Parks and Ladi6. -  Photo by Garth Badger

In the 2000s, underground nightclub dancefloors around New Zealand were moving to a loose conglomeration of sounds that combined jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop, R&B and electronica. Depending on who was performing or DJing, you’d sometimes see this stylistic mélange advertised on flyers and posters with terms like Hi-Tek Pacific Soul or Future Soul, which the music more than lived up to.

The chief proponents of this sound were a loose community of DJs, musicians, producers, vocalists and rappers, with one ear trained on the past and the other listening out for the future. Building on foundations laid by the country’s open-minded underground club music scenes in the 1990s, they blended live instrumentation with DJing and funky machine beats programmed on music production hardware like the Akai MPC2000 while performing at venues including Khuja Lounge in Auckland and the Matterhorn in Wellington.

Their heroes and heroines were American artists such as J Dilla, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Common, Mos Def, and The Roots, but in the wake of the success of urban-Pacific sounds of Sisters Underground, OMC, King Kapisi and their peers, they knew they had to put a regional twist on the music.

Electric Wire Hustle. From left: Mara TK, Myele Manzanza, David 'Taay Ninh' Wright.

By the end of the decade, several groups and solo acts emerged out of this milieu: Fat Freddy’s Drop, Ladi6, Electric Wire Hustle, and Julien Dyne were releasing music through record labels they’d long looked up to, and finding audiences in unexpected places around the world. Here are 10 tracks that illustrate the sound these New Zealand artists were chasing and successfully capturing during the 2000s.


Che Fu – Misty Frequencies feat Finsta (Manuel Bundy Remix) (Misty Frequencies, 2002)

In the early 2000s, ‘Misty Frequencies’ seemed to be playing everywhere in Aotearoa. As he confirmed in the Aotearoa Hip-Hop podcast, Che Fu conceived of the song as a homage to when he’d tune his radio to catch Murray Cammick’s Land of The Good Groove show on 95bFM during his younger years. When it came time to release it, Che asked Manuel Bundy to contribute a remix to the ‘Misty Frequencies' CD single. In an inspired move, Manuel teamed up with the visiting New York rapper Finsta (of Finsta Bundy) and turned in a beat-driven hip-hop remix that pointed towards the future. In 2002, ‘Misty Frequencies’ won Che and his co-writer Godfrey de Grut the prestigious APRA Silver Scroll award. 


Bic Runga – Something Good feat Tha Feelstyle (Submariner Remix) (Something Good, 2002)

In the late 1990s and 2000s, Andy Morton, aka Submariner, was one of Aotearoa's most important, prolific, and innovative beatmakers and record producers. Once you look into the liner notes and credits, you see his influence everywhere, even in unexpected places. Fittingly, when Bic Runga released her sunkissed folk-pop single ‘Something Good’ in 2002, Andy teamed up with the great Samoan New Zealand rapper Kas Futialo, aka Tha Feelstyle, to turn in a wonky, jazz-infused hip-hop remix of the song. Hearing Bic sing over Morton’s wandering drum programming before Kas drops a punchy rap is a genuine delight.


Joe Dukie And DJ Fitchie – Seconds (Midnight Marauders, 2002) 

Originally released as a limited edition 12" vinyl in 2002, ‘Seconds’ arrived as the flipside to ‘Midnight Marauders’ by Joe Dukie and DJ Fitchie (aka Dallas and Mu from Fat Freddy’s Drop). The first time I listened to it, I thought it was a piece of perfectly poised hip-hop soul. Over 20 years later, my opinion hasn’t wavered. Underscored by a funky drum break, elegant keyboard parts and trumpet from fellow FFD member Toby Laing, ‘Seconds’ provided Joe with the perfect backdrop to really stretch out as a singer and lyricist. The music video, which sits somewhere between a summer road trip and a CGI fever dream, is also pretty fun.


Soane – Runaway feat Hassanah Iroegbu (Tongan Chic, 2004)

In the early 2000s, the late great Tongan New Zealand producer and DJ Soane Filitonga, aka Soane, released a series of well-loved dance singles through Manchester’s Paper Recordings before recording his 2004 debut album Tongan Chic. Prior to his brief but beautiful moment in the international deep house scene, Soane worked as a nightclub doorman in Auckland and took part in the legendary Proud tour. For Tongan Chic, he reconnected with an old friend from the Proud era, Hassanah Iroegbu (of Sisters Underground), who contributed vocals to his percussive neo-soul track ‘Runaway’. Although he was mostly known for house music, ‘Runaway’ proves that Soane had serious range.


