At 4am on Sunday, we caught the yellow Splore schoolbus back up the hill to our campsite. By the time the engine clattered into life, it was packed with revellers coming down as well as going up. And just as we started, the driver banged on Bruno Mars’ ‘When I Was Your Man’, as loud as it would go. And the whole bus let rip and sang along at top-of-lungs. I kind of hate Bruno Mars, but shit that was a magic moment.
It was also a very Splore moment. One of the joys of the annual festival at Tapapakanga Regional Park is the way people people interact with each other. From the moment you step on site, a kind of emotional muscle memory kicks in and you find yourself talking to strangers, making each other laugh – and dancing with the crowd.
Apart from a handful of showers on the Friday, the weather was pristine. This was good for everyone, but most of all for the festival management, who'd been able to think about more than ordering yet more trucks of gravel in a desperate attempt to keep the roads open. In particular, there was a new two-gate entry system, which was so effective at preventing queues that we wondered on Friday afternoon if hardly anyone had turned up.
They had, although there were more late sales and two-day passes than usual, and many people who did arrive on Friday seemed to stay up at the campsites, where there were more vendors this year, until the evening. But by the time Dizzee Rascal hit the stage, it was evident there were plenty of people on site. It undoubtedly helped that LCD Soundsystem cancelled their Spark Arena show on Saturday night (ironically, on the day that cancellation was announced, Splore had just put on a bus back to town for the gig – and sold a few tickets).
I was among the doubters when Dizzee Rascal was announced as Splore's Friday night headliner. I was wrong. Dizzee and his his crew were great: tight, clever and endlessly engaging. I think a big part of it was that apparently everyone liked it: adults, kids, the representatives of the tangata whenua. Also, the bass was quite loud:
On the following morning, I came down early to do what I do every year: have a swim at the beach before before spending three hours running the onstage korero at The Listening Lounge. It went pretty well, and I deeply appreciated the warmth and patience of Ngāti Whanaunga negotiator Tipa Compain in our first session. The final session, featuring a compelling panel talking about the prospects for meaningful medical cannabis reform, was recorded and I'll transcribe and write that up as soon as I'm able.
From there, I scoffed some paella for launch and watched an extraordinarily energetic New Telepathics performance ...
Then later eased back at the Crystal Palace while Manuel Bundy rolled out lazy, hazy hip hop beats and showed just what a great DJ he still is. Along the way, there were little moments like this:
Saturday night was more giant party than concert for our crew. We drank cocktails at a bar set into the roots of an old pohutukawa tree before dispersing to variously dance to Roger Perry (a last-minute sub for an ill John Morales), who made me very happy by dropping the house classic 'Jack Your Body', sampling the madness of the packed Lucky Star precinct and generally just roving and laughing.
Then there was Sunday. Some people seem to figure the party's over and are packed and on the road by lunchtime – but they're missing out. The shared day after the night night before is one of the festival's delights. My day began with breakfast to the sound of sweet rocksteady tunes from Dubhead, encompassed the Acetones and the roots-pop of Chronixx (who was a bit disappointing, tbh) and ended with an entrancing three hours of delicate, soulful techno at Crystal Palace by the German DJ Mimi Love, who was only supposed to play until 4pm, but kept playing till 5.
The booking of Mimi was event manager Fred Kublikowski's treat to himself, and he deserved it. They'd made budget on ticket sales and bar revenue and this year they wouldn't be killed by the costs of remediating the site after rain. It's worth noting that the festival's bottom line is determined not only by the money people pay to come, but by the commerce conducted over three or four days. How much would tickets cost if they were the sole way of funding the party?
"$650," Fred told me without pausing. "I've thought about it a lot."
I wish I'd grabbed a photo (or better, a video) of one thing that happened afterwards, which was Dub Pistols' Barry Ashworth, who'd been DJing the main stage, doing an impromptu version of 'Mucky Weekend' with some lads who'd recognised him. Let's just say that Barry was extremely pleased with his weekend at Splore.
The new entry system wasn't the only change this year. All the bars and stages are now unfenced, which makes the whole thing much more comfortable. And the DJ stage lost the built dancefloor from last year, which was the change I didn't like – could we have a dancefloor again next year please?
So now I'm back home in the city, labouring through a cold and giving thanks. Thanks to the promoters, to all the people serving food and drink (who embody the Splore vibe to a remarkable degree), to my thousands of fellow Splorers – and most of all to my regular Splore crew. We're a good team of party people, we had some excellent first-timers (including some kids who absolutely loved it) and I think it makes a big difference that most of our gang are women, including the people in charge. It's basically a matriarchy and I like it. I'd say "see you all next year", but that's a given.
PS: Feel free to post your own Splore pics. Click the choose file button (you need to have typed something in the comment box) and you can upload up to three images per comment by using the edit function to go back in. About 1MB is a good size.