Saturday night at the Butter Factory – Whangarei NZ’s premier venue for original music – was packed out for the long awaited return of Strangely Arousing. A sea of band t-shirts greeted the five-piece progressive reggae/ska band from Rotorua that hasn’t been in Whangarei since pre-pandemic. The band is close to local’s hearts as they’ve been touring through since Strangely Arousing’s inception. At that time, members Lukas Wharekura (vocals, guitar), Liam Rolfe (trombone, keys, backing vocals), Guy Harrison (trumpet, keys), Shaun Loper (bass guitar), and Oliver Prendergast (drums) were in high school – the name originating as something that was amusing to make their teachers say. Several years and milestones later, including a popular appearance on NZ’s Got Talent and tours from New Zealand to South Korea, China, and Dubai, they are still like family to one another. Their presence in Whangarei feels like a reunion to which we’ve all been welcomed, supporting acts Patsy Skeet, Sonar.Suite, The RVMES, and DOLLA (NZ) feeding right into the vibe with the help of James Rowarth and Luke Finlay on lighting and sound.
DJ Patsy Skeet is a Queen of fashion and funk. Before and between bands, she set the tone of the evening appealing to the diverse audience with undeniable groove and a sprinkling of cult classics. Donna Summers, Nancy Sinatra, Wild Cherry, and more got the house treatment while the dance floor sparkled under her reign. With just two years to her career, Patsy Skeet already has the support of many established artists, and is slated to play a number of festivals in the coming year.
Sonar.Suite is a new solo project featuring fellow NZ’s Got Talent alum, Brendon Thomas. Bringing all the energy of a full band with only vocals, guitar, and backing tracks, Sonar.Suite brought some Childish Gambino, Silk Sonic, Prince vibes to the table. Chill funky grooves, soulful singing, assertive rapping, and melodic guitar work plus no tolerance for “negativity or any of that dumb shit.” Sonar.Suite demanded the audience leave their troubles at the door and led by example. Whilst rhyming “dope as fuck” with “nunchucks”, how could you not?
Auckland based indie rockers Edwin Judd (vocals, rhythm guitar), Logan Fox (drums), Miro Gibson (lead guitar) and Ronaldo Lima (bass guitar, bongos) of The RVMES (pronounced ‘The Rooms’) are well known for their high energy performances and charismatic showmanship. Judd’s easy smile, good humored delivery, and electric presence make him a compelling frontman beside Gibson’s own guitar hero charm, Lima’s indelible bass hooks, and Fox’s hard hitting rock pocket. Their hour set flew by with a variety of rock-fusion based originals; funk, punk, reggae, latin, pop, hip hop, and even jazz swing. Bands as varied as Arctic Monkeys, Rage Against the Machine, Benny Goodman’s Big Band, Eddie Money, The Small Faces, and Santana came to mind even as the set flowed seamlessly, leaving the audience energized and chanting for more.
When Strangely Arousing took the stage after midnight the audience welcomed their ska/reggae/dub fusion with head nodding, booty dropping, forget yourself intent. Given that this was their first gig together since the pandemic, the band gelled, eyes straight ahead or closed in one drop meditation, as if there was no rust to shake. “Come and enjoy yourself, stay here a little while / come and enjoy yourself, I know you can’t help yourself / just don’t cramp my style” commenced a visceral set on themes of escapism, dysfunctional romance, and working class angst. Wharekura’s vehement vocals encouraged rile and release while the rhythm sections kept bodies bumping, dub teased, and horns thrust melody in the faces of their voracious audience. Traces of Sublime, The Cat Empire, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Pepper could be heard besides the influence of heritage artists such as Fat Freddy’s Drop and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Twists of New Orleans Jazz, Frelekh, and unexpected samples kept things fresh.
DJ DOLLA (NZ) took the late night crowd home with an encyclopedic recall of diverse bangers. Missy Elliott, DireStraights, Inner Circle, Bomfunk MC’s, the James Bond 007 theme, and more were tumbled and polished like beach glass between drum and bass. The dancing crowd held strong under DJ DOLLA’s influence through closing time, an auspicious start for the second freshman DJ of the night.
Photos by Micky Nogher in collaboration with Maggie Cocco Music