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Review + Live Photos: Mermgrown Tāmaki Makaurau 2021

Review + Live Photos: Mermgrown Tāmaki Makaurau 2021

Review: Ali Nicholls / Photography: Connor Crawford / Monday 22nd March, 2021 4:20PM

The power of the Merm swept through Tāmaki Makaurau on Saturday night, presenting a kaleidoscopic experience of Aotearoa’s latest and greatest musicians, magicians, and monsters curated by Pōneke’s own Mermaidens. Sweat was shed, shapes were cut, and eardrums were blistered. Ali Nicholls and Connor Crawford were there soaking up the vibes. Check it out!


Opening up the night is LEAO, dishing out a selection of tracks from their debut album GHOST ROADS led by Dave Urso. The Noa Records trio delivers their fa’asamoa heart through an uptempo surf punk style, instantly turning the crowd up and kicking the festival with the pace we are thirsty for. The band is in sync and the songs seem effortlessly tight, bringing out the playful ihirangaranga that flow through us for the rest of the night.

Charlie (OPI)

In the intimacy of Wine Cellar, Charlie (OPI) sits on the floor in front of their pedals and loops, with just a guitar and a mic, generating a slow curling wave of sonic goodness. Their sound is ethereal, almost eerie, in the comfort of the room. The crowd is fixated, with a pool of people at the front sitting at their level in full emersion of the ambient swells they craft across the set. Like looking up at the sun underwater, we are suspended in the oceanic dreamscape of their sound.

Samara Alofa

Samara Alofa’s debut album Earth Punk has been reeling in many astounded ears since its release. Tonight they are tapping into the belly of the earth, drawing up power from deep inside, and presenting a breathtaking collection of tracks. Their masterful balance of organic sound and electronic creativity is one of a kind, and everyone I speak to throughout the night mentions their name. Their music is irresistible: as embodied as it is transcendent, as visceral as it is other worldly, like the sound climbs up the spine into the mind as the set unfolds.

Kane Strang

The long awaited return of Kane Strong is heavy in the thick, humid air of Mainroom. The crowd is practically a single organism by the time I wedge myself into the corner of the room, so tightly packed that there’s no choice but to move with the waving bodies. Strang’s band is incredibly tight, and the new age Dunedin sound is as well received as ever. I wish I could have seen more than Gussie Larkin’s blonde hair occasionally whip around, but I was pressed against the back of a pole the entire time. Better get in quick next time!


K M T P took the Wine Cellar stage, serving up some classic 90s dirt bag noise with a hard gaze twist. Heavy on the reverb with melodic guitar reminiscent of Airiel, the Tāmaki Makaurau local offers your classic post-punk shoegaze rock. While the instruments are tight, the strained vocals contrast with the energy they’re bringing out, but the crowd is vibes it.

Leaping Tiger

After the unintentional hard noise intro as a result of some brief sound issues, Leaping Tiger smacks the ball out of the park with yet another set soaked in effortless, sexy grooves. Their multi-instrumental set up gets me every time, playing with their mix, keys, a drum pad, and a juicy five string bass across the tracks. They love a bit of banter with the crowd, which flows naturally from the eclectic beats and failsafe musicianship. It’s cool, danceable, and charismatic. Strong vibes.

Na Noise

Na Noise hit the stage with a full band tonight, and it’s the best set of theirs I have seen. The trio is full co-ordinated, with Yolanda and Hari in matching red velvet jumpsuits. Joined by Peter Ruddell (Wax Chattels), James Milne (Lawrence Arabia), and Vincent Lum (Vincent H.L) in black suits and red velvet cummerbunds on backing vocals, who give us the dance highlight of the night with their Motown-esque synchronised dancing, there’s a cheeky flash of irony in their psychedelic roadhouse vibes. Their sound is easy on the percussion, focusing on the taut guitar, bass riffs, and the lead vocalists’ gritty vocals. It’s a little bit saucy, a little bit grizzly, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Louisa Nicklin

I couldn’t see a single set of eyes in the crowd that were not completely fixated on Louisa Nicklin, whose voice filled the room with powerful energy. It’s refreshing to see a band so seamless and aware that their frontrunner can confidently lead the set and grab the crowds attention. They remind me of Anna Calvi, with strong vocals and grounded lyrics that drive the sound through dreamy swells cut with serrated guitar breaks. Their energy is so captivating that I find it hard to pull away to catch the next act, and as I leave the room I realise I didn’t blink the whole time I was there.

