Everybody dance now
The summer rock tour is quickly being overtaken by outdoor music festivals and DJ events. Grant Smithies reports on less beer, more fun and boys who can dance.
Mikey Havoc is pondering the death of the Great New Zealand Beer Monster Summer Rock Tour. Or perhaps not its death, but certainly its evolution into something else.
Darwin would be proud. Ten years ago the Christmas/New Year music circuit was all about beer, barbecues, beaches and bloody loud touring bands who set out boldly from the main centres to lighten the wallets of locals and holidaymakers out in the provinces. Either that or you gathered up your mates and headed to one of the summer rock festivals and stood with several thousand other intoxicated people in a muddy field for a few days, eating greasy over-priced food, avoiding the overflowing Portaloos and listening to loud guitar bands with a warm Lion Red in your hand.
Either way, the guitar was king, Rock was the soundtrack, dancing was something women did and music designed specifically for dancing, such as disco, was considered highly suspect.
These days dance parties are pulling far more punters than rock gigs, and several promoters, electronic acts and DJs - Havoc included - are gearing up to take a whole new style of show on the road.
"I've done my time with summer rock tours around New Zealand," shudders Havoc, thinking back on the days he used to strap on his tights as lead singer of pop metal moppets, Push Push. "It had its good sides and its crap sides as well. This DJ tour should be a lot more fun, because it's during the day so it's more mellow. With bands there's all this 'wonder if they'll be any good - better get hammered before we go - hope I score a chick' stuff.
"I don't want to say that more New Zealanders have finally come around to dance music or anything patronising like that because you shouldn't judge anyone by what music they're into.
"But one good thing with dance music is that there's a lot less to prove. It's less competitive than rock and also it's more fun. Every time you go out to one of these parties you can have a good time, and that was unusual in New Zealand culture for a long time.
"There's no way that every weekend was excellent back then," he laughs, recalling half-full pub gigs where the carpets were sticky with spilt beer, the PA sounded like it was dying and the night ended with a brawl in the car park. "But it seems to be that way now!"
The tour in question is the Summer Hummer, a dance party on wheels that's due to over-excite the young and disgruntle the elderly in summer resorts such as Pauanui, Whakatane and Mount Maunganui over the coming month. A Hummer is a military jeep on steroids: the kind of over-sized all-terrain vehicle Arnold Schwarzenegger drives around his estate without a hint of post-war irony.
"It's a fantastic piece of machinery," gushes Havoc. "Absolutely indestructible. And it's been kitted out with a generator and a huge sound system that folds out off the sides, with a stage and turntables at the back so you can park it up and boom out an instant party. It's loud as all hell. Me and Roger [Perry] are taking two weeks off to play at all the places we'd want to go anyway, even if we weren't working."
Why exactly? The money? The sun? The beach babe groupies? "For fun, mostly. I'm really looking forward to just going out to these places and playing people good house music really, really loud under the sun down on the beach. Playing out in the provinces is a bit more fun than Auckland, because there's far less wank involved. People are just up for having a good time, and not so precious about the whole thing. And also there's just so much more of a sense of participation and camaraderie with dance parties. With rock you're often asked to stand in whatever spot you ended up when you came in, facing the stage and listening to someone talk about themselves for an hour and a half and then go home. Not much fun in that, is there?"
Tiki Taane of Christchurch bass bandits Salmonella Dub agrees. The Dubsters are going on the road with electronic soundscapers Pitch Black and rapper King Kapisi on an extensive Outdoor Styles summer tour, hauling their woofer-worrying sound from Raglan, Whitianga and Gisbourne in the north right down to Kaikoura and Timaru in the south.
Somewhere in the middle they play The Gathering, the biggest outdoor music event in the country despite its stubborn rocklessness.
We're using outdoor venues wherever we can so it will be like a mini Gathering touring festival kind of vibe," says Taane. "I think it's the first time it's been done in this country, and if it goes well we'd love to do it every year. In the past it's always been rock bands like the Exponents, but people have become more accepting of electronic music, dance music and hip hop in recent times, rather than just the ususal rock guitars and beer monsters with mullets.
"That whole heavy-drinking piss-head rock culture seems to have diminished a bit, partly because there's so many other intoxicants out there these days, and I think people are just wanting a change from the usual heavy-drinking summer holiday stuff they used to do. They want something a bit fresher, to go out and hear good music in a nice environment rather than badly mixed, distorted guitars coming off a tiny stage in some suffocating smoky bar."
Taane cites Nelson's Gathering as the event that probably opened a lot of people's eyes to the possibilities of big bass, beating sun and outdoor beauty. After four blissfully rock-free years, the event is still going strong, despite a deluge last year of such biblical proportions, you almost expected to see animals gathering together to await the ark.
Every year an incredibly diverse group make the Gathering pilgrimage (old people, teenagers, stockbrokers who're slumming it, ferals who've crawled out of the manuka in mud-caked ponchos heavily accessorised with organically-reared naked schildren, big city club-kids in hot pants and fluffy bras), yet big rock festivals such as Sweetwaters, close to major population centres like Auckland, go belly-up.
Taane puts it down primarily to "Aotearoa's growing family of bassheads" and our beautiful outdoor environment.
"Having just got back from overseas [touring in France], you really notice the difference," he says. "The grass, the trees, the open spaces, fresh air, good weather. And it brings out the best in people being outside. Hopefully on this tour there'll be no trouble and lots of love, you know, and we can look at doing it every year."
A DJ/philosopher friend of mine recently noted that when you go to a rock concert there're 10,000 people staring at four egos on a stage, while at a dance party there're 10,000 people all interacting with each other. Havoc and Taane both agree that - inside or outside - dance music is more about a social event rather than a performance.
While a lot of rock music is still mired in an hilariously macho boys' club mentality, dance music - in theory at least - is all about unity, about male and female, gay and straight, black and white, young and old getting down and getting sweaty together on the same dancefloor.
They had a great little club in Ohakune at one stage and I remember me and Roger Perry played a blistering gig there one night," recalls Havoc. "I turned around and spotted this guy who was apparently from the Waiourou army camp, standing in the middle of this crowd of about 300 people who were having the best time of their lives, just going absolutely mental in this tiny ski town. He was doing that age-old New Zealand thing with one thumb hooked in his belt and the other holding his beer, glaring at everyone like they were complete dicks! I thought 'Hang on. That is the pot calling the kettle black, brother. Look at yourself!'"
To Havoc, events such as the Summer Hummer, Outdoor Styles and The Gathering are helping put guys like this on the endangered species list.
"That whole concept of being staunch, which I think a whole lot of New Zealand relies on, doesn't work in dance music. It's really hard to remain staunch when you're surrounded by a couple of hundred smiling, dancing people, up to your ass in bass, amd some diva is shrieking 'Can you feel my love' out of huge speaker stacks at you."