First stunned silence then a well-rehearsed spontaneous haka greeted the announcement that the plucky Auckland band Fingerpuller had scored a long awaited medal for New Zealand at the annual South By SouthWest music festival in Austin, Texas this week.
On the final night of the week-long festival which draws performers from all over the world, Fingerpuller played to a capacity crowd of 85 at Joe’s Dirty Diner near the city’s famous 6th St and snuck in with a bronze when Australian band the Gimlets pulled out.
“It was just a stoke of luck,” said Fingerpuller singer Daniel Brandt. “The Gimlets were obviously going to win because they were just awesome, but that afternoon a guy from some record company flew in and saw them. So they had to go back with him to New York and sign a five album deal.
“I felt kinda sorry for them because they looked like they had the gold sewn up, but that allowed us to move up the ranks from fourth into taking out the bronze. It was choice, especially the haka.”
The haka -- performed bare-chested by a group of supporters lead by minister in charge of musicians Judith Tizard -- drew considerable attention and the group were invited to perform it again the following night before a capacity crowd of 7000 in Austin’s SuperCenter.
“But,” said haka leader Rangi Huka, “while we could see they were genuinely interested in us doing it and it would have been good to perform it in front of people like Shania Twain, the Beastie Boys, Ridley Scott and a whole heap of other choice people it just would have cheapened it.”
Their decision was widely supported by the Kiwi contingent who felt the haka should only be used to celebrate the mediocrity they had displayed over the week.
In many ways it has been a disappointing festival for the Kiwi bands all of whom -- aside from Fingerpuller -- only managed fourth placings in their finals despite some excellent performances in the heats.
Especially disappointed was singer-songwriter Melanie Swanson from Tauranga who had been a wild card when she was picked to perform at the prestigious festival. Swansonhad only previously played three live shows and has only four original songs but was expected to be an outsider in with a good chance. However she was forced to withdraw from her first heat due to injury.
“We knew there would be heaps of partying after the concerts were over,” said Swanson, “so the night before my gig me and a few of the boys decided to get in some training. So we did this huge pub crawl along 6th St which was just going off. We got in about 5am and I was wasted, mate.
“And then in the morning I woke up and couldn’t feel my left side and my head had this amazing pain. I think it is adjusting to the climate here which is pretty dry and hot. So I had to pull out.”
Highly touted Dunedin band the SadOnes also had problems.
“You know it’s a really long way to come to Austin,” said drummer Andrew Mason. “Like, we had to pack our bags and then fly all the way to Auckland and then we had to fly to Los Angeles and then we had to fly here. And just three days after that we had to play this 20 minute set at the Rusted Rooster.
“We did that okay, but then two days later we had to play again. I mean, that’s twice in like three days. We only played twice in the whole of last year.
“But it is good to get this touring experience. Now I know how the guys in U2 and the Stones feel.”
The SadOnes were placed fourth in their finals behind Scotland’s Revvers, Texas band the Tailgators and Son, and Zimbabwean rockers Manza!Manza!Manza!
South Auckland hip-hoppers U B WakJak fared better than most by playing a fiery set which included their recent hit Pimp My Palusami before an appreciative audience on Wednesday. As a result they have been invited to appear at two hip-hop festivals in the United States next year.
“It’s pretty choice,” said Brotha Maximum DJ, “and we met some awesome people here. So we are just going to get home and apply for some more funding and see if we can get back up this way. They really like our Pasifikan flava.”
Chef de Mission Judith Tizard said despite the poor showing all New Zealanders should be celebrating the success of the Kiwi contingent. And while only one medal was won and no recording contracts had been picked up and the whole exercise had been enormously expensive, the junket allowed bands to perform on a world stage and that was invaluable.
“There’s no doubt that Fingerpuller put New Zealand on the map,“ she said. “But next year we might have to see if we can get some better scheduling.
“It is disappointing for bands like the SadOnes to come all the way here and find they are playing the same night as Tom Waits appears with Lou Reed.
"And having Ratchet on at 4am in a suburban bar was probably not going pull an audience.
“But all the Kiwis got out and supported them and although no one else turned up we got in behind them. They gave 110 percent and when they finished we did another spontaneous haka and the barman said it was terrific . . but that we should now all fuck off because he wanted to turn the lights out and go home.”