Around The World with A-Trak: Australasia

By A-Trak
October 09, 2009

I went to Japan for some gigs about 3 weeks ago. You may recall I did a pretty hefty Asian tour back in May where I hit a lot of countries where I hadn't played before and as a result didn't go too heavy in Japan since it's normally the prime destination for a DJ. So this time around I came back and did my Nippon jaunt. I got in on a Friday evening. I always say that the toughest part of that long trip to the other side of the world isn't the flight itself, it's the two hour car ride from the airport to the center of the city after you get off that plane. I arrived at my hotel and ran into Dâm Funk, Stones Throw's star funkateer, in the lobby. He had a gig that night but unfortunately I was just too tired to make it out. I was in bed before midnight, and if you've ever journeyed to that part of the world you know that also means I was wide awake at 5am. That second day I walked around and did some shopping. I almost bought a 303 and some drum machines, until I realized that I can essentially get the same stuff back home but cheaper. That Japanese exclusivity isn't quite the same as when I first went there 10 years ago and came back with all these astounding finds. What still makes the Japanese shopping experience impressive is the thoroughness of their buyers: you walk into a shop and see every vintage synth, drum machine and a keyboard you dream of all at once. The sneaker game is similar now: nothing mindblowing in itself but everything at once. I had a great dinner with the promoter and his French friend visiting, who happens to be the music coordinator for Colette. I was looking forward to my gig that night, it was my first time playing Womb which is probably the best club in Tokyo. There was a bit of an unexpected addition to the bill. The Black Eyed Peas were also in Japan and was really keen to play a DJ set at my show. When my interpreter came to pick up me up an hour before my set, we were interrogated by two police officers as I walked out of the hotel, and before we knew it the entire car and the contents of my bags were getting searched. It was a holiday weekend, everyone was out in the streets and apparently they were cracking down on foreigners bringing in drugs. This was easily the most polite search and interrogation that I ever experienced. Still, we arrived at the club in a hurry. As expected, Will was on deck with the other 3 Peas. When I jumped on, I was able to phase out the strangeness of the evening and have a good time playing for a very receptive crowd. Sadly that was only temporary. My phone didn't have reception in the club and when I finally left the place at 5am, after being awake for 24 hours, I suddenly had a dozen messages and was greeted by the terrible news that my dear friend and mentor Roc Raida had passed away back home.

I'm not going to dig too deep into my grieving process here. If you're interested you can read this eulogy that I wrote a few days after the fact. But to say that I was crushed is an understatement, and as you can imagine, being so far from home did not make it any easier. All I wanted on that following day was to get a change of environment. So when it was time for dinner, the promoter was kind enough to take me to an entirely different part of Tokyo that I had never seen, the traditional theatre and entertainment district of Asakusa, and we dined at a restaurant that specialized in fugu, which you may know as the blowfish that almost poisoned Homer Simpson. It may only be prepared by a master since the best tasting flesh is closest to the bile. We were served hot sake with marinated fugu tail in it and our meal was comprised of six drastically different preparations of this elusive fish. There were no tourists in sight and indeed I was able to get my mind off things for a bit. The next day I went to Kyoto on the bullet train. Although this was my tenth or eleventh trip to Japan, it was my first time in Kyoto and I was charmed by that city. Gone were the shiny neons, bright lights and bustling streets. There is a simple elegance to it, and it is also home to some of the most tasteful designs and fashion in the country. Upon my arrival I went to a traditional hot spring and let nature's mineral-rich water do its work. I was the only foreigner there and I continued to clear my thoughts. It actually felt great to DJ that night and really lose myself in my craft. I was joined by my Japanese friends Dexpistols who also played with me in Tokyo. On my last day I asked to be taken to the Arashiyama monkey park, which is just what the name indicates: a mountainous park where you can go hang out with some monkeys.

I ended my trip with another fabulous meal unlike anything I could find back home with multiple small courses, a veritable exploration of tastes and textures.

From there I flew to Australia for the primary objective of this tour: Parklife festival. Australia has these touring festivals where the same bill hits multiple cities over a period of two weeks and they end up feeling like summer camp with a group of peers and buddies that you normally only get to see a few times per year. I had a particularly grueling itinerary to get to Australia. What should have taken me a dozen hours took me about 30 as I flew through Kuala Lumpur with long layovers. Before the first official show I first stopped in Canberra, the administrative (and admittedly unexciting) capital, for a club gig with fellow Canadians MSTRKRFT and Tiga. I arrived in Australia the after those apocalyptic sand storms that were all over the news, but when I got there the sky looked normal. The highlight of my stay in that city was the discovery of a funny food name: spatchcock. I made my tour manager order it just so I could hear him say "I'll have the spatchcock please." It's a grilled preparation of a small game bird.