Opensouls – In Your Hands (In Your Hands, 2004)

Following in the footsteps of Nathan Haines and Mark de Clive-Lowe, Auckland’s Opensouls represent the second generation of New Zealand musicians who wholeheartedly connected the dots between jazz, hip-hop and soul. In the process, they helped inspire rapper/composer Tom Scott (Home Brew, Avantdale Bowling Club) and his generation of music makers. Released on 12" in 2004 through band member Jeremy Toy’s From The Crates label, ‘In Your Hands’ brought Opensouls to the attention of the influential German broadcaster Michael Rütten, who included it on his 2005 compilation Soulsearching – The Compost Radio Show Vol.1. From that moment, doors started opening for them.


Solaa – Eyes Shut (Steps In Time, 2006)

Hailing from Christchurch, Solaa began life in 1997 as a big band of jazz musicians with an ear for soul, funk, RnB, hip-hop, Latin music, breaks and electronica. Over the next nine years, they cycled through band members and honed their craft on stages around the country before releasing their debut, Steps In Time, in 2006. One of the standout songs on the album, ‘Eyes Shut’ begins with dreamy chords, chunky drums and an aspirational verse from Aotearoa hip-hop MC Scribe. Taking its time to build and bubble, the song also features soulful vocals from Nat Rose and Ladi6, who bring a smooth touch to it.


Ladi6 – Dark Brown (Time Is Not Much, 2008)

An addictive fusion of beatboxing, neo-soul instrumentation and modern RnB, ‘Dark Brown’ was one of the key singles on Ladi6’s 2008 debut, Time Is Not Much. By the time the album was on sale, Karoline Tamati, aka Ladi, and her husband and production partner Brent Park, aka Parks, were focused on taking their South Pacific soul/hip-hop sound to Europe and the UK. After temporarily relocating to Berlin, they went on tour with American jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron and shared stages with US hip-hop/RnB stars like Erykah Badu, Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) and Rah Digga. While in Germany, they also recorded their second album, The Liberation Of …


Eru Dangerspiel – Backfoot (Great News For The Modern Man, 2008)

Over the last two and a half decades, Riki Gooch Pirihi has had multiple lives in music, along the way performing with TrinityRoots, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Bic Runga, Shayne Carter, Orchestra of Spheres and countless other bands and solo artists. In 2008, the Wellington-based drummer, producer, DJ, and composer was at the helm of his sprawling Eru Dangerspiel big band project. That year, he released an ambitious album called Great News For The Modern Man with a cast of musicians from around the country. Not long after, he brought it to life with two expansive town hall performances in Auckland and Wellington. Featuring a shuffling future soul groove and a rare vocal performance from Brent Park, aka Parks, ‘Backfoot’ is one of my favourite tracks on Great News For The Modern Man.


Electric Wire Hustle – Chaser (Self-Titled, 2009)

When they released their self-titled debut album in 2009 through their Every Waking Hour label, Wellington’s Electric Wire Hustle – then the trio of Dave Wright, Mara TK and Myele Manzanza – quickly established themselves as one of New Zealand’s most aspirational future soul groups. Soon enough, they were releasing music overseas through respected labels Wonderful Noise Productions (Japan) and BBE (UK), scoring radio support from BBC tastemakers Gilles Peterson and Benji B, and sharing stages with prominent American musicians like Dam-Funk and The Sa-Ra Creative Partners. There are several songs I could have chosen to showcase off Electric Wire Hustle, but 12 years on, ‘Chaser’ still sounds like a fresh, jazz-infused spin on rhythmic 1970s soul.


Julien Dyne – Stained Glass Fresh Frozen feat. Mara TK (Pins & Digits, 2009)

At the same time as Electric Wire Hustle was making its way into the international underground, Opensouls drummer Julien Dyne was stepping up on the global stage with his debut album, Pins & Digits. As well as being a rock-solid jazz player, Julien quickly revealed himself to be a masterful beatmaker and producer who imbued his music with a strong artistic sensibility. After BBE and Wonderful Noise Productions released his album in the UK, Europe and Japan, he received strong BBC radio support from Gilles Peterson and Benji B and was able to tour overseas. Since then, several songs on Pins & Digits have aged into classics; a decade and a half later, the futuristic beat-scapes and yearning soul of ‘Stained Glass Fresh Frozen’ feat. Mara TK still stands out.