Posts in New Zealand
Kiwi Hops: a Conversation with Brewer, Jess Wolfgang

After a beautiful hike on the Rocky Mountain track near Wanaka, we had one thing on our mind: a refreshing beer.

On our way back to town, we stumbled upon Rhyme and Reason Brewery. Started by Jessica Wolfgang and Simon Ross just seven months ago in a warehouse space on 17 Gordon Road, they are already producing some of the country’s best beer. We couldn’t believe both the quality and quantity of beer they’ve been produced in such a short time. We were delighted to come back later in the week to share a beer and chat with Jess, Head Brewer and Co-Founder.

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What got you into the brewing industry?

I love beer! I’ve always loved beer. Unfortunately my dad never had any good beer in the fridge, so I didn’t find any good beer until I went traveling. I never thought about brewing as being a job, didn’t even think of it as an industry I could be a part of. But I’ve been in hospitality for over 15 years. When I came back from traveling overseas I thought I’d go and learn how to make wine because there was a pretty famous local wine region near where I was living in Newcastle. I drove around and went to a lot of amazing wineries and also drove past a little wee brewery and that got me thinking “a brewery, of course someone’s gotta make beer! Why do I want to make wine? I don’t really drink wine! I’m going to have a look at this wee brewery.”
It was just serendipity. They had an assistant brewery leaving...and I said “hey, I love working in hospitality and in bars, and would be quite keen to see how beer is made.” I ended up just starting there, power hosing the floors and [helping] with lots of breweries and tastings. I eventually got invited to do some brew days and just got hooked!

What made you start the brewery seven months ago in Wanaka?

Wanaka is an expensive place and you can’t just work in hospitality and pay off a mortgage, or even pay for petrol here. We needed to become business owners to be able to afford to stay here.
We’ve always wanted to do our own brewery...he (co-founder Simon) has lots of friends here, and we’ve been visiting Wanaka snowboarding off and on for the last 14 years.
We finally saw summer here, and we found it was insanely busier than the winter and just as much fun. There was almost more activity in the summer...we thought, “this place is brilliant! We can ski in the winter, mountain bike in the summer, float, camp hike—it just ticked so many boxes.
New Zealand has such an epic beer scene as well, so it didn’t take too much arm twisting to get us to stay in Wanaka. It was just about finding a premise once we decided to stay here and start a brewery.

How did you find the space you’re at now (17 Gordon Road, Wanaka)?

A carpet cleaning company was moving out of the premise, so we just swooped on in...got on the phone with the landlord and said “we want to start a brewery, lease us your place!”...they thought, “well if you’re starting a brewery, you’ll probably keep it really clean. You guys can have it!” They were actually excited that we were starting a brewery and a bar.

Can you tell us a little bit about the rise of craft beer in New Zealand?

Even when I first started brewing eight years ago, you were constantly talking people into trying new (craft) beer and explaining why it’s a bit more expensive than the off the shelf commercial beer. That wasn’t that long ago.
I think New Zealand is a little bit ahead of Australia, the scene is a bit bigger over here even though it’s a smaller country. In the last four years it’s really taken off (in New Zealand). The number of breweries that are growing is on the increase. Commercial beer has hit a plateau but craft beer is rising.

Why do you think that is?

I think people are more careful about what they are eating and drinking these days. There’s so much knowledge and information that people can make the choices as to what they want to drink. That’s good for us.

What’s the brewing scene in Wanaka like?

It’s good! Wanaka has six breweries. Everyone is quite small, we’re a 1,200 liter brewery, I think Wanaka Beerworks are about 1,000 liters, Ground Up just bought a 1,200 liter brewery. There’s a couple of garage operations as well. Ground Up is just across the road from us which is pretty cool. We’re constantly borrowing bits of equipment and ingredients from each other.
We’ve brewed a couple of beers together. One of our most common guest taps is from Ground Up. I keep saying that we need to apply to get the street name changed here to Brewery Lane! Brewery Lane has a real ring to it.

How does collaboration in brewing work?

Brewers love to collaborate! Brewers have so much fun together and it’s always good fun brewing with other people. There’s always new things you pick up, whether it’s mixing those hops with these hops, or even new techniques in processing. It’s always a fun brew day if there’s a couple of extra brewers around. It’s always a bit wacky!
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I’ll let the dog run around and go crazy and then just come up with the recipe there, just sitting in the back of the car. The dog is happy, and the ideas start flowing!

How do you come up with ideas for your beers?

It comes from everywhere! It comes from reading cook books to reading funny names on things. Things will pop up when you want to brew a beer. You could try a cake or even a dinner and think “okay, we can turn that into a beer!”
We’ve got the Christmas pudding beer on tap right now (December 2017), and that came from wanting to brew something for Christmas and then having a look at what’s on the Christmas lunch or dinner table. I love ham, but don’t really feel like making a ham flavored beer. And then there are all sorts of things, like Christmas pudding. I looked at my mom’s and grandmother’s Christmas pudding recipes and thought, “Yep, honey can go in there. Yep, I can get some chocolate in there, yes figs, plums, raisins, all of this stuff can go in there.” It’s just about figuring out what part of the process it’s going to be best to add it to. Normally with fruits and spices I like to add it to the end of the boil. That way it actually gets cooked up, the flavors get released, and it gets sterilized so you don’t end up with any bugs getting into the beer with the brewers yeast. The Christmas pudding beer is on tap now and it’s literally like a liquified pudding, which is cool.
I want to do a beer version of Jamaican spiced rum. I want all of those beautiful spices that are in there. We want to serve it in a daiquiri glass with a pineapple wedge on it. I want to do it so I can call it Jamaican Me Thirsty. I’m pretty much making this beer for that name!
Where do you find your inspiration in Wanaka?
Everywhere! I used to come up with recipes while cleaning kegs. But I find it really hard to think while I’m cleaning kegs in the brewery because now I’m thinking mostly about business stuff. So now I need to leave the brewery to come up with new recipes. Normally I’ll grab some old books and recipes that have some information I need to create this new idea. I’ll grab my dog and choose a place either at the lake, or down at the forest, or at the river, or wherever I feel like at the time. I’ll let the dog run around and go crazy and then just come up with the recipe there, just sitting in the back of the car. The dog is happy, and the ideas start flowing!

