Posted by: pascoesabido | December 9, 2008

Fat Freddy’s Drop bring Kiwi sunshine to chilly Camden

Written By: PascoeSabido published in Data Transmission [see original article]
Fat Freddy’s Drop @ Camden Roundhouse, London – 4th December 2008

Fat Freddy’s Drop: either you’ll have heard them, loved them, and remembered the name, or when asked if you know them, a troubled, quizzical look will fall across your face, betraying a hint of worry for the person asking’s sanity. Remember the name.

The seven-piece progressive dub-roots-reggae-jazz-funk-soul band from New Zealand have been skanking away with their unique blend of dubbed-up soul in tow for over a decade. Renowned for their live performances and drawn-out tracks, the world has greeted them with the same love as their native Wellington. However, despite the undisputed success of their national and international marauding, Fat Freddy’s Drop can still only count the single studio album to their name, Based On A True Story, and one live album, their first major release, Live At The Matterhorn.

Perhaps this fact, coupled with the ironic crashing and burning of Chinese Democracy got to them, but whatever the case, their European dates in August were cancelled in order to finish the new album, The Big BW, out in Spring 2009 on their label Kartel. The current 18-date tour has been all about promoting it, but this 5th December already saw its conclusion at a second sell-out ‘final night’ in Camden’s Roundhouse.

The Roundhouse itself is an architectural spectacle: once a turntable (train)engine shed, then an arts venue, and now a fully refurbished and rather swankier venue than before, the building’s original steel pillars circle the stage below its enormous domed roof. In the main arena you can buy pie and peas, in the foyer areas numerous crowded bars roll out drinks, whilst outside a sprawling terrace suggests summers of Sundays, perhaps even of the secret Giles Smith kind. Hopefully by the summer no one will have a coat (or bag) and therefore need the cloak room. Not advisable. Nor is going in before it starts, because you won’t be allowed out again.

Back in the main arena, surrounded by towering pillars (don’t get stuck behind them) and a ring of elevated seating, the buzz is growing, and the introductory antics of MC Slave, FFD’s resident emcee who also drops a lively verse on The Nod, builds the anticipation.

Up steps dapper-looking Joe Dukie, aka Dallas Tamaira – the Drop’s silky singer, a casual beanie atop a tweed suit and waistcoat. His voice provides the unmistakable quality found on all FFD tracks, pouring his honey-glazed melodies  onto jazzy riffs and darker distortions. During the evening, Cay’s Crays is teased out by Dukie’s concentrated expression, singing “skank be the rock in my life” to raised arms and nodding heads. When not on the mic, he’s lending his other talents, either picking up a guitar or at the back alongside producer/DJ Fitchie, looping and sampling his own voice and adding a tech ‘n’ dub slant to the proceedings.

Fitchie, aka Chris Faimumu, two-times winner of ‘Producer of the Year’ in NZ, looms behind his trusty sound desk and MPC sampler, dominating the rumbling bass lines and rippling beats he serves up throughout the set. Quirky rhythms from the new album (I’d love to give you track names but they’ve not been released apart by and large) are supported by dub vibrations, and just to show he’s a man of many cultures, commendable forays are made beyond the already flimsy constraints of genre. Tailing on from a brass harmony, distorted guitars echo through the system on top of a thudding bass, as if borrowed from Death In Vegas or UNKLE. The dense musical blanket is definitely experimental, but not as popular as the next expedition into electronica, thumping a four-by-four (beat, not plank) to a delicate high-hat straight from the tech-house handbook. But which other tech-house tune features the eerie, ambient trombone of Ho Peppa?

Peppa, aka Joe Lyndsay, is another dapper-looking member of Fat Freddy’s. On his last outing to the Astoria, the tracky Bs and a wife beater were the chosen attire; this time a white 1950s vintage suit adds a slightly respectable veneer to the general energy and madness that lies beneath. When not providing the jazzy brass section with his dreamy elongated notes, he’s to be found skanking around the stage, spinning away with trombone precariously held in one hand, rapidly returned for any necessary toot. The veneer lasts little over an hour, the jacket being thrown aside to reveal the comforting white vest (and belly) that return natural order to the world. Unfortunately, the FFD classic Hope, made such a success by Lyndsay’s trombone, is hinted at but never played, robbing both him and his audience of a memorable occasion.

The rest of the horn section, while not as energetic in their dance moves, still provide texture, flavour, and further dimension. The Nod, a lively brass-heavy track (check out The Nod studio session recorded for WFFD Radio at Data Transmission) , jumps from the stage as Fulla Flash aka Warren Maxell’s wandering tenor sax joins the sharp stabs of Tony Chang aka Toby Laing’s trumpet. But the jazziness only works because it’s laid over the funk and reggae brought by Jetlag Johnson and Dobie Blaze on guitar and keys respectfully.

Both Johnson aka Tehimana Kerr and Blaze aka Iain Gordon play the versatile game of supplying exactly what the band need: reggae oozes from the plucked bass of Kerr – with pedalled effects for extra oomph – and the caressed chords of Gordon, whilst every transition towards the funky side of life is seamless. Ernie subtly begins with muted analogue chords from Gordon, almost unnoticeably amid the funky twangs of Kerr, but as it continues both sounds sharpen to climax on the staccato keys and reggae riff that send shivers down the spine as they pierce through Lyndsay’s dark wall of sound; the highlight of the night, especially the way it developed, in trademark Fat Freddy’s style, beginning as its own artistic form, morphing into Ernie and ending in yet another musical space. A pleasure to be present for.

Whilst many classics from Based On A True Story (such as Roady, Hope,or This Room) were culled in favour of new material, it is their improvisation and organic development that defines a Fat Freddy’s Drop live show, and the Roundhouse definitely experienced that, including a junglist solo by the guest-drummer. 15 minute changeling tracks dart freely from one place to another, while playing live allows the possibility to fully exploit new samples, loops, echoes, boosting bass lines, and general peppering of the set with a more sinister dub side not always present on the album. Pull the Catch, the latest single off The Big BW and included in the performance, is certainly a darker, dubbier creation, shaking up the Roundhouse and leaving pleasant surprise and an appreciation of the sound system. The Camel ft Alice Russell, the first single from the album and also on the set list, whilst not as dubby, is performed with a melancholic strand running through its nine minutes. If the two new singles are anything to go by, the new album will definitely be a good one, if slightly less upbeat; whilst they succeed in stimulating similar aural sensation, neither contain the same organic feel as the first album. To reach the heights of Based On A True Story is a near-impossible feat, but if anyone knows what’s required, it’s the Fat Freddy’s Drop boys.


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