“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.
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.
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.
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.