What is the creative community of Wanaka like?

Lots of creative people here. Like I said before, it’s an expensive town to live in, but it’s because everything is on your doorstep…so people want to stay here and you have to get creative to figure out how you can afford to. That’s why there are a lot of people with their own little businesses. Lots of web designers, graphic designers, occupations where you can work from home or from a shared office space. Lots of creative and talented people around.

What beer are you most proud of making?

The Kiwi Kolsch. The Kiwi Kolsch is so delicate, and approachable and non-offensive. Every brewery should be making a Kolsch. It’s the go to beer. It’s a beer that you can have for breakfast, when you’re hungover, when you’re celebrating, when you want a session, everyone loves the Kolsch. Everybody thinks the Kiwi Kolsch has Kiwi in it though, so we might have to change the name to the New Zealand Kolsch. It’s just a beautiful style.
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It’s a really simple recipe. I’ve been brewing Kolsch for eight years...I’ve probably brewed more Kolsch than anyone outside of Cologne, Germany. You just need good ingredients. All German malts, it’s pretty traditional, except that I’m adding New Zealand grown hops. No one really notices, but I usually change the hops every time I brew this beer…this beer is an ale brewed as a lager. So it is an ale yeast, but we’re using a lager malt, which is lovely and clean and has a beautiful, sweet honey flavor to it. We use cooler lager fermentation temperatures and it just throws this beautiful, fruit-salad sweetness into it.
The Kiwi hops we use kind of have Sauvignon Blanc type gooseberry flavors to it, and that works out because I find the Kolsch to be the champagne of beers!

What would you want people to say about Rhyme and Reason?

I want them to say it’s fun! It’s all about the atmosphere here, we want to create a venue for conversation. Somewhere that’s a little bit different. Wanaka is a very busy town, so this is a place for someone to find a chilled out spot that’s a bit of a hideaway. You can come and escape here, hang out with the bartender. The bartender quickly learns your name and your drink. It’s about the experience here, and the beer is good. And it will keep getting better!
 

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The band that has captured Wellington's funky, beautiful soul: Orchestra of Spheres

One of the attributes of the Wellington music scene I find so refreshing is the emphasis on experimentation and improvisation. There isn’t a long-held, traditional “Wellington Sound”, or particular genre that artists need to confirm to in order to be popular.

If there is any tradition, it is that of creative people in Wellington getting together to collaborate and encourage each other to try something out of the ordinary. Perhaps it’s being set away from major commercial music hubs, combined with a laid-back, inclusive culture that gives artists a blank canvas to make strange, funky, unique, and danceable tunes.

One band came up in almost every conversation we had with Wellington music lovers. This band embodies the relentless work ethic and experimental spirit we found characteristic of music artists in the city. That band is Orchestra of Spheres. In a town where people often come and go, Orchestra of Spheres have remained a staple of the DIY music scene in Wellington over the past decade. With a new album coming out in the next year, they have no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

We sat down with three of the band members (Dan, Nell, Erika) at the Pyramid Club, an artist-run space where they practice, to ask questions about the band’s origins, the DIY scene in the city, and what makes Wellington such a unique culture.

How did Orchestra of Spheres begin?

Dan: We’ve had a great creative music community here in Wellington for a long time. Musicians have had studio space in Wellington since the late 70s.

For us it started a long time before this particular band came together. We were all involved in different projects together over the years, and Orchestra of Spheres came out of the people we were playing with. Originally, it was a drummer, Isaac, bass player Jeremy, me, and Nell, who happened to be around at the time.

We had a different space called Fred’s. It’s an old church about 500 meters down the road. It was a little venue for practice and recording. Heaps of musicians were always down there playing. It’s where we started playing, and it just happened to be the place where the music developed.

Today, Wellington is a city where lots people come to study music. It’s a good place to find a community of generative musicians, but people also leave. Isaac and Jeremy left quite a long time ago. Erika took over Isaac’s bass part 7 years ago and various drummers have played with us.

When you all first started playing together, was there something specific you wanted to get across in your music? Or a particular sound you wanted to bring to the forefront?

Dan: I come from an improvised music and experimental background. Wellington is such a small music scene—it’s not like London or New York where you can specialize in a particular type of music. Here you tend to find the musicians that do lots of different things and play in lots of bands and styles rather than focusing on one thing.

When we started I was thinking about doing something psychedelic and sonic, but also based around grooves and rhythms. And that’s essentially what it still is…a core drum and bass part that’s the rhythmic engine.

We’re blessed by having had extraordinarily awesome drummers in very different ways. Jeremy had never played drums before and used to play with his arms held out like this (gesturing); his drum concept was a very physically demanding style and he didn’t alter it that much, especially at the beginning.

NellHe got really amazing though. When we’d tour around, people would be captivated watching him thinking, “is he going to pull this off with that technique”?

Dan: He’d also do things like have a banana in his mouth for the whole gig, or plastic flowers.

