26 May 2024

'Something different about New Zealand': Camo and Krooked chat DnB on sold out tour

6:28 pm on 26 May 2024
Camo and Krooked and crew at Immersion in Wellington.

DJs Camo and Krooked and crew at Immersion in Wellington on Friday 24 May. Photo: Aaron Moffitt

One weekend, two main cities, four thousand people raving and reverberating joy, mixed in with loud 'cheehoos' to drum and bass; the beating-heart genre alive and pumping in New Zealand.

Drum and bass heavy dons - Camo and Krooked - landed in New Zealand from Austria on Thursday, set to perform at three sold-out warehouse-style shows across the motu.

I sat down with Reinhard "Camo" Rietsch and Markus "Krooked" Wagner before their Pōneke show on Friday. We chatted as P-Money and Whiney's buzzing beats echoed through the backstage walls.

Wagner said drum and bass had become a world-wide phenomenon - but there had always been something special about the New Zealand scene.

"I think in no other country has there been such a huge drum and bass boom… especially from Covid onwards, I think New Zealand is definitely on top."

Rietsch agreed that the spotlight truly hit New Zealand during Covid-19, where Kiwis raved in the sunshine at music festivals while the rest of the world was locked down.

And we were raving primarily to drum and bass.

"There's George FM and a lot of really good promoters that have been pushing this sort of sound for more than 20 years. They put in all the hard work. That's why every year there's almost a completely new crowd," Wagner said.

"And it's the people, the Kiwis, They're super relaxed, they love to party and they love the music. It's an absolute pleasure coming here. We've been coming for about 13 years now and well, I hope we will never stop," Rietsch added.

Camo and Krooked perform with MC Andreas Daxta Dreier in Wellington on 24 May, 2024.

Camo and Krooked performing with MC Andreas Daxta Dreier in Wellington on Friday. Photo: Supplied/ Aaron Moffitt

Why the drum and bass boom?

Breaking Beats director Chris Keimig is one of the masterminds behind Camo and Krooked's sold-out Wellington show titled Immersion.

Just under 2000 people made a bracing autumn evening feel like summer in Shed 6 on Friday night.

Keimig was well aware of New Zealand's drum and bass phenomenon. He started Breaking Beats 12 years ago, but the road was not easy.

"For the first six years we were struggling to fill venues, and we ended up losing quite a bit of money. It was actually really really hard for those first years," he said.

They almost gave up.

"But all of a sudden, we sold out a show, and then we had another good one, and the last five years have just gone crazy."

He said he still did not understand it.

Breaking Beats director Chris Keimig.

Breaking Beats director Chris Keimig still has no clue how drum and bass skyrocketed these last five years in New Zealand and he's not complaining. Photo: Sophea Ngoun

"We used to try and sell 200 tickets and then it was 500 and then all of a sudden, we were selling 4000 in TSB Arena, we were like 'Where did all these people come from?' "

Just a month after the company behind the Nest Fest music festival announced its liquidation in February, Breaking Beats successfully staged theThis Is Living music festival in Lower Hutt. Selling more than 3000 tickets, the hunger for drum and bass is obvious.

It is keeping local promoters busy, giving our own DJs a chance to share their music and keeping venues around the country booked up.

Keimig said drum and bass had always dominated electronic music in New Zealand, but wondered if the sudden exponential growth had something to do with social media.

Charles Clatworthy from Coastal Promotions events, also working hard behind Immersion, said he also found the "sky-rocketing of DnB across the nation" hard to explain.

Clatworthy started Coastal Promotions during his second year studying a Bachelor of Commercial Music at Massey University.

He said it was a "for the students, by the students" brand, and he worked to "cement drum and bass into Wellington's student scene," by hosting student DJ lineups.

Rietsch had noticed this. He said New Zealand crowds, compared to their European home turf, were very young.

"All the new generations here, they get into drum and bass. And that's nice to see because when you have young people at the party, you have a strong vibe, they're still happy to go hard at the rave and that's a great thing," he said.

Kiwi crowds froth drum and bass.

