Gore is known for its big fish, alleged rates of incest, and for some reason, country music. If we’re wondering what Gore has to do with the American South, that pretty much answers the question.
The success of country music in New Zealand, and Gore in particular, mimics the reasons it was so successful in America in the first place. Socially and physically, the landscapes are eerily similar. Much like the southern United States, the South Island is known for agriculture and ranching, and these rural areas are where the country finds its greatest success. In both regions, white settlers were primarily British, Irish and Scottish emigrants, who brought folk songs and instrumental influences that lent themselves incredibly well to country. Music created by Appalachian folk singers mixed with blues and black jazz to become “country music”, and by the time some particularly emo Pākehā settlers decided to name their town “Gore”, the genre was already well established. When he made his way to the shores of the South Island, he found a population ready to adopt the same styles, messages and dances in which he was born.
A hallmark of country music is that songs often tell some sort of story, whether it’s “fuck my boss” (9-5 by Dolly Parton), or “my ex’s gonna regret it” (Before He Cheats by Carrie Underwood.) The recurring themes in the stories of these songs tend to attract and relate to what has been mentioned above; drinking as a social bond, freedom, agency, family, being the underdog and making your own way in the world. And it all resonates most with the kind of tight-knit rural populations of towns like Gore.
We spoke with Amber, whose family is part of Gore. She had just been placed there and said that “now that I’m back in Gore, I’ve already heard too many country songs for my taste”. Not that she hated country music per se, but “I mean I just can’t take a town seriously when they have a glorified cowboy fancy dress day when they have the annual celebrations of the country music (can’t remember what they call it). “It’s called the annual Tussock Country Music Festival, and it features the MLT NZ Golden Guitars and the NZ Country Music Awards. The Golden Guitars are New Zealand’s largest and longest-running country music competition, with their website stating “audience levels reach over 5,000 with entries in all sections and events totaling 700 competitors” . Amber said: “I’ve only been to Gore once when this event was happening and it stuck with me, I already didn’t like country music and now I was surrounded by cowboy hats , guitars and so much country music.”
Amber said country music excels in Gore because it’s full of “old farmers, wellies and flannels,” and it’s true that just as country music traditionally goes hand in hand with conservatism in the Rural America, there is no difference in New Zealand. The average caricature of a South Island farmer features a wife-beater’s jersey, rubber boots and a firm national vote – if not neo-conservative. Country music, with these themes of self-sufficiency, individual ownership and frustration with authority, often appeals to conservatism, giving it the opportunity to thrive in places like the American South and the Isle of South.
This kind of nationalistic country music emerged primarily after 9/11, when America tied its identity to the flag and wrapped it in country tunes. Before 9/11, country music was mostly anti-establishment. It was less “I love Jesus, my truck and my 12-pack of beers” and more “if the bank wants my money, they’ll have to kill me and my whole family”. And while this new country has seeped into the mainstream, there are still plenty of other countries to celebrate.
You can shout out to party country, like Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy, Dicked Down in Dallas, and Old Town Road. The frustration and celebration of the female experience can be found in Kacey Musgraves’ Breadwinner, Loretta Lynn’s The Pill and all of Shania Twain’s discography. Women’s country music itself has a wide range of genres, with two generic categories of “Girl’s Girl” country and “Pick Me” country, covering everything from screaming to shitty men, to universal struggles for all women in the pay gaps, catcalling, and having the general shitty end of the stick. Country music sung by men is diverse, with categories such as “I miss her so much,” “I want to get drunk to death,” “Fuck the police,” and “I’m socially inept, so I ride a horse. and I’m talking about sunsets.
So while Gore crunches on one of his many country tunes, don’t automatically hate him. Country music is rooted in the anti-establishment, nature-loving spirit we’ve all come to love, and there’s a genre for you, partner.