New Zealand is not just a land of the Kiwis, the flightless bird native to the region and national symbol of the country, it is also a place with a rich musical heritage. And while most people can easily associate New Zealand with Lord of the Rings and the world famous All Blacks Rugby Union team, there are many bands and musicians that have shaped the music industry in the country and around the world.

Editors choice – five great 90’s Kiwi Bands:

Headless Chickens

The band was born when Jonny Pierce, Beevan Sweeney and Grant Fell joined up with Chris Matthews, a Westie kid to form Children’s Hour in 1983. Unfortunately, the group broke up in 1983 with Matthews and Pierce moving away to work with Jefferies brothers while Fell relocated to Australia.

Later, Jonny Pierce (bass) and Chris Matthews (vocals and guitar) started working with Michael Lawry. The group practiced in an old school that housed His Majesty’s Theatre. Their maiden performance as Headless Chickens was at the Maidment Theatre in an event known as The Nitpicker’s Picnic.

Soon after the band recorded a self-titled album but without the input of Lawry who was serving a community service sentence. Since Lawry was their soundman, the mini-album sounded strange and was full of dark humor.

In August 1986, Pierce committed suicide, an event that unsettled the band and left them without a bass player. Luckily enough, Fell came back from Australia and filled Pierce’s void. Soon after, Rupert E. Taylor left Bird Nest Roys and joined the Chickens as a 2nd vocalist.

In 1987, the band won the Rheineck Beer Rock Award. The award was perceived as more of a curse than a blessing because the recording of the subsequent album titled Stunt Clown in 1988 overshot the $30,000 budget which was part of the prize money set aside for a national tour and promotional campaign. Though the award seemed like bad luck to the band, their opening track in the album titled Expecting to Fly signaled the direction the band intended to take. While earlier tracks heavily relied on melody and guitars, here was a track that introduced drum machines and samplers.

The band recorded a second album titled Body Blow in 1991. It featured Fiona McDonald which attracted their widest audience. By this time, the band’s mastery of electronic equipment and sampling had started to influence other bands in New Zealand.

After several years, Headless Chickens released the Greedy album. Soon after the release of Greedy, the band split up.


Strawpeople is among the famous 90’s New Zealand Bands that shaped the music industry in the land of the Kiwis. The band consisted of Mark Tierney and Paul Casserly. The duo met while working at the Auckland University radio station, 95 bFM.

The two signed up to Pagan Records and did their first single, One Good Reason but it failed to hit. They followed it up with Hemisphere in 1990 which did not make much headway either.

The duo moved from Pagan Records to Sony and released their 3rd album, Broadcast. This time, they gained public acceptance. The album stayed on New Zealand charts for more than 12 months.

Sweet Disorder, a single from the album won the 1995 APRA Silver Scroll Award and Songwriting award at the 1996 New Zealand Music Awards. It was also voted among the best 100 APRA New Zealand Songs of All Time.

In 1997, the pair split up which meant that Vicarious, an album released the same year was mostly Casserly’s work with guests. Two more albums followed, No New Messages in 2000 and Count Backwards from 10 in 2004.

Sisters Underground

Sisters Underground was among the 90’s New Zealand Bands known for R&B and Hip Hop. The band’s best-known single titled In The Neighbourhood was released in 1994.

The band consisted of Hassanah Iroegbu and Brenda Makammeoafi who met at Hillary College, South Auckland. By 1990, the two took up the name Sisters Underground as they performed in dance parties and halls in West Auckland alongside Andy Vann and Chris Bateup. Vann put the duo in touch with Alan Janson, a music producer who helped them record Ain’t It True and In The Neighbourhood.

Janson spent weeks reworking their songs which were basically street A Cappella and introduced instruments including acoustic guitars and hip hop style beats. The resulting combination was evident in the revolutionary track, In The Neighborhoud which was released as a single alongside a video. The song charted among the top 10 for 3 months. In 1995, the pair performed in New Zealand for the Big Day Out festival and in Australia. By this time, The Neighbourhood had peaked at the second position in Triple J’s charts, an Australian radio station.

In 1995, Sisters Underground clinched the Most Promising Group award at the New Zealand Music Awards. They were offered a deal to record an album with Sony Music Australia by Alan Janson, their producer, however, since Janson had not consulted them before signing them up, they relocated to the US and never recorded the album.

Salmonella Dub

Salmonella Dub was formed in 1992 by Dave Deakins, Andrew Penman and Mark Tyler. The band fondly known as Dubbies are hailed as originators and pioneers of dub/drum and groove-based rock originating from the Pacific region.

During this period, dub/reggae enthusiasts were not considered in vogue since dance and grunge music was New Zealand’s mainstay. To win over critics and get an audience, the group used lighthearted covers of Nancy Sinatra and Fred Daggs.

The band worked briefly with MC Tiki Taane who mixed their live sets in 1996 and was later was invited to join the group. In 1997, they released Calming of the Drunken Monkey and signed up with Virgin for distribution. In 1999, they released For the Love of It, the first track that featured Taane and produced by Paddy Free as well as David Harrow. The track gained mainstream acceptance and earned them a slot in the Top Ten local charts.

Soon after, the Dubbies released the Killervision album which was equally successful. It achieved double platinum sales and was released in 5 countries. Back home, they were awarded 9 BNet music awards and became instant heroes.

The Dubbies went on to release other albums including Inside the Dub Plates in 2001, Mercy in 2004 and Freak Controller in 2009. Since then, the band has been involved in Soundsystem shows around New Zealand and Australia as they work on their next album.

The Hard Way

The Hard Way is one of the great 90’s New Zealand Bands. It was formed in 1994 and is popular for two leading singles Hip Hop Holiday and It’s On.

Initially, the band thrived in the dance party scene but gradually moved towards solid hip hop. That explains how they released the Hip Hop Holiday song in 1994 on Deepgrooves Entertainment. The track topped the charts for more than 3 weeks. During this period, more than 7,500 copies of the track were sold. Buoyed by the success of their first record, the band released their first album in the same year, titled Old School Prankstas.

What most people do not know is that the hit song generated a lot of conflict between them and Deeepgrooves. In 1995, the band’s disagreements with Deepgrooves Entertainment came to a head and they took a break after realizing that they had lost their income from the track due to copyright breaches. The break meant to wait out the expiry of their contract lasted for more than 5 years and it was only after they met Alan Janson that they signed a new deal with Sony Music in 2001. In November 2003, they released their 2nd album, Eyes on the Prize. The 1st single release from the second album, It’s On (Move to This) topped the charts for a month in New Zealand.

In spite of their comeback, times had changed and the band did not have the energy to stick together. Eventually, they broke up and went their separate ways. However, the band is credited with bringing rap music to the attention of the New Zealand audience.


The above are just some of the top 90’s New Zealand Bands that changed and shaped the music industry into what it is today. Though some of the bands are now not together anymore, their works and legacy live on as a testament to the ever-changing nature of music.