Just A Vision…

Just A Vision…

“Are you just a vision in my mind?…. Must be some explanation for feelings of this kind..”

(Solid State –   Just A Vision Marcus Intalex and St Files Remix. Renegade Recordings)

1998 was a year for firsts in DnB in New Zealand, our first visit from an MC, and even more exciting to us ladies, our first visit from fellow Female Jungalists in the form of Metalheadz resident DJ’s – Kemistry and Storm. They were renowned for being the darlings of DnB scene with their sassy attitudes and tear out tune selection. Not to mention they were both gorgeous, Kemi with her short blonde dreadlocks and Storm with a sharp black bob. They were both wearing chunky Metalheadz necklaces and I loved watching them whisper in each others ears, and laugh and wave at the crowd. The entire front row was dominated by girls, as if we were at last claiming our place in DnB through the representation of these talented women, and we whooped and cheered and sang til our voices were hoarse.

At the end of their set I reached up with my flyer and asked them to sign it. Kemi wrote ‘All bad girls big up’ and Storm wrote her name with a kiss. I was so chuffed, and still to this day have the flyer amongst my collection.

After they had finished they both headed for the bathroom, and my girlfriends and I made a beeline after them, hoping to be able to say hi. When we got into the bathroom they had already been cornered by a girl who we knew could talk a donkeys ear off, and I knew if I didn’t interrupt them soon they would have to head back to the DJ booth and then back to the hotel. I grabbed Storms arm lightly.

“Hey, sorry to interrupt you but I wanted to just say something to you real quick” The two of them broke off their conversation with the other girl and turned and smiled at me with interest.

“Hey we saw you up the front loving the tunes. You know your Drum n Bass!” Storm nodded encouragingly at me.

“Yes! and I just wanted to say thank you so much because you ladies are a massive inspiration to me, to all of us girls. I really love Drum n Bass and I hope to be up there like you one day”

“You wanna be a DJ?” Storm asked me.

“Um.. maybe more like a singer? Or actually.. an MC?” I blushed saying it out loud, especially to them. It was one of the first times I had acknowledged such an idea in public – not even Joe was really aware of this ambition.

“Hey thats cooool” Kemi raised her eyebrows at me “There’s not many girls who MC”

“Yeah you should do that! We need more Women in the scene” Storm echoed her.

At that moment the doors to the bathroom opened and more girls poured in calling to each other and laughing loudly.

“We better go” Storm gave me another big smile “its a bit crowded in here. Nice to meet you girls, maybe we’ll see you up there one day!” She pointed at me as they breezed out into the club.

I was stoked. It was my first bit of encouragement, even if at that stage the vision I had of myself as a DnB MC was still just a fledgling idea.

 

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My signed flyer from Kemi and Storm

However my life of Drum n Bass still very much centered around Joe and his aspirations and DJing. He also was flourishing with his graffiti, being employed to paint some of the shop windows in town such as Euphoria and Cheapskates. He and James Pylon were also getting more and more into the idea of creating their own promotions company, putting on the kind of parties they wanted to see happening in Christchurch.

The first thing they did was create a logo and brand name. They decided to play on the name of their Drum n Bass radio show on RDU that had started getting more of a following. And so their promotions crew became ‘Scientific’.

The first party they looked at throwing was one called ‘Spectrum’ using a state of the art lighting design and having local DJ’s spin all styles of DnB.

While they were deep in the planning of this, Two of our favorite DnB acts came to town.

Bryan G and MC Moose brought the funky, jazzy side of DnB to New Zealand. We had had a lot of tech step acts pass through, playing their more industrial, Amen break laden beats and while I enjoyed it, it wasn’t what had really stirred my passion and interest for the music. It was the vocal tunes, the soulful melodies, the kind of DnB I felt I could really dance to that got me going, and Bryan G and Moose were the first International act I can genuinely say got me losing it on the dance floor.

The set was a revelation. Hearing the tunes I had heard on the ‘One In The Jungle’ tapes finally being played through the huge Ministry sound system, confirmed for me how diverse and special the genre was. As for Moose – his loose free flowing MC style was as complimentary live as it was on the radio.. I was well and truly hooked.

The Back Garage at Juice hosted Scientific’s first party two weeks later and myself and James’s girlfriend Emma were recruited in to help, along with some other supportive friends and DJ’s such Solid State, B Line (who was then going by the name Intera), Mr Steel, Anine, Wizard, and Teo and Paulio doing door and guest list along with Emma and I. We cleaned up the space, helped hang camo nets, and Teo burned some sage to cleanse the room of any negative energy.

The lead up to the gig was definitely a headache. I felt the investment in the lighting rig seemed to be a costly and unnecessary expense but I remember James being convinced that it would give our party the extra edge it needed. We had to try and pull in as many people as possible and with ticket sales being below average, Joe and James were frantic with ideas to get more people coming. We flyered streets of parked cars and ran ads on RDU. The guys even had t shirts printed so that we were easily identified as crew at the party, and to help push the brand out in the street.

The flyer in particular is very memorable. It was the first flyer I’d ever seen that had a pin in the middle of two circular cards and as you spun the cards around, cut outs in the flyer would reveal who was playing and at what time.

 

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The innovative rotating flyer for ‘Spectrum’

When show time came, everything ran smoothly, the lighting rig with lasers was epic, the sound system booming and all the DJs represented their flavor of DnB perfectly. The only thing missing was the crowds. While there was a nice turn out it wasn’t packed as we had all hoped and I could sense the frustration from Joe that they had done so much and it didn’t seem enough. I remember Joe and I had a few arguments that week leading up to it and after. It didn’t help that my Nana Harvey passed away two days before the party.

