Spark was playing host to FOMO by Night, a spinoff of the hugely successful FOMO Festival in Australia. It prides itself on bringing an eclectic range of emerging and established DJs and rappers, but the hype around the New Zealand show can largely be accredited to the announcement of Top 40 Queen Nicki Minaj as the headlining act.
The Katayanagi Twins have been making waves on the Auckland DJ circuit... thanks to their kooky style. Merging sultry R&B with off-kilter rap, they create a sound that gets people on their feet and keeps them there, making The Katayanagi Twins the perfect choice to start the night off right. They were promptly followed by Katikatis finest export, Montell 2099 whose smooth remixing and beat-making proved he had a talent beyond his years.
Hailing from the Netherlands, San Holo was the first international act of the evening and an early highlight. His lush downtempo electronica was evocative of indie darling Hudson Mowhawke, while his obvious ability as a multi-instrumentalist and singer cemented San Holo as a tour de force. He offered the choicest cuts of his self-produced debut album, 2018's Album1, peaking with the gently trap-driven We Rise. Its imperfect bass line juxtaposed beautifully against the order to twirl - and the crowd were only too happy to oblige.
It was a smart move to put San Holo halfway through the evening.... his easy, breezy approach to music making managed to restore energies in preparation for the evening ahead while maintaining enough texture and interest to keep people feeling lifted and connected to each other. It’s no mean feat, but San Holo handled it with aplomb.
Kali Uchis proved to be a complete contrast... pulling the audience onto a soul train barrelling towards a disco inferno. Her dreamy and velveteen voice was only matched by the tight musicianship of her band. Together, they took the crowd back to the heady hedonistic 1970s... thanks to a setlist comprised of her stunning debut album Isolation. Her upbeat melodies can mask some dark subject matter but she radiated relentless positivity throughout her set.
The Badbadnotgood produced woozy jam After The Storm was a highlight of the evening and earmarked her as one to watch. But don’t just take my word for it... her collaborators Tyler the Creator, Gorillaz and Bootsy Collins and her Grammy nomination would probably be inclined to agree.
Aminé was up next. A latecomer to the FOMO line up, he replaced Soundcloud rapper Lil Pump whose visa woes stopped him from entering the country. While this caused a disgruntled frenzy on social media, I welcomed the change. In a line up where all of the artists are either pushing musical barriers into the future or at the top of their game, the addition of Lil Pump was a bit of an anomaly, a nod to a very popular flash in the pan trend that in 2019 already seems to be wearing thin.
In contrast to incoherent mumbling masquerading as lyrics and piss-poor posturing, we were treated to a hyperbolic, overwhelmingly fun set courtesy of Aminé. YouTube compilations flashed up onscreen, intertwining with Aminé's blend of trap and alternative hip hop. The crowd were there for it, belting out tracks Heebiejebbies and Spice Girl with particular enthusiasm.
EDM producer Mura Masa whipped the crowd into a frenzy... transforming Spark Arena into a massive dance party as he played hit after hit, including massive bangers Love$ick and Complicated. Mura Masa was joined on stage by vocalists Cosha and Fliss.
As Mura Masa's set closed, the sense of excitement was palpable, spilling over as Nicki Minaj took to the stage, sweeping her hood off with a flourish before launching into Feeling Myself.
Here's the thing about Nicki Minaj.... She's no Jean Grae, Missy Elliott, Sa Roc or Lady of Rage. Much has been made of her lack of bars, but the thing is, she has never tried to reach their lofty heights and if you went to her show wanting mind-bending lyrics you’d come away sorely disappointed. What you get is a super fun, danceable set-list that traversed all of her hits with unwavering energy - Beez In the Trap, Pound The Alarm, Anaconda and Side To Side all delivered with sass and ability. I was particularly impressed with her acappella rendition of her verse in Kanye West's hit Monster.
An hour was over all too quickly and Nicki undoubtedly cemented herself as the Queen of club rap. Despite putting on a solid set, it's interesting to note that major media outlets have given more space to the story that Nicki gave an audience member a lap dance than an actual review. This speaks volumes about New Zealand’s dearth of criticism and our inability to look at a show with a discerning, respectful eye. And Nicki deserves more than that.