Beats above 170 BPM have always been well-received down in New Zealand (NZ). Whether it’s lush liquid breaks to compliment a classic Kiwi summer, or rugged beats and brash low-end to match urban jungles like inner-city Auckland, Wellington, or Christchurch.
The sound was originally pushed in the late 90’s and early 2000s by household names like State of Mind, Concord Dawn, The Upbeats, Trei, and Shapeshifter. The successes of Concord Dawn’s ‘Uprising’ or The Upbeats’ ‘Big Skeleton’ showed that New Zealanders crave the dark, gritty, and mysterious tracks that computer producers can create. While Shapeshifter’s ‘Electric Dream’ or State of Mind’s ‘Sunking’ are still adored as summer anthems across the country.
Overseas counterparts like Noisia, Ed Rush, Phace, and Chris.SU all gave it plenty of support and frequently collaborated in those early days. This would’ve helped push it out to a wider audience, as well as encourage NZ producers to continue to DJ and produce.
But it’s not just homegrown artists that keep it alive in NZ. We’ve seen an ecosystem of labels, radio stations, clubs, promoters, and festivals establish – all of which are contributing to a scene that is parked in the sweet spot of being both popular and underground.
Breaking Beats produce world class shows that always sell out in Wellington. Since 2010, Bassfreaks have been hosting massive international shows in Christchurch. And in Auckland, competition among the many clubs and promoters is fierce – much to the delight of the large population of D&B heads up there.
But more recently, fresh faces Charles Clatworthy and Ben Elisara, have raised Coastal Promotions to the forefront of NZ D&B. In a seemingly saturated market for promoters, I was curious to discover how they managed to carve their own niche.
Interviewing Charles, he acknowledges that their unique brand of events has sparked a new wave of demand from their student peers. Staying consistent and knowing their strengths has helped build a loyal audience, anchoring their position among other long-established promoters.
Let’s start from the top. How did you two meet and discover drum and bass?
We met through mutual friends at university, and by my second year we became real good friends. Kicked it off really well. We’d both already known about drum and bass before we met – Ben through DJing in the student halls, and me through some of my friends in the Totara Records crew, who mixed throughout high school.
At uni I had a pair of decks, so we just started DJing at house parties. We noticed we were getting pretty decent crowd reactions. We also had quite a few other people within our close-friend circle who were really good DJs too.
And what made you decide you want to start putting on shows?
I study Music Industry at Massey University in Wellington, so I guess it was always going to lead to me doing this sort of thing.
We also had a lot of friends down in Dunedin who ran a collective called Halftime Oranges – it was made up of a bunch of students. They were running gigs and I went to a few. And as I was watching the scene grow down there I thought ‘Why don’t I bring this to Wellington?’.
I just watched how the Dunedin scene was working and saw that there was a big gap in the Wellington market; people used to go out on Wednesdays, but that had died out and everyone went back to going to flat parties. I was keen to create a scene and get people going out in the weeks again. Get the DJs out of the flat parties and onto the live stage.
So a consistent, underground vibe for students was what you wanted to establish?
Yeah definitely. And I just saw so much untapped talent too, especially with my friends that were producers and DJs who weren’t getting many shows. Because it was quite hard to get booked, and now they’ve gotten the opportunity to play in numerous venues in front of numerous sized crowds, and also support internationals, get in conversation with them, and stuff like that.
Did you have a vision, or draw inspiration from any other promoters?
My vision was basically start off small and see how big we can take it. I wanted to do a student drum and bass show all around New Zealand – starting off in Wellington, and then bring it to Dunedin. Somehow get it to Christchurch and then have the finale in Auckland. I wanted to do that with the best DJs from all around the country, with each show only having local DJs. And that’s one thing I took from the Breaking Beats and Halftime Oranges boys. I saw that they were always promoting their crew quite highly, they’d bring an international but it was also focussed on the fact that their crew can throw-down and that they’re going to be able to pull their weight.
Which role do each of you take in running the promotions?
So I’m pretty much in charge of the general running of the company. I organise all the bookings, social media work, contact with agents. And then Ben’s more in charge of scouting for new artists to join the collective, and working on his own music as well, so that we can start releasing some music from the Coastal Collective. He’s also been responsible for organising us a lot of financial grants and sponsorship opportunities – things like start up business grants.
We’ve got a bunch of others helping us out like Ed Hone, who’s in charge of visual direction, videos, logos, artworks. Then there’s Shyam Patel who’s our main photographer. Trent Kokich does all our poster designs. And Shaun Callaghan is helping with merch designs and some other bits. The wider Coastal Collective DJs are all pretty involved in discussions of tours and acts as well.