My Nana Harvey – my Mothers Mum was a sprightly 83 when she died. It was sudden and she was found lying across her bed after having pressed her medical alert alarm. Nana Harvey was an amazing little woman. I remember her for her long grey hair down to her waist that she tied in a bun at that back of her head with two combs in the sides to hold back the strays. She lived in a little Granny flat on Domett street in Opunake and when I used to stay with her as a little girl, I would lie in the tiny, lumpy single bed with its pink bedspread that was the same bed my Mother had slept in as a girl, and listen to the distance roar of the ocean.

She had the most beautiful garden with all sorts of flowers in it from wild flowers and roses to succulents and Birds of paradise, a big black plastic barrel in which she collected rain to water her garden, and a healthy vege patch with strawberries and ruhbarb.

Her house was also full of pot plants and she had a big old piano in the hallway that all her children had learned on when they lived at the farm house in Oanui.

Nana’s cubboards were always full of treats, biscuits and scorched almonds, the freezer was stocked with ice creams and her fridge with home made lemonade. She was hard of hearing and often used to repeat herself with an ‘I Say…’ at the beginning of her sentence which us kids used to imitate, however this lack of hearing was of benefit to me when Nana had to drive me to singing lessons or to competitions. I would have the stereo up loud with my Hip Hop blaring and Nana wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

“Yak Yak Yak Yakayakaykyak” thats all this music says” she said to me one day on our way to New Plymouth “Yak Yak Yak”

I cracked up, I was pretty stoked she even let me play my music!

I remember Nana had a few battle scars she liked to show me, the top of one of her thumbs had been nipped off while she was changing the lawnmowers catcher. She also had a twisted scar all down one arm from where she had touched the moving rollers of the old mangle washing machine as a girl, and it had proceeded to pull her hand and then entire arm in crushing it as she tried to pull free. As Nana’s husband had been crippled in a tractor accident, she had had to take on a lot of chores that Grandad was unable to do, and she pushed her lawnmower herself until she was almost eighty. I admired her strength and tenacity, and though at times she tried to be strict, she was very sweet natured, always looking after us kids if my parents couldn’t, and gave us cuddles and sweets.

Now I was in the middle of mourning her death and trying to help put on our first rave as the Scientific Crew. It was little wonder that Joe and I were often stressed and took it out on each other.

When Spectrum didn’t go as successfully as planned I thought Joe might be put off. But instead this only seemed to spur him on, to think of ways to make his future parties run more cost effectively, and reach the desired audience. It wasn’t just about bringing a bangin’ party to town either, it was all about timing. At this time Christchurch was one of the best places with regards to being spoilt for choice on what to do on a night out. Especially if you were into dance music. It seemed like every week right into the weekend, one of the bars or clubs had a night on that catered to the different genres and tastes of its attendees. So putting on a party meant trying not to clash with other prominent nights especially those that were of a DnB nature, and making sure you booked well ahead if you wanted a particular venue.

Spectrum was just a taster for Scientific in terms of putting on a party. There was so much more to come yet.

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It’s Good Times and It’s Good Vibes…

It’s Good Times and It’s Good Vibes…

“Its good times and its good vibes, as we go deeper and deeper…” (Mutated Forms ‘Blue Magic’ DJ SS remix featuring Tali – Formation Records)

Late into May came the opportunity to hear the first ever DnB DJ/MC combo to visit New Zealand. It was DJ SS and Warren G. (Yes the same name as the Hip Hop singer/rapper, but definitely not the same person!) I remember the poster, a slick blue and orange affair and every time I passed one in town I felt a leap of excitement. Finally we would get to hear what it was like to have a real ‘host’, a proper MC flowing over DnB. Though we had a few rappers in town who could hold their own, MC Green was our only real self proclaimed DnB MC but he had more of a toasting type style than straight out freestyle flow and hype. Seeing MC Warren G would be interesting to say the least.

When they arrived at The Ministry I remember feeling incredibly hyped, and I watched as they weaved their way through the packed crowd to the front, the odd raver reaching out to pat them on the back as they walked by, like a sportsman heading out into the field.

SS did not disappoint playing everything from Jungle to the current flavors and some unknown tunes as well which got everyone rubber necking. The back part behind the DJ booth where a few of those playing were usually allowed to stand, had been cleared of people so Warren could do his thing and not be bothered, and so off he went.

Us girls screamed with excitement as he called for rewinds and for the crowd to make some noise and he swung the white towel he had on round his neck round and round above his head whipping us up into a frenzy.

What I really noticed was depending on the tempo of his flow, depended on how I found myself moving. Rather than my movements just being dictated to by the beats, I was dancing to his rhythm and syncopation of words. It made everything feel so much more rhythmical. Im not too sure how blown away I was by what he was MCing about, In fact I probably didn’t even notice, I just remember the huge grin I had plastered on my face watching him command that crowd. 1916206_204899144389_2398033_n

I thought to myself “Imagine if I could do that… I would love to do that!” Reading through the DnB magazines I hardly ever saw any Female representation, and while there definitely was love being shown to DJ’s Kemistry and Storm, Dazee, Spice, WildChild and Rap within those pages, I never saw any Female MC’s acknowledged. Maybe they just weren’t out there getting the gigs..but maybe they were… and if they were why did we never hear of them? There had been a mix tape floating round Christchurch from the UK in which a couple of ladies had been given the mic for a moment, but what I heard in those few minutes never connected with me, or made me excited. The feeling of wanting to do what Warren was up there doing started to etch itself very deeply into my mind. I had thought I had always wanted to be an actor or a singer, but this urge I felt was something else altogether!

