From the jangly “Dunedin sound” of the early ‘80s to the more recent sensations of Kimbra, Lorde, Aldous Harding and Marlon Williams – they all had to start somewhere. And that somewhere is often a small local venue, the kind of social meeting place that’s as crucial to a town as its hospitality venues, accommodation and sights worth seeing.

Here’s a guide to six venues worth pinning on the map if you’re a live music enthusiast.

Whammy Bar, Auckland
It’s dark, grungy and intimate. Welcome to the Whammy, the best dive bar Auckland. The venue has long been an incubator for underground bands on the rise, but it’s also a favourite haunt for established acts that love the close-quarters atmosphere and crowd interaction. Located in the middle of the nightlife action on Karangahape Road (down the stairs inside St Kevins Arcade), it’s a must-visit for anyone needing their alternative music fix.

Crown Hotel, Dunedin
The “Dunedin sound” came to define a musical genre back in the early 1980s, when the southern city nurtured bands such as the Clean and the Chills. Like those heady days, live music devotees gravitating to casual gigs in local pubs remains the lifeblood of any scene. Built in 1862, the Crown is Dunedin’s oldest pub, and pays homage to the city’s jangly guitar forefathers with photos of bands from the glory days hung in frames behind the stage. The easy-going vibe falls somewhere between a bowls club and a living room, with a maximum of 150 people able to dance, order jugs of beer and soak up the history while discovering something new.

Meow, Wellington
Wellington’s premium mid-sized venue, Meow, is a modern bar with retro touches, and one of the coolest late-night music spots in the capital city. Located in the hidden party precinct of Edward Street, it’s easy to be lured in to the eclectic and spacious room, even if bands aren’t playing. The kitchen serves up generous shared plates and moreish burgers, while hop-heavy craft beer flows through the taps. Bands love playing here for the ambience, roomy stage and high-end sound and light system. Happy hour usually runs on Friday evenings, and don’t be surprised to encounter something completely unexpected – like the odd ping-pong tournament.

Powerstation, Auckland
A stalwart of Auckland’s live music scene, the iconic Powerstation has welcomed national and international bands for more than 30 years. Think of any band and chances are they’ve taken the stage, from the Pixies, Radiohead and Lorde, to Australia’s own Courtney Barnett, Flight Facilities and the Temper Trap. The black building on Mount Eden Road boasts a balcony level, an exceptional sound and light system, and a guaranteed roster of top acts. For some reason it feels raw and intimate for a 1000-capacity venue, especially when big-name bands fill the room, and there’s even a new multi-purpose Compactstation within the building for smaller bands, configured for 200 punters.

Stomach, Palmerston North
The city of Palmerston North, two hours’ drive north of Wellington, is more famous for its agricultural university than its music. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a verdant arts scene. The not-for-profit organisation Creative Sounds Society has been showcasing local talent for more than 30 years, and regularly puts on gigs at The Stomach, an all-ages, alcohol-free venue a short walk from the centre of town. Run with a distinctly DIY ethos, with bands hiring the venue and promoting their own shows, the 100-person capacity venue is an inclusive space with a true sense of community. Expect anything from electronica, rock and reggae to indie, heavy metal and folk.

Darkroom, Christchurch
The stage might be small, but the atmosphere is big at Christchurch’s Darkroom, a converted warehouse on St Asaph Street in Christchurch’s CBD. Friendly staff, a great selection of local craft beer and a tasty bar menu make it a great destination for any lover of original music. Opening in 2011, the Darkroom has been instrumental in supporting the creative community in the garden city. It might only fit under 100 people, but that hasn’t stopped luminaries such as Marlon Williams gracing the stage. Gigs are always free entry and the venue is open Thursday to Sunday nights, plus the first Wednesday of the month for open mic night.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism New Zealand.