The Helium Project – Galatos: August 11, 2022

The Helium Project make their first performance in Auckland and Galatos is set up nightclub style with semi circles of people around tables nursing drinks.

The Helium Project started when Nick Edgar (of Hoop and Ministry of Folk) started dabbling in electronic beats during lockdown. Edgar, ever the ambitious “ideas man”, then decided that he had to play his computer based material live. And therefore, The Helium Project was born. This is a band of multi instrumentalists, added to by Ash Patea, the singer and educationalist, who bring to life an arc of nine pieces of music that weave the story of Matariki by each piece referencing one of the stars.

Whilst Galatos was filling up Subphi took to the stage. Subphi is the project of multi-instrumentalist Geo Seato. During Subphi’s 25 minute set Seato used keyboard and flute over shuffling drums and sax sounds to, at first, make you feel that you were in a New York jazz club. The music developed into pulsing sounds of galloping drums and swathes of synthesizers which were more dance focused. Throughout the set founds sounds, such as dripping water and bird song, interweaved with the ambient electronica. An intriguing set, and one that was hard to give full attention too with so many people arriving during it, and obviously catching up for the first time for a while.

The stage was now set for The Helium Project, and the first remarkable thing about the band was how many performers they managed to fit onto the Galatos stage. In total there were nine musicians, with Patea joining them between numbers to educate and involve us; and at other times to add his voice to the music. What was also noticeable was that several of the musicians were moving seamlessly from one instrument to another, both between songs and during songs.

After the Prelude, where the sounds of ticking and winding up were overlaid by rising strings, brass and keys the band move to the first of the star pieces Ururangi. The sound of this track was dark and foreboding as strings, synthesizers and drums combined, and at a times the music dropped down to just the drums.

Patea’s Karakia welcomed us to the gig and the band played Tupuārangi which had a slow vibe and positive energy. This energy was created by the string quartet, brass and drums taking turns to dominate the sound.  The very upbeat Tupuānuku followed with its combination of drums and bass guitar creating a strong, marching sound propelling us forward.

Patea explained that Waitī – Waitā was written for a choir and therefore we had to let go of our inhibitions and join in. At his call the audience contributed over distorted strings and an electronic pulse. A powerful sound was created by snatches of melody from guitars, strings and lazy drum and the track culminated in a triumphal sound of the trumpet.

Our education continued with Patea’s explanation of the story of Hewa-i-te-rangi. The track that followed had the gentle interplay between piano notes, drums and synthesizer. There was a groove shuffle to the drums, and the strings trio added depth before a guitar riff signaled the end of the track.

Waipuna a rangi saw Edgar pick up his flute and supply a melody over bubbling keyboards and slowly building drums. This was a darker, mysterious track, with rolling drums and swathes of synthesizer adding to the intrigue.

For Pōhutakawa, Patea returned to the stage to introduce his favorite star and composition. With the sounds of birds tweeting and the delicate strings of the cello drawing us in Patea sang an incantation. Patea’s voice combined with the reverb of the guitar, cello and slow synthesizer sounds helped us to fall into a soothing and comforting atmosphere.

What followed was a soul revue style introduction to the band. During this the band members were individually introduced by Edgar and allowed a few moments to spotlight their ability. We learnt that the string quartet was Helen Crook (violin), Michael Hunter (violin), Judith Gust (viola) and Tilly Harvey (cello), that it was Cam McLean who kept moving from keys to trumpet,  Ollie O’Loughlin who started one song on drums and ended it on saxophone, Apera Woodfine, who at various stages was playing guitar, bass, synthesizer or drums, and George Edgar, who demonstrated similar dexterity on multiple instruments, but also traversed from one side of the stage to the other, with cables, without tripping himself up or strangling anyone else. From the right hand side of the stage Nick Edgar led the band, and as well as providing flute, synthesizer, and guitar, his vocal harmonies complemented Patea’s lead vocals.

The final song was Matariki, which again highlighted the skills of the musicians involved. The echoing bass, driving guitar and lush synthesizers combined with the delicacy of the strings to create a feeling of calm, and closure.

Whilst this was conceived as a one off concert for the end of Matiriki, I understand that there is likely to be a second performance by The Helium Project in Devonport later in the year. I will definitely be attending. And I hope the mixture of emotive music and participative education that it provided for us means that the band, and Patea will be up for whatever bright idea Edgar comes up with for Matariki next year…

John Bradbury

Set List

  1. Prelude
  2. Ururangi
  3. Tupuārangi
  4. Tupuānuku
  5. Waitī – Waitā
  6. Hewa-i-te-rangi
  7. Waipuna a rangi
  8. Pōhutakawa
  9. Intro the band
  10. Matariki