Rhythm & Alps - Part I

By Rachel Froggatt, Janine Swail and Charlotte Rose

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

Finding novel ideas for celebrating New Years’ Eve is becoming ever more difficult. In recent years, by midnight we have usually consumed copious amount of alcohol, taken part in a half-hearted countdown and set our resolutions, one of which is to never again assume New Year’s will live up to the hype. But that all changed this year, when we walked into Rhythm and Alps 2016 in Cardrona just outside Wanaka.

We arrived in the mid-day heat on Friday 30 December, very aware we were not seasoned campers. Wheeling our bright red suitcase full of tents, sleeping bags and toilet roll (for emergencies) and carting camp chairs slung over the shoulder, we rolled up to the gate only to find they were conducting security checks worthy of the Pentagon. After a serious shakedown to prevent alcohol and glass getting on site, which saw us return to the car twice with glass perfume bottles and personal toiletries, we were duly tagged up with our microchip bracelets and age ID bands (very flattering, thanks!) and on our way. We trundled around the camp site for a while before making the decision to set-up shop near the top end, close to the music site, rather than follow the trend to put down roots a few metres inside the gates. This move proved genius at 3.00am, for reasons you can imagine. After a brief exchange with our neighbours, three Cantabrian girls to our left, two Wellingtonian boys to our right and behind us, a Dutch backpacker we were ready to face the music. Trotting toward the music site, the ground vibrating under our feet, anticipation began to build.

Straight through the gates, our first stop was the top up station, where we were charged a one-off $4 fee to add cash to our microchip bracelets. This cashless system means festival goers can use the bracelets to purchase drinks, food, merchandise, phone charging services and more. For the budget-conscious, it also gives you the ability to set a spend limit (when you run out of credit, it’s bedtime!).

Off we went to the bar for a pint of lager before recceing the three stages. Ready and waiting in middle of the site was the ‘Alpine Stage’, which was to feature headliners Devilskin later that night and Six60 on New Years’ Eve. Approximately 20m wide and 12m high, with mesmerising LED screens, it was cleverly positioned at the bottom of a slight incline which created a natural tier for the crowd. Left or Right were scheduled to kick things off at 6pm, so while we waited we moseyed around the back to stage two, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. The 20m metre wide DJ-box was already pumping, with Risk, Benthamism and Vancouver-born Ekali getting the crowd moving. The three white connected pyramids were channelling Star Trek more than Egyptian relic, amplified later as it got dark and the video effects began. Less than 100m away, stage three, ‘The Cabin’, was our next stop. As we stepped through the door, the overwhelming smell of Lanolin assaulted us, lending authenticity to its heritage as a stage prop recycled from Jane Campion’s ‘Top of the Lake’ drama series. Much smaller than we expected, revellers spilled out the doors. Pash Jams and Stubacca did their thing from the top far corner, with dry ice regularly being released into the heaving crowd. After much coughing and spluttering on our part, we decided it was time to top up on the lager.

Off we went back to the ‘Alpine Stage’ much anticipating the appearance of Sydneysiders, Ocean Alley. This unique band, described as ‘Psychedelic Reggae Fusion’ was a huge highlight for these festival goers. The six-piece completely owned the stage, delivering a chilled out mellow beat as the sun began to sink. The crowd, some sprawled out of the grass but most bopping along in front of the stage, were very engaged. A conversation overheard nearby described neatly Ocean Alley’s success with the throng, with a newly converted fan declaring she had just downloaded their debut album ‘Lost Tropics’ on iTunes, which has charted Top 10. The band toured relentlessly throughout Australia in 2015, making their first appearances in New Zealand in early 2016. Very slick, they lived up to their growing reputation and validated positive reviews in the likes of Rolling Stone magazine.

Off to the bar we went again during the break, for a third lager. It was around then that we realised the beer was having very little affect and after some scouting around, we realised it was likely to be low alcohol beer – no doubt a crowd control mechanism. Whilst we certainly were not out to get hammered, our original view that $6 per glass was a reasonable price was badly damaged as the return on investment was pretty poor. We made the switch to wine just as rapper Akil from Jurassic 5, came out on stage. We heard great reports of interaction with those at the front of the stage, where the hip hop royal got the crowd rapping along with him and delighted them by sampling old time hits like Cypress Hills’, ‘Insane in the Membrane’. But at the back it was difficult to get into it.

A short debate about whether to switch stages then was put to bed quickly when Dub FX stormed the stage. The Australian hip hop, reggae and drum and base artist from Melbourne lit up the stage with a red laser show across the LED screens, creating a definite buzz and attracting people from all over the site. During this act, it was particularly noticeable how well the outdoor acoustics were set up on this stage, with the multi beats reaching all four corners of the site to a very high quality. This was to bode well for the evening’s headliners up next, Devilskin, whose alternative metal and dominant female vocal sound suited the set-up well. By then there was no longer any talk about switching stages, as Jennie, Nail, Paul and Nic laid down a very strong performance. Devilskin seem unstoppable right now, receiving positive reviews of their ongoing 2016-17 national tour with US rockers, Halestorm.

The rockers took the festival over the midnight hump, into the wee hours, exiting to make way for the final act of the night on the main ‘Alpine Stage’, Weird Together. The kiwi electronica project from seasoned producer Dick Johnson and George FM DJ, Nick Dwyer, took the crowd in a very different direction post-Devilskin, with the horde certainly getting their groove on to the dance beat.

 As the night wore on, we took the opportunity to scope out the VIP set-up, which was housed in a marquee towards the top of the incline overlooking the ‘Alpine Stage’. A mish mash of couches, bean bags and mats made up the seating arrangements along the length of the tent. Outside the front were a series of tables and long wooden benches. Towards the left as you entered was the bar area, with a cocktail bar outside and a regular bar inside – notably, the quality of the alcohol in this area was significantly better than the regular punters area. Services included courtesy phone charging and for those bearded revellers, a barber station to sort out any unruly facial hair and a make-up and touch up station for the girls. For some, the highlight of the VIP experience was a large Jenga game set-up in view of all inside. However, this seemed to lead to high emotion with many a fraught competition going on and even a $200 bet won by a girl, who was dared to kick a very high tower over. Whilst funny for some, we think it may have left deep psychological scars on others.

By this time, the old feet were starting to give out and the 30+ heat of the day had worn us out so we began the trudge to the tent – thankfully closer to the music area than many others would have been. Handy coloured flags helped us find our spot. On the way, we tried the camp site portaloos for the first time. Grim, very grim, but no real surprise. On the other hand, there were plenty of water stations set-up to refill drink bottles. As we collapsed into our tents, the pumping rhythms from ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and ‘The Cabin’ stages soothed us into a dreamless sleep, ending at around 5.30am.

Tune in tomorrow to find out how we went on Day 2...