Nell: Things to make it even more difficult for himself. Actually, our drummer now does that too—like wearing things that make it impossible for him to see.

Erika: Quite often that’s what people would say after a show. He kept that banana in his mouth the whole time!

Why do you guys think Wellington’s creative scene has been strong since the 1970s? What’s drawn people here?  

Nell: I think it waxes and wanes. It’s not like there was a less interesting community of music 5 years ago versus 15 years ago. I think people are always falling in and out of the place. Part of the benefit of living here is that it’s really tiny. It’s easy to get together with people to rehearse and jam. In the past there have been some really good music venues in Wellington, but right now it’s pretty slim on the venues.

Erika: I guess it’s also the most liberal city in New Zealand. It’s the political center and has good universities so I there’s a lot of open mindedness. There are always a lot of young, creative, hungry, awesome people wanting to do stuff. 

The album, Brothers and Sisters of the Black Lagoon, came out in 2016. Tell us a little bit about the making of that album and how it came together.  

Erika: We recorded it here [at the Pyramid Club].

Nell: Often times it’s Dan who writes the material we get started with. He’ll often get started with a drumbeat and a base line and we’ll jam off that. Other times we’ll just jam and see what comes out of it. We might record part of the jam and develop that into something.

Dan: The best stuff is when we just play and listen back to hear what parts are cool. The best stuff usually comes the first time you try it and don’t overthink it. The trick is to keep it fresh and spontaneous.

In my own writing process, the instrument I write off is the drum. So I just sit at the kit and think up lines, melodies, and riffs and record it on my phone.

I love that you create some of your own instruments. Can you tell us about that process?

Dan: Yea, I guess it’s something I’ve been interested in for ages. I just make shit from bits and pieces. They’re not particularly well crafted. I’ve made one proper acoustic guitar, which takes ages of work. Usually the process is just “what is this and what does it sound like?”

Do you have a favorite homemade instrument?

Dan: Not really. I’m not super patient with making things perfect. We’ve been playing an instrument I made called the Ektar. It’s made from the slat of a futon bed with a string on it. With Orchestra of Spheres, the homemade instruments come and go. There is one main homemade instrument I play: the biscuit tin guitar. It’s literally just made from a futon bed, a biscuit tin and drum sticks whittled down. It’s cheap and cheerful.

The sound of the band essentially came from the limitations of these homemade instruments and the tuning at the time. We have this sort of “Orchestra of Spheres” tuning.

We don’t really measure the tuning. Some bands or composers who do microtonal stuff are systematic, but ours is more random out-of-tune-ness. It’s part of the charm. Although sometimes you listen to the recording and it’s less charming…when you listen back to a melody you’re looking forward to hearing and then think, “oh god.”

Nell: Sometimes, when you sing with homemade instruments it can be tricky. It’s hard to find the pitch between the different tunings, but it’s nice having a bit of chaos in there.

Dan: In fact, having constraints helps with making creative choices. I love working with tape machines because you’ve got four buttons: ‘on’ ‘off’ ‘fast’ ‘slow.’ There are only a few choices, versus a digital equivalent. When you narrow it down to work within confines, it actually frees you up.

What are some of your favorite moments as part of the band?

Dan: There was a nice point on our first trip overseas, in 2011, when we played a gig at a festival called, All Tomorrow’s Parties. We were playing between Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra Arkestra. To me that was a super awesome gig because I’ve been listening to those artists for so long. To be sandwiched between those two was a pretty nice moment.

Erika: On our second tour we were playing off an island near Marseille. It was in the ruins of this old quarantine hospital and we were playing just as the sun was setting. We played a really great show and got called back for three encores or something … everything about that evening was kind of magical. It felt really special.

Nell: I always remember the last gig we played on our first big tour. The first tour was quite a full one. We just weren’t used to it. It was intense and exhausting and by the time we got to the last gig, we were all exhausted. But we played this amazing gig and it was the first time I felt like we were anticipating what each other was doing and working like one weird, morphing creature. It felt really amazing musically.

We were so tired. But it was like your critical mind goes to sleep and you access different parts of your creativity. It was cool because musically we just got better and better. It was a special family moment.

What’s next for Orchestra of Spheres?

Erika: We’re about to do a new album, in 2-3 weeks time.

Dan: We’re recording with an old friend who has a studio in Newtown. It’s an awesome place.

Erika: It’s another one of those amazing places that are hard to find, but when you find them it’s amazing. It’s a big old shed. He lives in it and he collects junk that he turns into instruments. He’s incredible. He’s made a little studio there with a vocal booth.

Dan: Earlier this year we did a gig with a whole bunch of musicians, 12 people maybe. The idea for this album is to get a few of those people in for different tunes and broaden the sound palate from what we’ve done in the past. Nell has been playing the harp lately, and maybe we’ll get in a few other instruments as well.

If eccentric costumes, infectious rhythms, and homemade instruments peak your interest, definitely check out Orchestra of Spheres. Their music is available here on Spotify, and be sure to take a look at some of their amazing music videos!

 

 

 

Gap Filler: Placemaking, Design, and Rebuilding in Christchurch

I have to admit, as a designer passionate about the role of design in place making, I was excited to visit Christchurch and see how the city has redefined itself in the past 7 years following the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. As a visitor, I felt inspired walking around, witnessing the creation of public parks, active street art festivals, and delightful moments of design that encourage tourists and locals to explore in new ways.

