RE:COVERED: New Zealand Music Cover Design

Posted by in Design, Music

Between 2001 and 2004 while based in Wellington and in London I researched and put together a project called RE:COVERED detailing NZ music design. It has been absent from the web for some time but I decided to put a selected version up here on the blog. I always intended to do an Australian version but have never had the time. Blog includes an affiliate link.


What is New Zealand design? Does it have its own identity? Or is it simply a cross section of outside influences, borrowed ideas and what is fashionable at any given time?

I asked these questions as a header for my RE:COVERED project which stemmed from my visit in 2001 and aimed to celebrate the visual work of the soundtrack to what is still a relatively young country. The answers to most of the above were a resounding yes.

Nearly a decade elapsed before I returned once more in 2010 to discover an explosion of musical talent in the setting sun of the record industry as we knew it.


When I left Wellington in 1983, the musical mainstay of indie bands converged to make a vibrant artistic statement that may have had some new wave aspirations of the UK scene, yet transmitted a quirky Kiwi charm evident in both song; The Knobz ‘(Don’t Give Me) Culture,’ The Swingers ‘Counting The Beat,’ Montevideo’s ‘Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop Cumma Cumma Wang Dang,’ and…

in their covers, particularly the Blams ‘There Is No Depression In New Zealand,’ with its back cover essay (possibly a precursor to Paul Morley’s writings for the ZTT label in mid-eighties Britain). Electronica was beginning with The Body Electric, and a youthful Dave Dobbyn was also commencing his foray into the musical history book.


Now, thirty years later, somewhat ironically with the recent and dramatic demise of record stores worldwide, New Zealand has a much more confident music scene.

As importantly, the design which covers it had also taken on a wonderful and diverse tapestry of traditional Maori design (Split Enz, Herbs), abstract paintings by the artists themselves (Neil Finn, David Kilgour).

There’s retro (Fur Patrol, Able Tasmans) an rich new terrain – anyone under the impression Aotearoa couldn’t do ‘Graphic’ need only look at Fiona Jack’s work (below).


The RE:COVERED site went live in June 2004 and was a documented the cream of what had been so far or at least what I could find. Images were selected not only on the basis of artists I felt closest to but based objectively on the artwork itself.

I also sought to hear the opinions of those who sung, played and designed them and was fortunate to gain some insight into the industry as it stood at the time. Prominent designer Andrew B. White in particular made a point of reference to how little the ‘visual’ artist made from the whole process and record sales.

An update was considered a few years back, however astounding as it may seem in this computer age and further compounded with the artist fear of piracy it is increasingly difficult to acquire decent file sizes of newer work. *2020 update I found some fascinating imagery on the discogs site but sadly not for Strawpeople‘s Sweet Disorder.

Nonetheless I managed to source some imagery for The Naked and Famous EPs No Light and Machine as well as Kids of 88s abstract take for their sophomore release Modern Love which perhaps echoes Noel Crombie’s equally conceptual vision of the word ENZ for the Kiwi legends True Colours. Stalwarts it seems, sometimes inadvertently influence the shock of the new.


Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, check out the MEDIA page, and/or the UNIVERSITY page for my teaching ethos. 

Meanwhile, stay tuned with things here at Kulture Kiosk via THE ATLAS or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…

(Don’t Give Me) Culture – The Knobz
Counting The Beat – The Swingers
There Is No Depression In New Zealand – Blam Blam Blam
The Choral Sea – Split Enz
Language – Dave Dobbyn
Sweet Disorder – Strawpeople
Holy – Fur Patrol
Punching in a Dream – The Naked and Famous
Toucan – Kids of 88

Photos: Discogs and various