2020 Arts Foundation Laureate receiving the award for music and literature
Shayne Carter is one of New Zealand’s most iconic musicians, rock god and author famously known for his part in the post-punk music scene in Dunedin during the Flying Nun years.
Carter began playing music as a teenager and was involved with rock groups during his secondary schooling. Growing up in the rough Dunedin suburb of Brockville, he found punk music as a way to escape. "There were lots of places I didn't really feel like I fitted in ... If punk hadn't come along and if music hadn't come along, I really don't know if I'd have made it, to be honest."
Following high school, Carter worked at Radio 4XO as a journalist and later campus radio station Radio One. In 1983 Carter and Wayne Elsey formed The Doublehappys along with their high school friend John Collie. Wayne Elsey died in a freak accident on a train in 1984. Collie and Carter continued on in 1985 to form Straitjacket Fits. Straitjacket Fits released Hail in 1988, Melt in 1990, and Blow in 1993. Carter won Top Male Vocalist and Blow won Best Album at the 1994 New Zealand Music Awards. Straitjacket Fits were the first New Zealand based band to sign to a major American label, with Melt and Blow being released by Arista in the U.S.
Following the breakup of Straitjacket Fits in 1994, Carter formed the group Dimmer in 1995, their first single Crystalator was released by American label Sub Pop in the same year. Dimmer’s debut album I Believe You Are A Star was released in 2001 and Carter won the Most Outstanding Musician at the 2001 bNet NZ Music Awards, the New Zealand Herald also picked it as Album of the Year. Dimmer ultimately released four albums, including You’ve Got To Hear the Music in 2004, which won Best Rock Album and Best Group at the New Zealand Music Awards. Carter has worked on countless projects across the spectrum, some of which include being a member of Carter Morley and Yeats, a free noise band with members of the Dead C.
As Dimmer came to an end in 2012, Carter learned to play the piano and recorded an album with it as the main instrument. Performing as Shayne P Carter, he released Offisider in 2015.
Carter has inspired generations of music lovers, music makers and many in our community with lyrical, highly original, honest and beautifully crafted songs. Carter has helped shape the emotional landscape of our nation with his prolific music output, and his unstoppable energy as a performer.
Nick Bollinger said in 2019 “To me, Shayne Carter really stands head and shoulders above pretty much the whole of the Dunedin scene. I mean there were some other brilliant musicians, don’t get me wrong. But Shayne was different. Shayne was a rock star, and he knew it. He was actually aware of his charisma and what it meant to be a performer.”
In 2019 Carter published his autobiography Dead People I have Known which won both the Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction and the MitoQ Best First Book Awards: E H McCormick Prize for General Non-Fiction at the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.