I found myself wondering over the next few days if being a Female MC in the DnB scene was difficult, I wondered how much you earned, if you got to travel like these guys did, maybe if there weren’t any standout Female MC’s out there, I could change this. I could be the first Female MC to really make an International name for myself.

The seed had been sown and my overactive imagination was gladly watering it.

In an earlier blog post (https://darkdayshighnights.com/2017/01/19/new-configuration-new-riff-and-new-structure/) I mentioned that some of the students at NASDA were given an opportunity to audition for The television entertainment show ‘Showcase’. I had not been asked as I was far from what our head of school – Luisa, wanted as a representation of NASDA, and when I casually mentioned this to my Mother she was livid. How dare Luisa determine weather or not I was good enough?

“You don’t have to audition through the school you know” My Mum said over the phone to me one night. “You can enter via writing to them or sending in a tape, I saw something about it in the local paper that they’re looking for people to come on the show”.

“Pfffft” I made a noise into the receiver “I don’t wanna be on the stupid show anyway. It’s too mainstream. I wanna be an indie artist, I wanna rap, there’s no place for someone like me on that show”.

Little did I know that my Mother disagreed and despite my lack of enthusiasm to audition, she sent in a video recording of me singing at the piano playing one of my own compositions.

When I was home for the holidays Mum excitedly broke the news to me that she had sent the tape in and what’s more I had been invited to be on the show! “I don’t wanna do it” I protested, “Its not my thing, this is you just wanting me to do what you want!”

“How dare you?” Mum retorted angrily, “After everything I have done for you – this is an amazing opportunity – you have to do it!”

“I DONT WANT TO!” I yelled til I was hoarse in the throat “Can I not make up my own mind about what I want to do? Between you and Luisa at NASDA I don’t know whose worse!” I stormed down to my room and slammed the door. Very mature I know. To be honest I wasn’t that bothered she had sent in the tape..I was kinda excited  I had been accepted.  I was just horrified that it was for a hackneyed recording of me singing at home and I hated the fact she had done it for me, in typical show Mother fashion!

I had a few days to think about it and then the show’s producer rang us anyway to confirm if I would be able to come at the end of the month and perform or not.

I snatched the phone out of my Mums hand and had a word with the producer. “Look I’m very grateful you asked me but really I am only happy to do this if I can sing one of my own songs”

“Of course!” The producer replied, “We’d be delighted to have you sing your own work, and our studio producer can even create you a backing composition”. I was not expecting that.. The chance to have one of my own tunes on telly with its own orchestral backing track was pretty cool. I hung up the phone and looked at Mum who was grinning from ear to ear.

“I guess that settles it then. Im gonna do it”.

As well as Showcase, University and getting into my Drum n Bass, For me personally a lot was changing as well. Some of my friendships that I had maintained as being strong and healthy in the past began to deteriorate. One was with M who it soon transpired, not only had a habit for sleeping with some of the other girls boyfriends, but was a compulsive liar and a thief. A few of us began trading stories about certain things going missing whenever M stayed and slowly things began to add up. Clothes, jewellery, even large amounts of cash. In hindsight I couldn’t believe how blind I’d been. The signs were all there. I made a conscious decision to spend less time with her. M’s reputation in Christchurch became tainted, she lost many friends, and rather than seek to fix things and make it right, she moved up to Auckland to work in retail and live with her sister.

Being a bit older than many of my girlfriends, I enjoyed taking on the big sister role and offering advice to my friends when they needed it. But if these friendships were going to jeopardise my reputation and my relationships with others (especially with my boyfriend Joe who I was fiercely protective of) then it wasn’t going to work. I think people hang onto certain relationships and friendships because they are afraid of not having that person in their life and what that might mean, or they see that person as being beneficial in other ways (in which case its not a friendship its a business acquaintance) or, they just don’t know how to say the words “I cant be friends with you anymore’.

Learning how to identify which relationships were healthy for me, and who was genuine in their friendship with me was one of trial and error. As much as it often hurt, I would move on from people very quickly if I felt they were dragging me down with their negativity, attitude or behaviour. I know no one is perfect and I accept my friends faults and imperfections as they do mine. But I am talking about energy that is detrimental to your own well being. If every time you are with someone and all they do is get wasted, or moan, or dump on you negativity and leave you feeling exhausted, then either you need to address this with them, or walk away.

The kind of energy and attitude you project will ultimately draw the same like minded people into your life, but this wasn’t an idea I was familiar with at that time, or able to fully practice until some years and many friends later.

However around this time I met a young girl who was to change my life forever. Her name was Melissa Sharplin or ‘Misi’ as she came to be known.

I was supposed to be heading out to a 21st one night and didn’t have any high heels to wear (such was my hard core trainer addiction), and was lamenting over this fact with Amanda outside our new favourite coffee shop, C1. Just at that moment a very pretty girl, with dark curls and huge blue eyes came over to say hi to Amanda. Apart from her pretty looks I noticed her clothes. She was rocking some sky high black platform boots, a high waisted pencil skirt with an asymmetrical grey fleece top over her bare arms with fleece sleeves ruched up to her elbows. She was also wearing a grey fleece type of band/hat in her hair with the curls falling out the back. I knew instantly she must be into fashion and making her own clothes.

Melissa was very friendly and smiled brightly upon being introduced to me. Amanda asked her if she knew anywhere I could get some heels from to wear to the 21st that night.

“Hey I have tons of heels you could borrow!” she exclaimed “You’re about my shoe size too.. Do you guys wanna come over to my house and try some on?” I was very taken aback by her polite generosity, and I instantly liked her.

