Fatboy Slim & Friends – Spark Arena: January 29, 2023

Fatboy Slim and Friends moved inside to avoid the flood and so the Gardens Music Festival was held at Spark Arena. Here’s Carin Newbould’s report and Brenna Jo Gotje’s photos.

It was a case of third time (or at least, third venue) lucky for Fatboy Slim and his “friends” – LP Giobbi, Peking Duk, Set Mo and Dick Johnson. Originally scheduled for Victoria Park, damage there forced a move to the Auckland Domain. So far, so good… a lovely evening, outdoors, easy access, with a relaxed festival vibe. Sadly, the weather didn’t get the memo and the catastrophic Auckland flooding turned the Domain into a lake, complete with kite-surfers. In a weekend of cancellations of almost every other live event (sorry, damp and disappointed Elton John fans!), the organisers of this gig managed a last minute pivot to a mega-club in Ibiza – cunningly disguised as Spark Arena.

In a declared “State of Emergency”, Aucklanders were advised to only make essential journeys. Clearly several thousand ticketholders deemed this gig absolutely necessary, as the arena was pretty much packed to the rafters. An 18+ event, there were plenty of young ravers, but certainly many others closer in age to Norman Cook’s 59. The diversity of the audience didn’t matter. Energy levels, excitement and enthusiasm were sky high four hours after the doors opened, once Fatboy Slim’s “friends” had primed the building crowd.

Scheduled to start at 10.15, Cook took to the stage a few minutes early, prompting a rush in from caught-out ravers still at the bar (or outside, where vaping was definitely de rigueur). Encouraged by the familiar Fatboy Slim mantra of Eat Sleep Rave Repeat, the rave/repeat instruction was followed non-stop for almost two hours, in a slick, entertaining set.

Cook demonstrated his status as a legendary DJ with an effortless run through short clips from the seminal Fatboy Slim back catalogue, reaching back to the heady days of rave in 1996.  On the whole this was pretty subtly referenced, with short clips of Weapon of Choice, The Rockafeller Skank and Don’t Let The Man Get You Down (Long Haired Freaky People).  His hits were heavily interspersed with an impressive array of samples from music from the sixties (ApacheIncredible Bongo Band) to today (FancyIggy Azalea). With trademark humorous, eclectic references to mainstream pop included Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees), the Macarena (Los Del Rio), Don’t Stop Me Now (Queen), I See You Baby (Groove Armada) and the Wildchild collaboration, Renegade Master.  The arena exploded during Jump Around (House of Pain) and a massive, unexpected acapella singalong to Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger. The volume and participation levels went through the roof for an extended mix of Born Slippy (Underworld) – although a large proportion of the audience wouldn’t have been born when the track was released in 1995.

I suspect that the clips from The Big Lebowski shown on the three large screens may have been unfamiliar to the younger attendees, but the displays were incredibly impressive, featuring a synced, fast-moving and beautifully curated range of images, excerpts and celebrity appearances, including Idris Elba, Iggy Pop and David Byrne, with samples of Once in a Lifetime”. A tribute to the late Maxi Jazz gained a spirited cheer with FaithlessInsomnia. Cook commandeered Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s big hit with the screens announcing “FATBOY SAYS RELAX”, accompanied by a frenzied light show to the instruction “hit me with your laser beams”. The technical presentation was flawless, despite the late move of venues. Even Barack Obama showed up (virtually), with an extended clip of his famous use of the phrase “Right Here, Right Now”. The track was used throughout the set, before the conclusion with – what else? – “Praise You”.

It wasn’t in “the Gardens”, it wasn’t the sunny, outdoor rave we’d hoped for, but it was a bloody good night out on a wet Auckland Anniversary weekend. Cheers, Norman. You might get better weather for your remaining dates in Aotearoa, but you won’t get a better audience than you had at Spark Arena last night.

Carin Newbould

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Brenna Jo Gotje: