By Paul Ballard
Things in Auckland are about to get very weird, but luckily in a good way. Weird Together is the studio and live collaborative music project from NZ producer and DJ Dick Johnson and George FM Breakfast andMaking Tracks host Nick Dwyer, and this week they celebrate the launch of their new debut EP 'Chale'. Recorded at Auckland's Red Bull Studios, Chale includes the vocal talents of Ghana native Yaw Boateng(ZohZoh) and features Burundian drums, Sudanese vocalists, Fijian Lali players, and Japanese Taiko Drummers just to name a few. It is a celebration of their musical passion for all things global, and together with Celery Productions they also get to indulge things further with an event extravaganza this Saturday 25th May at the newly re-developed Victoria Park Markets. A Weird Night Out will be a multi-zoned night of deviancy, featuring themed rooms, fruity vibes and a massive selection of sensational DJ's and musicians including Weird Together as a nine piece band. I caught up with Nick to get the lowdown on what has been a wild ride so far...
You and Dick are probably better known for your involvements in the dance music scene, but your personal experiences during the Making Tracks series was obviously a key starter in getting this project together, would that be a correct assumption?
Yeah it's interesting. I guess in the last ten years - or in fact my whole life actually - I have been really interested in new music, that's kind of why I got swept up in the electronic side of things. Like most people who are passionate about new music, you kind of start to delve deeper and further afield and as part of that I got really into the whole Tropicalia scene when I visited Brazil in 2002. The following year I was in Africa for the first time and it opened my ears to some amazing African music. Most people, particularly of our generation anyway, their first contact with African music was Paul Simon's Graceland...
It was pretty much the staple in every household at the time...
Of course you have Fela Kuti who is also known globally, but it wasn't until I actually went there that I really opened my ears to it and I basically jumped down a complete wormhole of African music [laughs]. Over the last ten years I have been traveling a lot and it was definitely consolidated with Making Tracks. As my knowledge of the world of music got bigger and bigger, I kept hearing all these beautiful sounds and I kept thinking "someone should do something with these". It's funny because I met Dick when he first came out here, in fact I interviewed him when I was working on a show for Max TV in the mid 90s. We have been good friends ever since and had always joked about one day making some music...
So the timing was right to finally start making things happen?
Well that really was only part of how Weird Together was born. The other part was that off the back of Making Tracks I was being asked to host and be involved in a lot of community projects. I got involved with the Auckland Cultural Festival and it totally blew me away. I mean, we know that Auckland is multicultural but seeing the actual extent of it, seeing ALL of those nations together was amazing. We have about 120 nations represented in Auckland so I was able to meet a lot of different musicians during that time. I kept thinking how great it would be to use the electronic contemporary sounds of 'our' world and then get these amazing other 'sounds of the world' into a context that I guess our audience would understand. The hope then would be that they too would start to delve a little deeper. So yeah, we now have this great band of awesome people from all over the world and it's really starting to take shape.
I love that whole concept of sharing a sound and exposing different cultures through music, especially to an audience that probably would never think to look for it initially...
I have always kind of hated the term 'World Music' and I hate the connotations that a lot of people have, especially in the western world. There is this notion that World Music is like "deep-forest-yuppie-indie" or some barely clothed villagers in the middle of a Third World country, banging a primitive drum. That's such a ridiculous notion. Some of the most exciting music in the world right now is being produced in places like Ghana, and right now even the house music scene in South Africa is just as relevant and cutting edge as what you would find in Berlin. It really is about showing people that this is what the reality of music 'right now' in the world is all about; it's a lot more vibrant and contemporary than you can possibly imagine.
So where does the name Weird Together come into the mix?