“Sure we’ll follow you!” Amanda drained her coffee “Come on Tali lets go” We jumped in her wee car and followed Misi over to the other side of town. Misi’s Mum lived in Merivale in a gorgeous 1960s house with a swimming pool. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the bright decor and the fantastic art work on the walls. I was particular taken by a pop art piece of a Women drowning in spaghetti

“Wow I love the art! Who did it?”

“Me!” Misi beamed “That one is mine and this one over here…” she led us around the house showing us pieces of her art and then downstairs to her Mothers sewing room where her Mum Gillian designed wedding dresses and fabulous frocks for women.

I was blown away by the talent of both her and her Mum and we chatted non stop the whole time.

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Watties Wahine’ (Commission). This is a revisit of the original painting by Melissa Sharplin that I first saw hanging in her home in Christchurch. 

A few days later when Misi came to collect the shoes she had lent me, she arrived wearing a similar outfit to when I met her but in yellow and black and with yellow fleece leg warmers from her knees down over her platform boots.

“Look at you all yellow and black” I said welcoming her warmly into the front room.

” I know, Im like a little bumble bee, my legs all full of pollen..” I laughed, she was so cute! I knew Misi and I were going to become firm friends, especially with our similar interest in art and fashion, and when she said she loved Drum n Bass but didn’t know much about it and wanted to know more – I was sold! We were chatting away in my room when I asked her what she was up to in life, and Misi explained that she was going up to Auckland to live and work for the next three months to get some experience in fashion and retail. I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed that this awesome chick I had just met was now going away for three months! We promised to keep in touch and go to a Drum n Bass party the minute she got back to town.

Two days after SS and Warren G had been to Christchurch, I flew up to Wellington to be met at the airport by a representative from Showcase, and headed out to the Avalon studios where it was being filmed. it wasn’t my first foray into television, I had entered an after school competition for a program called 3:45 LIVE! which involved Mum and I flying up to Auckland and me performing a short skit in front of the camera’s when I was 13. I’d also sung in front of the camera for a documentary on Taranaki’s local opera singer Malvina Major who was an international star.

However this was rather different. I was on my own, and hair, makeup and clothes were a big deal. We had a run through of the song as a kind of dress rehearsal and then later on that evening it would be filmed in front of a live studio audience. I had been sent the backing track that the studio had created for my original composition – ‘Breath’,  and it sounded pretty slick, and as well as this there were lots of other competitors.

As it turned out, Fiona and Karen, my two friends from NASDA were also in this heat doing an Irish duet, which Luisa had helped them pick out and practice. I thought this an odd choice for a contemporary show such as Showcase but I never said anything. I had kinda kept it on the down low that I would be performing anyway, but as they lived with one of my best friends Mat, they knew we would be competing against each other. Despite this  we were all very nervous, so it was nice to have familiar company.

I didn’t muck around, I went out there and sat in front of the huge grand piano they had for me down on the floor, and with the lights blazing in my eyes I sang my little heart out.

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Avalon Studios, Wellington, New Zealand

We were given feedback and scores at the end of our performance and not really being that good with numbers, it took me a moment to realise that I was in the lead. A couple of performances later and it transpired that I had won! I was pretty ecstatic, but also now even more nervous. I had just three weeks to write a whole new composition for the semi finals. Fiona and Karen missed out on a second and third placing, but were very supportive and excited for me that I had won our heat.

As first prize in my heat I had won a palm top computer worth $1,000 but I ended up selling it as I didn’t really need one and preferred the cash. Over the next three weeks I wrote my second offering to Showcase, and again an orchestral backing track was created to go with it. Mum and Dad flew down to Wellington to join me at this one, and though I had tried to fight it, I had a bad cold which kept me coughing and sniffing right up to my performance. This time I was in a heat with another of my ex NASDA colleagues, Simon Roborgh.

Simon had a big strong voice and handsome features, but again he was singing a song that it seemed Luisa had picked out for him. It was old fashioned and very musical theatre, and though he sang well, Simon did not place. I on the other hand, much to my disbelief came first again. Mum and Dad were ecstatic, cheering and whistling loudly, and presenting me with a bunch of flowers as I walked down into the wings of the studio. This time around I won $2,000 cash which would certainly make things a lot easier finance wise at home.

Again I would have just another three weeks to pen a new song and have to go through it all again, which though exciting was also rather stressful. I had a lot going on at university as well – studying for exams. Luckily, my social life was pretty quiet for the next few weekends.

Mum and Dad went to Australia for a holiday a few days before my final Showcase performance so they weren’t able to come show their support. However my sister Marnie was living in Wellington at the time and she came with a friend to watch me sing. I also had some of my old High School/University buddies who were still living in Wellington, Jude, Leanne, Nicola and Suzanne all come also, so I felt a lot of pressure – especially being the winner of my previous two rounds.

Backstage at the finals I felt a tremendous stress building up inside my stomach and I was back and forth to the toilet with nerves feeling like I was going to be sick. I remember being in the bathroom and getting down on my knees to pray asking that if this really be my path, that I should pursue a career in music – that I be given the sign to show me. I guess I meant please God let me get 1st, 2nd or 3rd – as each placing meant a trip overseas. First place got to fly to London, (and with that being the birth place of Jungle and Drum n Bass it meant that was obviously my destination of choice!), Second place was a holiday in LA and Third place – Hong Kong.