Kiwi crowds froth drum and bass. Photo: Supplied/ Aaron Moffitt

A feeling of euphoria

Camo & Krooked hit the decks at 11pm. The crowd frothing after Bristol DJ Anaïs and her heavy wubs, then Belgium jump-up producer Basstripper. (for those yet to treat themselves to a rave, wubs are an extended low bass note commonly used by DnB & dubstep artists that takes listeners on a wobbly little ride.)

Lasers and beams reflected cheeky sparkles in the punter's eyes as they began to sway, a body united in a simple eagerness to dance and let loose.

Euphoria is what the duo wants their crowds to feel.

"With planning our DJ sets, when one of us jumps up from the chair in the studio and throws their hands in the air - that's the moment - when you feel euphoria yourself, it'll reflect onto the crowds," Wagner said.

"A good sign is always when you stand up and you have your headphone cable swirling like a lasso," Rietsch said.

"That's the peak moment. That's when you know you've smashed it."

Camo and Krooked's set at the Immersion warehouse rave at Shed 6, Wellington on 24 May 2024.

Lights and lasers hyped the crowd's energy during Camo and Krooked's Wellington set on Friday 24 May, at Shed 6. Photo: Supplied/ Aaron Moffitt

The producers are known for pushing boundaries with their music; looking to learn something new with each song they craft.

The two producers once worked individually, but a chance encounter at a party where Camo was playing in Krooked's hometown, ended up with them exchanging MSN numbers. Two weeks later, they were making their first track together.

"I listened to Camo's set and I was blown away. I thought I knew quite a bit about drum and bass but I didn't know a single track he played," Wagner said.

And it was because Rietsch was playing his own productions.

"There's a super nice symbiosis. We have different strengths and weaknesses and complement each other really well," Wagner said.

Making music is a continual journey for the duo. They have performed live with the Max Steiner Orchestra, working with Austrian composer Christian Kolonovits to transform their hits into a classical arrangement.

They have also live-streamed from outrageous locations like a wind turbine, a hot air balloon and a glacier.

"It's an ongoing exploration process where you're always inspired by new things," Wagner said.

"When we sit in a studio we don't really know what kind of idea will hit us that day. I think the challenge is making something better than what we've done before, and to not repeat ourselves."

Wagner explained this method "goes against the grain": Their aim has never been to make one good song and then listen to the crowd's demands to make alternative copies of the same vibe. Reinventing themselves is their trademark, he said.

And they felt lucky to be on this journey together.

This was apparent when later on stage, side by side they glanced at each other in glee, their exuberance reflected by the crowd.

"There's always tough times, but if you have the right mindset and the right people on your side, you can get through anything," Wagner said.

Their creative risk-taking is synonymous with the drum and bass scene in Aotearoa.

The boys told me local producers they have their eyes on include Suune, Elipsa and Lee Mvtthews. The Upbeats are also about to release a remix from Camo and Krooked's label Modus.

"Suune popped out of nowhere. Hopefully, they will be represented well within the New Zealand scene because they're the ones to look out for. They are chasing. They are chasing the big boys," Rietsch said.

"The cool thing about all the NZ artists is that they all make different kinds of drum and bass, one is totally different from the other and that really shows how healthy the scene is down here," Wagner said.

What next for drum and bass

The thirst for drum and bass has recently spread into the United States; UK DJ Hedex hit the main stage at EDC festival in Las Vegas this month, electronic artist Marshmello also released a drum and bass single.

Camo and Krooked said Dutch DJ Martin Garrix recently followed them on Instagram.

"The mainstream are dipping their toes into drum and bass," said Wagner.

"I think you'll see a lot of pop and drum and base crossovers."

Happy punters at Camo and Krooked in Wellington.

Happy punters at the Camo and Krooked gig in Wellington. Photo: Supplied/ Aaron Moffitt

But the duo said they did not feel any pressure to conform.

"Don't you worry. Camo and Krooked will always be there making music that nobody likes and playing in front of 100 people," Rietsch said.

Camo and Krooked take their time, having carefully built their career over the last two decades.

"We can choose what we want to make and how we want to make it. We do not need to prove ourselves to anybody or to hustle."

Their number one hit 'Sientelo' sent the crowd out into the starry night.

The name translates to "feel it," a uniting mood as the grinning masses pour out onto Wellington's waterfront, eager to keep feeling that easy joy of dancing with the people you love best long after the music stops.

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