Power Nap

Holy shit, did I need this dance. I hadn’t seen Power Nap live before, and to be honest I hadn’t listened to their tracks, so I went in without expectations. And I don’t remember ever having the urge to do aerobics at 11pm, but my god did I throw it down. UTR’s very own Chris Cudby absolutely let rip on the crowd with full 80s energy, merging new wave synths with drums hitting around 150bpm, Van Halen style guitar shreds, and high energy motivational vocals. I was up the front busting out some seriously hectic dance moves that hopefully were not caught on camera, and stayed until the last song. I knew I should have left to get a spot for the Merms, but the boog was simply too strong. I surrender to the Power of the Nap.


As soon as I left Backroom I knew it’d be a squeeze to see the very band that threw this festival together but I didn’t expect to literally be unable to enter the room. Mermaidens might be the pearl of Pōneke’s eye but they have an equally passionate following in the big smoke, and this crowd was on fire for their mermy sound. I saw Mermaidens at Laneway last year, and in the time since they have become astonishingly tight. This is a band that have unconscious trust in one another on stage, sharing an energy so refined that their sound could be coming from a single mind. They’ve cleaned up the grunge elements into something more resembling post-punk, and as they rip through their set the crowd is in fits of energy.

Beyond their set though, they cultivated one hell of a line up for the night, and the crowd is celebrating their mahi in doing so as much as their music.

Phoebe Rings

Lord knows I am a sucker for a bit of city pop so Phoebe Rings was always going to be my jam, but every time I see them live I fall in love all over again. Led by our local heartthrob Crystal Choi, the band’s blissful set is filled with loving energy, light progressions, and dreamy atmosphere. The drums shimmer through their performance as we walk through shades of summer in their expertly crafted tunes. Every musician in this band is phenomenal, and you can feel it in the ease of their performance. I was loitering at the fringes of Mermaidens for it, but apparently the maraca solo was gorgeous, and I can confirm that Phoebe Rings takes the award for Best Smiles of the night. This band loves each other, and we love them!

Party Dad B2B Ez Ra

The vibes in backroom were pumping with classic dance bangers as Taylor and Ez Ra joined forces behind the decks. They are clearly having a crack up time riling up the crowd with '90s classics cut with absolutely lit house bass. We were singing along for at least half the set. Connor came it to shoot the last 20 minutes and ended up throwing out the camera to lay it down when 'Push The Button' came on. Turns out he knows all the words too. You just can’t let a track like that pass you by. Massive thanks to Taylor for hosting the night and bringing the beats, and to Ez Ra for collaborating on the ecstatic tunes.

Wax Chattels

They don’t play too often these days, but Wax is guaranteed to pull a ravenous crowd whenever they take the stage. Nothing compares to their tendon-wrenching sound with Tom Leggett absolutely annihilating his sparse kit under Peter Ruddell’s contorted synths, and Amanda Cheng’s guttural, killer bass grounding the sound. Pulling tracks from across their catalogue, they crash through their set with full energy, performing at their very edge, and feeding the ever growing mosh. 'Cede', my absolute favourite track, is opened with a brief and passionate push from Amanda who reminds the crowd that the legacy of ‘yellow peril’ racism is as destructive and targeted as ever, that it has no fucking place in this world, and we’re all responsible for seeing it, shaming it, and ending it. I’ve never seen a Wax Chattels performance that didn’t light a fire inside me, and they didn’t waste a single moment doing it again.


Te Whanganui-a-Tara’s electronic gem wrapped up the night with a dance til you drop set. They’re a master of crowd energy, confidently manipulating the room through the pulsing beats of the set until we’re absolutely rinsed of energy. I left Wax Chattels feeling like I had a solid ten minutes left in me until I crashed, but I was wrong. 2am rolled around and I was not about to stop, unable to resist the flow of music that blended EBM, synthwave, techno, and juicy juicy bass. A sonic masterpiece to close up an incredible night.

Click on the thumbnail images below for a gallery of Connor Crawford's photos of Mermgrown Tāmaki Makaurau...


Party Dad B2B Ez Ra

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Mermaidens 'Soft Energy' Tour
Sat 3rd Apr 8:00pm
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