That night as I watched the others perform, I began to feel quite confident. Apart from one girl who sang and played guitar and who had a sweet voice, the others were I felt – cheesy and old fashioned. There was a group of three who sang and danced, but it was really all about the lead singer, One guy sang ‘I believe I can fly’ an R Kelly song that I have always found so kareoke, and his performance of it was good, but predictable.

At the end of our performances, instead of giving us scores, we were only given feedback and this time, at the end of the show we were all lined up on the studio stage and one by one, given our scores

As they went through and came to me, my points were read out. I wasn’t great with numbers but it didn’t take a genius to work out that I did not have the highest score. I felt gutted inside and I had trouble hiding my disappointment. Suddenly the floor manager called a halt to proceedings as something wasn’t right on set. They called for ‘Action’ again and re read my score. Again it was the same, again I didn’t smile.

The Floor manager called a halt again. I couldn’t help thinking to myself maybe they had got the scores wrong.. maybe I was supposed to have a higher score. As quickly as I thought it, I could hear the words of my old music teacher Julie Cudby ringing in my mind. “Whatever placing you get, weather you are first or last, you smile and accept it gracefully”.

“And…action!” The scores were given again. Mine remained the same, the crowd clapped and cheered and this time, I gave a huge smile. Of course I did not want to look a sore loser, and looking back I truly believe this hiccup in proceedings had been a chance to ensure I remembered to be grateful and maintain my humility and grace.

As it turns out I gained third place and won a trip to Hong Kong, and knowing that I would be taking Joe on our first holiday abroad together was hugely exciting!! The girl on her guitar came second and Mr Kareoke with his R Kelly rendition came first. I should have expected this. It was a mainstream family show after all, and music for the masses was always going to win out.

Afterwards there were drinks and canapés, and all the finalists and their friends and family were invited to socialize and rub shoulders with the judges and presenters. I noticed that some of the performers had press packs and demos with them, and were looking at one of the judges with anticipation as if waiting for a chance to talk to him. I remembered then that the guest judge who had joined the panel for the final had been introduced that night as being from some major record label. I watched as one by one the contestants chatted with him, obviously doing what they could in that time to introduce themselves and tell him about their music and ambitions.

I turned back to continue my conversation with my friends, I had not seen some of them since High School and I was more interested in catching up and giving them my time and attention – especially given they had come out to show their support.

A few minutes later, when one of my friends got up to go to the bar, the Record Label representative came and sat himself down in the empty seat next to me. “So Natalia…how did you enjoy the show..?”  He smiled at me and ran his fingers through his thinning hair.

I smiled back “Good thanks yeah it was cool” I couldn’t help feeling he gave off an air of arrogance. I was instantly uncomfortable.

Then we had a conversation that went something along the lines of – He told me he thought I was a great songwriter and had a good voice, I said thanks. He asked me if I could see myself writing a whole album of pop songs. I said no, I wanted to work on more left field tunes, I loved Drum n Bass, and loved rapping.

Did I not enjoy singing at the piano? Yes I did but it wasn’t what I wanted to define me. He said I was pretty much the strongest ‘Artist’ in the room. I said if that was the case then why didn’t I win? And his reply echoed the thoughts I had had earlier. It was a mainstream show and the winner was someone whose placing meant better ratings for the show and so forth. I gave a little sarcastic snort “I knew it”

He tipped his head on the side and looked at me quizzically “You have no idea who I am do you?”

“No idea, no” I replied honestly taking a sip of my wine.

“I’m the head of A&R at Polygram Records. Nearly everyone here tonight has been on my case about getting a record deal. Why aren’t you trying to sell yourself to me?” I actually have to laugh now thinking that if my parents had known who the guest judge was they probably would have packed me off to the show with a folder of everything from childhood photos to old recordings I did on the tape player.

I had not been alerted to the fact we had a guest judge before the show started, and if we had I was so busy preparing and warming up that I either had not heard, or taken any notice.

And now here he was in front of me, and while some people would have jumped at the chance to have a audience with an A&R from a major label, absolutely nothing in my heart compelled me to switch up and change tact. There was no pull to sell myself and who I was, and so I knew in that instance this was not an opportunity I was meant to take. However, if this was to be our only meeting I should at least make myself memorable in a positive way.

I sat up in my chair and looked him in dead in the eye.

“It is lovely to meet you, and while I appreciate that you think I am good enough to meet with further, I don’t really see myself as being a pop singer. I want to travel and see the world and have real experiences before I write an album. I don’t think I am ready for that kind of thing yet, but thank you.”

He was silent for a minute and then nodded his head approvingly. “Well if that’s how you feel, then good on you. I have no doubt you’ll be just fine.” He smiled and shook my hand and walked off to talk to the next finalist waiting their turn.

Years later I look back on that encounter and wonder if I made a mistake. Should I have tried to score myself another meeting with him? What if I had been given a record deal? I wonder what sort of artist I would have been marketed as. I shudder to think it may have been as an acoustic, piano playing pop singer. I think of all the amazing places I have been with Drum n Bass music, the wonderful people I have met, the fans I have gained and the friends I have made. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I knew that day sitting at that table in Avalon studios, that there was something else waiting for me, and it wasn’t far off. I felt in my heart that while I may have to wait a bit longer – when the time came for me to earn my place in the spotlight, it would be because the timing was right. Because I was ready.

