Rhythm & Alps 2015

By Sam Dickson

Date / Venue: December 30-31: Cardrona Valley, Wanaka

Three distinct stages. Sixty acts from home and abroad. Thousands of good-looking party people. All watched over by the most spectacular of alpine ranges. Rhythm and Alps 2015 was ready to go. But first I had a tent to pitch.

After solving that Rubik's Cube it was time to meet the neighbours. I'm mentioning this because for the next two days we were a community of thousands working towards a common goal - having a fuckload of fun. Whether it was the Brits next door ready to go large or Eli the Naked Fat Guy down the way, for the next two days we were all in this together.

I could hear the summery tones of Son's of Zion wafting toward the campsite from the main stage. It was time to get amongst it. Perhaps it was Zion's silky jams or the smell of dank bud in the air, but arriving in the main arena there was a noticeable calm across the crowd. Perhaps this was the calm before a perfect storm.

Katchafire followed on the main stage, getting everyone up with their radio-friendly brand of roots music. The sun was starting to set as they warmed up a cool afternoon with their much-loved concoction of harmonies and horns.

Having filled my quota of reggae for the day I headed across the field for my first of many visits to The Cabin - which as the name suggests is quite literally a wooden cabin. Inside I was treated to a dope set from Onehunga rapper Spycc. His on point rhymes and old record samples, took me back to the feel-good jams of 90's hip-hop. Spycc had a lot of fun with the crowd too, making sure we were in a party mood.

Next up in The Cabin was local disc jockey Ribera, who right from the outset reminded everyone present what we were there to do - dance. Dropping floor destroyers like Benzie Box, Digital Rust's Loophole, and A Fine Way to Die by GRiZ, his nasty grooves got lips curling and glad eyes shooting left and right. The perfect way to take us from dusk into the dark night.

Cue the WTWTA stage. Looking like a spaceship that had touched down in the trees, this was ground zero for some of the bottom-heaviest beats of the festival. Lit up at night it drew stray punters in like moths to a flame.

This was the scene for an international DJ lineup that would have any drum and bass fan frothing at the mouth. First it was the turn of Brazilian liquid pioneer DJ Marky to take the controls. His uplifting rhythms killed it fifteen years ago and continued to kill it that night, with the help of a couple of hip-hop bootlegs for good measure.

Marky was followed by future bass vanguard Dub Phizix along with his right-hand-man MC Strategy. This was a sound from the cutting edge of the genre, where bouncy synth stabs and glitchy melodies collided headlong with the most obscene break beats.

The third on this list were the indomitable Ed Rush and Optical. The drum and bass dons turned it up and smashed it out to the appreciation of the hordes below. Following on from Dub Phizix they felt a bit dated, but that wasn't bothering the crowd whatsoever.

Back in The Cabin things were about to shift in another direction with the arrival of German duo Âme. Their's was a deep house set of the highest order. Featuring plenty of the euphoric tech beats they're renowned for, the set eventually graduated towards hands-in-the-air bangers like the Kaytronik remix of Seven Davis Jr's Sunday Morning. By this stage The Cabin was not a place for the claustrophobic, but rather the carnal.

It was about bloody time I made it back to the main stage. And for good reason too - Weird Together were on, and they were fucking awesome. Overflowing with energy, this band of musical misfits pull together rhythmic styles from the heart of Africa to the nightclubs of Europe. Like an exuberant high priest, Nick Dwyer hyped the crowd with an infectious passion for the beat. This was a highlight of the first day proper.

Details get a bit sketchy at this point, so rather than confuse you with the ramblings I left on my phone, I'll put Day One to bed, and return to my tent for a well earned nap.

It seemed like only a minute had passed when I woke up gasping for oxygen in my superheated nylon cocoon. This is an obvious hazard with a summer festival, and even though expected, is still a brutal dilemma to deal with. Shade became an absolute priority at this point. I was lucky enough to find some on a couch back in Wanaka where I could get a couple more hours shuteye. Somewhat recharged, I was ready to delve straight back into a very hot Day Two.

Having grabbed a cool rum cocktail I headed under the trees of the WTWTA stage to catch the Kumara Funk DJs. Moving from 80's funk jams like Cameo's Word Up, to some proper old school jungle, it was a nice introduction into New Years Eve.

Enjoying another cocktail, I watched on as Lakes District locals Arma Del Amor took to the main stage. What followed was a stunning set of glittering soundscapes and soulful vocals, which included a spectacular cover of the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter.

Arma Del Amor provided a perfect entrée to the next course on the main stage - psychedelic Sydney skankers Sticky Fingers. This set really woke the festival up from their hangovers. Soon enough they had the crowd's hands in the air and babes on shoulders. With anthemic tracks like Just for You, they drove their congregation into hysterics. A few fans of their earlier work were lamenting an abandonment of their ska roots for a more indie sound, but I was feeling it, and they left the crowd chanting for more.

After those heights the next act on the main stage needed to deliver in a big way. Fortunately the next act was Jurassic 5 baritone Charli 2NA, and delivering big was no problem for him. With enough charisma to fill the entire Cardrona Valley, the self-professed ‘verbal Herman Munster' got the crowd bumping with his famously low-pitched rhymes. Along with his funky-as-hell 3-piece band of keys, DJ, and a bass guitar with I don't know how many strings, Charli took us on a sonic education through his musical influences, landing on legends such as Michael Jackson and Rick James, while we waved our hands in the air en masse. As the sun went down and the stage lighting took full effect, he finished us off with a blast of Jurassic 5 heat, including notable bombs What's Golden and Quality Control.

Main stages can be difficult things to schedule at the best of times. Organisers book the acts then figure out how the puzzle fits together. So even though it was a bit strange to follow Charli 2NA with Kiwi rock stalwarts Shihad, before the big man Carl Cox took over, I understand why, and ultimately it kind of worked.

Shihad once again produced a flawless set, albeit with some minor tensions with the sound crew mid-performance. Shihad do what they do well, and finished their time on stage with an epic cover of Motörhead's Ace of Spades, in honour of the recent passing of legendary lead singer Lemmy.

New Years Eve was now only minutes away. It was time for the consummate showman Charli 2NA to hit the stage once more and count us down to 2016. On the stroke of midnight Carl Cox appeared behind the decks and immediately sent the already delirious crowd into higher states of frenzy, with Chemical Brothers stomper Sometimes I Feel So Deserted, pitched-up to all buggery. For the next two hours the British big room specialist absolutely slayed the dancing throngs with colossal monsters of house and techno.

As the night continued on I felt myself pulled once again towards the pulsing light of the WTWTA mother ship. Earlier I'd caught a wicked set of trap beats, hip-hop samples and ghostly bass-heavy grooves from Thanks. A few hours on and everything was dialed up a few more notches with Sticky Buds on deck. Featuring rave-style break beats with plenty of sub-bass, these were the sort of tunes you wanted to be dancing to in the middle of a field. The crowd lost their shit numerous times, not least of all to some top notch bootleg action featuring Luniz's I Got 5 On It and N.W.A's Express Yourself.

The next day as I watched our city of tents slowly disappear, and I blew the last of the black boogers out of my sunburnt nose, I looked back on an incredible two days. What will stay with me about R&A 2015 was how much of the music borrowed from what's been before, and how well the crowd responded to that. This isn't to say it was retro or looking backwards. This was a fresh reimagining of music and culture. Needless to say, R&A 2015 showed what was great about music festivals is still great today.