Home | Music Journalism | Article on Fat Freddy's Drop                                                                                                Contact Christine

Article on Fat Freddy's Drop
, Manual 009 (Winter 2005-2006)


This article on Fat Freddy's Drop appeared in Manual 009 of the downtempo magazine RE:UP.

Article reprinted by permission from RE:UP


Hope for a Dub Generation: Fat Freddy's Drop

By Christine Moritz

My introduction to Fat Freddy's Drop came via a bargain bin in the Chicago record store Dusty Groove. For a mere $2.99, I picked up an Eva Be 12-inch on the strength of its A-side, a mellow R&B-flavored tune featuring the evocative vocals of one Joe Dukie.
Not long afterward I bought a split 12-inch with Dukie and DJ Fitchie's "This Room" on one side and a live rendition of Fat Freddy's Drop's "Ernie," recorded in Berlin, on the flip. I figured all three parties were German; the record was on Best Seven, a sublabel of Sonar Kollektiv, and Germany is home to numerous projects with dub and reggae influences, such the Rhythm & Sound and Al-Haca Soundsystem, and to soul singers such as U.S.-born Cunnie Williams. Much to my surprise, I learned that the band hailed from New Zealand, a place I had never anticipated as a hotbed of dub.

As it turns out, reggae and dub are in fact very popular in New Zealand, more so than one might expect for a place so far from Jamaica and Jamaican cultural influence. The critical event that spurred a new popularity for the genres was Bob Marley and the Wailers' 1979 tour appearance in the country. Many attribute New Zealanders' enthusiastic adoption of reggae and dub to the country's parallels with Jamaica, describing both as laid-back island countries with an appreciation for cannabis.

Indeed, Fat Freddy's Drop takes its name from Fat Freddy's Cat, an intelligent feline belonging to a none-too-bright stoner named Fat Freddy in the 1970s-era U.S. underground comic "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers." All the band members use aliases; keyboardist Iain Gordon—a talented cook whose culinary productions have appeared in the band's videos and are only half-jokingly credited with keeping the project together—pays tribute to the herb with his nickname, Dobie Blaze.

Leading Fat Freddy's Drop is the aforementioned DJ Fitchie (also known as Mu, short for his real name of Chris Faiumu), an accomplished DJ and producer whose MPC 2000 sampler is at the core of the band's music. Singer-lyricist Joe Dukie (real name Dallas Tamaira), whose smooth, soulful vocals have led him to be called "a Maori Marvin Gaye," cites as his chief influence Bill Withers (the American singer and songwriter best known for "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lean On Me," "Just the Two of Us," and "Lovely Day"). A visual artist as well as a singer, Dukie is responsible for the cartoon-style artwork on the band's album Based on a True Story, which came out in May and June 2005 on three different labels: The Drop (the band's own label) in New Zealand, Kartel in the U.K., and Sonar Kollektiv in Europe.The sounds of reggae and dub are present throughout Based on a True Story, but the band also draws heavily from soul, jazz, and other influences, and Dukie's vocals help to gives the tunes a warmth and gentleness. This has put the singer—who, incidentally, is every bit as good-looking as his voice suggests—in demand as a guest vocalist. He has performed album cuts for Boozoo Bajou, Recloose (on this past summer's surprise hit "Dust"), Pulver's Dutch Rhythm Combo, Clara Hill, Shapeshifter (a New Zealand drum'n'bass outfit), and Tubbs.

Jetlag Johnson (Tehimana Kerr) provides Fat Freddy's Drop with its guitar skank. The band's horn section consists of Fulla Flash (Warryn Maxwell) on tenor and alto sax, Tony Chang (Toby Laing) on trumpet, and Ho Pepa (Joe Lindsay) on trombone. At the band's performance at the Big Chill (England's ultimate annual three-day downbeat festival), the outrageous Ho Pepa prompted smiles with his suggestive trombone playing. (This is apparently characteristic behavior for him; even the Fat Freddy's Drop website acknowledges his "patented butt jiggles and tummy shakes.")