It's funny man, back in 2007 I had discovered the Ethiopiques compilations and was really delving into artists such as Mulatu Astatqe and Mahmoud Ahmad, and the soundtrack work to the film Broken Flowers directed by Jim Jarmusch. We just thought "let's go into the studio and do something!" On the back of that we literally had one session and we recorded this electronic cut using some samples from some of these Ethio-jazz records that I had. It was awesome but we never really did anything with it. I think a couple of years passed and we had always talked about keeping the project going but it wasn't until Dick and I were in the studio one day and a mutual friend walked in and said "what are you guys up to? You look weird together" that the name was finally born! [laughs]
So did you see this as a 'live' thing or were you purely looking to record and get some releases out there?
It started off initially as a studio thing but then very quickly it became about the live show. Actually it all came about last year when I was talking it up like "yeah, we've got this project Weird Together, it's gonna be great, it's a full band blah blah". Of course, we didn't have a full band at all - but then we actually got booked to play. That was when we actually realised that we need to get a band together! [laughs]. Luckily I had been in contact with all these great musicians and we just started making music. Naturally and organically this band evolved. Dick and I originally had this idea that we would simply make music in the studio and kind of play along to that, but we have a solid band now and over the last year we have worked together and recorded together. Everything we make now is all about how it translates live. There's nine members in the band now and it's all about the live show.
You have the new EP released this week called 'Chale', what does that name refer to?
When we were making the second series of Making Tracks we were doing some filming in Ghana which is such a friendly warm and welcoming country. Everywhere you go they would all yell at you "Hey Chale!" so I guess it's like the equivalent of "Hey Bro!". Literally it is an expression you hear a lot of when you are in Ghana. In fact historically it comes from when the American G.I's were there post World War II, so what was 'Charlie' has now been shortened to 'Chale'.
And there are some remixes on the EP too?
Yep apart from the main track, there are some great remixes on there too. There is an amazing remix fromKids of 88 which is great to be able to release as part of this package. There is also a great rework on there byFlowers & Keepsakes who are also doing some great things at the moment. Jeremy Toy also features a remix on there that really nails that vintage 1950s-60s highlife West African guitar sound, which is wonderful. He wanted to go for something quite traditional sounding and it really works.
From how you have described things, your sound is very upbeat?
Totally man, we have got three steel pan players in the band so that very much creates a signature sound for us. I mean, to me growing up that was like the most amazing sound, that whole carnival thing which we have all experienced at some time or another. To have three steel pan players in the group is awesome. It's all really danceable, it's all stuff to get you moving. As well as the steel pans we have some stuff with a Balkan style horn section, so as you can imagine it is very upbeat and infectious!
That leads us nicely to the event you guys are hosting this Saturday at the Victoria Park Markets...
Yeah man A Weird Night Out is going to be such a great event. I have been so passionate about going out in this city for so long and I kind of feel like a lot of it is driven around clubs and all that. By comparison you travel to places like Berlin or London and there are really cool events happening all year round. We all just want to get back to where going out is an experience. I mean, why do we have to wait until it's summer or the big festivals to get that experience? Why can't we try and recreate that notion of a night out being an adventure, just on a normal weekend? It has been great to team up with Celery Productions on this one, and they will completely transform the venue with all these additional theatrics and some of our favourite bands and DJs playing too. What a perfect place to have a magical night out!
And it all coincides with the opening of the re-developed Markets too, was that intentional?
Totally, but the main intention was that you have this amazing venue with all these empty spaces, which won't be empty for long. It is kind of like a blank canvas for us to throw a party in these amazing rooms before they get handed back over to the vendors. The event is really about a collaboration. It is our chance to pull something together creatively and combine what we do separately to try and make something different and exciting in Auckland city!
‘A Weird Night Out' at Victoria Park Markets on Saturday 25th May
A multi-zone one-night extravaganza featuring themed rooms, fruity vibes and a massive selection of sensational DJ's and musicians including Weird Together as a 9 piece band, Boycrush, She's So Rad Disco Mix, Paydirt, Tommy Flowers, Yam James & Chica Licoria and many more special guests.
‘A Weird Night Out' tickets available from iticket.co.nz
Weird Together's EP 'Chale' is out Friday May 24th via iTunes