The New Zealand Dance scene is evolving, where has it been and what happened as a result. Where could it be heading, why would it head in that direction.
19 Aug 2001
I just started a new job in Christchurch. I have this workmate; he is eighteen and regards himself as a Drum & Bass producer. In essence he is, because he will become one. He understands the concept, he understands the role a Producer would play in a music scene. He understands what he needs to do and how to go about doing it.
This does not surprise me. I have been waiting for this to happen. This guy was in Form one when was putting on its first Drum & Bass parties. Back then nobody knew what it was. I remember when I first heard Drum & Bass. I was at 'Ultrasonic' a rave at the Westend, which was an old movie theater with all the seats, removed.
Classic, everyone dancing in descending rows facing the front, hands in the air, Slipmatt in the crowd with a Super-soaker water pistol and a bag of lollypops. The main sound for the night was happy hardcore and gabba. The sound system must have been all of 10K and there were two Martin 518 Roboscans for lighting.
Right at the end of the night, I'm not sure who it was, but they dropped Goldie 'Inner City Life', oh boy. I remember it because everything had been so hard and fast and all of a sudden it was like carpet being pulled out from under my feet. Nobody knew what to do, the energy was and when the break started to tickle in, everyone went skit-so!
After raving to hardcore all-night and chasing high-hats with fingers knees and nods, the break was just an excess of fingers knees and nods. Too much, the whole floor was in rapture, they had been out hard cored and out ambienced all at once. Not a single person left the floor though.
It was a distinctive experience for Christchurch. It was the start of the 'vibe' that continues to makes its mark on the global Drum & Bass scene.
It took a few years for Drum & Bass to separate itself from the happy hardcore and . It was usually played late or mixed in by the more adventures Dj's. Eventually though you could have a party with just Drum & Bass and people would attend without expecting other music.
I consider the Dj's from this early era as 'First Generation' Dj's. They were the people who played music you had never heard before and without them you would never have had the chance. From these Dj's came the 'Second Generation' of Dj's. I consider myself part of this second generation. We were inspired by what we heard and saw, but we also were frustrated by the fact it was always the same people behind the decks. We wanted it our way.
Second Generation Dj's often-introduced a new style of sound or they forged crews with First Generation Dj's to strengthen a sound. In my opinion these Dj's are often the most innovative and original Dj's you hear. However most of them remain obscure.
There has been a continual development and expansion of Dj circles. However the First generation by and large still dominates the top shelf in this country. is still at the top of his game, as he was when I was fifteen. has Drum & Bass squarely under his heel. Slipmatt, now , is a clear master in his own field. is still the king monkey. (Simon Swain is the ruling net lord of dance)
There is a 'Third Generation' of Dj's. They started to appear around the time of the second Gathering. The Gathering was an amazing event for giving a huge number of Dj's their first, second and ongoing access to the public on a big sound rig. Previous to this there were few other events for them to play. First Generation Dj's were still promoting the parties and the spare slots were filled with the obvious Second Generation.
The other thing that opened up the scene to more Dj's was more clubs.
Before 1996 most cities in New Zealand had one true dance club, this being where the Dj's played vinyl and you wouldn't hear M-people.
(It should be noted here, there is a whole separate evolution of Dj's which is the club or commercial Dj's who grew up listening and playing Black Box, Exponents, Men at Work, Wham. These groups of Dj's are responsible for another whole tangent of what is now the dance scene. One such example is Grant Quinn).
The other sweet and sour aspect was International Dj's. They brought new sounds, styles and inspiration. They also took away a lot of attention and financial resources from the local scene. I saw Derrick Carter play more times in two years than some local Dj's. Each time he walked away with enough money to put me through university. However internationals gave the scene a media profile and a boost in people willing to pay for dance.
By 1998 most cites were seeing the arrival of their third dance club with at least one or two others toying with dance events now and again.
This was where Third Generation Dj's really got their foot in. Until this time most Dj's had been party Dj's, the advent of clubs and the sale of liquor dictated a different style of Dj. Most party Dj's could not, or preferred not to adapt their styles. So a new rank of club breed Dj's began to appear favoring more predictable and accessible music styles. i.e. Club music!
Around about here Dj's and associates began to make their own tunes. There have always been Kiwi dance producers but most of these are musicians who were inspired by dance and crossed the electronic fence.
The development of producers born and breed within the dance scene has been slow. Or more accurately it's taken a while for the concept to mature within New Zealand dance culture. Until now access to the defining levels of the scene have been working in a record shop being a Dj or a party promoter.
The idea of making music, being a producer, has been popular but also distant in its potential for success or acceptance. Politics and the volatile nature of the scene have meant that few core groups or communities have survived for long periods. Only now is our history creating enough of a platform that new people to the scene are finding immediate comfort.
Dunedin, out of all the cities I have been, has had the longest running continuous community of Dj's and parties. The core fabric of regular events and participation has provided a scene that nurtures its producers. There is a strong presence of live and original electronic dance music at nearly every dance event.
The other city that reflects this is Wellington. At the core of the original dance community in Wellington is a similar strength. There is a history and there is support for local producers. In Wellington this is fusion bands that combine electronic and live mediums to create dance sounds, also unique pure electronic producers.
Auckland probably has the strongest current community and the greatest amount of popular history surrounding its producers. A more dispersed scene closer to the main media networks, aggressive promoters working in a larger economy. All this has resulted in a large environment for the new and fresh producers to put out their sound and for older established producers to come forward into public light.
So now that I'm working with an eighteen year old who claims to be a producer, I am excited and I believe him. He may not be aware himself but the scene is set for him and others alike.
The history of dance in New Zealand is such that the new generations have clear confidence. There is less doubt about what it is all about, and less doubt about what is going on. There is a commercially viable scene with people who make a legitimate living from dance culture. There is commentary and visual representation and feedback through magazines, there is some television presence. I even heard the term Drum & Bass used in context without explanation on National Radio. There is an excess of festivals, event, venues, parties and clubs.
The slash and burn days of cultural establishment are well over. Dance culture is here to stay. The underground nature is gone and missed; the paranoia and isolation have gone with it. Dance culture in New Zealand has matured; the new generations involved understand what needs to be done. They understand what they want and they understand how to get it. They are already starting to do it; we could be just to old school to know!