The group is a melting pot of different ethnicities; Mu is an ethnic Samoan, while the others are Maori and white. All often speak of New Zealand using the country's Maori name, Aotearoa. The members of Fat Freddy's Drop are proud of their country, and the feeling is mutual; in October, the band received four awards at the New Zealand Music Awards: Best Aotearoa Roots Album and Album of the Year for Based on a True Story, as well as Best Group and the People's Choice Award. New Zealand's size (population four million) seems to have had something of an incubator effect, allowing its music to germinate in a smaller, more nurturing environment. The band's hometown (Wellington, the country's capital) is perhaps an example of this in microcosm. With a population of 100,000 and a regional population of 500,000, Wellington's position vis-à-vis Auckland (population one million) is not unlike that of Washington, D.C. in relation to New York.

Fat Freddy's Drop has displayed a strong DIY ethic. Not only was Based on a True Story released independently in New Zealand by the band's own label, it was also distributed independently there, becoming the first such album to reach number one on the country's charts. The band's business savvy is not limited to music releases; the website for the city of Wellington mentions that the band has "moved several steps on from the traditional rock band T-shirt by creating their own range of lavalavas [traditional Polynesian skirtlike garments] for Freddy fans and stylemongers alike," and offers this memorable quotation from Nicole Duckworth, the band's manager and Mu's partner: "You only have to add one letter to turn 'band' into a brand."

Improvisation is critical to Fat Freddy's Drop, and they proudly state that no two live renditions are ever the same. Extended jams are par for the course; the four songs on their 70-minute debut release Live at the Matterhorn (recorded at the Wellington club of the same name) range from 12 to over 21 minutes in length. When I saw them at the Big Chill, they performed about six songs over the course of an hour (including an encore—rare for the Big Chill because of its tight scheduling of numerous acts, but overwhelmingly demanded by the audience). The studio versions of the ten tracks on Based on a True Story—many of which saw their origin in jam sessions—are lengthy, averaging about seven minutes each. This allows for substantial change and development over the course of a single track; Fat Freddy's Drop is the sort of band it's hard to get much of a feeling for with mere 30-second sound samples.

Most songs on the album are more personal than political, but a few comment on the state of the world, as in "Dark Days": "Well, It's hard to be happy in a world that's so cruel / Where the weak just get weaker, where the powerful few / Where the children go hungry while the soul just stand[s] by / Lay down your weapons, take hold of your lives / And when will we learn that it's hate that breeds hate / Only love is the cure; don't leave it too late / Get up and feel it, the truth that won't wait / If we choose to do nothing, then we take all the blame." The inspiring "Hope for a Generation" ("Hope for a generation / Just beyond my reach, not beyond my sight"), movingly performed by the band at the Big Chill, was released on an earlier EP and receives a nod in "Hope," the track that concludes Based on a True Story.

In the Fat Freddy's Drop tune "Ray Ray," Joe Dukie asks, "Tell me, what's the world with no soul?" As long as Fat Freddy's Drop is in existence, there's little danger of this situation being anything other than hypothetical.


Essential Discography of Fat Freddy's Drop

Fat Freddy's Drop LPs
Based on a True Story (The Drop / Sonar Kollektiv / Kartel, 2005)
Live at the Matterhorn (The Drop, 2001)

Fat Freddy's Drop Singles
"Roady" w/one Nextmen remix (Sonar Kollektiv, 2005)
"Roady" w/three Nextmen remixes (Kartel, 2005)
"Flashback" b/w "Midnight Marauders" (The Drop, 2005)
Hope for a Generation EP (Kartel, 2004)
"Ernie" [split 12" with Joe Dukie and DJ Fitchie] (Best Seven, 2003)
Hope Remix EP (Kartel, 2003)
"Hope" b/w "Bluey" (Kartel, 2003)

