Sub Focus, Dimension among international artists opening up about playing New Zealand gigs after quarantine

New Zealand's remarkable position of being able to freely enjoy live events with no social distancing requirements has created a safe haven for music artists determined to play in front of fans. 

"I've just been pinching myself," British DJ and producer Sub Focus told Newshub, adding playing summer shows here has been "an absolute pleasure" and "quite surreal".

Since Aotearoa's festival season kicked off with Hidden Valley on December 27, Kiwi crowds have been jumping at the chance to see some of their favourite artists perform live - but it's not just our local talent that have been wooing tens of thousands of punters.

Peking Duk, Sub Focus, Dimension, Alison Wonderland, Delta Heavy, Friction, HP Boyz, Kanine and Holy Goof are among the international acts to appear in front of eager audiences who are embracing the leniencies the rest of the world doesn't have. 

Immigration New Zealand told Newshub it understands the massive impact current border restrictions are having. As the threat of COVID-19 continues the bar for being granted an exception is high, however individual requests are considered against a strict criteria. 

Sub Focus, Dimension among international artists opening up about playing New Zealand gigs after quarantine

In the case of musicians travelling from overseas, it was determined some have been able to meet the 'other critical worker' requirements - i.e, having unique skills and experience, and doing work that brings economic impact. 

Bay Dreams festival director Mitch Lowe told Newshub once the exemption conditions were clarified, he and his team were able to move forward with applications quickly. 

"We were undoubtedly nervous about it all, it was only after the exemptions were approved did we celebrate," said Lowe.

"We showed a significant economic impact with our shows and we are so grateful to the New Zealand Government for understanding the importance of it all, not just to keep people happy but to keep hundreds of people employed." 

Lowe said the opportunity to bring international artists to New Zealand means everything to him. After many late nights in the office, negotiations, and a huge team behind working tirelessly, this season's shows have been more rewarding than ever. 

"Being able to provide entertainment in a difficult time like this is not only a massive achievement for the industry, but also a huge personal achievement, given it was only a few months ago where we didn't know if we'd have a live music based summer at all." 

Anyone who is successfully granted immigration border exceptions is required to stay for at least 14 days in one of Aotearoa's 32 managed isolation and quarantine facilities - but once their time is up, that time isolating makes the taste of summer so much sweeter. 

Sub Focus, Dimension among international artists opening up about playing New Zealand gigs after quarantine

Sub Focus has been making the most of his time here, going straight from quarantine and onto the festival circuit, playing a whopping 11 shows in two weeks.

Just days after headlining what was billed as the country's biggest ever drum and bass show at Auckland's ASB Showgrounds, he told Newshub he's not looking forward to saying goodbye.

"On this trip, I've tried to really absorb it and really enjoy it because this is such a rare event to do this kind of thing and maybe a while before we get to do it again," he said. 

MC-ID, who shares the stage with Sub Focus for the live shows, said the opportunity to play to big crowds in New Zealand has really hammered home how much he loves to perform. 

"The fact that festivals and events can take place is not only special to all of us but also a testament to how important New Zealand considers the arts, their handling of the pandemic has been an example to the world and for that I'm so thankful," he told Newsub. 

Sub Focus said revellers who have been enjoying his sets have been teeming with energy. 

"The response from the crowds has been insane, I've just been pinching myself sometimes whilst doing these shows," he said. 

"It feels quite surreal to us to be honest, playing the shows has been a huge highlight, a massive highlight but so have things like hugging people, going to a restaurant with others, going to the beach - all of the things you'd normally take for granted.

"It's just been an absolute pleasure. All of us are a bit like 'why do we live in England?'" 

Sub Focus, Dimension among international artists opening up about playing New Zealand gigs after quarantine

Sub Focus has played some of the country's most popular events of the summer since getting out of managed isolation on Boxing Day. More than 7000 people attended Hidden Valley, another 20,000 went to Bay Dreams in Mount Maunganui and there were 13,000 at Nelson's Bay Dreams. 

Then he went on to headline his own gigs alongside fellow acts like Dimension, with 7000 attending the ASB Showgrounds event alone.

"Coming here, everyone is hugely happy with their political situation, no one really talks about the virus - it's like a dream world, it's like a surrealist dream, it's quite amazing. I really really don't want to go home," Dimension told Newshub. 

London-based Dj Holy Goof spent quarantine in Christmas so he could play Bay Dreams. He said the opportunity to be here has been life-changing and has taught him not to take anything for granted. 

"In a time where at home, things are very, very different - literally the opposite of here - I'll never forget that. I don't think anybody is going to forget 2020 but this has been the best thing," he told Newshub.  

Holy Goof (pictured) says the opportunity to visit New Zealand has been an experience he will never forget.
Holy Goof (pictured) says the opportunity to visit New Zealand has been an experience he will never forget. Photo credit: Supplied.

UK drum and bass stars Delta Heavy were among the acts to perform at Bay Dreams, with Ben Hall representing the group at shows around the country. 

"To be back in normality doing what we love has been really special, and having close friends also here at the same time has made the experience even more memorable. I'm very conscious of the tough times people are going through back home, so I feel very lucky," he told Newshub. 

"Kiwi crowds are just the best. Drum and bass is more popular here than ever before, and the energy and connection is unmatched. Hearing everyone in the audience singing back the lyrics to your music never ever gets old."

Hall said New Zealand's current standing is a testament to how well the Government handled the pandemic so Kiwis have been able to enjoy the summer in total freedom with zero restrictions.

"Getting back on stage and performing to a large crowd was amazing and felt truly cathartic having not been able to do this for so long. It's a feeling I won't forget for a very long time and I will never take this for granted again. Hopefully the rest of the world will be able to dance together again sometime soon." 

Drum and bass DJ and producer Kanine told Newshub before arriving in New Zealand had almost a year of new unreleased music that no one besides himself had heard. 

"Being able to play it out in my sets and see people’s reactions has been such an amazing thing to experience," he said. 

The Londoner said he'd never felt as much emotion after coming off the stage following his Queenstown show before.

"My brain couldn’t process what had just happened after spending almost a whole year of social distancing and lockdowns.The energy and vibe of that night will stay with me forever." 

Mitch Lowe said the success of the shows couldn't have been possible without the support of Kiwis ready to take some time out off the back of an unpredictable and challenging year. 

"The goal was simple: give the country high level live entertainment, show the nation what's possible if we all work together, and also give the artists, regions and overall industry a huge financial impact over the period. 

"People see the finished product, but for us, we see the snowball effect into small businesses nationwide, and the aspiring artists given the chance of a lifetime supporting major events and so much more. It truly is a win for all."