New Configuration, New Riff and New Structure

New Configuration, New Riff and New Structure

“New configuration, new riff and new structure, Built on the frame that’ll hold the room puncture. Tight, we wrap it up, its wrapped tightly….” (Brown Paper Bag – Roni Size Reprazent – Full Cycle Records)

The following weeks at NASDA were a rounding up of final assessments covering acting and monologue, clowning skills, Ballet and movement and a keyboard and singing test. During this time there was also some filming taking place for some sort of documentary regarding the school, and several students (Luisa’s most promising) were asked if they would like to audition for a reality talent show called ‘Showcase’. ‘Showcase’ was the late 90’s version of X Factor or Idol, but slightly more conservative, and at the time I remember feeling annoyed that Luisa didn’t ask me or some of my other friends if we would like to Audition. It was all a bit hush hush so not all the students would be in the know, only her favourites were asked to audition – but word got around and it really did seem like the final nail in the coffin for how I felt about the way the school worked.

Graduation happened the 1st of November and I  wore a beautiful pure silk, long chinese style dress in emerald green, white and black that I had found at one of the op shops, these huge white platform sneakers I borrowed from Jasmine, and I had my hair styled by my friend Pene. I had two blonde streaks put in the front of my hair and he gave me this awesome avant garde hair style (spikey pig taled Harajuku vibes) with two chop sticks – as was the rage at the time. I remember going up on stage to get my certificate from Luisa at the graduation ceremony and as she handed me my certificate and kissed me on the cheek she whispered ‘Trust you to find a way to wear sneakers to your graduation!’ I laughed – it was true! and in response I kicked my trainers into the air in delight.

The next big international rave to hit Christchurch for November was the return of Ed Rush and this time with DJ Trace. Known for a more techie vibe which DnB seemed to be progressing into, these guys were tipped to annihilate The Ministry dance floor. My friends and I planned our outfits carefully, all got ready together in advance as per usual, and dropped half a trip each as soon as we arrived. Ed Rush with his shaved head, and bad boy Trace – got to work smashing up the place, with stand out tunes of the night to this day being – ‘To Shape The Future remix’ and ‘Locust’ (the bass line rattling the metalwork of the club and sending glasses smashing to the floor!) Mo came and stayed with me, and I saw him again the following Wednesday night at Base for a weekly night he had started doing with Pots called ‘Friction’

The following week, I invested what money I had saved for Mo’s birthday in buying a silver link chain – the chunkiest I could afford (which wasn’t that thick, but beautiful nonetheless) and I took him for dinner at the casino. I gave him the bracelet at dinner and the look on his face when he saw it was worth every cent I had scraped together. It certainly was a month for proving how much we cared for each other. A few weeks later on the 18th of December -my birthday, it was my turn to be surprised. Mo, who I was now calling by his real name Joe – is an amazing graffiti artist.  I had seen a few pieces he had drawn and when we were hanging out together he was always sketching and drawing designs and bombs in his art book.

On the day of my birthday we invited some friends over for food, and he made a big show of taking me by my hand and leading me across the road over to a vacant lot where a huge empty wall had been. Now it was covered in the most beautiful piece of graf I had ever seen. It said in huge letters ‘Happy Birthday’ then in smaller letters ‘Tali xx’ and right in the middle, a picture he had spray painted of me. It was the most beautiful, touching and generous gift anyone could ever have given me. I burst into tears of happiness with ‘Wow’ and ‘Thank you’ being the only words to cross my lips for five minutes. It stayed there on the wall for months as a testament to his love for me and that we were finally ‘official’. That night we went to ‘Crackers’ a jungle party at Base the boys had put on to celebrate Christmas, and Joe played one of my favorite tunes ‘Distance’  by DJ Ron and made a big deal of yelling and smiling at me as it came on. I was well and truly in love for the first time in my young life.

Obviously the biggest event of the year that everyone looked forward to was The Gathering – held in the same spot on the dusty dry farm in Takaka. I was especially excited as this year I would be going with my boyfriend and he was DJing! Matt and Julie were both keen to come and Matt offered to drive us in his little white VW beetle he had at the time. We loaded it up with supplies and our two tents and began the mission out of Christchurch up through the pass towards the mountains. We chose to leave a day early and stay the night prior to the festival at Matts parents house in Nelson. It meant a hot shower and hearty breakfast courtesy of Jen and Martin before we headed off just before lunch time.

The scenery on the drive from Christchurch up to Nelson is incredible. While the drive in total is quite long at around five hours, this is pretty standard to most Kiwis who know the best way to see the country is to drive it. Our roads are generous and wide in most places, and the flow of traffic pretty minimal.

However on the way up to Takaka, once we were about half an hour away from the site this began to change. Traffic started to get busier ahead of us, and in a repeat of the previous year, we could see a long line snaking up the hill,  the car roofs glinting in the distance. Once we got to the top of the hill we turned right down the gravel road and crawling along at around 10-15km we had our tickets checked, car searched and access finally approved.

On site there was no special camping for artists or family, it was just wherever you could find a spot. Most people went for the shade of the trees as temperatures up on the hill could reach a stifling 32 degrees in the midday sun. At night it dropped down to around 8 degrees or less, and so our bags would be filled with shorts and t shirts for the day and the obligatory hoodies and puffa jackets for the evening.

Joe wasn’t playing til the following night/morning so we spent the 30th enjoying the festival, exploring all the different zones and showing our support to various friends playing. The Gathering was great in that while it was supported by some commercial companies (Playstation, Redbull, Pavement Magazine and B.net radio) this was barely noticeable. Their involvement almost felt discreet and apologetic, unlike many festivals these days where the main sponsor is thrust in your face with everything you are offered to eat and most certainly drink.

