There are more vending machines in Japan than people in New Zealand. Fact. “Take the 4 million people that live here and then think about how many are in to underground house and techno” says Cameron Harris co-promoter of Sonorous. Then think how many want to come to a festival. He’s got a point. Which makes it all the more amazing that New Zealand’s newest electronic music festival Sonorous has managed such a stellar line-up of global DJ’s for their inaugural festival.
“We always had it in mind to start a festival for quality electronic music but originally it was a pipe-dream. Four years ago, it would never have worked, but there’s been a shift in house music popularity in younger clubbers” says Cameron. “There needs to be trust that we will bring the right people and that’s what we’ve built with Collude” says Cameron.
“We started by picking DJ’s we thought would bring the right vibe with Hernan Cattaneo and Guy Mantzur. When Dave Seaman came on board we could feel it shaping up, and then finally when James Zabiela confirmed, that was it, we knew we had our festival”. That was the moment Sonorous (meaning giving out or capable of giving out a sound, especially a deep, resonant sound) was born. Finding the right space for a boutique festival isn’t always easy, but the choice of Matakana Country Park with its green and rolling landscape nestled in a lush valley seems to fit perfectly, seemingly embracing the select crowd and enhancing the feeling that something special is about to happen.
Buses were put on from Auckland CBD which was a boon for the seventy strong Argentinian collective that poured in to support their president of progressive Hernan Cattaneo. Despite the intention of having the main stage outdoors the famously changeable New Zealand weather forced the decision of moving the sound system inside, but with a large wall of bi-fold doors the set up felt vaguely reminiscent of an open-air Ibizan club of the late 80’s with plenty of room to move around and open space to dance in, chill-out or be social.
Much to the credit of the Collude & Audiology teams the line-up also featured a host of local talent including Foor Eyes, Teto, DJ Risk, Bruno, Dick Johnson, Kadyn Webster, Fraser Dimond, Executive Leisure, Rob Warner and ICONYC and Pro-b-tech regular Nila opening the main stage. “It was such a pleasure to play for such a smart crowd in such a lovely venue” said Nila. His choice of deep and chunky openers, liquidly mixed were a great scene-setter for the day ahead, respectful of what was to come but still reflecting the style of his own productions which have seen him emerging as one of New Zealand’s new school of talent. Meanwhile the blazing sunshine had made way for a torrential downpour and pushed people inside onto the floor. The atmosphere is building as Guy Mantzur steps up to the decks and the crowd are clearly already enjoying the transition of the day. Guy is well known for his melodic yet rolling style and immediately the floor switches gear reacting to the big basslines and driving house grooves.
The Tel Aviv DJ and producer is a seasoned fixture on the global circuit as well-known as a producer as a DJ with releases on Bedrock, Kompakt, Lost & Found and Guy’s own Plattenbank Records and this experience shows with Guy’s ability to read the floor and seamlessly build his set layer-by-layer. The progression of the night has so far worked extremely well with Guy peaking his set and bringing it down to a solid groove for Renaissance master Dave Seaman to take to the decks. Dave’s heritage as a DJ and producer is unquestionable with a string of classics under his belt both under his own name and the ubiquitous Brothers in Rhythm and once again that experience shines through in his confidence, ability and immediate tune selection. His opening track with some huge conga drums sets the scene with an insistent bass keeping the energy flowing at the crossover end of tech-house to progressive. Dave is the co-owner of Selador Records with the talented Steve Parry and one of the records of the night is Dave’s own ‘Virgo Ryzin’ a dark and melodic slice of chunky progressive goodness. This is the second spin of the night for Virgo Ryzin with Nila playing the epic Joeski remix in the first hour. It’s only with this level of DJ who has been around electronic music for a long time do you get such a well levelled and seamlessly mixed set, but we all know it’s about the selection and in this case, it was mind-bendingly good.