 Gap Filler's The Pallet Pavilion, 2012-2014 (credit: Maja Moritz 2012)

Gap Filler's The Pallet Pavilion, 2012-2014 (credit: Maja Moritz 2012)

We quickly discovered an amazing organization, Gap Filler, behind so many of these installations and creative events in the city. Gap Filler describes their organization as “a creative urban regeneration initiative that facilitates a wide range of temporary projects, events, installations and amenities in the city [Christchurch].”

Co-founder Coralie Winn, and two others “began the initiative in response to the very first quake we experienced way back in September 2010. We did a one-off (or so we thought) project that involved turning a vacant lot into a colorful, quirky garden with borrowed plants, furniture and more. We hosted live music, outdoor cinema, poetry and more over two weeks. The response was pretty amazing, so we then did a second, very different project (which actually disappointed some who wanted more of the first project) before the February 2011 quake wreaked havoc on the city, taking 185 lives and changing things forever.”

 Rebuilding the ChristChurch Cathedral started this year and is expected to take 10 years.

Rebuilding the ChristChurch Cathedral started this year and is expected to take 10 years.

 The Cardboard Cathedral (a church literally made of cardboard) opened in 2013 designed by architect, Shigeru Ban.

The Cardboard Cathedral (a church literally made of cardboard) opened in 2013 designed by architect, Shigeru Ban.

Throughout our time chatting with friendly Kiwis at the many fabulous cafes throughout the city, we heard so much appreciation for the creative and empathetic approach Gap Filler has taken in bringing joy to the city. But, unsurprisingly, we also learned that rebuilding a city is complicated, emotional, and downright difficult.

Frustrations with Rebuilding

Many creative projects that felt “good” at first seem to have lost their charm among locals. The container mall, the weaving in and out of orange cones, and the innovative Gap Filler projects, now often feel like a sad reminder of what 7 years later, is still not in great shape. A barista at a café summed up a mindset we heard over and over. “People like to call [Christchurch] creative, but I just want it to be the way it used to be. I’m just really ready to get back to normal.”

 Gap Filler's giant spray paint cans in Christchurch's East Frame.

Gap Filler's giant spray paint cans in Christchurch's East Frame.

Gap Filler’s Coralie Winn understands this mentality. “We tend to be the target of negativity from a small section of the community here, who see our work as a waste of time, messy, 'gypsy'-like and having run its course. To say it another, and possibly overly-simplistic way, temporary stuff has served its purpose and it's time for a proper city now. I think this sort of attitude wouldn't be the case if more of Christchurch was rebuilt by now and the rebuild wasn't taking so very long. People vent their frustration our way, as they are annoyed about the state of things.”

Gap Filler isn’t just about post-quake revitalization. It’s about responding to the needs of Christchurch. Coralie explains Gap Filler’s approach:

“Placemaking, DIY urbanism, whatever you wish to call it is known throughout much of the world. But in Christchurch, temporary urban activations or interventions tend to be understood as a post-quake thing and struggle to shirk that connection. We've done projects that respond to what have identified as needs or lacks in the city. I guess we are hoping that in time, tactical urbanism or placemaking, will be better understood as a useful, purposeful practice.

 Greening the Rubble car park installation in Gap Filler's community car park, Good Spot.

Greening the Rubble car park installation in Gap Filler's community car park, Good Spot.

"Gap Filler brings creativity, provocation and participatory projects to the city in the context of a rebuild that has not been especially consultative and very top-down and heavy handed. The projects we undertake have certainly changed as the city has evolved. To that end, now that we are nearly seven years from the disaster you will find our projects these days have a much higher design aesthetic than many earlier ones. This evolution was based on public feedback. Our projects in the last two years have often used the public realm (i.e. Council owned land like footpaths) or walls of buildings rather than ex-demolition sites as they did a few years ago. Such sites were usually privately owned, which made the whole process faster. Working with local or central government to access public land is much slower. Examples of such recent projects are Super Street Arcade, Open City, DiversCity (comprising Ping Pong and AyoAyo - a mancala).”

What’s next for Gap Filler? 

We can’t wait to return to Christchurch and see the latest Gap Filler projects. Coralie provided an exciting vision for the future and their switch towards a social enterprise model:

“We've not readily identified as a social enterprise thus far and that's for a number of reasons but now, we do. We are increasingly needing to undertake paid work to ensure we can continue as funding for our work has changed as time passes.

We have recently begun work in the East Frame, five blocks of prime central-city land to be developed as part of the government's master plan for the rebuilt city. This land will have town houses and apartments for 2000 people built on it over the next 8 years. We're leading a temporary space activation program on this land, enabling all sorts of groups and people to do projects here, as well as delivering some of our own. This work is paid and it's also part of a permanent development being led by the country's largest building company, Fletcher Building and this case, their Fletcher Living division. Fletcher Living has been required by the national government to enable temporary, community uses of the land so that’s where we come in..

We hope that our work on this land, although temporary, will have a permanent impact. So we will be doing fewer projects per year and more collaborative, paid projects such as one we have coming up out at the airport to make their public realm space work better for its users and for the airport, too. We really hope to infuse the values behind what we do into more and more projects.

To summarize I want to use a word you won't know. Kaitiaki tanga. It's te reo Māori for custodianship or care-taking. Māori, like many indigenous (and I might just say, more enlightened peoples!) don't see themselves as owners of any land but rather custodians. We see ourselves as a kind of creative custodian of the land or spaces we use, taking on the risks but making empty land contribute positively to the city and allowing its citizens a chance to participate by making something on that land and ultimately making the city a place that they want to be.”