At the time of you guys starting, Wellington’s scene alone was already thriving with a number of established promoters. Such as Breaking Beats, Sub:Bass, Frederick Crew, Bass Frontiers – what was your approach to carving a niche?
I think it was a ‘for the students, by the students’ thing. As well as keeping it a bit more focused keeping it local. Yes, the scene was really thriving, but it was much more focussed on the internationals, and throwing massive parties with a huge headliners and a few locals to support – as opposed to having just locals.
We thought, let’s make a show that’s really cheap ($5-10 ticket), in a venue that hasn’t really done as much drum and bass before – somewhere cool and unique, that students could get excited about. Targeting that young adult and student demographic was our key point of difference.
Our first show was insane. It ended up selling out about two weeks in advance, and we had people lining up at like 7pm. I think people liked buying into the name of it as well, it was like something cool and new, people hadn’t heard of Heavy Rollers before and it wasn’t just Big Promoter Presents: International Artist – it was a new series of events which people thought was new and exciting, because it was a bunch of people that they knew – some guy you met at a flat party is now DJing at a show.
So was it after a few local shows you decided to bite the bullet and book a pair of international acts?
We got quite lucky with that. So the build up to that was we did three local shows, before landing a residency at Club 121 – so we started doing club nights with them monthly, and then after that we did a show in Dunedin. All of those went really well, all sell out shows, and we were getting lots of reception online.
So then this Australian promotions company called OneSevenFour approached us saying ‘Hey we really like what you’re doing, we’d love to partner up and offer you some international artists’. So that’s how we got BCee and LSB offered to us, and it was a great success. Definitely a bit of a risk for us – it was pretty much all our capital at the time – but it ended up paying off.
Can you tell me about any particularly memorable nights over the past year and a half?
The biggest, most memorable night was probably when we did a stage takeover at ‘The Tea Party’ in Christchurch last year. That was just awesome, and something we never expected to do after only six months of operation. We had a stage from about 10AM to 5PM, just with our best mates and crew playing, packed the whole time. That was a real moment for me. Turno as well – that was massive to put on two back to back shows that sold out. There’s actually been so many big moments man.
What are you noticing about the NZ D&B scene right now? Where’s it heading? Is it growing or changing?
I think it’s just growing bigger and bigger. Not to say we were the first people to do it – but I’ve noticed that a lot more people our age are getting involved now, doing a similar thing to us but in their own city. Which is really cool to see. There’s these guys, Deco Events, in Napier who are doing a similar thing – they’ve got local and international shows going and we’re actually going to do a show with them too. And there’s these other guys Momentum Promotions down in Christchurch who are a pretty sick DJ collective who are entrenched in the student scene.
I also think more people are getting on the live stage, and more people getting into production. It seems like people are opening up a lot more to a wider range of D&B too. If you looked at the scene a few years ago, most students would know names like Dimension, Culture Shock – and I love those guys – but now [Wellington students] are fully aware of guys like Alix Perez, AMC, Halogenix. They’re getting into more niche drum and bass.
It’s going to become an even bigger genre for New Zealand I think – and people are going to be getting involved at a younger age.
What’s in the pipeline for you guys?
We’ve got so much going on at the moment. I’ve got three shows this week. I’m playing support for S.P.Y in Dunedin, then we’ve got a Coastal show in Dunedin, and then we’re in Christchurch.
One of the biggest things coming up is that we’re playing and Rhythm & Alps this year – we’re not sure on the details of whether that’s a stage takeover or what sort of capacity, but we’ll definitely be there.
And then we’ve got a Med-School night at Studio in Auckland – Five headliners. That’s gonna be a big job.
Then we’ve got lots of other ideas too: Bush doofs, playing at festivals, hitting local spots like Napier and Tauranga… an Australia tour maybe?
And where do you want to take Coastal in the next few years? Would you want to go bigger and keep expanding or maintain the local vibe?
I think we want to have duality with that. Because the local thing is so important to us – I definitely want to keep it central within New Zealand. But I also want to take it on overseas tours as well. We’d be really keen to hit the UK, and I’ve been in touch with MC Zee who runs a big collective over in Canada.
I think Australia would be a good first step. We’ve got some pretty good connections over there, so we want to do some form of a tour and engage with the students over there.
I’d also love to do some collaborations with other big promoters too like Audiology, Fuzen, that sort of thing.