The pandemic shifted how the world consumed dance music, but fans are ready to groove.
Clubs and festivals abroad have shuttered since the pandemic began, but for electronic dance music fans the beat plays on. Take it from Wilkinson, a British DJ and producer who is playing an almost-sold-out tour across NZ from this week.
The 32-year-old Mark Wilkinson hails from England and his hits include Afterglow featuring Becky Hill, which has over 92 million streams. The artist, whose sound leans into drum and bass, won over New Zealand audiences during festival slots like Rhythm and Vines and Hidden Valley. Eager to perform in front of his fans again, he's embarking on an NZ arena tour.
The way some fans have consumed dance music may have changed over the course of the pandemic, but he says he is more than ready to debut his new music to a country experiencing relative freedom.
"I think the pandemic changed the way we write music, and also the way we perform it," he says, speaking about the effects of the pandemic on his sound from a MIQ facility in Wellington. While there's a "light at the end of the tunnel" for himself and other DJs abroad, he says there was some benefit to having to shift how he and others in his genre made music.
"At first, I was a little bit relieved, if I'm honest, to have a little break," he says. But as that 'little break' went on, the financial reality hit the creative industries, a tough moment for an artist who was touring constantly.
"I think it pushed me and other DJs into discovering more ways to connect with fans and spread the music," he adds. He even released a song from quarantine last Friday, a drum and bass heavy song which sounds like a precursor to the world opening up again.
And his New Zealand fans, who rushed to buy tickets to see him live, are certainly behind him. He sold 20,000 tickets in a single day and is one of the fastest-selling dance act tours in NZ history. He counts NZ as one of his most important markets, and even during his time in MIQ he was able to see just how much support he has here.
"Even when I've been in this [managed] isolation hotel, there have been a few people who have waved at me and shouted my name from the street and it's crazy to know that there are people out there who are into my music."
Promising "loads of new music and new energy" from his tour of Aotearoa, Wilkinson fans are in for a treat when he plays shows here this week. The shows are also a testing ground for how fans will respond to his new tracks in the lead up to the new album he is working on.
EDM artists especially rely on the feedback of their crowds to fuel their music, but it was impossible in his home country. So instead, Wilkinson went inwards on the album Portals he made with Sub Focus, released in 2020.
"We really wanted the album to be more about listening in a situation that wasn't just a nightclub," he said. There wasn't the chance for crowd feedback to gauge how a song works on the club or summer festival circuit, instead, fans would be listening in the comfort of their own homes and on daily lockdown walks.
But NZ fans have no slowing appetite for live electronic music. If ticket sales are anything to go by, EDM fans are ready to party in droves and Wilkinson is stoked to be hosting.
"It's sort of kept me going seeing other DJs performing, just being able to look forward to this arena tour has been amazing. It got me through the lockdown in the UK."
Wilkinson's arena tour starts tonight at Wellington's TSB Arena, and he is also playing concerts in Dunedin, Christchurch, Hamilton and Hastings plus two shows in Auckland at Trusts Arena on May 14 and 15.
• Final tickets are available for Wilkinson's tour from endeavour.live/wilkinson.