A Belated Review of Moodymann in Auckland
From the director: OK, here it is. The belated write up of the Moodymann show in Auckland. Sam went up to the big smoke for the show. God knows what he’s been doing for the last two months and I apologize for the man's infinitely terrible sense of time keeping. But whatever, better than late than never, I guess. Get the above track spinning and relive the magic.
It was a beautiful Auckland Sunday a couple of months ago, and for a few hundred or so lucky punters, it would become a very beautiful day indeed. Moodymann was in town.
Essentially a demi-god in the world of house, Moodymann’s performance at the Auckland Art Gallery was keenly anticipated. The event, hosted by Anno Domini, sold out in just four hours, months before the show.
One part producer, one part DJ and two parts freak, Kenny Dixon Jr. AKA Moodymann has been at the forefront of house music for almost two decades. Hailing from Detroit, USA, he is undoubtedly one of the best house artists, ever. Period.
His music transcends genre. Since the late 90’s, he’s been seamlessly blending jazz, hip-hop and funk, serving it stirred, sometimes shaken, into an enticing and rich blend of house. He samples heavily, from soul and disco, his sound organic, and very often, beautiful.
That’s the music. Then there’s the Moodymann part; the man, the legend, the enigma. Little is known about Dixon Jr. He rarely speaks to press or gives interviews. He masks himself on stage and has a penchant for DJing with Ipod earbuds, rather than headphones, for no good reason. His whole career is steeped in a very smokey, strange veneer of mystery.
The second my eyes opened on the morning of the show, I found myself involuntarily yelling “YES!” to no one in particular. Anno Domini had brought Christmas nine months early.
The day kicked off with a few ciders at Danny V’s, sound tracked by our own scratchy attempts at mixing vinyl. A ferry ride, a stroll and a couple of guilty Kingfishers later, we found ourselves in Albert Park, overlooking the venue, bathing in sunlight. Disco was carrying from the balcony and into the park around. We didn’t waste too much time.
Melbourne based selector, JNETT kicked things off. A luminary in the Australian scene, like Moodymann, JNETT has been DJing since the early 90s. She didn’t disappoint. As a longtime purveyor of house and disco, her performance was impeccable. Sipping champagne and laying down mostly vinyl, her set was probably the second best I’ve ever witnessed (do the math).
Anno Domini was a whole lot more than a doof with a couple of DJs. It was no kiwi piss up, no sirree. In fact, the event is so unique it didn’t even feel like we were in NZ. The event takes place on the very beautiful Auckland Art Gallery balcony. With vistas of the skyline and the verdant Albert Park, you would be hard pressed to find a classier venue anywhere in the city. As well as the music, the good people behind Anno Domini pay careful attention to every detail from the food to the drink to the trendy cats running the door. And it all sets the tone for the day; no boozers, douchebags or meltdowns, just a positive gang of carousers, there to enjoy the music and dance. Touché, Anno Domini, touché.
As the Auckland sun drifted towards the skyline, Moodymann quietly appeared side stage, a trademark fishnet covering his face. Like MF Doom, Moodymann’s decision to mask himself seems to be a symbolic gesture, one that urges the audience to focus on the music, not the performer. In 2007, he told the BBC’s Giles Peterson, “people pay attention to the damn DJ, the talent is sitting on the turntable”.
Excited murmurs ran through the crowd- the man of the hour had arrived. The DJs chatted for a few minutes. At one point it seemed as if JNETT was offering Moodymann her headphones. Moodymann shook us head and plugged in his earbuds.
Moodymann got busy. He's got a steezy, sorcerer-esque style behind the decks. It was very slick.
Moodymann’s voice has become an icon in it’s own right, both in and outside of house music. His vocals have been immortalized on a number of tracks, often to great effect (see: Oliver $'s-Doin Ya Thang & Rob Wu's How You Do it). And then there is, of course, Drake’s Passionfruit. The tune samples Moodymann speaking on the mic at a show in Manchester back in 2010 (for the record, Oliver $ did it first). 30 minutes into his set, Moodymann picked up the mic and spoke -
“Hold on. Hoooold on…”
The crowd fell quiet. For a DJ, to abruptly cut a mix and speak over the mic, it’s sacrilege. But for Moodymann, it’s all part of the show. He sung praises to the crowd, house music and DJ's worldwide. He ran the vinyl back, introduced the track and got back into it. Then he stopped the track again. "Hold on, hold on...", he ran it back one more time, explaining that he'd forgotten to introduce another Detroit native that featured on the track.
Moodymann is known for doing things differently. He warps genres in his eclectic output of house music. He produces using an MPC, typically for hip-hip producers. And his DJing... damn. To steal Dixon Jr's words, the talent is sitting on the turntable. Asides from his seamless mixing of house music, Moodymann threw a number of curve balls in his set.
One was Kelis's Millionaire, another was The Beatles Come Together. With the crowd singing the final chorus of Come Together, out of nowhere Moodymann dropped a total sucker punch - Alix Perez's banging Forsaken... What? We were dumbstruck. It was through the proverbial roof.
Before Moodymann I’d paid money for house shows twice in my life - once at Chaos in the CBD last year and again at a Friendly Potential dance two days before Moodymann. Both had me questioning my current existence, leaving me in mid-dancefloor existential crises - what the fuck are you still doing in Dunedin? Get out. Move. The city, Auckland, Melbourne, anywhere...
So to be at show where it’s attendees are there, almost exclusively for the music, it’s like going to some kind of seventh heaven...
House music is gods gift. It's a community like no other. And if you don't like it... well, you go to one of these shows and tell us otherwise.
In spite of my naivety, the crowd knew they were experiencing something special. You could feel it in the air. It's a rare energy to be part of. So as the sky turned to a hazy mix of pastels, Moodymann brought his set to a close. Our faces were melted and our legs weary. We stumbled back into Albert Park and the reality of a dusty Monday, smiling all the while. It was a beautiful Sunday indeed.
Words by Sam Fraser-Baxter
Photos by Connor Crawford