By FRANK EGGLETON
Review: Newtown Festival 2019, Wellington
Images by BIRGIT BACHLER
You awake to a light grey day, with a smidgen of fuzz— because you couldn’t resist going to Moon to see Hex and an Australian touring band called Cable Ties. You behaved yourself, sleeking home straight after the last note. Which is just as well, as your group is scheduled to play at 10am on a Sunday morning. Not just any Sunday though, it’s the most wonderful day of the year: that’s right, it’s Newtown Festival 2019, Wellington.
You have time for a coffee and to grab your bass and walk from the northern side of Newtown where people are putting their market stalls together, and making up stages. The only cars around are useful ones because they have speakers and amps and tables and grills. Everybody is looking sheepish, but they are doing what they have to do to get the job done. The sun is starting to make a very welcome appearance, and you stand for a moment, taking in what is about to happen. The gutters will be turned into dance floors, and the sidewalks will be full of colour and merriment. You walk past the end of the Southern Stage which is vast and seems to have one of the biggest PAs around. Then you realise you haven’t made it to your bandmates in time for pre-gig brunch, so turn back around and go to help pick up music gear.
At soundcheck, which turns out to be more of a stand around and wait, you look down the street to the stalls and know how early it is. Your gig on the Normanby Stage is fun and fast, and your band, Tidal Rave, debut a song and play it perfectly somehow. There are more people at the end the set than there were at the start, and that’s always a good thing. People clapped. You enjoy half a glass of bubbly, it tastes sweet as you plan out what bands you are going to see. This is going to be the year you don’t just go to Wilson Street.
You go to the Wilson Street stage, and Linen is playing, and they sound great. The crowds are starting to drift in and even though it’s only 11:30AM, the loud guitars are most welcomed. The guitarist is one of the best floating around Wellington at the moment and is not afraid to show it.
You make your way around the back streets, to the Southern stage, where another of Wellington’s best guitarists is grooving away in the band Mermaidens, the bass player sings a cracking new single, but the show is nearly stolen away by the drummer’s new haircut, and also there is another musician on stage. Who is he? You spin around and gaze into the distance, where you notice all the people. The bass booms through your body and the atmosphere feels like some sort of emoji you can’t think of. The MC of the stage is grooving away in his white suit.
The next moment sees you at the base house of the day, where OJ’s are being sipped, as everyone takes a quick break from the sun. You have already lost one bandmate in the crowd, and the plans to see the Spectre Collective and other acts are out the window. While lazing in the garden you come up with a new program, and after a little rest and recovery make your way to the Newtown Ave Stage.
Unfortunately, you have just missed Ursula Le Sin, but mHz’s drones and beats match the kids staring at the bubbles, and go with your souvlaki. You are alive and energetic again, and three of you make your way back to the Southern Stage, to watch Bic Runga. Dang, she is just playing the end of one of her millions of hits. The crowd is huge all around. It is high tide, as far the audience is concerned. You are about 30 rows of people away, from her on stage, and it is definitely the closest you are going to get. It must be the 80,000 people they were talking about. She sounds great, and the band takes you back to somewhere you had forgotten about.
You find yourself at Moon again, for refreshments. In the back of the bar, you discover an alleyway that takes you back to the Wilson Street stage. But when you ask Joel what the band is, he makes fun of you for not knowing everything like he thinks he does. Eventually, you are told it is Ben Woods‘ band. Their weird sonic rhythms, go with hiding in the shade.
You make your way past the stage and head back to Newtown Ave Stage. This time it’s Big Fat Raro time, and he is bringing the lo-fi techno. Your thoughts lost as you look at around, at brightly dressed up punters. The sky a deep mesmerising blue, not even a cloud. There is a bar and a kids playground. Somehow it works perfectly.
Your body has lightened up and your mind does not fight, as you dance back towards Riddiford Street. You must stop for a moment, as the batucuda drum party is mid pause, rendering moving forward useless. They are tapping their drums in unison. Some people love it, and some don’t. Patience is needed.
Hot Drugs play in front of Deathray Records. With members of Strange Stains, The Raskolnikovs and the Golden Awesome, the groove does not stop, until it does. And there you find yourself on Wilson Street, where you don’t leave. Not until it gets dark. The stage and street offer nourishment for the remainder of the day.
At first, you think you are fine, but the heat. It’s all about the heat, so you sit down by the Wilson Street stage. Grayson Gilmour has two drummers and plenty of synths backing up his guitar skills. He creates a new atmosphere, with his structure, and you couldn’t imagine anything else playing.
The road becomes your living room, and your concert seat and a place to hold court. God knows what you talked about, the next day when you think about it, you hope you weren’t waffling too much. Behind you, the heavier bands play, Rogernomix go hard. Spook The Horses play elongated slow jams filled with feedback and testosterone.
There are moments when the time seems to stand still. MC Hillsy’s voice is just holding on as he points to the next band. Being’s last song drifts and sticks and sounds ethereal. Miss Juneand Bloodbags end the night with a one-two knock punch.
As you make your way home, through the soft blue night, you hear whisperings through the streets of how Womb had soared and that I.E Crazy put on a great performance. As you bite into your Ba֙nh mi sandwich, you realise you could’ve have lived out at least 20 alternative days in the one. Alas, we can only live in one universe at a time, but this one isn’t bad at all.