Peachy Keen Festival
Basin Reserve, Wellington
Saturday 3 April 2021
After a week of truly abysmal weather, Wellington seemingly changed its mind and decided to about turn, blessing us with a beautiful sunny day at the Basin Reserve – ideal for a festival.
Peachy Keen felt different from your usual festival as well. One of the key things that stood out is that every act on the bill were fronted by women [except Sweet Mix Kids, the between-set DJs]. Look at most festival posters and you’ll notice that wāhine are glaringly absent, so this was a super welcome progressive change. It also felt more laid back. Many festivals feel like waster-fests (in NZ at least) with a strong focus on punters getting inebriated. Although alcohol was available for purchase all day, I didn’t notice anyone getting out of hand. It felt like a safer than normal environment – I’d even go so far to say family-friendly, seeing as many children were in attendance as well.
I love Wellington. Say what you want about the politicians and the wind, but it’s an awesome city to live in. Last week the main street in the CBD was closed off all weekend to accommodate a huge free festival called Cubadupa, which involved a hundreds of bands and artists showing their creative side at the numerous stages and areas that had been built for the festival around the city. I’d seen local trio KITA play on the Sunday, attracting a fair crowd with their hypnotic music.
Thinking back, I used to see drummer Rick Cranson and keyboardist Ed Zuccollo play with Adam Page years ago. They were a wonderful match, very technically proficient and able to improvise and synergise with each other. Now they have Nikita Tu-Bryant at the helm, who has a fantastic voice.
Their music was great for the setting. Enough groove to entice some dancers to the front, and laid back enough to suit the sunny Saturday. Really great stuff, and an awesome start to the day.
*Also, check out their new video clip for “Private Lies” that that released today*
Chelsea Jade was dressed all in white – a nod to cricket, which is what usually takes place at the Basin Reserve where the festival was being held. Flanked by a backing singer on either side, Jade delivered a polished pop set with choreographed dancing.
I’m out-of-the-loop but clearly Jade’s fans knew what was going on, she had them crouching down during parts of her set. She worked the crowd well, evidenced by the throng of fans all dancing against the barrier. She even invited one girl up onstage to dance, who promptly admitted that she had a crush on Jade. “If you dance well enough I may consider it mutual” Jade laughed.
I can’t decide if it was laughable or genius (possibly both), but Paige started off her set by covering the Highschool Musical song, which garnered a great reaction. It was a strong start, with instant participation from the crowd and a big sing-along. Her music is fairly laid back so the energy died down a bit, but she’s got a great voice and it was a nice set. I loved the backing visuals too, with bumble bees buzzing around on the screen at the back of the stage.
The Beths were definitely the act I was most looking forward to seeing today. They’ve been progressing from strength to strength in recent years and always killed it during the handful of times I’ve seen them play live. I consider their recent album Jump Rope Gazers the best release of 2020 and was obviously excited to see them play some of it live again.
Of course they delivered. I’m a rocker – no doubt about it – so it was great to see a full band letting loose. They’re fairly humble about their abilities, but watch guitarist Jonathan Pearce shred and you’ll soon see why they deserved to win so big at the recent Aotearoa Music Awards. And of course frontwoman Liz Stokes was the star, with her unapologetic Kiwi accent shining through.The sound quality was a bit patchy – unfortunately something that is fairly common at outdoor gigs – but this didn’t detract from the set too much. The Beths delivered a set of irresistibly fun and catchy hits. Seriously, check them out if you haven’t listened to them already.
It was a pretty spread demographic attending the fest, split among gender and ages. But looking at the lineup, the promoters were clearly targeting a younger audience. This makes Stellar* an outlier, seeing as most of what they’re known for having happened 20+ years ago.
I’d seen Stellar* open for Shihad in Riwaka (just out of Nelson) on New Years Eve a few years ago. I was shocked at how similar this set was to last time, with singer Boh Runga introducing the songs almost exactly as she had last time I’d seen them play. They should at least be able to mix the banter up so they don’t feel stagnant. The audio mix was also quite bad, noticeably worse than The Beths’ mix had been. The set was fine. I do enjoy their music but it looked like they were struggling to garner much of a reaction from the audience. Stellar* need to work on freshening up if they want to be more than a boomer nostalgia band.
