Review: Electric Avenue music festival at Hagley Park Christchurch

11:07 am on 25 February 2024
Patrons were transfixed by headliners The Chemical Brothers. PHOTO: RNZ / Adam Burns

Festival-goers were transfixed by headliners The Chemical Brothers. Photo: RNZ / Adam Burns

Review - One for the ages? Or one that transcended the age barrier? Maybe it was both.

It was obvious early on at Saturday's Electric Avenue that this year's crowd was older compared to previous editions of the one-day festival. That there was something on offer for most.

Of course, the headline acts were a big reason for the prominence of Gen-Xers and older millennials among the 35,000-strong crowd that converged on Christchurch's Hagley Park.

Dance music was still on the come-up commercially when the Chemical Brothers recorded their debut album 30 years ago. A fellow RNZ reporter who was at Saturday's event wasn't even born when 'Hey Boy Hey Girl' - the duo's signature single - entered the New Zealand Top 10 in 1999.

A member of Lady Shaka's performance team during her early afternoon showing. PHOTO: Electric Avenue / Team Event

A member of Lady Shaka's performance team during her early afternoon showing. Photo: Electric Avenue / Team Event

Earlier in the day, the young guns built the fanfare as London-based Lady Shaka took the stage to a small, dedicated following. It was a chaotic, booty-shaking set, which moved through everything from Rosalia to Robin S to the Black Eyed Peas, sending her crowd into raptures. It was almost a disservice to Lady and her hype team that they were outside so early in the piece. Despite this, she wasn't to be discouraged, leaving the stage with the message "Toitu Te Tiriti".

P Digsss soon followed suit, closing Shapeshifter's set with his own rallying cry of "Free Palestine". Their late-afternoon performance was probably the earliest slot the Christchurch ensemble had played in years - this is a band who had previously headlined the festival.

Just when you thought the veterans had passed their peak as a live act - opening with their ubiquitous mid-career single 'Dutchies' - the band proved they had some new tricks, thanks to Sam Trevethick's eerie, psychedelic-leaning guitar solos and a breezy cover of Max Romeo's Lee 'Scratch' Perry-assisted 'Chase the Devil'.

The crowd at the Cosmic Stage during the mid-afternoon. PHOTO: Electric Avenue / Team Event

The crowd at the Cosmic Stage during the mid-afternoon. Photo: Electric Avenue / Team Event

Some of the logistical headaches that hurt the festival last year had been ironed out - and the fan experience improved as a result.

There was one complication for organisers on the day: Fleetmac Wood DJs Alex Oxley and Roxanne Roll were stranded in Melbourne due to a plane safety issue, and their flight was eventually cancelled.

"We've tried everything to get to you in time but there's just no way (unless T Swift wants to give us a lift in her private)," it said on the group's Instagram.

This forced a late reshuffle, with Frank Booker taking to the stage later than scheduled.

Australian disco-pop outfit Cosmo's Midnight worked the crowd into a lather; their 2019 single 'C.U.D.I. (Can U Dig It)' pairing nicely with their Drive-esque neon-pink backdrop on the Hangar stage. But dude, why were you wearing a beanie in there?

Revellers were worked into a sweat inside the Circo Disco stage as KC Lights got behind the controller. In recent years, the Scottish house DJ/producer has got thousands moving at Belgian super-fest Tomorrowland. While the intimate hotbox of this stage wasn't quite that, it was a lively session, hitting partygoers with a tech-house blend of his song 'SOL' with House of Pain's iconic 'Jump Around'.

From left: Millie Heime, Megan Blackley and Chloe McMillan continue the festival as the showers hit Electric Avenue yesterday. PHOTO: RNZ / Adam Burns

From left: Millie Heime, Megan Blackley and Chloe McMillan enjoy the festival despite the rain. Photo: RNZ / Adam Burns

Shortly after 4.30pm, the showers came. Some opted for ponchos; others continued on their merry way.

By this point, another group of Aussies had infiltrated the Hangar stage. Flight Facilities do tasteful, glossy electronica - say, if Boards of Canada wanted to go pop. Essentially, though, they were an appetizer for Synthony and while they threw down a welcome version of Modjo's 'Lady (Hear Me Tonight)', it was a marked drop in intensity.

Synthony - that beloved fusion of club anthems with live orchestra - was what drew the masses today. That golden electro-house era of the late-Noughties made up a significant amount of the early play as the team tucked into favourites by Fedde Le Grand, Calvin Harris (mixed with Eddy Grant's 'Electric Avenue') and The Potbelleez' 'Don't Hold Back'.

Tiki Taane performs in the Hangar stage during Synthony. PHOTO: Electric Avenue / Team Event

Tiki Taane performs on the Hangar stage during Synthony. Photo: Electric Avenue / Team Event

Six60 drew a faithful proportion of the crowd, too. This was a bittersweet performance as their drummer Eli Paewai is soon to depart. The band ran through their vast catalogue of hits, interspersed with curious detours, some of which included Matiu Walter's ukulele.

It's easy to be a bit sneering and cynical about Six60 - such a big fish in a small pond. But as you watch the thousands earnestly singing along to their anthems, you have to acknowledge the achievements of this Scarfie band-turned-arena rock behemoth.

And then it was the Chemical Brothers. Anticipation had been building all day, particularly among older fans. Would their renowned live show live up to expectations?

It sure did.

As Q-Tip's voice rung out over Hagley on "Go", and the visuals took centre stage, the Chemicals proceeded to unleash a sensory blitzkrieg, as loud as anything heard at the festival. Their light and visual effects left many floored as the Chemicals went full-blown Piper at the Gates, mining the psychedelic routes they've taken later in their career, rather than just a run-through of their singles.

That's not to say they did away with all their old stuff. As classic as they are, the first two Chemical Brothers albums are certainly "of a time". But the way the duo integrated the title track from 1997's Dig Your Own Hole - a furious slab of breakbeat maximalism - and the acidic onslaught of 1995's 'Chemical Beats' showed us that classic material can hold up in this setting, with a potentially new generation of club kids looking on in state of stupefaction.

The pair closed proceedings by building, then tearing down, the Q-Tip-featuring 'Galvanise' with 'Block Rockin' Beats' the exclamation point. The pair departed with their trademark 'Love is All' illuminating the stage - having scorched Hagley Park in the process.

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