JUICE and CEE (Malaysia’s Mr. X, Detour Asia boss, and one-half of Bass Sekolah) gallivanted in Tokyo in search of its nightlife scene during the second term of Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) Tokyo, dropping by each prominent club RBMA had taken over in the process. CEE, ever connected, managed to get a hold of Fat Freddy’s Drop after their performance at UNIT, Daikanyama…
When I was standing in the middle of the crowd at the sold out venue, UNIT, on 12 November, I had to pinch myself a few times – I couldn’t believe that I’d watched Fat Freddy’s Drop (FFD) play for a good decade now. I also couldn’t believe that this was indeed their debut Tokyo show, you could see in every local punter’s collective mien that they had been waiting for the band to finally play their shores. The atmosphere in the space was intense, joyful, and crisp. Dubbed out vocal bits and guitar riffs were flying through the air, and when the horn section was paired with the beats from the MPC and the bass, we were all brought closer to Earth again. On the day after the show, which will definitely not be their last Japan appearance, I met up with the two band members of FFD – Chris ‘Mu’ Faiumu aka DJ Fitchie and Scott Towers – to talk about dubbing live on stage, rum and jam (not what you think), and life in New Zealand.
First FFD show in Tokyo! What took you so long? You got tonnes of fans here…
DJ Fitchie Yeah, we had the feeling we have tonnes of fans here, but we never touched base with the right people to make it happen. It’s pretty great that RBMA gave us the chance to finally come over here.
Scott Promoters or fans get totally freaked out that we’ve got seven or eight people on stage, but then there is another six or seven people involved in the production, so that’s usually 15 people to come over – plus all the gear. It’s a pretty big production. In theory, it’s always easy to ask us to come over, but then you gotta [help] make it happen too.
D Just the flight bill can easily come up to 18,000USD…
S The good thing about the Tokyo show was… it’s the return leg for a big Europe tour we just did. After the big London show, we went home already, but our gear was still on the way.
Perfect. So you just came to pick up the gear. Makes sense. While you were in Europe, you also played your biggest show in London so far. How did that go?
S It was amazing. We probably didn’t really realise it until we had done the show. We’ve been working on this one for about two years and the show got progressively bigger and the promoters kept saying we need to kick it up to the next level and we didn’t really quite understand what that meant and we actually booked this venue and released tickets a year before the show. That’s a crazy thing to do but it was the right thing for us to do as it turns out. It felt like all the other shows were leading up to this London gig. It was a fantastic experience and we actually handled ourselves really well… a lotta people to entertain and deliver for.
Keywords: Next level up. What’s the big change for FFD since releasing ‘Midnight Marauders’ 10 years ago on Sonar Kollektiv’s Best Seven imprint?
D The big difference is the show itself. As we all know, there is no money in making records and selling records. Playing live is the main form of income for us now and we have really enjoyed the process of becoming really good musicians and trying to deliver a good show. For ‘Midnight Marauders’, that was actually just Dallas [Tamaira] (FFD’s vocalist) and me going out and trying to make this work and we quickly realised we needed a band. That’s all part of our journey.
When I saw you guys play Club WMF in Berlin a decade ago, I remember the epic 10-minute versions of each song, but during the Tokyo show you guys played the shortest version of ‘Midnight Marauders’ ever. What happened?
S We were actually a little lost in communication, but we were talking about this after the show (after a few beers) because we usually have a little bit of an instant debrief. So, I must say we actually loved that version. It was almost like the A and B side on a reggae 7-inch. There was this pop version and then there was this freaky ambient dub bit at the end, which we had never done before. We never did a version like that before, which is the cool thing about why we do the shows. If we had tried to plan that version, we could never have done it. And the fact that it all happened organically was what’s so good about it. As you say, it was completely weird and arbitrary, but I am really glad that it happened like that.
The way you guys play has developed over the years, but you still deliver the beats from APCs and run live effects over it, right? You still do all the dubbing on stage?
D Yes, it’s still all APCs. But of course the setup has grown and grown. I get a signal from all the mics on stage and I am dubbing it hard on stage. Our sound guy will then balance it out.
How did that love to dubbing come about?
D It’s a love for gear. I remember buying my first Space Echos from a sound company in New Zealand, which went under, they had these two units sitting around for years. I bought them for about 200 dollars each (laughs), and then I was sitting in my warehouse studio smoking lots of weed and playing around with the gear…
How do you guys actually write your music? What’s the starting point for a new FFD joint?
S It’s a loose jam. The starting point is usually lots of rum and then a jam. They’re long sessions. I am sure if someone was going to come over and witness it, they would be so frustrated by the way it goes down, because it really is like people coming into the studio and start kind of noodling around… a few chords here and there, alright, that sounds quite good… then we pick that up and maybe loop that and there we go. We’ve got a start to something new. Then things get added into that and that process goes on for hours at a time. We have early versions of songs like ‘Blackbird’ that last for 15 minutes and we are just trying to find our way to through the maze. Bit by bit the best ideas get kind of pruned out and pieced together and it becomes a musical form we like and only then Dallas starts adding vocal ideas. And that’s sort of the start of the real songwriting, and from that point on, it’s about getting good performances of the vibe you are after. There are not a lot of bits where it’s really written, it’s not really how it works for us.
Did that change over the years? Because in the beginning you didn’t have the whole band…
S The way we capture things now has changed a lot. We really record everything to Pro Tools directly in this jam process and quite often we end up with material in the final song that were actually from a very early jam session. We can only work how we work because of the way we set up our studio space.
D Because we archive all the session, it might happen that a guitar recording from five years ago makes it into a new production, because the harmonies and the beat tempo works.
What’s life like back in New Zealand?
S We are all family people. We have eight kids in the crew ranging from six months to 21 years old. We are a bit spread out all over New Zealand. I mean, geographically we are not that spread out but our lives run very independently. We spent a lot of intense time in the studio or on the road and then we sort of go off and do the things we like doing. DJ Fitchie is big into golf. I am into golf. Couple of guys are into fishing, basketball, all sorts of stuff. We are not really cool (laughs). We are Average Joes who like making music together.
Mid-December you are playing Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand. First time ever in Thailand! Will we see more of you in Asia?
D Nothing in the pipeline. The Thailand show is happening because we are friends with the people who run the festival. We played The Secret Garden Party and it’s the same people who run Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand.
S We have experienced what the guys behind The Secret Garden put together and it was probably the best festival I have ever been to. The lineup was super interesting, the environment was the coolest, the people were having a great time and I know they will nail it over there in Thailand. It’s one of these things we love being associated with.
D There is literally something cool happening every 15 minutes. Planes flying, people on stilts, everyone dressed up…
S There was a stage in the middle of a lake which they set on fire on the last night, just because it looks cool. We were just playing at that time… it was amazing. The attitude is in the right place, which makes the job for the musician pretty easy. Everyone is having a great time already and then you get up on stage. Simply amazing.
Fat Freddy’s Drop performed at RBMA Pres. Tokyo in Dub at Unit, Daikanyama, Tokyo.