3 Jun 2016

Opiuo: Born on the Dance Floor

From RNZ Music, 9:00 am on 3 June 2016

Opiuo Photo: Screamy

New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based DJ/producer Opiuo is taking his celebratory sound and energetic live show to the world. Alex Behan finds out how.

The late ’90s were a vibrant time for electronic music in New Zealand.  As the shine wore off grunge, people began flocking to boiler rooms and dance tents.  At the top of the South Island, festivals like The Gathering became a mecca for musically curious partygoers from all walks of life.  It was here that Oscar Davey-Wraight – better known as Opiuo – got his first taste of the nightlife.

“I was around parties, bands and festivals with my parents, which evolved into them throwing festivals on their land in rural Motueka, up there by the river Ngatimoti. I still remember my aunty going to one of the very early Gatherings – it might have been 1996 or 1997 – and telling [me] about this festival and how it had many different types of music – I would have been 10 or something. I ended up going in 1999 and it just blew my mind.” 

Opiuo has just released Omniversal, his third album of wall-to-wall, speaker-bending soundscapes. While it’s hard to put Opiuo into a musical genre, at the beginning of his career he was one of a few artists pioneering a style known as glitch hop.

Constantly remixing and collaborating with well-known and little-known artists, his work shows his depth of musical appreciation – from Kimbra to Ray Charles, Infected Mushroom to Shapeshifter.

“I stay free and have fun with what I’m doing.  As soon as you get put into a box the creative juices are restricted, and you’ve got to change that or your creative career is over.”

The young Opiuo drummed in high school bands before developing a passion for production.  As a DJ, he won the national Rumble in the Jungle DJ competition in 2004 before leaving New Zealand for Melbourne. 

“As I started writing music and finishing one or two songs a year, I started playing them at the start of my DJ sets.  The thought of being able to make something and perform it for people, knowing that you’ve made it and produced it – it’s a crazy feeling and one I’ll never get tired of.”  

In addition to his DJing, he has formed a live group. With soul singers, a brass section and one of the former Shapeshifter drummers behind the kit, The Opiuo Band now transforms his energetic songs into live music events. Whether solo or with the band, Opiuo’s live shows are something he prides himself on.

“I’ve been to see a lot of people play and been let down by the feeling that there’s no connection with the audience or it looks like they’re sending emails, and that was something I wanted to work on a lot – especially with my live solo show.  I spent six months pulling apart my songs, to arrange [the show] in such a way that is visually exciting. If you want to just listen to music you can sit at home and that’s totally cool too, but I really want to let people see that when I hit this thing and when I press that thing it makes this noise.”

In Australia, Opiuo has become the darling of the underground music festival scene.  He regularly headlines festivals like Queensland’s Earth Freq or Victoria’s Rainbow Serpent, which attracts 15,000 hedonistic high-energy participants every Australia Day weekend, and the clubs he plays are always heaving.  But it’s America and Canada that are his biggest potential markets. 

“In America you can play 50 cities in a tour. Even in Australia, you can only play seven, maybe eight. In New Zealand there’s four, five decent sized cities. It’s just sheer numbers in the end. 

“The first tour I did I went over and I did like 12 shows or so. I played Burning Man, which is a crazy participation, high-involvement festival in the middle of Black Rock Desert in Nevada, and I played maybe 10 times over the week.  I got a lot more shows just by playing Burning Man and another festival, Shambala, in Canada.  After that I did a major tour every year of between 20 and 30 shows. The most intense one, I did 30 four shows in 38 days.”

With a new album ready for release, he is excited to get back on the road and share his new creations.

“It’s even more varied than anything I’ve ever done before. I wanted to make music that represents me and also, of course, make people party and dance.

“Music for me is a celebration of life. It’s a joy to be able to do it.”  

Omniversal is out now on Slurp Music.

A Beginners guide to glitch-hop on Spotify, a playlist by Alex Behan

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