Around this time of year, as the world’s northern dwellers batten down the hatchets and brace themselves for a dark, drawn-out winter, Downunder a different breed is embracing warmer climes.
To northern inhabitants, Christmas in the heat is as alien as Santa on a surf board, and while Yuletide normally adheres to cosy northern traditions (log fires, snowflakes, Santa in a sleigh...) come New Year’s Eve and it’s the southerners who are having the last laugh.
Forget bleak eternal darkness and bitter, face-slapping winds, fractured only by the warmth of a club; Downunder the biggest night of the year is spent outdoors in stunning landscapes, mellowing out to reggae and dub.
In the world’s southernmost reaches, New Zealand’s music festival season is now in full swing. Many festival-goers will see in the New Year at one of the country’s countless vineyards, such as One Drop’s one-dayer which begins at Matakana’s Ascension Wine Estate (January 2) then relocates to Havelock North Black Barn Vineyards (January 7) with Fat Freddy’s Drop at the helm. The seven-piece band – whose mash-up musical style combines dub, reggae, soul and jazz, with electronic samples backed by a strong brass section – has enjoyed global success since 2003, with recent gigs at London's Roundhouse and a sold-out Brixton Academy.
This year One Drop festival will see Fat Freddy’s reunite with reggae maestros Cornerstone Roots and the recently reformed Trinity Roots, while also featuring special guests The Nudge.
New Zealand’s roots in reggae and dub are largely inspired by the country’s indigenous culture and the significant Pacific island population which has seen contemporary acts like Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Black Seeds and Salmonella Dub bridge the gap between reggae, soul, jazz and dance with their own unique, organic spin. Setting the tone for the summer is Raggamuffin (www.raggamuffin.co.nz), a two-day reggae festival (January 27 to 28) featuring international trailblazers Billy Ocean, Ali Campbell and Arrested Development alongside Jamaican superstars Sly & Robbie and a host of home-grown New Zealand talent including Katchafire, Chad Chambers and Kora.
Rhythm & Vines (www.rhythmandvines.co.nz), no doubt the most high profile NZ New Year’s Eve bash, is a popular three-dayer (December 29, 30 and 31) attracting the biggest headliners and around 25,000 punters to the idyllic Waiohika Estate Vineyard near the seaside city of Gisborne – the first place on earth to see in the New Year.
Now in its ninth year, past line ups have included Justice, Carl Cox, Boys Noize, LCD Soundsystem and 2ManyDJs. This year’s bill features Pendulum, Grandmaster Flash, Calvin Harris, Erick Morillo, A.Skillz, Tiga, Beardyman, Example and DJ Wire, with plenty of sun, surf and sand on tap.
Kiwis take their music seriously and New Zealand music festivals are thus a more conventional affair than their quirky UK counterparts. But there’s one event that appears to follow the same festive fancy dress code which has made the Secret Garden Party and Bestival a roaring success.
For something a little different, Splore (www.splore.net) focuses on art, culture and community, and takes place on the ‘Island of Hooha’ at Tapapakanga Regional Park from February 17 to 19. Splore’s focus is less on the music and more on the vibe, and it invites revellers to express their inner extrovert with ‘big wigs, fancy pants and twinkle toes’.
This year’s festival will feature Bestival favourites The Cuban Brothers, with Soul II Soul and Erykah Badu, barbie dolls, burlesque gnomes, a bogan circus and traditional Maori puppets setting the scene.
Also worth checking out... Coromandel Gold December 30 to 31 at Ohuka Farm Lodge on the stunning Coromandel peninsula, featuring Shapeshifter, Shihad and Fat Freddy’s Drop.
The High Life NYE Experience (www.highlifenye.co.nz) - where you can hire jet skis, kayaks and paddle boards - takes place on December 31 at Matakana Country Park, featuring Crazy P, Pete Rock and A.Skillz. There’s also EarthTonz (www.earthtonz.com), a New Year's Eve dance party with a difference, nestled in a majestic venue along the Gibbston Valley Winery grounds just outside of Queenstown and featuring Crystal Method, Tommy Lee, The Freestylers and DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill playing progressive house, dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass and hip hop.
St Jerome’s Laneway Festival on January 30 will see Feist, The Horrors and Laura Marling take to the stage. While further south, Luminate Festival (www.luminatefestival.co.nz), an earth-friendly event at Canaan Downs on Takaka Hill – the former site of The Gathering, New Zealand’s answer to Woodstock for the dance generation – takes place on February 1-8, combining an eclectic mix of international and local acts, with workshops, electronic, healing and tribal zones, to cover all bases.