Photography: Cory Blackburn
Our feeds have been heavily stacked with videos from down under over the last few months as many new wave UK DJs have experienced their first New Zealand tour and shared their view from the decks. Maximum hype clips; it’s clear the New Zealand D&B crowds attended their dancefloor tear-up lessons and passed with honours.
It’s officially popping over there… Not just when touring artists visit but all the time. And while it’s definitely enjoying a fresh new intake of fans this year, New Zealand has had a rich history drum & bass history since the late 90s. Massive acts like Tali, Concord Dawn and Shapeshifter have all set crucial benchmarks, their prime minister is an old school D&B head and you’ve MCs like Camerin Jago are right in the thick of it.
The instantly recognisable, larger than life Camo MC has been ushering in new Kiwi raver generations since the mid 2000s, hyping them up with his unique party-hearty style. Gradually over the years he’s risen to be one of the country’s leading mic-men to the point he was recently booked as a headline act in his own right. The show was the cherry on a particularly sweet cake; 2019 has been a movie for this gentleman MC whose signature appears to be made of pure positivity.
Steadily building up his own body of work with tracks such as Taking Over and Gun Fingers Up, Camo levelled up this summer with his Saxxon collaboration We Are One, a track that came with its own wholesome and inspiring story that we covered at the time. More recently his recent track No Stress focuses on mental health, an issue he battles with himself, and came with artwork so cheeky a fan has already had it tattooed to their leg.
These are just a few potted highlights for the self-proclaimed ‘serial yarner’ who actually started MCing as part of his recovery from drugs and alcohol abuse. With more collabs in the pipeline with acts from UK to Germany, and more headline shows too, expect plenty more highlights from the man in 2020. But first, a rewind to look back over his biggest year so far.
Looking back, you set the tone with Taking Over at the start of the year…
Yeah I guess it was an affirmation. MCs can be narcissistic and self-indulgent but that tune was a track about the sound of drum & bass taking over worldwide. I’m passionate about representing drum & bass and New Zealand in particular. The video was a snapshot of what we get up to on the weekend and what goes down. That show was special, the Timaru show went off! It was like ‘wow this is how it’s going down, this is drum & bass in 2019’
Has it always been kicking off massively or are we just seeing more videos of it online because a lot of guys have enjoyed their first New Zealand tour?
It’s always had a strong scene, particularly in Christchurch. We had a venue called Ministry which we lost in the earthquake. Bailey said it was his favourite venue in the world, for example. But this year has been massive, it’s quadrupled. We’re seeing these new guys coming through on their first international tours, and that’s definitely helped. But you know why I think it’s so big here?
Shapeshifter and Concord Dawn. Those two acts changed everything here. You had Morning Light which is just a universal anthem. Then you had Don’t Tell Me which featured Tiki Taane who was already a big name thanks to Salmonella Dub who were also huge. That blew things up massively.
You also have very strong reggae and dub scenes and a strong soundsystem culture and, on the flip side, there’s also a strong rock scene with bands like Shihad and 8 Foot Sativa As we know, rock has a lot of roads into drum & bass and a lot of local guys come from metal bands. Trei has been in metal bands, Evan left Concord Dawn to be in a metal band, The Upbeats have metal roots. It’s a balance of it all. And that’s before I even get to Shapeshifter who are the biggest export after Fat Freddy’s Drop. Every summer they headline festivals here so kids have been exposed to D&B every summer for decades ages. For fuck’s sake our prime minster gave Prince Harry a Shapeshifter album!
She appears to be a pretty cool prime minister.
She’s a pretty cool drum & bass head, that’s what she is cuzzy. She admitted to Matt from Concord Dawn she was a fan from back in the day.
Amazing. You did your first headline festival show recently didn’t you?