We’re inspired by Coralie’s participatory approach. If you are too, please check out their website and consider donating at http://gapfiller.org.nz/

 Gap Filler, Super Street Arcade (credit: Erica Austin 2015)

Gap Filler, Super Street Arcade (credit: Erica Austin 2015)

"All Bodies Welcome"

An introduction to Malia Johnson, of Movement of the Human, the choreographer defining the dance and choreography landscape across New Zealand. 

  Malia Johnson

Malia Johnson

Despite clouds threatening rain, we sat outside at the waterfront cafe, Seashore Cabaret in Lower Hutt, a suburb 20-minutes outside of Wellington. We were here to meet Malia Johnson, a New Zealand native with an impressive repertoire over the past 20 years. She’s danced, choreographed, directed, and collaborated across sectors and disciplines in New Zealand and across the globe. (Seriously, read her bio).

Some people seek creative community, others create one. Malia is one of those who creates. When she first finished her training, there wasn't work—so she made opportunities for herself. In the past two decades the dance scene has grown significantly in New Zealand. Even so, when young dancers come to Malia for advice she tells them, “there isn’t a blueprint," encouraging them to push boundaries and find their own way.

After just a few minutes of conversation, it became apparent why Malia is so talented at bringing people of diverse creative backgrounds together. She possesses a strong vision with an open-minded spirit that looks for new, and even unusual creative combinations.

Challenging the stereotyped image of dancers in a theatre counting 1-2-3-4 and moving their bodies with ease, her pieces are rooted in deep and personal collaboration. Imagine unique bodies, cathartic storytelling, fashion, and the interplay of space, lighting, music, and bodies. Orchestrating these elements is at the crux of her work.

Malia finds she is most attracted to projects that are "more than just dance pieces, but a way to collaborate with multiple practices." While collaboration is a theme of her work, “it's tricky to collaborate well, but it creates the best outcome...when you have a trusting collaborative environment people are free to do their best work." To achieve this, "it's about understanding individually, how people function, and moving and shaping the work in response to their personal skills.”

Her years working with the World of Wearable Art (WOW) represent some of the most successful collaboration she has experienced. “WOW was an example of 200 people collaborating together really well, focusing on their individual crafts and really serving the overall experience."

It was her position at WOW that brought her back to New Zealand after a brief period abroad in Australia. The work was really inspiring and from the start, WOW was a “choreographic environment that didn't know it was. It was always about movement. It's the body and art colliding. The designers make garments for the body to move around as pieces of art. It's about movement architecture and I just loved that."

Today, she lives just outside the city center in Lower Hutt, a place she never thought she’d live. "There’s something good for creativity about living in unexpected places.” Wellington is such a small city, you can hardly walk down the street without stopping to say hi to four or five people, so she cherishes the chance to go for a quiet walk with her dog - often where she finds her inspiration. 

As with many creatives in this country, she’s lived in multiple places across New Zealand. As policy, prices and opportunities in Wellington, Auckland, and Christchurch have shifted, the arts has moved as well. “Artists move quickly” and follow opportunity. “They go where they can be free.”

But Wellington is “really special. Business, arts, and the government are so close together. It's a unique city” because these sectors bump into each other creating different opportunities. “Wellington was the place where the arts were in New Zealand, until the last 10 years. New health and safety regulations came down hard on a lot of artistic, urban spaces, but there is also new city funding to help.”

If you’re lucky enough to be close by, make it a point to see her work. Malia's studio, Movement of the Human (MOTH), has a number of things in the works right now. A few upcoming opportunities to experience her magic:

 *All photos courtesy of Malia Johnson

*All photos courtesy of Malia Johnson

Mahuki: where entrepreneurial spirit and culture collide.

Sulu Fiti, Outreach Manager for Mahuki, chats with us about creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) sector.

On a sunny morning in January, we had the opportunity to chat with Sulu in Muhuki’s beautiful office space, located within New Zealand’s national Te Papa Museum. The first of its kind, Mahuki is Te Papa’s innovation accelerator focusing on entrepreneurship in the global cultural and heritage sector. 

Sulu could not have been more welcoming. We chatted about Mahuki, growing up in Wellington, and his ideal day in the city.

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Tell us a little about yourself

I’m a born and bred Wellingtonian, and I’ve lived here for most of my life. I’ve also lived overseas during various semi-professional rugby playing stints - three seasons in Wales, two in Ireland, and one each in Ireland, and Australia. I’ve also lived in Samoa a couple of times. My parents are Samoan immigrants who came here in the 1960s. They met each other in New Zealand, and raised our family here in Wellington. They came from nothing, and were poor even by Samoan standards at the time. So my siblings and I are very fortunate that we were brought up wanting for nothing, in an incredibly supportive, and loving family. We had a fantastic upbringing in Wellington.  

After spending time abroad, what has brought you back to Wellington?

It’s home. My family and friends are here. And because of Wellington’s relatively small size, there's a real sense of community here. I love that. It's amazing how many people you become connected with in this city. In particular, within the start-up community everyone seems to know one another. There is a great creative vibe in the city, and you can really see that in the vibrant startup scene.

Also, being the seat of government, there are a lot of government agencies, and while in the past that has given Wellington a rather staid image. It’s certainly not how you would describe Wellington now. At Mahuki we work with a lot of government agencies and educational institutions, and they are starting to embrace a lot of startup methodologies in the way that they operate. Government can be a big clunky machine, but they are really trying to implement some of the startup philosophies such as iterating quickly, and running design sprints. It's really refreshing to see that kind of thinking in that sort of environment.

What brought you to Mahuki?

I came through a business accelerator in 2017 - the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator - where I fast failed my company which was looking to make it easier and cheaper to send money to the Pacific Islands using the blockchain. After some market validation in Samoa I decided that it wasn’t worth pursuing the business further. We didn’t have a big enough point of difference in the market to make the type of penetration that would have made us stand out from others in the space. I've worked in many different jobs - but most recently in startups.