Next up was Brisbane for the first date of the festival. I was pretty amazed to be playing on the main stage, I even had the closing time slot. I was on the same stage as Empire Of The Sun (who are huge in Australia), La Roux, Little Boots and a few others. I got to the festival in time to watch my buddies Busy P and MSTRKRFT play for an afternoon crowd of suntanned partygoers. Brisbane makes me think of Florida with its high concentration of muscle men and beach girls. The festival was in a park and we found a huge possum in the dressing room area. I also saw some big iguanas while driving around on a golf cart from stage to stage. I got back to my area, watched La Roux perform to a massive crowd of well over 10,000 and thought "maybe I should adapt my set a little". I did, and soon enough I was up there on that stage mixing some festival choons with my usual zigga-zigga. The festival had prepared some unique visuals for me, loosely based on the light show that I had on the 10,000LB Hamburger Tour this summer. The only obstacle during my set was the return of the sand storm! When I finished playing my laptop and records were literally covered in a small layer of sand and dirt. When I got back to my hotel I could feel the scratchiness in my nose and throat. Despite being tired from all this traveling, I had to go play an official afterparty with my boy Beni and the Rapture. The next morning we got up early to head out to Perth which is a 5 hour flight all the way to the Western tip of Australia. I remember feeling so dry when I arrived there, after the sand and long plane rides. I even got a nosebleed when I got to my hotel! Milhouse Macklovitch. I didn't really know what to expect for that show because Perth is pretty disconnected from the rest of Australia, but it was actually one of my best shows of the whole tour! 15,000 people at my stage just eager to dance. Check this video of a wheelchair crowdsurf, that was a first for me:

So Perth was on a Sunday. Most of the festival artists had the full week off in Sydney, only to pick up on the rest of the dates the following weekend, but I actually had a bunch of activities planned and knew the week would fly by in an instant. Monday I flew back to Sydney which took all day. Tuesday I got up at the crack of dawn and went to a town called Wagga Wagga to do some workshops for Heaps Decent. We went to a juvenile detention center and worked on original music with some of the inmates, most of them indigenous and underprivileged. You can read my full account of it here, it was extremely inspiring for me. Wednesday was my only day off, although I spent most of it catching up with Fool's Gold work at my hotel. Thursday was a full press day followed by some group activities with everyone from the festival. I started off with some phone interviews, then went to be a guest host on Rage TV, a long-running music video show. I had made a selection of videos in advance and essentially I was presenting them. Then I went to Triple J, one of the national radio stations, and did an hour-long guest stint where I picked 5 songs to play and told touring stories related to each of them. After that I went to meet the rest of the group and we went to the Wildlife Park, an indoor zoo specializing in Australian animals. We saw enormous snakes, deadly spiders, insects that looked like big twigs on legs, the always-lovable wombats, wallabees, and yes, kangaroos and koalas. Finally we hopped on a two hour boat cruise into Sydney Harbor and munched on hors d'oeuvres. Friday I went to Auckland, New Zealand for a club gig. The flight to Auckland is shorter than the one to Perth but there's a three hour time difference and I think that alone makes the trip tiring. Upon my arrival in town I went to visit the Serato team at their headquarters and was treated to a highly exclusive peek at their new developments. I even had to sign a non-disclosure agreement! I'm still salivating from what I saw. Speaking of salivating, when I got to my hotel I recognized it from an old trip at least 6 years ago and I still remembered an omelet that I had that time. It was great fun to play a sweaty 400 person club in between all these massive festival gigs. The other difference, aside from size, is that this club went till 4am. Didn't help with my fatigue issue.

The last weekend of Parklife shows brought me to Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. As soon as I landed in Melbourne I had to go on a helicopter ride organized by the festival with MSTRKRFT and two contest winners. I loved it! It feels more stable than an airplane and you're surrounded by windows so you see everything around you. That show was about as big (and as good) as Perth, but with fireworks!

For me the highlight of this festival was getting to play my brand new remix that I just finished for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It's not out yet but I gave it to the other DJs on the tour and I quickly got a ton of support from Erol Alkan, Busy P and Aeroplane, who played it in all of their sets.

I'm really slowing down on remixes to focus on original production so I was hoping this one could be my last hurrah and I'm really excited by the reception it's already getting. Sydney was the biggest stop on the tour and they expected a turnout of well over 40,000. My laptop was acting up on tour so I went to the Apple store and what was supposed to be a brief pit stop turned into a 4 hour operation. At 4pm we got a call from the head organizer of the festival. La Roux had fallen ill and the doctors advised her not to perform for many hours, so they asked if I would switch my timeslot (usually at 8:50) with hers (6pm). I accepted, which meant I had to rush tot he festival. So not only did I play in front of a bigger crowd that day -- in Sydney my stage was 20,000 strong -- but I could actually see them this time! The set was great, probably my best one.

What's more, I was free for the rest of the evening. I went on a crazy amusement ride with 1/2 of Aeroplane, and later on I was able to watch the acts that usually performed at the same time as me, namely Tiga, The Rapture and Claude Von Stroke.

The last date in Adelaide felt more like an epilogue than a climax. It was in a lovely park, all the stages were close to each other and we all spent the whole day watching each other's sets. The turnout wasn't even that great, the crowds weren't very responsive to anyone and I even had a broken crossfader on my mixer, but that all felt secondary. It was the last day of camp. During Erol's set, Busy P and Tiga stood up on speakers while one of the Aeroplane guys drove a Segway on stage. You get the idea. I also finally got to watch a few of the acts that I had missed in other cities, namely Cool Kids, Joakim, and Junior Boys who sounded great. The whole group recollected in the hotel lobby for some late-night reveling and we said our goodbyes. It was time to head home.

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Around The World With A-Trak
Posted: October 09, 2009
Around The World with A-Trak: Australasia