Wilkinson says Kiwi freedom a 'shock to the system' ahead of first gig in NZ - his 'second home'

British DJ and producer Mark Wilkinson - better known by his last name alone - is overwhelmed at the prospect of performing his first live show in 15 months in New Zealand.

While he's absolutely buzzing to get out of quarantine, he admits the freedom Kiwis have become accustomed to might be a "shock to the system".

"I don't know how I'm going to feel when I step outside [of isolation] and you know, not having to wear a mask, and being around people again," he tells Newshub.

"I mean, that's going to be a shock to a system." 

The Drum and Bass artist and frequent Rhythm and Vines headliner is days from performing his first gig at Wellington's TSB Arena.

Asked whether he's enjoying isolation, the DJ reveals it's not too bad. 

"I was given some gym stuff when I arrived, got an Xbox here, got my laptop - you know, I've just been making music and getting ready for my shows.

"Two weeks in isolation is nothing on doing what you love," he adds. 

New Zealand 'my second home'

The British DJ says New Zealand has a very special place in his heart. Over the past 10 years, Wilkinson has claimed his spot in New Zealand's drum and bass charts, and, having headlined festivals like RnV and Hidden Valley many times, he's become quite the honorary local.

"Oh man, I mean, New Zealand for me - I'd call it my second home," he says.

British DJ Wilkinson explores New Zealand.
Wilkinson explores New Zealand. Photo credit: Instagram/Wilkinson UK

"Every December I usually come out here and travel around and just take it all in. The amount of times I've driven around the country... I've done it so many times, it's just so beautiful.

"I'm just very lucky that I make music that is so incredibly popular over here, I'm just so thankful - and the fact that it's the only place in the world that's really doing live music at the moment… you're incredibly lucky to have that."

Kiwis 'just so relaxed'

"I just love New Zealand. I love the people, I love the laid-back kind of vibe. I'm always a bit of a country boy in the UK, I love going down to the countryside and you know, there's just something about the people here... they're just so relaxed," he tells Newshub.

Wilkinson says he thinks Kiwis turn up to gigs to just enjoy themselves - not to look good, not to spend lots of money or pretend they're better than everyone else.

"I feel like these sorts of fans are for the music, and the people who go to festivals, they're purely in it for fun, you know, they're not in it to look good and buy bottles of Dom Perignon and spend loads of money on VIP areas - they're there just to feel the music and enjoy the music.

"That's what I love so much about performing in New Zealand."

Virtual Festivals

In October last year, Wilkinson and fellow DJ Sub Focus performed a back-to-back livestream set at Corfe Castle in Dorset - to celebrate the release of their long-awaited collaboration, 'Portals'.

"That was probably like the pinnacle of the summer for me," he says, despite only having an audience of four.

The UK had been subject to a lockdown for the past few months, and gatherings were restricted to just six people.

Wilkinson and fellow DJ Sub Focus perform a live stream set at Corfe Castle.
Wilkinson and fellow DJ Sub Focus perform a live stream set at Corfe Castle. Photo credit: Instagram/Wilkinson UK

So what was it like performing in front of… four people?

"I can't really explain it, it was amazing to be performing loud music and we were on a beautiful stage, you could see for miles in a beautiful setting. If you closed your eyes and if you kind of didn't think about it, it felt like we were there at a festival," he says.

"But the reality is, you know, half the fun of doing gigs is just having that reaction - a year is a long time to not have a crowd reaction or be in the presence of more than six people, and that's what it's been like in the UK."

In March, Wilkinson hosted a lockdown livestream, performing at London's iconic Printworks.

Fans from all around the world used virtual reality headsets to feel like they were part of the real thing.

Though it may have been the best thing since live music, the DJ admits that it's just not for him. 

"It was just really weird and I was like, 'Nah I can't be doing this anymore... I can't do it, it's just not what I'm in it for'," he admits.

"I mean, I'm in it for going and seeing people and just being with people, you know. We're social beings, aren't we? You can restrict people's freedoms so much before they start losing their will to live, I think."

'Keep Dancing'

Wilkinson's new single 'Keep Dancing' hopes to inspire others to just keep pushing on through the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The single, featuring vocalist Amber Van Day, lets out all the emotion felt during lockdown - the cancelled festivals, dancing alone, and the feeling of isolation.

"The amount of messages I get of people dancing in their living rooms on a Friday night - they're watching a livestream performance - so really, the song says 'just keep going' - cause we're nearly there," he says.

"I just felt like it was right to put that out at this time."

He says it's devastating to see the toll COVID-19 has had on the music industry around the world.

"I think for a lot of people, especially in the music industry - it's everyone behind the scenes - the agents, the managers…

"To be a DJ and to be a music producer and an artist, it's live performances that are your main income stream, so it's been devastating to watch people losing their jobs around me and just really struggling."

Wilkinson is performing six shows around New Zealand, starting in Wellington on May 13. 

Wilkinson New Zealand Tour dates: 

  • Wellington - May 13, TSB Arena
  • Auckland - May 14, 15, Trusts Arena
  • Dunedin - May 20, Union Hall
  • Christchurch - May 21, Gloucester Green
  • Hastings - May 22, Exhibition Hall