By Rachel Froggatt, Janine Swail and Charlotte Rose
Date / Venue: December 30-31 - Cardrona Valley, Wanak
Day 2 at Rhythm and Alps dawned overcast as sleepy campers began to stir for the first time around 8am. We commando-rolled out of our tents and spent the first hour reliving the highlights from Day 1, agreeing that it was a three-way tie between Dub FX, Devilskin and the brutal game of Jenga we witnessed in the VIP tent. Slowly we got ourselves moving, although an unexpected battle with a local wasp saw one of us spend an hour sitting with a foot in the river. Another wandered off to check out the showering facilities and returned dismayed, reporting that these were not only communal but unisex, essentially made up of a giant sprinkler system under which hundreds of toned and tanned millennials were stood, flexing their muscles and flirting away. After a quick brainstorm we piled into the car heading to the showers at the local pool facilities in Wanaka. On arrival, we realised we weren’t the only clever cookies to think of this, but it proved a great solution for a fee of only $5 and the showers were vaguely warm. After a massive feast in town to energy-load, we were on our way back to Cardrona anticipating yet another epic day in the music site as we headed toward 2017.
Trotting through the gates, we topped up our microchip bracelets and off we went again. This time, a day older and therefore much wiser, we avoided the watered down lager and this time hit the cocktail bar in the VIP area for the first time. From our perch on the wooden seats out front, we caught the end of Gareth Thomas’ set on the main ‘Alpine Stage’. He was followed by Spikey Tee, one of London’s original “rude boys”, a 20-year veteran, hip hop pioneer and founding member of The Sindecut. Now an Australian resident, the DJ proved very popular with the late afternoon crowd. Shortly after that, Isaac Chambers took to the stage for an electronic set. He did not appeal to us, talking almost more than playing. Frustrated with the lack of music, we decided to head back around to check out Stage 2, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and Stage 3, ‘The Cabin’. At that point, neither were pumping, despite David Boogie and T-Bone being in situ, respectively.
Running low on pink fruity cocktails, we decided to head back to the VIP area for a top up and to prepare for a set by the award-winning Pacific Heights. Devin Abrams, the man behind the moniker, recently picked up the award for ‘Best Electronic Album’ at the 2016 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards for his album ‘The Stillness’, after leaving Shapeshifter last year to pursue his own projects. We were not at all disappointed. His set certainly kicked off the climb toward midnight. As Abrams exited, folk artist Graeme James unexpectedly took to the stage for a quick 10minute set, while Arma Del Amor set-up in the background. He took the crowd by storm, with his cheeky humour and mix of instruments, including an electronic fiddle that brought back memories of home for our resident Irish lass, who was up front dancing a jig within seconds. We were to later realise that we had missed an hour long set with James earlier in the day, but this disappointment was allayed the following day when we discovered him playing live in the historic Cardrona Hotel. More on this later.
Arma Del Amor, like all previous acts, was bang on time following a festival schedule so regimented a Swiss train conductor would have cried. Playing on home soil, the soul sound of the Wanaka-based electronic duo took us into dusk. Not to underplay the musical genius of this act, which included clarinets, base guitar, saxophones and guest voices, it was very low key following the short energy spike provided by Graeme James. As Sachi got ready on stage, we made our way back into the VIP tent for another cocktail. At this point, we speculated that paying the extra money for a VIP upgrade could be a great option for the more discerning punter. The environment was mellow, the view unparalleled and the services provided such as a clean flushing toilet and free phone charging were all very appreciated. By the time you calculate the extra cash spent on low quality alcohol in the main music area, the extra investment in an upgrade would likely deliver a better experience overall. Finding the Jenga unattended, we decided to embark upon our own personal dual. Following the classic rules of “one-hand-only” (allowing us to still grasp our newly procured wine with the other), we were surprisingly steady-handed and drew the attention of the entire tent. In undertaking this battle, we were sure to keep an eagle eye out for crazy Jenga warriors, including the girl who won the bet we mentioned yesterday and the hostile girlfriend of a guy we had played against earlier. That battle had ended in tears when she stormed over and karate kicked the tower down in rage at our temerity.
With Irish finally admitting defeat, despite being so competitive she nearly painted herself blue, we departed the tent again and headed out to catch the end of Sachi’s set. The pairing, just 18-years-of-age, showed maturity well beyond their years, easily holding the attention of the crowd for nearly an hour. They played tracks from ‘Lunch with Bianca’, their first collaboration, which merges influences from street, club and base cultures into a unique sound. They have already garnered notable international attention, despite still being rooted in New Zealand’s hip hop scene. At that moment in time, we decided to do a quick circle around the other stages to see what was happening, but quickly returned to the main ‘Alpine Stage’ as our priority was to see the New Year in with Six60.
Festival headliners, Six60, drew the biggest crowd of the weekend so far following their momentous success of the past few years with radio favourites and future carpool karaoke classics such as ‘Rise Up 2.0’. Surprisingly, given the typically rigid festival schedule, the band took to the stage a few minutes late after the crowd was encouraged to sing along to a recording of Bohemian Rhapsody. The guys kicked off with ‘Special’ and the former scarfies then acknowledged their background in Otago, with a heartfelt thanks to the crowd before an epic version of ‘Don’t Forget Your Roots’. The set clipped along at a rapid rate, however the knock-on effect of the late start meant that the last song before midnight ran over until 12.01am. The fireworks began bang on midnight, halfway through this song, with the confused crowd unsure of whether to sing, cheer or snog their honey. Six60 also seemed bemused, suggesting we all do a mock countdown anyway. Bit disappointing as we had thought there would be a bit more ceremony, but never mind, they launched straight into a very energetic version of ‘White Lines’ and with a glass of bubbly in hand we decided not to worry.
Six60 gave way to the final act scheduled to grace the ‘Alpine Stage’, Pitch Black. The partnership between Mike Hodgson and Paddy Free celebrated its 20th anniversary with an epic set. The crowd remained very mixed, with millennials and the older Gen X fans getting down to the electronica in sync with each other. The duo sampled mixes from right across their double decade discography, which was incredibly well received by the early 2017 revellers despite incoming rain from the Alps.
At this point, we gave up and happily traipsed our way back to the tent grasping helpings of pulled pork over fries (please check out Vagabond Chefs – yummy for more reasons than their pork, LOL). We collapsed into bed, congratulating ourselves on breaking the cycle of underwhelming New Years’ celebrations, safe in the knowledge that it could not get better than this. Oh how little did we know...
The following day, with winds gusting, we (unlike everyone else it seemed) packed up all our gear and tidied up, while dodging the hurricane of unpegged tents rolling from one end of the camp site to the other. From there, we headed over to the Cardrona Hotel. Here we were unexpectedly reunited with folk singer Graeme James, leading to an uninterrupted 3-hour set with a man that must surely be poised to take over the New Zealand folk-music scene at any minute. We caught up with him afterward and congratulated him on his recent Tui nomination for his debut album ‘News from Nowhere’ and we plan to chase him down at the Auckland Folk Festival at the end of this month. With a good feed, great music and hair of the dog, this topped off our New Year in an epic way.
Congratulations to the organisers of Rhythm and Alps, we’ll certainly be back again!