Why Cover? An Ethnographic Exploration of Identity Politics Surrounding 'Covers' and 'Originals' Music in Dunedin, New Zealand


  • Paul Andrew McMillan University of Otago




This paper explores the identity of musicians located in Dunedin, New Zealand (NZ), whom are both ‘covers’ musicians, as well as members of the notable indie rock-oriented ‘originals’ community. It specifically reviews the tensions concerning musicians’ identity in relation to their practice of performing covers, which carries preconceptions (from the public and other musicians) concerning a lack of artistic integrity. Drawing on participant-observation ethnographic research, this paper critically reviews extant literature on cover music which tends to emphasise the “song” over the practice of covering (Magnus, Magnus and Uidhir 2013, Cusic 2005, Gregory 2012, Brown 2014, Rings 2013, 2014, and Solis 2010), including the idea of the cover as “versioning practice” (Solis 2010), and the monolithic idea of the “mimic cover” (Magnus, Magnus and Uidhir 2013). The literature generally does not address issues of cover-practitioner’s identity, nor how the practice of covering impacts on musician’s originals music making. My analysis is also informed by literature on Dunedin music making – specifically research that focusses on the historically significant ‘Dunedin Sound’ originals scene. I argue that through covering, Dunedin musicians contradict dominant identifications that have been previously emphasised in both the literature and mediatised representations of the musical scene of Dunedin, NZ, and subvert traditional positionings of Dunedin musical artists by formulating and expressing a complex identity. The participants I interviewed for this research clearly identify that their covering directly support their originals pursuits in multifarious ways. Participants also identify a stigma associated with covering, and reinforce this by emphasising their own desire to perform originals, and thus highlight the key concepts that underpin the identity politics among musicians in this context. 



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