I’ll admit I hadn’t really heard Foley before today. But they were fun. I always prefer a band over a DJ or backing track, and they were full of energy. I don’t have much more to say, but I enjoyed them.
Ladi6 was sliiiick. You can tell that she’s been doing this for a while, because this was a performance in every sense. There were three DJs (?) at the rear, manning decks and a mini drum kit and I’m not sure what. Ladi6 was front and centre, commanding attention. She used Samoan fans as props (and I’m sure to keep her cool – it was hot!), and had dancers dressed in bright orange to either side of her. The dancers were super effective – totally in sync and they really stood out with their orange attire. Peachy Keen was all about feminist representation, and Ladi6 upped the ante by making a point to address cultural inclusiveness as well, with the dancers incorporating Pasifika flags into their routines. I’ve gotta say it was certainly the most professional and polished set of the day, and visually it really stood out.
By contrast, Ladyhawke fell a bit flat. The acts had been running progressively later throughout the day and there was quite a wait before she came on. I don’t know what the cause of this was but I’m guessing it was something to do with soundchecking and set ups? Sweet Mix Kids helped to amp the crowd up during these breaks with their DJ sets but that energy dispersed when Ladyhawke came on.
It was finally dark by this point, making the lights onstage effective, but there was just something missing from this set. A few of the better known singles caused ripples of excitement among fans, but overall it was underwhelming.
Gin Wigmore knows how to party. Brimming with confidence, she showed us a good time. Her band rocked. I’d heard a rumour that one of her guitarists had caught covid on the way to NZ so she’d had to recruit a ring-in, but honestly, you wouldn’t know it. They played flawlessly.
Wigmore also joined in, playing guitar on a few tracks, and thumping the hell out of a floor tom drum towards the end of the set. You could tell she was enjoying herself and it was infectious.
Her husband Jason Butler managed to get on someone’s shoulders in the mosh pit. He stripped of his shirt and beanie and threw it onstage. Security guards quickly flashed their torches at him and made him get down, but Wigmore lapped it up, flirting with him from onstage. “Hey sexy man, I think I’ll marry you and have your babies!” she shouted. “Hmmmm I can smell some weed. I live in LA, where you can have someone deliver it to you in a three piece suit. Not like here in NZ, where you have to go to a dodgy area to pay $20 for something wrapped in aluminum foil. Anyone want to share?” she joked.
And now for the big act. The stage was noticeably bigger, with some of the clutter from the wings removed to make space. The drums looked formidable, with odd perspex shields set in front (I guess for acoustic mix reasons). Benee was the big draw card that many people had come for.
She came onstage rocking a red puffer jacket and a fluffy bucket hat. And fair enough – it’d been a scorcher earlier on, but there was a definite chill in the air now it was past 10pm. The stage was quite dark despite the lights, and Benee nonchalantly walked from side to side as she sang.
I don’t know if it was forced or is she’s just odd, but Benee was full of quirks. She adopted different accents every time she addressed the crowd. She made animal noises during the pauses between lyrics. At one point she just lay on the floor of the stage as she sang.
I’ll be honest, the appeal was lost on me, but obviously my opinion didn’t matter because thousands of adoring fans were hanging onto every word. Benee’s set started more than an hour later than scheduled, but there was a strict sound curfew of 11pm, so her set was cut a lot shorter than anticipated.
There was a bit of an outcry over the drastically shortened set, but there’s nothing that could be done.
All in all it was a fantastic day. Thankfully it was sunny. The Basin Reserve was a suitable venue, with plenty of space for a stage and dancing area, as well as surrounding banks for those who just wanted to lay back and soak it all in. Most of the acts played well, although it was possibly a bit ambitious booking so many. Once events like this start falling behind time it can snowball, and it’s a real shame that the two last acts had to cut songs from their sets.
Sure, there were a few teething problems, but overall it was a great success, and it’s very likely that we’ll see another Peachy Keen event in years to come. It had a unique vibe that I hope they can replicate in the future. I wonder if they’ll aim to pull international acts or if they’ll stick to Aotearoa artists, but either way, they deserve congratulations for taking such a progressive stance and making a point of celebrating women in music.
Words and photos by Joseph James