Once New Years was over, our next big International DNB act to hit Christchurch was another Subtronix event, this time with the return of the man of the moment – Doc Scott. He came and played Valentines Day at The Ministry and it was of the first raves where I was totally straight. Although Joe liked to drink and smoke weed, I didn’t like to get too wasted around him in case I should say or do something to embarrass him or myself. His reputation as a DJ was growing and people observing him were ultimately observing my behavior too. Doc Scott tore the roof off The Ministry and left many happy, hot and sweaty ravers in his wake. Around this time Joe also took over from Pots’s radio show on RDU as he moved to Auckland. Joe renamed the show ‘Scientific’ and he, Detour and Sean D did a Doc Scott special in honour of his visit to our shores. unnamed-1

Doc Scott Flyer. Note the highlighted sentence: “Doc Scott will not be touring internationally in 1998 except for his visit to New Zealand” 

As it was now the beginning of a new year I had to figure out what I was going to do with myself, and not wanting to leave Christchurch I decided to enroll at Canterbury Uni and finish my B.A in English Literature there. As well as this I enrolled in a couple of other subjects to help me finish my papers, Australian and American Lit and Music 101. Why I did not think to take Music when I was at Vic I will never know. It was basic theory that I had studied when I was 12, and American Literature also quickly became my favorite subject with the choice of Literature to read and study being really interesting and enthralling. I guess I was also at the age where I felt like I could take on University with confidence and not worry about the social side of things. I had my friend outside of Uni, and with the exception of a couple of awesome friends I made while there, I just focused on the work when I was on campus.

A week after orientation began Joe took me down to Dunedin for the first time to meet his parents. While I had been to Dunedin once before, it had been a quick journey that I didn’t remember much of. We took a mini bus down there, which was a five hour drive. Joe brought five mix tapes with him – each one an hour long, so we knew the journey was ‘five mix tapes worth’. Even though CD’s were pretty much the standard then, you couldn’t beat receiving a mix tape of DnB that someone had made for you, or a radio show that had been recorded, and we would sit there with our walkman’s on, swapping tapes back and forth.

Joe’s parents lived in Port Chalmers, just out of Dunedin on the peninsula. Their home was a beautiful old house with extensive gardens overlooking the sea, and the walls were covered in his Fathers beautiful prints and paintings (his Dad was an artist) or pieces from other artist friends. They welcomed me with hugs and huge smiles and I was instantly smitten by them both. Joe showed me his old trainer collection in his bedroom wardrobe, full of limited edition Nikes, and Fila’s and me obviously being mad into my trainers through the obsession that seemed to develop in our music scene – I was intrigued. Joe always had his own eclectic style, mixing vintage sports vibes with the freshest T shirts and trainers. Even to this day he is one of the most styling people I know.

To begin with in our music scene, a lot of people wore the same stuff regardless of what style of music we were into. I loved the way everyone dressed haphazardly initially – the girls in cute vintage petticoats over flared trousers, and tight vintage t shirts. Nearly every single one of us sported an indian bindi in between our eyes or glitter on our cheeks. The boys wore oversized everything, from jackets to jeans. However it became more obvious the genres that people were into over the next couple of years as each scene evolved and developed their own style, and fashion became more streamlined.

Trance kids were more colorful and sparkly, the hair a little more crazy, those into House music definitely dressed up more, and us girls into DnB wore plainer, more tomboyish gears, set off by tiny boob tubes and singlets that would come out after all the hoodies and jackets had been peeled off, with our cargo pants sitting on our hips.

What is really positive to note here is that the fashion that was definitive of my raving years in Christchurch was, (apart from the Nike AirMax and Adidas shell toes we all rocked, and some of the special finds we got from the little Japanese boutiques) – mostly all made in Christchurch itself. At that time the city was churning out some incredibly talented designers, and for the next two or three years the fashion we wore was very much influenced by what the designers were making and dressing us in. Labels such as Subvert, Project, and Lumiere, were all supported and rocked by the rave scene, but at that time no one had more of a devoted following than the label Urchin.

Urchin was created by designer Claire Hammon who back then had an upstairs work shop in Cashel Mall. It was initially started as more of a skate/streetwear label and Claire herself was genuinely surprised at how fiercely the rave scene adopted her label as its own.

At the time Claire was slowly starting to infiltrate some of the local shops with her gear, but most of us went to her for customized orders. I remember going up there for my beige cargo pants, the first with a fitted, flattering waist, but larger legs so we could move easier. I had the obligatory little long sleeved zip up sweatshirts to wear under my sleeveless puffa vests, and underneath all this would be the tight fitting singlet with mesh racer back to keep each raver cool despite the sweaty club. Wind breakers and puffa jackets from Helly Hanson, Columbia, Ralph Lauren or Northface were the order of the day to keep out the freezing winter cold in Christchurch, and all of this was mixed in with the odd bit of NZ snowboarding or surfing label. (I am glad to say I graduated from the petticoat over pants and flared trousers brigade rather quickly after meeting Joe).

I also have to point out the exceptional talent shining through in the way of flyer and poster design. I have collected a heap of flyers and kept them all in a book, and every time I look back on the designs I am still impressed. Such time and dedication went into making nearly all but the most budget of flyers, look stylish and clever with some sort of stand out feature. (Although some of the blurbs promoting the events on the back of the flyers were at times cringe inducing) These got even more amazing the following year with 3-D flyers that stood up on their own, some that turned 360 degrees, one printed on an actual circuit board, and others with pockets in which were placed little cards with the featured DJs biographies on them.