Fat Freddy's Drop Remixes
Tubbs, "Five Day Night" (Exceptional, 2005)
Tubbs, "Five Day Night" (Carbon, 2003)

Fat Freddy's Drop Appearances
"Bluey," Loop Select 004 (Loop, 2002)
"Little One - Live at McDonalds," Loop Select 002 (Loop, 2002)
"Runnin'" (studio version), Styles Upon Styles (Sugarlicks, 2001)
"Wairunga Blues Explosion!", Wellington Music Sampler (Radio Active, 2000)

Joe Dukie and DJ Fitchie Singles
"Seconds" b/w "Grounded" (Especial, 2005)
"This Room" [split 12" with Fat Freddy's Drop] (Best Seven, 2003)
"Midnight Marauders" b/w dub version (Best Seven, 2002)
"Midnight Marauders" b/w "Seconds" (The Drop, 2002)

DJ Fitchie Remixes
Bigga Bush, "Deep Eastwood" (Stereo Deluxe, 2004)
(as DJ Mu) Salmonella Dub, "Platetechtonics/Fartyboom" (Salmonella Dub, 2003)
(as DJ Mu) Salmonella Dub, "Dancehall Girl" (Salmonella Dub, 2003)
(as Mu) (Joe Dukie and DJ Fitchie, "Midnight Marauders" (Loop, 2002)
(as Mu) Ebb, "So True" (Loop, 2001)
(as DJ Mu) TrinityRoots, "Little Things" (Capital, 2000)

DJ Fitchie Appearances as Mu
"A Solo Adventurer," Loop Select 005 (Loop, 2003)
Tubbs, "Soul Loves the Sun" (Carbon, 2003)
50Hz, "Versionary Dub" (Loop, 2002)
Brother J, "The Scary Song" (Sugarlicks, 2001)
Dallas, Better Than Change EP (The Drop, 1999)

Joe Dukie Appearances
Boozoo Bajou, "Take It Slow" (Studio !K7, 2005)
Dutch Rhythm Combo, "Venom" (Pulver, 2005)
Recloose, "Dust" (Peacefrog, 2005)
Recloose, "Time Is on Your Side" (Peacefrog, 2005)
Shapeshifter, "Long White Cloud" (Truetone, 2004)
Eva Be, "No Memory of Time" (Best Seven, 2004)
Clara Hill, "Flawless Part Two" (Sonar Kollektiv, 2004)

Joe Dukie Appearances as Dallas
Tubbs, "Five Day Night" [w/Fat Freddy's Drop Mix and Baloo Mix] (Exceptional, 2005)
Markus Enochson, "Follow Me" (Vinyl Junkies, 2004)
Tubbs, "Five Day Night" [w/New Chefs Mix and Baloo Mix] (Carbon, 2003)
Tubbs, "Falling" (Carbon, 2003)
Twinset, "Sweet Thing" (Loop, 2003)
"The Garden," Styles Upon Styles Part Two (Sugarlicks, 2002)
Better Than Change (The Drop, 1999)

Bongmaster (Dallas, Iain Gordon, Mu) Appearances
"Ground My Ego," Loop Select 003 (Loop, 2002)

Iain Gordon Appearances
Tubbs, "T's Groove" (Carbon, 2003)
Tubbs, "Soul Loves the Sun" (Carbon, 2003)
50Hz, "Electrohoney (Part 2)" (Loop, 2002)
50Hz, "Electrohoney (Part 1)" (Loop, 2002)

Iain Gordon Remixes as part of Ebb
Fertile Ground, "Star People" (Counterpoint, 2003)

Iain Gordon Appearances as part of Ebb
"Be a Man" (Mettle Trax, 2004)
Plush Bomb EP (Loop, 2001)
Winter Orbit EP (Spawn, 1995)

Joe Lindsay Appearances
The Nomad, "Open Your Eyes" (Fresh Produce, 2003)

