BIGSOUND 2023: The New Zealanders who made the festival their own

Riiki Reid

It isn’t my intention to prod the leviathan of Australia, but in my humble opinion, some of the best acts at this year’s BIGSOUND festival originated from New Zealand. Don’t @ me. As I’m sure you are aware, the Trans-Tasman musical rivalry is hotly debated.

The Finn Brothers. Dragon. Sharon O’Neill.

But let’s not dwell too much on those days of yore, our focus for the next while is on the vibrant up-and-coming performers.

Miss June, Reb Fountain, Riiki Reid & SWIDT, to name but a few, are some of the wickedly talented Kiwis who congregated in Brisbane.

Now, as a recovering Wellingtonian & presently a Melburnian, I do admittedly have a vested interest here. But I’ll allow you, dear reader, to make up your own judgements.

Where do you find a congregation of Kiwi’s? Well, if you’re at BIGSOUND 2023, it would be at Blutes Bar on Brunswick Street. A motley crew of Aotearoa’s most finest and fascinating musical offerings were on display for those fortunate enough to attend. For a slightly homesick Kiwi, it was a little slice of …. No, not heaven. Slice of home, with Blute’s bar staff handing out pois to twirl and the emcee speaking in Te Reo Maori (the Maori language).

My personal highlight was Wellingtonian R&B/pop singer Riiki Reid. She is, by a long distance, the most famous thing to ever emerge from Churton Park. I’ve been a fan of hers since her breakthrough hit, “High Heights”, but somehow never seen her perform.

On Wednesday night, she did two performances, firstly as part of the aforementioned Aotearoa showcase & then her own solo show later on. In her first performance, she sang solo, alternating between using English and Te Reo in her tunes, a growing strength of hers as Reid has released two songs this year in Te Reo.

On a small stage, one may feel hamstrung in terms of movement but Reid makes her presence known as she gave a capable and commanding performance, beyond her 24 years of age. In her subsequent performance, she was accompanied by her two back-up dancers (who were old school friends). Her voice is raspy, but perfectly so. Reid has an infectious warmth and seems like someone that you’d like to befriend. When she is joined by her dancers, their presence elevates the atmosphere. They are a force to be reckoned with. The dancers alternate between performing on the stage and in the crowd, tearing down the fourth wall. They strut and gyrate, much to the audience’s enjoyment.

Her last song, “The City” brought the house down with its club/dance beat and accompanying moves. For this one, Reid herself danced in the crowd, which as you can imagine, received quite the reaction. Mark my words, this is Aotearoa’s answer to Dua Lipa.

It was hard to hear Georgia Lines muffled introduction against the hubbub but that didn’t stop the beauty of her spectacular voice. Her first song was in Te Reo Māori, a language once suppressed by colonialism, now being amplified by the Waiata Anthems TV programme. In between songs, she discussed her apprehension about singing in Te Reo as a Pakeha (white) person. Despite this insecurity, she sings soulfully in Māori. With just a keyboard accompanying her, it showcases Georgia Lines’ mellifluous range.

Jordyn with a Why strides onto the stage with swagger. To a disinterested crowd, she performs strongly with a funky song ‘about the summer’ (again in Te Reo). The song is titled ‘Raumati’, meaning ‘summer’. Interestingly, it is also the name of a beach to the north-west of Wellington. “I didn’t grow up speaking Māori but I’ve reclaimed that in the last five years” she explains in-between songs. For her second song, ‘Hey Love’, she is joined by MOHI for a ‘80’s power ballad-style duet that finally captures the crowd’s attention. Popping synths and drum machines prop up the two exquisite voices.

West Auckland singer MOHI takes over to perform a catchy R&B/pop waiata (‘song’) .There are some half-hearted attempts by the crowd to join in with the song & do that hand-wavy thing but they quickly subside. His second song, “Tahuri Mai”, meaning “Turn around” gets the assembled boogying and singing. ‘It’s a bit of a jam’, he says modestly before introducing the song. It’s impossible to disagree. From a distance, he looks like a young and innocent Chris Brown (the singer, not the doctor) with his flat cap and solid cheek bones. The moves are there, as are the good vibes.

When YAHYAH sings, you listen. Her voice can be biting or mellow, when needed. She sings vulnerably about her mental health in, ‘Thoughts from My Bed’. As you see her perform, you can observe someone exorcising their demons. She’s going somewhere deep with her vocals, a place where it is often unglamorous. In a radical departure from the song prior, her next song is a banger.

“Do the mahi (work). Get the treats. This is a treat!”, YAHYAH states as she introduces it. Man of the moment MOHI returns for a pop banger titled, ‘I Like You’. Several crowd members get their phones out to film, a sure signal of an excellent song, especially when it’s unreleased! (It was released later that week, so please do yourself a favour!)

CHAD jumps on stage, greeting the emcee with a traditional hongi (nose pressing). For just one bloke on stage wearing a Malcolm X t-shirt, CHAD’s first song starts off on a high, performing with bucket loads of energy. His musical style, reggae, is a sharp left turn from the previous performances.

This sonic palette cleanser is enjoyed by the crowd. His second song is the most groovy song you’ve ever heard about Matariki (Maori new year, which as of last year became a public holiday). Though CHAD has been in the music business for nearly a decade, the industry hasn’t left him jaded. If anything, it’s the contrary. His vitality as a performer is still strong as ever.

It was comforting to be surrounded by fellow Kiwis, or at least those with a casual interest with the youngest and brightest in New Zealand music. All but one of the outlined acts were unknown to me, so it was great to see Australia highlighting these amazing talents. Despite a smallish, and sometimes disinterested crowd, these musicians held their own.

I hope that one day, they may join the pantheon of modern NZ pop acts, alongside Six60 and Benee.

This feature has been published as part of The Music Writer’s Lab initiative, developed between MusicNT and Australia Council for The Arts. For more information, visit

Header image:  Riiki Reid