The next visitor to our sunny shores was a first timer in Christchurch and very much anticipated. Grooverider, representing his Prototype imprint, had played a more varied set genre wise when he visited Auckland two years before. But this time around he would be bringing the freshest of Drum n Bass dubplates and we were excited to say the least. His selection showcased the sound of ’97 – ’98 perfectly, the tech step vibes the No U -Turn boys of Fierce, Nico, Trace and Ed Rush and Optical were known for, the heavy bass of Boymerang, Dillinja and Mampi Swift shaking the walls, and the vocal laden, Jazz and Soul goodness of The Full Cycle boys, Roni, Krust and Die, with some Ray Keith and Peshay thrown in for good measure.unnamed

Flyer for Grooverider gig at Ministry, Christchurch.

Every International that played in Christchurch would come laden with goodies in the shape of dubplates and white labels that DJs and producers here could only dream of getting their hands on. There wasn’t much in the way of mailing lists for our DJs to get sent fresh tunes through, more that it was a battle of wits as to who got there earliest when the record stores got their new batches in. Therefore it was integral that DJs here in NZ made positive connections and relationships with those who visited, to ensure they would be given the odd VIP or added to a mailing list.

This usually was only reserved for those putting on the parties or if playing at them  – those lucky enough to get a word in with the DJ for more than two minutes. Some of the Internationals were receptive to meeting new faces and gladly obliged, others often jet lagged or tired from a whirl wind tour  – were not.

However there was a definite hireachy that I could see with those that put on the parties and who chose which DJs visited. The main promotions company was Subtronix, based in Auckland and which consisted of Dave Roper and Geoff Wright, and while we were appreciative of a lot of the DJs who toured, some of us down there in the South Island would have liked to see more variation.

The other way in which we would get to hear about the latest tunes was through mix tapes sent over to those in the scene who had London connections. These would often get passed around from one DJ to another who would make their own recording (if allowed) of the tape and usually it was a recorded set from ‘One In The Jungle’ on BBC’s Radio One. There is an infamous tape that I remember Joe had from one of these shows with Ray Keith in the mix and MC’s Moose and Navigator hosting from 1997. Not only was I in love with the selection which included some of my favorite tunes of the moment (“Piper’, ‘Maintain’, ‘Brown Paper Bag’) I was intrigued by the MC’s. (click the link above) This was something different to all the Hip Hop hosting I had heard before, these guys chatting over the beats adding to the tunes vibe, and each had a very distinctive voice and flow – not to mention their gorgeous London accents!  I would say they were my first taste of hearing what a UK DnB MC sounded like and I loved it.

While researching for this book I found to my absolute delight there is a page on Mixcloud where you can listen to all the ‘One In The Jungle‘ podcasts from as far back as ’96 with people like Ed Rush and Roni Size in the mix.

I am in baby Jungalist heaven finding these, and its a great place to get a Drum n Bass education, especially if like so many nowadays you think DnB started with Camo and Krooked, Netsky or Chase n Status!

As well as the usual collection of train spotting DJs lucky enough to be standing up the back of The Ministry DJ booth, eagle eyes on every record being placed on the decks, there was always another line as close to the decks as possible down on the dance floor. To be able to know the name of a tune, or who produced it, was considered the ultimate DnB knowledge, but quite often visiting Internationals would write something different on the white labels, Weather it was because it helped them identify how the composition of the track went, in a record box of so many tunes, (Who remembers the ‘Bleep Bleep’ tune? But what was it really called?!) or maybe because it was a white label and they themselves didn’t know the actual name – or, maybe it was to throw train spotters off, such was the exclusivity of tunes in those days. Now you can find tunes all over the internet, ripped off radio shows, recorded at clubs, leaked before release – and this hunger for the freshest selection has actually taken away from the precious exclusivity that centered around Dubplates.

In some ways it means less waiting time for a tune that could be played at a rave, as sometimes no one would be able to get their hands on to actually play or listen to a certain track until a year later!  Now you can pretty much hear a tune and google or youtube it and someone would have put up a version. Albeit usually a crappy overly compressed version.

I can understand the frustration that not being able to get your hands on a track created amongst people, but I liked that special quality, as to me it gave the DJs and producers the right to be considered legends and lauded for what they brought to our shores.

Around this time as well, magazines like Knowledge and ATM were being imported into New Zealand, and it was here that we really learned about Bass Culture. These magazines covered everything from the whose who of DJ’s, MCs, producers, and labels, to advertisements for nights at clubs we had never heard of, with lineups of four or five DJs on them that we could only dream of seeing altogether in one night.

The more into the music I got and the more in love with Joe I fell, the more it felt like it made sense for us to get our own place together. Joe had previously lived here and there when he moved from Dunedin up to Chch – flatting with Jay for a bit and then falling out with him over whatever dramas those guys had going on, and he had practically moved in with Julie and I.  In May Joe and I found a lovely little flat around the corner in Peterborough street with a huge sunny backyard and made the move in together.

At this time Joe started working with James Meharry aka Pylon on a weekly night called ‘Technical’, and booking the DJs they preferred to hear and deal with. People such as Solid State (Who pretty much got on with everyone in the scene), Mr Steel (Similarly), Intera, 48 Sonic from Auckland and so forth. James had been around in the scene a long time, working on various projects and festivals, but it was at this time when he and Joe struck up an alliance that there began the first real prominent shift in the DnB scene in Christchurch. Though at times through the strength of opinions and egos the two of them would clash heads over certain elements of production or design, they were also both incredibly ambitious and had big ideas for the future of our scene.

It was then in 1998 that they began to discuss the possibility of using their Technical night as a springboard to create their own events and their own promotions team, with the idea of bringing over International DJs they wanted to hear and meet, and inject an independence into the South Island DnB scene that had previously always been dominated by Auckland. As I would often end up a part of the conversations, making dinner for them both as they sat at our kitchen table discussing ideas, I inadvertently also became a part of this exciting, progressive movement.