I did. Elektro Hangar, which was in an actual airplane hangar with planes and shit around. Absolutely wild and definitely a highlight this year. It’s funny; my friend once described MCs as ‘the DJ’s handbag’. Sometimes we are. Our role is to hype the DJ. But we don’t have many options to work with headline acts in New Zealand. To be reliant on touring is tough stuff, so I thought ‘I need to be a headline act myself.’ I need to do my own show with my own DJ. I tried a few different styles but went back to my drum & bass roots around two years ago. Around this time I shouted Belly Man and suggested an international Car Barz session. He was up for it so I pulled MCs from across the New Zealand musical community. Guys from grime, hip-hop, everything. They all came correct and the videos had thousands of views. So that was me back in D&B and since then I’ve been releasing tunes steadily and building up to the type of headline slots you mentioned.
Tunes with messages, too. Not just empty hype bars…
Well, I’ve had my past. My life hasn’t been perfect. I know what it’s like to struggle and those times, when things feel like they’ll never get better, music got me through. The first time I started MCing was when I first got clean off drugs and alcohol. I’d come out of rehab and needed something to focus on. I didn’t stay sober that time around, but it was music that kept me sober and clean for all these years.
Oh wow so MCing is part of your recovery and personal development?
The whole drum & bass scene is full stop. Raves get portrayed as druggy things. And yes, there are drugs at parties. But they’re everywhere; rock concerts, on the streets, people don’t even leave the house and they do drugs. That’s a societal issue, not a dance music issue. When I started to go out sober I felt completely welcome. There was no one questioning my choices or judging me, we’re all here for the family vibe, we’re here for the music. I was able to go out, be sober, socialise and still feel part of something. To be accepted by the drum & bass community was a lifesaver.
I love that. So how bad did things get for you?
It got dark. The thing is, you come out of school and everyone’s partying and it’s common to experiment. I’ve dealt with self esteem issues my whole life. I found self-medicating made me feel better and I lost my off switch. I don’t think I had one inf the first place. I didn’t know myself, I lost my dignity completely and the drugs weren’t covering up my issues any more. I was overweight, I was lost and I did my first stint at rehab aged 23. I’ve slipped up over the years and it got as bad as you want it to get. I’ve felt completely hopeless. But now I live my dream. I’m a dad during the week and performing most weekends and meeting all these amazing people and getting really inspired by everyone in the community
What’s coming up in the dream for 2020?
I’m just grafting cuzzy. I’m working really closely with Octo Pi at the moment. His tunes are fire, he’s criminally underrated. I’m sending him vocals every week. I’ve got some collabs in the works with MC Zee in Toronto, I’ve linked with Starz and Deeza, me and Saxxon will be doing more music next year, I’ve just sent collabs to Germany, to the UK, I’m just sending out vocals as much as I can and seeing what comes of it. I’ve got a tune coming out to look out for called Rave Etiquette.
Ah you’ve posted about this online…
It’s the rules of the rave, right? People complain about the young’uns but are they telling them the rules? Are they educating? Or are they waggling their finger at them? I like to have fun with my music. People can be so serious about drum & bass, overthinking all the time. Go out, have fun, don’t over analyse or stop people from having fun. Actually I’ve got my first obnoxious cheesy jump up tune which I’m excited about. It’s a big middle finger up to the haters. It’s like people are scared to say they like jump-up again but we all know they’re secretly listening to Macky Gee at home. Don’t listen to the keyboard warriors!
I’ve been working with my bro Dekane who’s doing a remix of my Gun Fingers Up track. The last video was great fun with so many people throwing their gun fingers up so we’ve got another one with loads of great people on there. At the start of the video it’s me calling out sheep to do gun fingers. Of course they don’t because they’re sheep.
That’s it; I love repping New Zealand and taking the piss out of myself. The artwork for the new single No Stress is me as a golden buddah, taking the piss that I’m a bit on chubby side. Plus the birds in that artwork are native New Zealand birds. I like doing things like that.
Nice one little touches. I think I’ve seen a pic of a tattoo of that artwork!
You have cuzzy. Crazy shit, right? What an honour that someone would have me tattooed on their leg! Shouts to the artist Theo Arajj for doing something so sick someone would have it tattooed to them for life.
That’s dedication. What’s been your thoughts on music in general this year?
