Are A Great Band, But The Focus Is "Guitar"!
    shaneatron
    Split ends for sure, but the crowdies were formed in Aus so not really a NZ band.
    Reevo
    Howly fuck as a NZ'er i didnt expect to see this. Also to add to Blindspott, "Ilah (My Silent War)" is an incredible song that shows how well they can do a softer atmospheric side
    munkysquid
    I had no time for Blindspott until I saw them open for Korn in 2005. Their guitar sound and sheer energy put the headliners to shame. I was just blown away, they were amazing live!
    Clutch Control
    So many killer bands. Shihad, Die!Die!Die! and the Fits are tops for me. Ya'll should check out the last Villainy record, pretty neat start to finish. No Broadcast are fantastic too, interesting balance between Deftones and Radiohead. HOBROS AT 6!
    soapalot
    I've gotta thank you for bringing No Broadcast to my attention. Never heard of them before but they are sweet!
    Tooddude
    I am Giant??? Great band, sounds similar to Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus
    kattfall1313
    The lack of the Swingers, Suburban Reptiles and of course the mighty Enz disturbs me...
    Perturabo
    I really expected to see Like A Storm on this list, saw them open for Alter Bridge, really good band
    davidorr6661
    These guys are awesome, even if they are based in the US. Heard them by accident on a Spotify playlist, then had to listen to the rest of their stuff. Most of the other bands in the list are complete shit, apart from a few goodies like Shihad. Headless Chickens and Head Like a Hole had a few good tunes. Too much of the 80's NZ music was from Dunedin and what I like to call "Music to slit your wrists to".
    ATG-4
    Check out Skinny Hobos if you're down with Shihad and HLAH you'll like them
    ATG-4
    They're barely a kiwi band. They formed in the USA and never play in New Zealand. They just happen to be made up of kiwi lads
    kmitchell74
    New Zealand seems pretty cool. my neighbor once went and she said she saw a guy glorphing on the beach while listening to pink floyd. that is the life
    whitmarshmatt
    Alpine Fault should be considered too - their album Iraena's Ashes is nothing short of excellent orchestral metal.
    lordfatwallet
    As a Kiwi its a kick in the teeth not seeing Split Enz here.If Sandra Bell & Fazerdaze are on this list why not Lorde?!
    emptyshell
    For those who haven't already, I would highly recommend checking out Bailterspace, Shihad, The Datsuns, Cairo Knife Fight and Head Like A Hole. All very good bands.
    staceap
    Welp, I'm Australian and I've never heard of a single one of these bands. Mind you, I only know of one band from New Zealand, so...
    ben_hall_x2
    Head like a hole are filthy in a way Downtown LA only just keeps up with. Stoked to see hasselhoff experiment on here too. Tall dwarves anyone?
    Mountain_Goat
    Devilskin?
    theoliraptor
    Terrible band. I had the misfortune of having to see them when they opened for Slash. I just couldn't understand the nationwide hype they get, considering their music isn't creative in anyway and is stereotypical bogan formula nonsense. NZ does have a habit of creating enormous hype and support for any new band or actor that has a flicker of success though. Having said that I've noticed NZ fame is incredibly short-lived these days, people just seem to get bored quickly, so bands in particular rush out subpar albums to try maintain a fan base, but ultimately kill their career. Cases in point: Opshop, Midnight Youth, Kids of 88, Scribe, Elemeno P.... All had very successful first albums that you couldn't avoid if you tried, then they all vanished in the space of 2 - 3 years.
    Crow7154
    This is so wrong. I mean, Devilskin isn't even on here (who are undoubtedly the number 1 kiwi rock band at the moment). No Alien Weaponry either who have a a lot going for them right now. A lot of these bands I haven't even heard of and others are underground as. Arc of Ascent are not big at all. And why are Shihad and 8 Foot Sativa not even close to 1? This seems like a really biased post. 
    darkania
    There Is No Hierarchy!(As Stated Up Front). If Anything, It's Vaguely Chronological...
    seanbh213
    8 foot sativa definitely number one, but i am biased so just ignore me. definitely gotta have split enz and crowded house in there too (yep they're a kiwi band to me). also, the feelers were a good rock band back in the day
    mr.rhettcotter
    Swamp Thing, Elemeno P's old shit and Villainy are all great bands, definitely deserve a look 
    MusicMan24
    Literally never heard of any of these bands
    theoliraptor
    Check out The Datsuns, best NZ band in my opinion. They put on a great show, have a solid hard rock sound across all 6 albums. They were unfortunately burdened with the tagline "rock music's saviors" by NME when their debut came out, which just put way too much pressure on the follow up (which is actually still a good album, produced by John Paul Jones even). Check out their song "Gold Halo".
    emptyshell
    What I really like about these guys is that even when their 2nd album didn't live up to the insane hype it was given, they didn't fade off into obscurity they just kept consistently putting out albums every couple years and touring. All quality albums too. Damn good live act too.
    soapalot
    Can vouch for them live. Saw them open for Shihad around the Smoke and Mirrors album then again in a sweaty little club in Nelson when they were ironing out material for Death Rattle Boogie.  They had a band open for them on that second occasion called Milk Train who were fucken wicked. Lovely unhinged, fuzzy punk rock. I bought their EP which had some awesome psychedelic and violent artwork.
    ATG-4
    Great to see some lesser known bands on this list! Skinny Hobos, Arc of Ascent, Shitripper are some of my recent favourites!
    shotokanmaster
    Claims tainted is possibly NZ's best metal band whilst also including 8 foot sativa in the same list... I think you're possibly full of shit. No Big Nana? Ball sack is a classic.
    XcessFiber
    can we please do a list of amazing rock bands from India?  i will help you with the list and the world of rock music lovers need to know...please?..my email karan.patt@gmail.com thank you UG
    gbaddeley
    There are lots of NZ artists who crossed the ditch to Australia to make it bigger in the 1970s-1980. Some had minor success (eg. Sharon O'Neill, Dave Dobbin), others did really well (Dragon, Split Enz) with many thinking they belonged in Australia.
    Kingfillins
    ARC OF ASCENT sound just like Kyuss. For that reason they should not be number one. The Gordons should be number one if anything. The clean are not a "Rock Band" they are a pop band. Like them or not Shihad should probably have the number one spot... but I would prefer Sticky Filth. I cant believe the D4 are not on this list... Or  Luger Boa Shaft Blam Blam Blam Toy Love  Dimmer Push Push Dead Flowers What happened to Tadpole and Zed? The Feelers Sommerset  Fatal Jelly Space Second Child Sperm Bank 5 City Newton City Bombers,  NRA...  Stellar? Fur Patrol I am Giant Strike Master Kniteshade Semi Lemon Cola ... were a great band.