29 Oct 2023

The 'wandering eye' that will take you back to the beginnings of Fat Freddy's Drop

5:02 pm on 29 October 2023
Marauders thumbnail for season one

Fat Freddy's Drop member Dallas Tamaira, aka Joe Dukie, in a scene from MARAUDERS, which premieres on RNZ on Monday 30 October. Photo: Transmit / Sarah Hunter

By Sarah Catherall

When Sarah Hunter filmed Fat Freddy Drop's debut European tour on a handycam 20 years ago, the world was completely different: some of the band members smoked cigarettes, their music was released on CDs and fans watched their performances rather than viewing them via smartphones.

Hunter, a Wellington creative and film maker, was one of a small band of people who accompanied the emerging indie band on their first European tour in 2003. Her borrowed handycam was like a wandering eye as she filmed and interviewed the original Fat Freddy's Drop members in a Tooting, London flat they shared for six weeks.

Her camera caught it all as they recorded and jammed new music, and performed at gigs in London, Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam. Some of the most fascinating footage is filmed in Berlin, when the graffitied wall was still standing.

The band has been touring Europe ever since, while the 33 tapes of film stayed on a shelf in her studio (fittingly next door to the band's original studio in Lyall Bay) for many years.

Hunter always intended they would be seen - and that day has now come. Her recordings have been turned into MARAUDERS, a series presented by RNZ Music and Transmit with Student Radio Network, made with support from NZ On Air. It's an absorbing time machine with the now internationally acclaimed band.

Episode one will drop Monday.

"They are life-affirming,'' Hunter says of the recordings.

"When you think of all the dramas out there, they are touching the good.''

Sarah Hunter

Sarah Hunter: "Making music has changed." Photo: David James

Two decades on, the recordings - overlaid with the band's live funk, electronic, and improvised soul music from the time - also feel like an important slice of social history, a snapshot of a pre-digital, internet dial-up world when the seven-piece band was starting out.

Back then, five of the current seven members were on the tour; they caught the Tube and played in small, intimate venues. Today, they ride in tour buses with trailers between France, Germany, London and Poland, and play at huge venues and summer festivals.

"They went out there and connected with audiences and audiences who weren't just there filming you," Hunter says.

"They were there dancing and singing and having the best time.''


MARAUDERS Photo: Transmit

MARAUDERS premieres on RNZ on Monday 30 October.

Fat Freddy's Drop fans who have been following the band since its founding days will feel like they're on a nostalgic trip watching the European roadie.

The band had been recording and releasing their first music on Wellington's student radio station, Radio Active since the late 1990s. DJ Fitchie - the band leader, Chris Faiumu (Mu) was also part of another band, Bongmaster, and Fat Freddy's Drop played regularly at the former Wellington bar, The Matterhorn.

That was where the first Fat Freddy's Drop album, Live at the Matterhorn, was recorded and released in 2001, which Hunter filmed and photographed.

She says the 2003 European tour was seminal; Fat Freddy's Drop was playing, working and writing songs that went on to be recorded and produced at the band's first studio in Lyall Bay. One song recorded during the 2003 tour in Tooting was released - the band's rework of '5 Day Night' by Christopher Tubbs.

Looking back now, Hunter says the tour shows "a naivety and a freshness and a kind of guerrilla style attitude''. There wasn't much money to spend on food - in one shot, Nicole Duckworth, the band manager and Faiumu's partner, is filmed chopping onions for the band's dinner. The couple's daughter Mia, then aged three, was also on tour with them.

"You talk to them now and they're like, 'we had a plan'. It wasn't all just like, let's go and stumble along. They always knew what they wanted to do. They were always going to be independent and they were always going to release their own music.''

Hunter says it makes sense to bring the footage to a wider audience, 20 years on. She hopes the series inspires a new generation of musicians.

"Making music has changed; technology, platforms and this idea of instant success. This is about the grit and just doing it for yourselves.''

MARAUDERS premieres on Monday, 30 October, at rnz.co.nz/marauders.