I work as the Outreach Manager at Mahuki, and my remit is to find exceptional talent for the full Mahuki programme. I also work closely with educational institutions, government agencies, and other interested parties. I’m also heavily involved in the local startup scene. We run a pre-accelerator programme which involves delivering workshops around the country to those interested in the sector, with a particular focus on Maori and Pasifika.  

That’s amazing! What makes Mahuki such a unique place?

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It is a space where entrepreneurialism and culture collide to create innovative solutions that enrich galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM). It's the world’s first accelerator in this sector, and that speaks volumes about Te Papa's constant effort to be ahead of the curve.

We produce a four month bespoke innovation / entrepreneurial programme designed to help teams of between 2 to 6 members develop their idea and business to produce a commercially viable solution.

How did the program originally get started?

A few years ago Te Papa examined ways in which it could adapt and innovate in an increasingly digital world. They looked at a few different models, and the accelerator model is what they decided to go with. From day one Te Papa has always stood out from the crowd. It has a pioneering vision within its DNA, and that ‘out of the box’ thinking courses through Mahuki.

What are some examples of teams that have gone through the program?

We’ve had a really broad range of teams come through Mahuki. Just a snapshot of some of the teams include Curio, which is an online publishing platform that lets museums, galleries and libraries make their own digital interactions. We’ve had a social enterprise team who created an app for matching volunteers with organizations; another team, Excio, has created an app for enjoying  works of art / photography on your mobile device. Breadcrumb deliver location-aware indoor positioning solutions, Vaka Interactiv, are a Pasifika team working on a portrait interactive - think Harry Potter - by using ethno-cultural empathy via two way communication. We’ve also had a team in the burgeoning V.R. space, a data analytics team, a bunch of gaming developers, and a team who are looking at using technology to learn, and preserve the languages of Oceania. I’m really looking forward to seeing who comes through the Mahuki programme this year. Bring it on!

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What have been some of the biggest challenges for the program?

The biggest difficulty is not only finding talent who want to explore opportunities in this sector, but also in communicating just the broad scope of opportunities that are available for people. Typically when you think of museums, your first thought is front of house exhibitions - but there are opportunities for enterprise in areas such as ticketing, catering, and retail, just to name a few. We are being proactive in building and growing our own pipeline by extending our reach into the Maori and Pasifika communities, who aren’t greatly represented in the sector. We know that there is a rich vein of talent out there, and we aim to plant the seeds for that next wave of talent with some of our targeted workshops. A lot of the challenge is in communicating the challenges that face the sector, and whether people can come in and have a business or initiative that solves those challenges. We have a set of twelve challenges that guide what Te Papa and the industry are looking at, and we are currently in the process of revisiting these.

What make most you most excited to come to work each day at Mahuki? 

What I'm big on - and this speaks to my cultural background - is promoting diversity. Last year we had three Pasifika teams come through the Mahuki programme, and also an all-female team of three young entrepreneurs. It’s a great start, but we need to be doing a lot more to tap into those communities. We’ve got a unique opportunity at Mahuki to take a lead, and make a significant difference in this area. Also, innovation is innovation - and being involved with startups in whatever industry, whether it be fintech, agritech, VR, or whatever - is just damned exciting.

Through Mahuki, we are pioneering and championing the concept of ‘culture tech’ – a fusion of emerging technology with a New Zealand worldview that embraces the deep storytelling, content and traditions of Maori and Pasifika culture in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museum (GLAM) sector. Telling deep and genuine stories resonates with these cultures and we are heralding a new frontier where those gifts for storytelling can be fully realized.

One last question for our readers exploring the city. What’s your ideal day here in Wellington?

That’s easy! I'm a beach person, so I love going to the beach and being in the water. My favorite beach is Princess Bay. It's my fave because it's not as busy as the others in the city, but also because it gets the last drop of summer sun. So you get some amazing, dramatic sunsets there. It's beautiful just to sit there at 9pm in the evening and watch the sun go down. But shhhh. Keep it on the d-low, us locals like to keep Princess Bay a secret.

Another good / bad thing about Wellington - depending on your point of view - is our weather. Our winters can be pretty horrific. We have a really bad wind...apparently. I just call it a breeze. It puts a lot of people off, but I think it just invigorates us locals to be creative.

 

Old Halls and New Sounds

Wellington, New Zealand

During our conversations in Wellington, we've quickly learned how supportive and collaborative the creative community is in this windy city. We’ve consistently heard of people bringing different mediums of art and expression together in unique spaces. A rotating event series that features local music, visual art, dance, and readings, Old Hall Gigs is a prime example of Wellington’s creative spirit.

 Sarah Smythe, co-founder and producer of Old Hall Gigs

Sarah Smythe, co-founder and producer of Old Hall Gigs

We’ve all been there. You’re excited to go to a gig at your local music venue to hear, well, music. Instead you wind up being annoyed at the three way too drunk people that keep bumping into you and shouting over the performance you came and paid money to see.

Wellington local Sarah Smythe shares this common frustration, saying, “I love going to gigs, but often no one is listening and it’s less about the actual music.” Rather than just complain like most people, she did something about it and co-founded the DIY event series Old Hall Gigs.

It all started when Sarah and her all-girl, eight-piece band, St Rupertsburg, decided to put on their own show—in a community hall space.  “We served everyone dinner and sat them at a long table. It was heaps of fun, a really special community, and a nice place to have a gig. At the time I didn't think anything of it. But then later, I thought, maybe I want to make more stuff like that happen. That was the seed of Old Hall Gigs.”

