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Fat Freddys Drop - Drop It While It's Hot

Author: Cyclone
Friday, 26 October 2007
Every band in the world wants to play Glastonbury. But the iconic UK festival is not that wonderful – or, at least, it wasn’t for DJ Fitchie (Chris Faiumu) of Fat Freddys Drop this year, as 3D’s Cyclone discovered.

Although Glastonbury takes place in the English summer, it does rain – and rain. The Freddies’ bandleader, or “Master of Reality”, didn’t anticipate all that mud.

“Glastonbury was a weird one,” Fitchie ponders, back home in Aotearoa. “We didn’t actually enjoy the festival itself, we enjoyed the gigs, but it was pretty bad weather. It was quite hard work. We were in a sea of mud for 48 hours, so it took a degree of patience.”

As such, Glastonbury’s organisers left the Freddies to fend for themselves, Fitchie joking wryly that no doubt superstars like Arctic Monkeys didn’t have to deal with the grime.

The Kiwis gigged on two platforms, the Dance Stage and the World Jazz Stage – testament to their versatility.

Overall, it was FFD’s best European jaunt yet. “It just gets better every year,” Fitchie enthuses. “We made very humble beginnings four or five years ago when we started going there.

“Just like anywhere, the more you go back, the bigger the name gets – and the more audience you start to attract.

“The performance is no different from playing over here in New Zealand, it’s just more exciting for us, I suppose, ’cause you’re on the other side of the world.”

The NZ collective, buoyed by tastemakers, are established favourites on the international circuit. Fitchie holds that this is because FFD represent “something different” to punters, rather than being a mere novelty.

Early on, FFD performed at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, which Fitchie remembers as “a great gig”. The festival-goers in historically segregated Detroit were intrigued to discover Pacific Islanders interpreting black music. “I don’t think anyone really knew who we were then,” Fitchie says.

The Freddies played an extended slot, as reportedly the next act was late. “By the end of that two hours, we’d won over a small crowd.”

In an otherwise “quiet” year on the tour front, which also saw Fitchie marry his long-term partner and FFD’s manager, the posse have bunkered down to finish the sequel to 2005’s Based On A True Story. Indeed BOATS, as it’s nicknamed, is now multi-platinum in NZ. Despite having broken records and scooped awards, the combo are not inclined to impose deadlines, instead following “island time”.

Late in 2006 the Freddies presented a DVD, Fantastic Voyages, Vol. 1, as a stopgap. They’re making progress...

“We’re probably about halfway through working on the album,” he says. “We’re targeting April or May of next year as a release date worldwide. At the moment in the studio we’re just doing a lot of jamming and a lot of writing. Half the album has come together already.”

The Fat Freddys Drop story begins in Wellington, where Fitchie had been DJing through the ’90s while developing his production acumen.

The Freddies formed out of various local ensembles, with the soulful Joe Dukie, aka Dallas Tamaira, stepping up as lead vocalist. (The charismatic crooner even provides the Freddies’ cartoon cover art).

FFD generated a buzz with their cult ‘live’ recording, Live At The Matterhorn. And they issued the deep Midnight Marauders on vinyl – seized upon by Jazzanova in far-flung Germany. The Freddies then stretched themselves on BOATS, blending dub, reggae, jazz, blues, funk, soul and electronica.

Today FFD, with a core of six full-timers, are resolutely democratic.

“We manage to keep things together ’cause essentially we’re mates first – we’re all very good friends,” he says. “Still, like many bands, we can get on each other’s nerves. But we know each other well enough to get through any tough times or any awkward moments. Creatively we’re very democratic and financially we’re very democratic.

“Regardless of who puts the most work into the writing, we still have a policy of splitting things down the middle financially. When we’re working in the studio, all ideas are welcome from all musicians.

“We just seem to make it work. I think that kind of philosophy helps keep things together.”

Fitchie owns a studio. He’s currently producing an LP for Auckland singer/rapper Ladi 6, a member of Scribe's band, when not at work on FFD.

The Freddies’ second album should be on the soul tip.

“It’s no major change in direction from what we normally do, but [there’s] subtle differences – maybe a little bit less dub and reggae and a bit more soul, country and blues – but again with the fusion with electronics,” Fitchie says.

The band, proud of their improv skills, tested four songs on tour in Europe. They’ll preview further material on their return to Australia – FFD’s last dates for 2007.

“Hopefully when we come to Australia next month at least half the set will be fresh stuff,” Fitchie affirms.

In contrast to Salmonella Dub, the Freddies initially concentrated on penetrating “music hotspots” in Europe and were late to recognise the potential of the Australian market. They increasingly value their fans here. FFD command a fervent live base in Europe, but “it hasn’t translated into CD sales.

“We now see Australia as a much more important territory than we first thought, ’cause the CDs are starting to sell in Australia – and the shows have got bigger.”

Conveniently, Oz is close to NZ. Aotearoa’s music scene is flourishing – and, beyond the Freddies, Fitchie offers worthwhile recommendations to listeners. The first is obvious. “It’s probably biased – I’m backing Ladi 6,” he says. The DJ-cum-producer nominates, too, the neo-soul Hollie Smith, whom he compares to Joss Stone. And, lastly, Fitchie rates Kora among NZ’s premiere live outfits, likening them to Living Colour.

Does he admire any Australian performers- Fitchie is caught off guard. “Nothing’s jumping out at me,” he says. He appreciates “elements” of the John Butler Trio, however, no other names are forthcoming. “To be honest, there’s not a lot that’s been up my alley!”

Fitchie finally laughs apologetically. “I think Australians are just too good at sport, you know-”

WHO: Fat Freddys Drop
WHAT: Play the Enmore Theatre
WHEN: Saturday 3 November