Dave’s set has consolidated the dancefloor. It’s been a ride of chunky basslines, firing drums, melody and analogue squelches and with-it Dave nurtured the groove building to a crescendo ready to receive, what most saw as the headline DJ James Zabiela. It’s hard to miss James with his distinctive looks and presence but somehow, he makes it to the DJ booth un-noticed. However, the Zabiela phenomenon takes full effect when the crowd spot him with roof-raising cheers and fever pitch excitement. The technical wizard of techno is on top form, immediately giving the RMX 1000 a work out by overlaying some snare drums and dropping out the kick drum looping up some echo effects taken from the track he’s playing, remixing on the fly and creating a brand new, unique groove. It’s not always clear when James is playing a record or layering sounds to create something new (or a combination of the two) but the uniqueness in the way James plays for the crowd, the talent in what he does and the energy in which he delivers it is really something special. For me the recently new genre of global DJ is completely encapsulated by what James does, and let’s face it there are few, if any DJ’s that can match James when he’s in performance mode.
The sound system is strong enough to make the techno and driving house sound very sharp and James maintains a full floor throughout his set creating a series of big peaky highs and bleepy grooves . Coming off the back of his magnum opus mix on Balance James seems relaxed and energised, perhaps the relief of finishing such a big release and it being so well received has had a positive impact. James seems to have a word for everyone that wants to speak with him and take a snap as a memento. I’m truly impressed at his ability to read the room and adapt, chameleon like, to his surroundings. James graciously bows out to the Argentinian progressive master Hernan Cattaneo with his James Zabiela Vs Bon Iver & Fatima Yamaha – Cr$$ks track. It’s a finale moment and a fitting end to his set.
The crowd embraces Hernan and encourages him into his first track, the atmosphere, by now, has settled into a steady mood of enjoyment and everyone seems fully satisfied already. Hernan’s melodic, slightly slower, but consistently chunky progressive house sound goes down a storm and although it’s quite different to James’ set it’s fantastically received. “It’s my first time at the Sonorous Festival in New Zealand and I really enjoyed playing there with all my DJ friends” said Hernan after his set. “The crowd was really up for it and the atmosphere on the dancefloor was insane”. What Hernan touched on, is how well the DJ’s know each other, enjoy each other’s company and that camaraderie showed throughout the whole event ultimately converting to brilliant, technical and extremely professional performances. Testament to how much the headline DJ’s enjoyed their time at Sonorous was a back-to-back-to-back with Dave Seaman, Hernan Cattaneo and Guy Mantzur at the afterparty at Neck of the Woods in Auckland. A rare treat for the loyal crowd that made it to party late into the night.
Right now, it’s the week after Sonorous and Cam is eating Eggs Benedict and chatting about the night. “It’s about starting something new says Cameron, 5 years from now I’d like to have 12,000 [people] without compromising the underground feel. Considering Cameron’s partner in the Sonorous venture is Audiology who run Bay Dreams attended by 25,000 people last year that could be a possibility. “The venue can definitely expand safely to that many people” says Cameron “It’s the Kiwi dream isn’t it?” he says with a glint in his eye “the road trip, music, camping and good times”.
Sonorous, even though we just met I count you as a friend. Come back soon and please bring some more of those quality DJ’s both from home and abroad. In the meantime, keep an eye on Collude & Audiology who regularly feature some excellent quality electronic music guests.
If you’re looking for a reminder of the night check out James Zabiela’s magnificent Balance Series mix, or some of the following tracks played on the night.
Tracks from Nila:
Another Story – Subconcious Tales – Balkan Connection
Virgo Ryzin (Joeski Remix) – Dave Seaman – Selador
Savannah (Guy Mantzar Remix)
Nick Warren, Tripswitch – Sudbeat Music
Tracks from Dave Seaman:
Dave Seaman – Virgo Ryzin (Selador)
Tracks from Hernan Cattaneo:
Maydan – White Gold (Hernan Cattaneo & Lonya Remix) Sudbeat
Praveen Achary – Subside (Ezequiel Arias Club Mix)
Tracks from James Zabiela:
James Zabiela Vs Bon Iver & Fatima Yamaha – Cr$$ks
Sonorous Music Festival, Matakana Country Park New Zealand. 5th February 2018