Wondergarden kicked off the last day of 2018 in classic kiwi “chillax” fashion. The New Year’s Eve music festival returned to Silo Park with a line up of international and homegrown acts. With the Viaduct sea breeze coasting over festival goers as they enjoyed a drink with friends and lounged on bean bags and picnic blankets on the grass, it was surely a laid-back way to farewell 2018 and welcome the new year.
Veteran DJ Tina Turntables started off the festivities with her brilliant selection of funk, soul and rock delights on wax!
Electronic/RnB duo Fortunes followed next with their brand of lazy synth grooves and vocal harmonies.
Tom Scott’s Avantdale Bowling Club drew in a crowd with his unique jazz-infused hip hop music, mesmerising them with slick saxophone melodies over Scott’s solid rap game with tracks such as Years Gone By, Pocket Lint and more from his new album released in August 2018.
Matthew Young’s smooth alt pop was the perfect soundtrack for a summer afternoon.
Festival favourite roots reggae band Katchafire grinded out new songs from latest offering Legacy as well as old classics to a vibrant gathering before the main stage.
While the main stage entertainment was the prime attraction, the festival offered a secondary stage inside the silo structures called A Silo Called Success featuring an array of electronic and dance music from local DJs and musicians.
Festival goers were able to nibble on cultural street food throughout the day available from a handful of food trucks including Paella Pan, Judge Bao, Ramen Takara and more – but the selection was rather limited for the size of the festival. However, drinks were in full supply... with bars located at various locations on site. Being a family friendly festival, there was also a Kids Garden catered for children where young kids could engage in handcraft, or play in the neighbouring playground.
At the end of the night, headliner Nightmares on Wax rounded off the night with a bang, spinning the crowd to dance into the new year.
This year, Wondergarden offered a place for Aucklanders who stayed here during the holiday break to unwind with an eclectic soundtrack of local and international music as the new year came knocking.
After two previous editions, New Year’s Eve festival Wondergarden returned for another year to see in 2019 and party like it was 1999.
Competition for New Year’s Eve festivals in Aotearoa is fierce, with a wide variety of festivals on offer every year fighting for people’s attention. Given this, I was intrigued to see what sort of crowd would turn out to Wondergarden 2018/19, especially after the 2017/18 event got a bad rap for long beer cues. The vital lesson is... Don’t mess with people and their beer, especially on New Year’s Eve!
After arriving a couple of hours after the gates opened and following a quick scan of the site, my evening began with Aotearoa hip-hop Queen Jess B. 2018 has been her breakthrough year and she impressed with an energetic set full of positivity and crowd-interaction. It was a tough gig being in the afternoon with virtually nobody in the audience but she pulled it off with ease.
In between sets, I had time to wander the site and this particular event introduced the new A Silo Called Success. This was a stage/dance floor set up in the old concrete silos curated by collective A Label Called Success. This was DJ territory mainly with the likes of Hugo Jay, K2K, and Frank Booker keeping the punters boogying with each of the six silos acting as a separate dance space. It was also in this unique space where electronic fusion master HIGH HØØPS had his live set complete with a full band. The silo was packed for his performance which was heavy on new material from his excellent self-titled debut album.
After a bite to eat from the excellent range of food stalls, it was time for Avantdale Bowling Club. This was the second time I had seen Tom Scott perform with his new band, featuring tracks from his stunning new album and I was very intrigued to see how he would go down in an outdoor space to a festival crowd... a crowd perhaps not well versed in the story of Tom or this album. Thankfully, his set was very well-received and the audience took to Tom and his amazing band very well with the constantly changing jazz fusion arrangements of his new tracks going down a treat in what was the first real highlight of the day.
After this highlight though came the first real lowlight of the day for me in Matthew Young. His set came across very bland with his style of radio-friendly pop appearing out of place to what was required on a chilled early evening on New Year’s Eve. Aside from a small enthusiastic crowd near the stage, the majority of people were oblivious as to what was happening in front of them and carried on like nobody was performing.
Luckily for the crowd that had grown in size by this stage of the evening, there was a series of what I would call "veteran acts" ready to take the evening to the next level and that is exactly what they did.
Bands like Katchafire, Ladi6, and Cut Off Your Hands have been around for years and are well rehearsed when it comes to playing festivals like Wondergarden... something you could tell in the professionalism and standard of musicianship on display in each of their sets.
Katchafire bought the roots reggae vibe, Ladi6 the electro soul, and Cut Off Your Hands a new sound for them in the form of a unique take on Talking Heads-like new wave in performances that had everyone up and dancing.
However, by this stage of the evening, things were running massively behind schedule and you could tell from how the organisers were scrambling to get things running on time. They were fighting a losing battle though and this led to the unfortunate decision to cut headliner Dâm-Funk’s set by half an hour after already cutting short some of the other sets. This was a real shame as the man from California was putting on one hell of a show with his brand of instrumental funk, house, and hip-hop going down a treat with the very responsive crowd.
Time was ticking though and Nightmares on Wax was ready and waiting to usher in the new year with one of his legendary DJ sets. And that is exactly what he did, taking the crowd to Ibiza with a house-heavy set full of massive drops and extended breaks that transformed Wondergarden into a massive rave.
In conclusion, the 2018/19 edition of Wondergarden again promised a lot but was ultimately let down by some massive logistical and layout issues. The lineup was, by in large, great... but the hurried decision to cut sets without telling the crowd was a big let down especially when it was the big-name acts that many had come to see which were the most affected.
I also had my own personal bugbear with the silo stages. I thought the organisers missed a great opportunity to utilise this great space more than they did. Having a series of DJs operating was a bit of a disappointment when they could have had some local electronic, dance or hip-hop acts instead. The excellent set by HIGH HØØPS showed what they could have done in the unique space but instead... they chose, what to me, was a safer option with just DJ sets. If I wanted to listen to records, I could have just stayed at home.
Wondergarden is a neat little festival and one that does a great service to those in Auckland who don’t venture out of the city for New Years. However, if they want to survive, I feel they need to evolve a bit more and ensure logistically everything runs more smoothly as it is these small things people remember in what for many is the biggest night of the year.