Officially founded in 2013 by Sarah and her friend, Thomasin Sleigh, these underutilized old hall spaces (think Irish Cultural Center, Lions Club, Kiwanis Club type places) throughout Wellington were the perfect venues to provide artistic experiences for friends and fans. These halls are more than simply affordable and available. The spaces act as a the inspiration for each new gig. As Sarah describes, “we book the hall, and then we book the things to fill out the night based on the character of the space.”

A typical Old Hall Gig provides an intimate "community feel" with audience members ranging from young children to their grandparents (the mayor even attended the 16th Gig!). The events offer a “tasting” of different creative performances for the audience in bite sized portions. “Say you've never experienced a poetry reading before and it's not something you'd typically choose to go to. The performances at Old Hall Gigs are  short enough to try out.” Sarah is passionate about getting people “into new things” outside of their routine, and to challenge their preconceived notions of what type of art they like.

The changing venues speak to that mission as well. “There’s something quite awesome as an audience member of going to new places you haven't been before. Maybe it’s a place you've noticed driving around, but it's a chance to go inside and have an experience in there.”

Don’t miss out on the next Old Hall Gig! (email sign up here). You'll be sure to fall in love with the work of a new local band, artist, or writer you haven’t heard of before. As Sarah says, “It’s easy fall into a little bubble of people you surround yourself with…Old Hall Gigs provides a nice, new cross-section of the Wellington community.”

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“There’s something quite awesome as an audience member of going to new places you haven't been before. Maybe it’s a place you've noticed driving around, but it's a chance to go inside and have an experience in there.”

Meet Gussie of Mermaidens, the band taking Wellington by storm.

Wellington, New Zeland

The alt-rocker discusses the band’s upcoming album, the Wellington music scene, and why you should never tell a band to smile on-stage.

It was easy to spot Gussie as she hopped off her bicycle in a brightly striped shirt, blonde pigtails, and a big smile. Straight off a rejuvenating holiday in the far north, this Wellington native welcomed us to her windy city over a flat white in a local café.

 Gussie: Mermaidens Guitar/Vocals 

Gussie: Mermaidens Guitar/Vocals 

Mermaidens includes Gussie (Guitar/Vocals), Lily (Bass/Vocals) and Abe (Drums). They’ve been hard at work since their days jamming as high school friends. They released their sophomore full-length album, Perfect Body, in 2017 and are already in the process of recording their third full-length effort.

Their intricate tunes weave complex swirling guitar soundscapes, pulsing bass lines, and haunting vocals reminiscent of their art rock heroes, Warpaint. Gussie has a warm and welcoming presence, but behind the chipper exterior is a relentless drive and work ethic to make her mark both on the Wellington and global music scene. With sold out shows in her hometown, a unique sound, and dedicated fan-base, we’d say Mermaidens are well on their way. 

Be on the look out for their third full-length album coming out later this year!


The sound of Wellington

 [Wellington] is so small we don’t have the room to follow bands or trends. The result is all these really unique bands like The All Seeing Hand and Orchestra of Spheres.

The music scene in Wellington

Everyone is really friendly, and really supportive! People in Wellington, at least in my little bubble, want to support their local bands and buy their merch and go to their gigs. It would be good if even more people did that and understood that if you go to a gig, and pay $10 - $20 that it’s going to the band. I overheard these girls in the bathroom at a gig once who were bragging about sneaking in, and I couldn’t help but tell them off. They just clearly didn’t get that.

The origin story

We’re all friends from high school. Lily and I went to an all girls school together and became friends when we were 16 and I’ve been friends with Abe probably since I was 14. In high school Lily and I started nervously showing each other our songs and lyrics and just kind of growing up together.

A (really) special moment

Camp a Low Hum used to be this really legendary DIY music festival ... we were there one year and were really inspired by the bands. That year we decided that our goal was to play here the following year. And we did! We thought we’d made it—we played at this awesome festival.

The live performance

It’s definitely energetic. I probably turn up the distortion a bit more. There's just a little less care than recording. Not in a bad way, just freedom. But I also find playing live intensely stressful (laughing) because all my guitar parts are very complicated and we play lots of unusual time signatures. 

Once or twice I’ve overheard that we should smile more on stage. I’m like, “what do you mean, I’m fucking concentrating!” It’s a rock band. You don’t have to smile.

Song writing process

In terms of constructing songs, either Lily or myself will have maybe half a song. We might have vocals, might not. We bring that to the space and it pretty much comes out of the jam. Lately we’ve also been jamming and recording it so that later we can listen back and decide what we're going to play.

Favorite venue to play

San Fran. The sound is really awesome and Ziggy, the guy who owns it is just the best person. Bernie, the house sound engineer is great too.

Musical influences

Warpaint, St Vincent, Wand, Fuzz, Ty Segall

Other influences

Nature. Living in such a beautiful place has a big influence on my creative process.

What’s next for Mermaidens?

We’re working on our next album right now, so it’s writing time. We have studio time booked in February and April and it’s nice to have it all mapped out. During Easter break, we’re recording with James Goldsmith, who we recorded with for the other albums. We really want to go to Europe—we're thinking European Summer 2019!

A perfect day in Wellington

It starts with a big breakfast and coffee at home on my deck, looking out at Berhampore. Then maybe we ride our bikes to Princess Bay for a picnic, beers, and swimming with friends. Later on, we'd head back Newtown for a jam session in our space just five minutes from home, have dinner and finish up the day watching a gig at The San Fran.

