Supersized reggae band to hit town

By Nathan Crombie -
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FUN TIMES: Newtown Rocksteady play their debut gig at King Street Live in Masterton on Saturday and will help blow out the candles for Wairarapa music promotion company Up With People, which is celebrating its first birthday with the party event. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
FUN TIMES: Newtown Rocksteady play their debut gig at King Street Live in Masterton on Saturday and will help blow out the candles for Wairarapa music promotion company Up With People, which is celebrating its first birthday with the party event. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Lovers of reggae will be treated to a more traditional handling of the genre at the first birthday party of a Masterton music promotion crew on Saturday.

Newtown Rocksteady is a 13-piece band that has been skanking at festivals, house parties and live venues across New Zealand after forming in the wake of "public jams" held at the Newtown Community Centre about seven years ago, says drummer Andy Hoy.

The band plays this Saturday at King Street Live alongside special guests including Mat Enright and DJ Brother Lee Love to celebrate the first anniversary of the founding of Masterton music promotion company, Up With People, which comprises a partnership between Mark Rogers and Katie Grantham, who have been staging gigs throughout the region since August last year.

The company staged Newtown Rocksteady's regional debut in May at the Wai Beat youth concert at Wairarapa College, Hoy said, and the upcoming gig is likewise welcome for the supersized band despite the smaller stage.

"The band is used to kind of fitting in to small areas. We'll just bunch up. We're definitely not scared of each other," he said.

The band boasts professional musicians from fellow Wellington bands like Brockaflowersaurus-rex, Urban Tramper, The Nudge and Fly My Pretties alongside other members who work day jobs, he said. Hoy said Newtown Rocksteady is distinguished by its more traditional treatment of rocksteady - by lineage fitting somewhere between reggae and ska - that fuels its 100-tune repertoire. He said the band had won a dedicated live following in Wellington and success with their two EPs to date, including a 2011 self-titled six-track and the 10-track Goin' Steady released in April.

He had recorded, mixed and mastered the debut EP at his Wellington home, Hoy said, while the second EP used "better gear" borrowed from Wellington's Surgery Studios, where early Phoenix Foundation, Black Seeds and Trinity Roots tracks had been laid. "People are in to the genre already and that helps definitely but I think our style is slightly different because I'm not smashing the snare on that two and four (beats), which is common when other bands play reggae. "I think that helps us stand a little bit apart and it's not actually rock. It's so easy to just rock out but then it's harder to make it mean something. We're into making it mean something and with 13 players there really isn't room enough for everyone to be all doing their own thing at once. It's definitely about minimising what you're playing and leaving some gaps," he said.

Hoy said the musical "spaces" that mark rocksteady are suited as well to other Kiwi bands that ground their sound in reggae. "I think New Zealanders are not so outgoing compared to other countries and I guess we've got a good sense of being humble and not saying much rather than speaking out. I reckon that's a reggae kind of attitude, to use less to say what you have to say."

Hoy said Newtown Rocksteady will record a "bunch of new songs" in November but the players are for now geared to "helping blow out the birthday candles" at their second Wairarapa gig. Newtown Rocksteady play at King Street Live on Saturday. Door sales will be available with advance tickets costing $15 at www.dashtickets.co.nz.

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