Dive into ‘Aquatek’, the edge of electronic music in Tāmaki
by Sam Clark (he/him)
Central Alt Sound is Auckland’s new label connecting experimental producers and artists to a keen audience every month for ‘Aquatek’ at Whammy Backroom.
Musician and owner of Central Alt Sound, Faber Morrow is sipping a flat white on a rainy autumn day in Morningside. I asked to meet in his studio, but as he explains, Central Alt Sound is “More of a laptop on my bed type sitch.”
But you wouldn’t expect that from their Aquatek club nights, which never fail to attract an eager crowd. They’re usually relaxed to begin with, but as the night goes on, the breaks get harder and the dancefloor fills out. It’s an eclectic soundscape that doesn’t reflect any one genre, which is all very intentional. Faber says there’s no specific aesthetic or sound, just people making good music. His ethos is ‘anything goes’. As he puts it, “I think it’s really important to constantly be changing our palettes.”
Aquatek, hosted in Whammy Backroom, reflects the unique club culture of Tāmaki, and Aotearoa as a whole. Faber explains how this came to be. “You’ve got such a small audience, so when you take risks down here it’s not as strict… there’s so many influences as well, so it’s constantly changing.” Since their launch, they’ve featured names like Christoph El Truento, AJHoneysuckle, Hasji and a constantly evolving selection of underground artists and DJs. The vibe at Aquatek is genuine, and the music speaks for itself. A special moment from their show in January was Faber’s back-to-back set with his cousin and fellow DJ/producer, Zeb Morrow.
Follow the stairs from St Kevin’s Arcade, and you’ll be greeted with a friendly atmosphere, green-blue ocean hues and a diverse crowd. Their posters ring true: “Safe waters to be who you are.” Having a strong social message is another huge part of the label. Faber says this means paying people fairly, creating an accepting atmosphere, and overall, “Being a safe haven for doing what you want to do. That’s number one.”
The underwater themes behind Aquatek are a homage to Detroit techno group, Drexciya. Faber has always been fascinated by their Afrofuturist mythical backstory, which is about an underwater civilisation populated by the descendants of the Atlantic slave trade, whose babies learnt to breathe underwater. Faber says he loves the idea of music having a story behind it, transporting you out of this world. “When you go to these nights, you’re being taken out of this reality... It’s not just an audible experience, it can be a visual experience, too.”
“When you go to these nights, you’re being taken out of this reality... It’s not just an audible experience, it can be a visual experience, too.”
There’s also free food provided at every gig. Faber’s set up a fruit, nuts and hydration station for club-goers. He says the idea came from nights out on K’ Road, when he struggled to find food. “I wanted to have food, so people can nibble on something and feel good… I personally always need to be eating to be happy and healthy.” As well as giving people some energy, food also gives some support for people getting too out of it. Faber says that you’re not going to stop people taking drugs, because it’s always going to be a part of club culture – but it’s important to help them be as safe as possible. “I think it’s really important that we get better at making some healthy decisions and having food available is part of that … I feel like a few nights could have been saved by a banana or a handful of nuts.”
“I think it’s really important that we get better at making some healthy decisions and having food available is part of that … I feel like a few nights could have been saved by a banana or a handful of nuts.”
Faber spent a big chunk of his childhood overseas, enjoying the music of Tāmaki from afar, through friends. He felt a sense of belonging in the scene here, even though he wasn’t always physically there. However, when he came back to Tāmaki, he felt isolated. “I came back and felt like I had disconnected roots.” After talking to friends and musicians around him, he realised many of them felt the same – there was something holding them back. “I’d hear them say ‘I don’t think it’s good enough’, or ‘I don’t feel like people would listen to it enough’, or ‘I don’t have enough followers’.”
So, he launched Central Alt Sound with a mix of his own, featuring music strictly from Aotearoa. Faber says Central Alt Sound doesn’t stick to any one genre, but its artists can feel confident that people are going to listen to their music. He says, “It’s a weird thing with music, or art – that it needs to have a label … it’s not the best way of enjoying art. But it is a way to get connected.” He explains how in Tāmaki there are plenty of people making great music, but they’re very disconnected aesthetically and by genre. “For me to join any of those things, I’d have to change the way I do things. I’d have to find something very niche and specific to take me on.”
“It’s a weird thing with music, or art – that it needs to have a label … it’s not the best way of enjoying art. But it is a way to get connected.”
Faber has applied that same approach to Central Alt Sound’s monthly show on online radio station, Mouthfull. The show features mixes from eminent Aotearoa artists and DJs like Bbyfacekilla, Awa and Dylan Biscuit. Their latest mix is from dubstep and UK bass DJ, Sheboy. Faber’s message to all guests on the show has been, “Don’t worry about what we’re going to think about it. Just do whatever the hell you want. Do you.” He explains how when making a mix for a radio show, artists might feel pressured to adjust their sound to match what’s come before. So, by creating this unique space, audiences are exposed to something they might not hear otherwise. “It’s a very personal piece of their mind.”
He's a producer and DJ himself, and makes experimental house music, utilising a healthy amount of breakbeats, synths and trippy chopped-up samples. In March, he released Deep Cuts Vol. 1, an EP he independently produced, mixed and mastered. It’s available now on Bandcamp. He’s taken this same DIY approach to Central Alt Sound and runs the label on his own. This includes designing their posters, which you may have seen around the city. “It’s mostly all myself, which has been funny. But it’s also been stressful… I need to find someone I really trust to work with me.”
Central Alt Sound, as its name suggests, is focused in and around Central Tāmaki – for now. Faber explains that he doesn’t want the label to be just that. He foresees a night with punk bands coming on before midnight. “To merge those two scenes, would be really cool... I know so many punk heads that are really into techno as well, but they only want to hear it in the club.” Faber explains that sometimes you need that context, to be open to new sounds and styles. “It’s an opening of minds as well. In my own case, I’ve gone to so many performances… and something unexpected will be played and I’ll be like, ‘Wow, I really like this, I never thought I would like this.’”
The scene in Tāmaki is very enticing for Faber – it’s what keeps him coming back. “It's a very small, tight-knit community where you have room to be experimental.” The unique and supportive music scene in Tāmaki has fostered many great artists across all genres, and Faber describes it like this: “People are very accepting. It’s a really cool, small city that has allowed me to do a lot of these things… It’s a free little place.”
Aquatek 4: is on Saturday May 13th. Featuring: Cellphii, Clay Louis, Ellay W and Faber Morrow. Buy tickets from Under The Radar.