Arobake, the shop fueling Wellington's carb cravings.

Wellington, New Zealand

If you live in Wellington, we can almost guarantee that you have eaten bread from Arobake. Max, founder and master baker, discusses the creativity that exists in the balance of exactness and freedom in baking. 

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Arobake has been a staple of the community since 1989. During our time in New Zealand, people we met told us a few consistent things about this spot. People around Wellington drive across town to the shop and get their bread directly from the source. And, when a cafe has Arobake pastries, you know its high quality. Treats from this spot set the bar high in a city where cafes and coffee rule.

We were excited to learn about the story behind the iconic bakery from Master-baker and founder, Max Fuhrer. Early on a Tuesday morning, we walked down to Aro Valley, not far from the famous Holloway Road and into the unassuming bakery. Sitting on the patio with a cappuccino and pastry in front of each of us, we spent the morning chatting casually about Max's interest in baking, his training, and the inspiration he finds from the constraints of a recipe.

When Arobake got started in 1989, just across the street from where the bakery is today, there "was no branding ... we had these self serve cabinets that we taped closed because we didn't want people to self serve." He seemed almost shocked by the success but despite what may it looked like from the outside, word got out, and the product sold itself.

Max - Arobake

Max, born and raised in New Zealand, grew up enjoying the traditional cooking of his German mother and Swiss father. Family continues to be is very important to Max. A father to six, he lives right behind the bakery so that he can scoot back for lunch to visit with his younger kids. The older kids have all spend time working at the bakery and one of his sons now looks after the day bakery.

As a kid himself, at 13, Max and his family travelled to Europe. He remembers that it was there that he first got the idea to be a baker. Yes, at just 13 years old, he knew his calling. After high school, he started an apprenticeship with a baker in Johnsonville, further igniting his passion. After completing his hours, he studied at a trade school in Zurich and credits the time he spend there for his work ethic and attention to detail.

Max’s relaxed New Zealand training, mixed with the discipline he acquired in Switzerland seem to be a powerful combination. The delicate balance of exactness and constraints fuels the creativity in his baking.

"One leads to another. If you're in a regimented thing and everything is organized, it frees you up to be creative … it's like scales musicians do. I know the basic formula for a loaf of break: X amount of water and X amount of flour, but then you can add different things to it or you can change the fermentation process to enhance the flavor. You have those basics and you can quite easily write a bread recipe. I just made a bread with chocolate and brandy fig. It's quite crazy, when you toast it, the smell! We’re always trying to do different things."

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While experimentation is important, he also made sure to clarify the importance of consistency, particularly in bread-making. “For the bakers, we expect it to be done one way. So we sell to cafes and bakeries around the city, so consistency is key."  One of the challenges came as the bakery grew and he had to hire more staff. "Letting things go was hard at the beginning, but you're better off investing in people." Today, Max feels more "like a businessman now," and spend much of his time mentoring his team.

Now, if you haven’t already, go grab a cup of coffee and a pastry from this divine mecca of carbs.

The Dream of Roots: a Conversation with Kelly Spencer

On a sunny day in Lyttleton we met Kelly Spencer (making art using the name Kell Sunshine) in an empty lot next to where the historic Harbourlight Theatre stood before the 2010/2011 Earthquakes. Lyttleton, a town of under 3,000, is just a twenty-minute drive from Christschurch. Despite its small size, it packs in more local coffee spots and artistic spirit than cities far more populated.

We came to see the mural Kelly just finished the night before as part of the 2017 Street Prints festival. Across the street in the Lyttleton Coffee Company, we sat outside along the port to hear more about her piece, sense of place and roots, and the joy and vulnerability of painting walls.

Kelly

I had to paint on walls.

It's social. It's outdoors. It's moving—moving my body. It's talking to people and meeting new people. It's listening to music, loudly.


On Painting on Walls

I dabbled at first, but then I got the bug and I had to paint on walls. It's social. It's outdoors. It's moving—moving my body. It's talking to people and meeting new people. It's listening to music, loudly. To do a wall, I feel more involved in everything that's going on around me, in the space and in the community.

People say the weirdest things when I’m up on a wall painting….so often positive, but a lot of people just don't know what to say. You're exposed and vulnerable so people are really ready to talk to you which is good, but then they don't know what to say. They’ll say things like, “did you paint that? Are you being paid to paint it?” But it's also really beautiful—people share little bits of their life with you because it's there in the public realm.

About the Piece

Choosing a mural with the word Place was fitting for so many reasons. I wanted create a piece that holds place—people stuck it out here to rebuild [after the earthquakes] and everything that goes into having something like this happen to your home.

Place seemed like a bold, solid word to hold the main composition. I was actually going to write the full quote [from Salman Rushdie], but I didn't want it to sound cheesy—which is a concern doing type. If they don't know the idea behind it they might not think about it in the same way. The [word] journey is the idea of the seeds traveling across the area from the flower to the bird, since birds are one of the few ways that seeds can travel. The bird is there to symbolize travel and freedom and transience and the poppy is there, rooted in the ground. And [I chose] a poppy—because around the corner I saw a little patch of poppies when I arrived in Lyttleton.

On place.

When people talk about looking after your mental health, they often talk about putting roots down. When I try to visualize that place of “roots” I get caught up in this whirlpool...even though I love my homes—of Gisborne and Wellington. It wasn't until reading The Ground Beneath Her Feet and saw characters who are most themselves when they are moving that I realized I'm just carrying these roots with me and that's fine.

"The dream of Roots. The mirage of the Journey" - Salman Rushdie

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follow Kelly: @kell.sunshine