Tehimana Kerr Appearances
Tubbs, "Useless" (Carbon, 2003)
The Nomad, "Open Your Eyes" (Fresh Produce, 2003)
The Nomad, "Keep Your Mind Free" (Fresh Produce, 2003)
The Nomad, "Check the Pitch" (Fresh Produce, 2003)
The Nomad, "Home Again" remix (Fresh Produce, 2003)
The Nomad, "Powered by the Sun" (Fresh Produce, 2003)
The Nomad, "Connected to the Rhythm" (Fresh Produce, 2003)
The Nomad, "Waves" (Fresh Produce, 2003)
50Hz, "Folly" (Loop, 2002)
50Hz, "Soprano" (Loop, 2002)
50Hz, "Versionary Dub" (Loop, 2002)
Brother J, "Jess" (Sugarlicks, 2002)
Brother J, "Conch 4 Starters" (Sugarlicks, 2002)
Nomad, "The Rainbow" (Fabel, 2002)
Rhian Sheehan, "Waiting" (Loop, 2001)
The Nomad, "Betta Stand Up!" (Fresh Produce, 2001)
50 Hz, "Visionary Dub," Dub Combinations Chapter 2 (Syncline, 2001)
The Nomad, "The Area" (Fresh Produce, 2001)

Tehimana Kerr Appearances as Tehi
"Grace," #05 (Capital, 2003)
Mephisto Jones, "Remember Me," #05 (Capital, 2003)

Toby Laing Appearances
Joe Dukie and DJ Fitchie, "Seconds" (Especial* 2005
Tubbs, "Useless" (Carbon, 2003)
Tubbs, "Missing U" (Carbon, 2003)
Age Pryor, "Spacevictorious" (Loop, 2003)
Age Pryor, "Barefoot Breakitdown" (Loop, 2003)
Age Pryor, "All Is Good" (Loop, 2003)
Age Pryor, "City Chorus One" (Loop, 2003)
Cuffy & Leon D, "19¢ Trumpet" (Red Melon, 2003)
Flash Harry & the Video Kid, "Mickey Budz" (Capital, 2002)
Brother J, "Captain, Incident at Matai Bay" (Sugarlicks, 2002)
Brother J, "Ruby Rose" (Sugarlicks, 2002)
Brother J, "Awhi I" (Sugarlicks, 2002)
Mike Fabulous, "(There's) Something About Africa" (Loop, 2001)

Toby Laing Appearances as part of the Black Seeds
On the Sun (Capital, 2004)
Pushed: Keep On Pushing Remixed (Loop, 2002)
Keep On Pushing (Loop, 2001)

Toby Laing Appearances as part of Dub Connection
Dub Connection EP (Capital, 2003)
"Mellow Dub," Earwork 002 (Capital, 2002)
"All The Goodness" (Jet Jaguar remix), Loop Select 003 (Loop, 2002)

Toby Laing Appearances as Suga 2 Tone
Bigga Bush, "Deep Eastwood" remix (Stereo Deluxe, 2004)

Toby Laing Appearances as Tony Nairobi
Jet Jaguar, "European Funk Standard," Think About It Later (Capital, 2003)

Toby Laing Remixes as Tony Naironi
Flash Harry, "Better Than Alright Remash" (Capital, 2002)

Toby Laing Appearances as Tony Naironi
"Aunty's Garden," Earwork 002 (Capital, 2002)

Warryn Maxwell Appearances
Tubbs, "It's Love" (Carbon, 2003)
Age Pryor, "Barefoot Breakitdown" (Loop, 2003)
Brother J, "Awhi I" (Sugarlicks, 2002)
Mike Fabulous & the Jamboree Sound, "In Deep Space" (Capital, 2002)

Warryn Maxwell Appearances as part of Trinity Roots
True (Trinity Roots, 2002)
"Nothing to Be Loved," Loop Select 001 (Loop, 2001)


This page created January 2006 - Last modified January 26, 2006

Home | Music Journalism | Article on Fat Freddy's Drop