Seven piece band Fat Freddy’s Drop is internationally regarded as one of the world’s finest live draws. Over the last four LPs the New Zealanders have navigated their way from the incubator of sunshine reggae through a colour-saturated field of soul psychedelia before swerving onto a desolate Detroit superhighway at night. It’s a sound that demands to be heard live, a potent mixture of jazz virtuosity and diaphragm-wrecking digital sonics.
These influences have not only been formed by the band’s individual predilections, but also experiences on the road: Fat Freddy’s appearance at Detroit’s Movement festival in 2006 was a watershed moment for the band, fuelled by hearing May’s, Atkin’s and Craig’s stark futurism ricochet off the cold concrete of America’s broken dream. This stoked producer DJ Mu’s love of analog techno, balancing and fusing vocalist Dallas Tamaira’s adoration of soul and reggae with the band’s collective passion for Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Disco, House, Post Punk and Balearic oddities.
For FFD this osmosis begins at the start of a composition. Groove after groove, horn line after horn line is laid down by the entire band in their Wellington-based studio BAYS and then edited by trumpeter Toby Laing, DJ Mu and Dallas Tamaira. It’s out of these epic live recordings that they sieve the gold that lies within.
The band’s most recent release was studio album BAYS a 9-track LP written and recorded at their BAYS Studio in Kilbirnie, Wellington. Pre-BAYS, their albums were formed almost entirely on the road; the songs slowly evolving live at festivals such as WOMAD UK, SONAR, Bestival, Lowlands, DEMF, Pukkelpop, Glastonbury, The Big Chill and Roskilde.
Stand alone concerts also feature heavily, with sellout mayhem ensuing at Alexandra Palace and Brixton Academy (LDN), Paradiso (Amsterdam), Vega (Copenhagen), The Coliseum (Lisbon), Henry Fonda Theatre (Los Angeles), Columbiahalle (Berlin), Sydney Opera House, and Le Zenith (Paris).
In the past if a song made it on to the record it was because it had been stress-tested beyond all endurance: at last count Fat Freddy’s Drop are fast approaching their 1000th show in their career, clocking upwards of 500 appearances in Europe, almost 30 Australian Tours and over 300 shows in their homeland, accumulating in a sold-out 10,000 capacity show at London’s cavernous Alexandra Palace and a two consecutive sold out nights at O2 Academy Brixton to a total of 10,000 fans.
Not many bands have been so strategic in their approach to their longterm career. Creating a blueprint with a global perspective, the band have consolidated their fanbases across Europe and the UK with high profile performances accompanied by slow burn albums that reveal more and more with every listen, priming the fan for the next live experience. It’s about the long game, a path that has come about by careful stylistic evolution, ever increasing production values and a live reputation that precedes their recorded material.
Fat Freddy’s Drop may have been around since the early Noughties, but they are truly the most modern of institutions. Independently controlled underground music that has sold in excess of three quarters of a million albums. Yet they are that rare thing: artists that don’t live or die on their last record’s sales. They are a clarion call of hope for the talented few looking for another way. Fat Freddy’s Drop show that it can, indeed, be done.