Loved it cuzzy. My favourite producer to come out is Kanine. Everything he drops hits the spot. He makes anthems but he’s got grit. He’s smashing it. I’ve also got more into minimal D&B which I wasn’t as much of a fan of before. When I MC’d for Klinical he changed my view on that! The way he mixed and the tunes he’s got, I have to big that guy up. I’ve MC’d with minimal guys before and they didn’t like my style, but I see it as a challenge. It’s about me giving respect to their set. As much as I love being the centre of the stage on my own shows, I know how to adept and host and toast the DJ.
There are so many shades of MC style…
Yeah man. You need to absorb the atmosphere because every time it’s different. There’s no blueprint for this. You can have it all planned but the crowd will have a different vibe. Sometimes you have to stand back, other times you can go full tilt. Sometimes I can bring Rage Against The Machine or even Outhere Brothers bars. I know I’ll get scalded for that, it’s not very D&B, but you know what? Every time I do them, I get a response from the crowd. I actually learnt not to overthink things from a show a couple of years back when Danny Byrd requested me to play. It was at Studio in Auckland. Sold out. Absolute vibes. Danny actually asked me about everyone putting their lights in the air for a particular tune. I’d never done it before but he said it would be cool and not to overthink it. It was sick. But that’s the thing; the right time and place for things. Danny called it perfectly. We played again this year and he said it was his favourite set he’d done in New Zealand. I love working with UK DJs because they totally get MCs and often request us even if we’re not originally booked.
I’m wondering which UK MCs first came over and inspired you…
We were lucky to have a lot of MCs come over. Lowqui with Goldie, Verse with Pendulum, IC3 and Mampi Swift. GQ and Dyna were big inspirations and caught my attention the most. I had an epiphany when I saw Dynamite and Roni Size in 2005 at Ministry. I was wasted on mushrooms and BZP, which was a pig wormer and a legal speed over here. The crowd control and the dynamic between Dynamite and Roni really hit me. They reloaded Brown Paper Bag four times. Each time they wheeled it just on the drop. Dynamite was saying ‘they’re not ready!’ We were screaming and everyone went mental. That was one of those moment when I knew I couldn’t just be in the crowd, I had push myself to be up there.
I also learnt so much from GQ. I had the honour of introducing him and Andy C several times and GQ is just the absolute craftsman isn’t he?
He gets people stomping and screaming. He makes you feel this is one of the most special nights of your life. Like you’re part of something larger than life. And that’s something I always try and do. If the DJ wants one more tune, I’ll get that crowd properly hyped up and tell the DJ to hold on. It can be quite a challenge, especially if the DJ is international and way more famous than you are. It’s a fine line to tread but when the DJ sees the reaction then it all pays off.
Enough about international talent. Big up the New Zealand artists…
Lee Mvtthews are sick. They’ve just released an album, their tunes are on that big dancefloor tip and they’re smashing it, they’ve even been on the mainstream news here. I’d also like to shout out Infectiouss and Getafix who I’m both working on tunes with for next year, as well my own DJ, the badman Resident. Flowidus are killing at the moment, Grommie is doing big things for the ladies on the decks, as well as Unsub who’s been killing the studio. Plus my homies Graysound and Monika, both have some very tasty liquid D&B coming through. Sly Chaos are also one crew on the rise worth keeping an eye on, and my boys Medium & Traverse have both been smashing the rollers. Watch out for Moondogg, too. A one man machine about to take the game over on the live tip.
There are so many promoters, DJs, producers & MCs absolutely KILLING it in New Zealand right now so it really is hard to pin it down to just a few so I might leave it there. Apologies to anyone I missed, big up to ANYONE putting work into the NZ scene right now. But I would love to see more local MCs! People are still struggling to get their heads around an MC headlining here but it’s happening slowly. If there are any up-and-coming New Zealand MCs reading, hit me up. I want to work with you. We have so many DJs but we need more quality MCs so people understand the culture more out here. We’ve been blessed with a benchmark set by Tali. I can’t begin to explain the inspiration she gave me when she went over to the UK and represented. She just won a New Zealand Music Award for Best Electronic Album. That’s the level we’re talking about here and I’m working my ass off to keep up that level of reputation; to keep my game up, to bring diversity and make sure I’m always doing my best. And the best is yet to come…