Review: Auckland's Cross Street Festival delivers vibrant tapestry of local talent, community spirit and car alarms

Cross Street Festival delivers vibrant tapestry of local talent, community spirit - and car alarms.
Cross Street Festival delivers vibrant tapestry of local talent, community spirit - and car alarms. Photo credit: Nik Brinkman

As the Saturday sun beat down on a bustling Tāmaki Makaurau, the city was abuzz with anticipation, drawing crowds from near and far. But, unlike the throngs heading to see a certain pop icon, we opted for something more local and a little closer to our hearts - the sixth annual Cross Street Festival.

Walking along Karangahape Road, you never would have guessed that tucked behind was a pumping wonderland. The festival unfolded like a delightful secret, bragging an eclectic mix of emerging and established local talent - from a selection of food stalls to quirky vendors like NellyBly and Karangahape's own Celestial Corner.

Stepping into the space felt like entering a compressed version of K'Rd, where the air crackled with excitement and a sense of community embraced all who ventured in. Beanbags were scattered around, while an erratic display of old televisions showcased the festival's vibrant, flickering logo à la old-school MTV. At other times, the crowds and performances made the screen - I would say 'big', but they were actually lots of little screens put together. 

Now for the highlights. 

Mirror Ritual (previously known as Transistor), a psychedelic dream-rock group hailing from Poneke, blessed Cross Street with one of its last performances, with one of its members departing across the ditch. The band wasn't about to go out with a fizzle; weaving enchanting melodies like 'Nothing New', 'Waiting to be Free' and 'Fear in All', the crowd was in a trance, swaying and two-stepping to the groovy baselines and lush guitars under the evening sun.

I can't say I'm an expert in hip-hop, but when up-and-coming OD took to the stage, even the uninitiated moved to the booming 808s of 'AF1' and 'Bayside'. Hype truly has no boundaries. 

Te KuraHuia was perhaps one of the best performances of the night. Despite recovering from an illness, Te KuraHuia, aka the Bad Mana Wahine, was - pun intended - sick. The powerhouse artist and Māori-Pasifika rapper whipped out the pois and served up knockout performances with 'Galactic Manafestor', 'Pretty Gal Club' and 'BMW'. Rightfully, she called out anyone not absolutely throwing their backs into it. 

Of course, let's not forget the Small Rave Cave. The intimate, sloping stone enclave rolled out the pink carpet for the raver rats, with energetic mixes from Fergus Waveforms, Djór and Downtown Hustle proving everyone can be a good dancer under strobe lighting.

Te KuraHuia at the 6th annual Cross Street Music Festival.
Te KuraHuia at the 6th annual Cross Street Music Festival. Photo credit: Nik Brinkman

Princess Chelsea and Friends was the moment everyone had been waiting for. Donning a cabaret-style ensemble with a pink corset popping against her slick black hair, Princess Chelsea apologised for keeping the crowd waiting - she hates it when she "wastes people's time". But make up for it she did with a performance that was equal parts theatrical and chaotic, rendering the stage too small for her shenanigans. 

The crowd for Princess Chelsea was the largest the festival had seen so far, with the street full of people swaying and bopping along to the melodies of 'Wasting time', 'Aftertouch' and 'I love my boyfriend'. But 'Forever is a Charm' was the pinnacle of the performance. Watching Princess Chelsea belt out the hook was not only cathartic to witness, but must have felt cathartic to sing. Anyone listening to the song online might revel in its sweet melody, but hearing it live was like an enactment of female rage; and with a straggler making lude comments to me about other people's bodies, a little female rage was definitely warranted. 

Princess Chelsea hates it when she "wastes people's time".
Princess Chelsea hates it when she "wastes people's time". Photo credit: Nik Brinkman

The great thing about the Cross Street Festival is it's bite-sized, with a main stage, a secret rave room and a DJ Booth hovering above in the neighbouring car park. Unlike other festivals, you don't have to travel far or rush between stages to catch all the artists you want to see. Instead, the music comes to you. 

Yet, the stages' proximity may also be the festival's only drawback, with the DJ stage feeling like a bit of an intermission. 

That feeling was only made more apparent when Baby Zionov was raining down solid mixes from the carpark above, while the stage below was going through an awkward sound check. The vibrations of it all also set multiple car alarms blaring. But the challenges were only minor blips in the grand tapestry of the evening.

The genre-clashing and highly impressive Balu Brigada followed up on the main stage after Princess Chelsea. Brothers Pierre and Henry Beasley came in hot with funky alt-pop-esque hits like 'Designer', '2Good' and 'Find a Way'. But the infectious flows weren't the only tunes in store. Much to everyone's surprise, Balu Brigada also whipped out an unreleased single and a jiving cover of Gorillaz's 'DARE' to treat their hometown fans. It was complemented by the addition of yet another car alarm going off in the building next door.

Pierre Beasley of Balu Brigada was absolutely stunning crowds.
Pierre Beasley of Balu Brigada was absolutely stunning crowds. Photo credit: Nik Brinkman

Unfortunately, due to a bit of a personal emergency, I had to duck out during DeepState, and while I'm a bit sore to have missed her sonic explorations, Jessica Morgan will no doubt be playing again soon - and I will be keeping my eye out to see her. 

Crowds filtered out as the night went on, but the spirit of celebration remained for the DJ-producer duo KÉDU CARLÖ and self-acclaimed pirate princess HeyLady, who wrapped up the night with her heavy-hitting, speaker-rattling basslines.

Even as the last note faded, the festival would have no doubt left a mark on all those who attended. Fortunately, the spirit of the Cross Street festival isn't confined to a single night of revelry, with the sounds of the underground flowing endlessly through the corners of Karangahape Road.