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PA Reviews: Bottled Lightning on Friday Night, by Danica Bryant

Wellington brings its freezing wind to The Performance Arcade’s Friday night performances for the Fortune Favours Live Music Series 2024. The crowd turns out nonetheless, ready for the house-heavy line-up. Jason Parker, Willy Delphia, and Ill Riot make this a stacked event, moving from modern pop to dance funk to eclectic Māori club.

First up, Jason Parker receives a warm welcome from the growing evening crowd. He dons a pink sequin suit to match the pink streak in his bleached blonde hair. Although he performs on his lonesome to a digital backing track, he brings high energy with his bright conversation and powerful vocals. The set opens with his house-influenced single How to be Lonely. This track’s honeyed lyrics paint a picture of a queer romance in paradise, ringing clear as day across the Arcade field.

Jason introduces the next song as one that got him “into a bit of trouble;” the charismatic It’s My Bad (Oops). This tale of a secret love is uplifted by synthy instrumentals and Britney Spears-esque spoken quips. The bubbly backing music gets audience members to their feet. Jason’s voice becomes excitingly affected by robotic vocoder harmonies stacked underneath. “I’ve got that stupid boy energy,” he sighs, as sad as he is silly.

The next track is a major vocal flex for Jason, jumping from breathy lows to impressively quick falsettos with a chorus all about luck in love. Even with the song’s fakeout gentle pre-chorus, he carries the vibe with unwavering confidence. New number All Of You imagines a relationship through fruit and space imagery, emphasising a slick, lyrical flow in the verses.

Much of the set is dedicated to currently unreleased material from Parker’s upcoming record FAIRY BREAD. Happier Days is reminiscent of Bleachers’ Let’s Get Married, an ode to how a new love can change one’s outlook on life. It ends with a quirky production tag where Jason spells out his name, proving he’s undeniably ready to make his mark on pop music. The collection’s title track comes later; an explosive song about overcoming struggle and making a “sweet escape.” Pulsing guitars layered over a joyous beat make this a standout track, with its sticky sweet hook and relatable storytelling.

"The next track is a major vocal flex for Jason, jumping from breathy lows to impressively quick falsettos"

The performance’s quieter moments begin with Jason’s tribute to his mother, the moving ballad You Rescued Me. Whilst it’s easy for a song like this to veer into overly sentimental territory, Jason’s earnest delivery and relatable words make this a truly emotional tune. Taking his jacket off in the rising heat, he strips down both literally and vocally, showing off his lower range to beautiful effect. Jason then shouts out New Zealand pop icon Dane Rumble with a fragile, dynamic cover of Cruel. This song’s cult classic status is made immediately obvious by the applause at the mere mention of Rumble’s name, and Parker does him justice.

Closing out his set with the anthemic This Is My Year, Jason Parker certainly gives the “bang for your buck” he promises. His clear pop sensibilities and shamelessly sunny personality make his music a true ode to queer joy, perfectly setting the tone for the rest of the show.

Jason Parker. Photo by Philip Merry.

Next up is Willy Delphia, a house music production team expanded for The Performance Arcade into a five-piece band, with editing from Simon Blackwell in the mixing booth. Tonight they are not so much a band as they are a sonic world. Their set opens with a spoken welcome and countdown before firing into bouncing percussion and rattling cymbals. Everything is carefully constructed to take visitors on an instrumental journey.

The spacious opening revolves around a Bjork interview sample, where she speaks of folk music as the “music of the people.” Indeed, this is a show that brings us together. The diverse crowd ranges all ages and becomes one as we bounce to the slick bass groove. This track builds into distorted chants, layered keys and the funk-style drums that go on to define the performance.

Improvisation is key to this set, which explores the intersection of live performance and the never-ending club mix. There are only brief pauses for conversation—otherwise, it’s all about creating the vibe. Shakers and synths make for a second track that celebrates its dissonance, building gradually through jazz-like rhythms and adding subtle grit with guitar. Glittering chimes blend with wailed live vocals to pull the texture wider and wider, like a

journey right up into the stars.

By the next sultry, whispered opening, there’s a bustling crowd gathered around the stage. Sweeping moans, hisses and animal calls rush over the drum beat a la Pink Floyd’s Great Gig In The Sky, creating a trippy melody for the dancefloor. If the band weren’t already fully in the zone, this song sees them entirely in sync with one another. It only takes each bandmate a brief glance at another to find a new twist in the tune.

Willy Delphia at The Performance Arcade. Video credit: Tyler Clarke.

Jazz and soul undertones meld to electronica production as the vocals become percussive and powerful, the lyrics most beautiful in their complete indiscernibility. On the stone wall behind the audience, light projections by VJ Cubeman and Rachie Campbell dance across the trees, seemingly at one with the beat too. Most thrilling is the chunky bass that blossoms through the speakers to the entrancingly simple chant of “Too far gone, too far gone…”

"Willy Delphia finally come to an epic conclusion... one of Wellington’s most polished experimental acts."

A somewhat more linear song follows, led by the cyclical hook of “Make it rain girl, make it rain!” Here, Willy Delphia toy with dynamics, moving from a pumping party chorus to dreamier, softer verses. The jaunty keys take the reins, providing synthy layers for the band to improvise on top of.

Willy Delphia finally come to an epic conclusion with a closer that tells a smoky spoken word story. The vocals drip with summer sex, telling of traffic tickets caused by a destructive crush. They echo and fade out into a bass lick that commands the audience to throw their arms up, swaying in the wind for the rest of the night under the enchantment of one of Wellington’s most polished experimental acts.

Last but not least is club group Ill Riot. It’s cold by the time they’re out, past the 10pm mark, but there’s an undeniable electricity in the air between attendees ready to boogie. Normally a duo, Ill Riot is a trio tonight with Darren Mathiassen on drums to flesh out the synth and vocal combination. Each decked out in warm, luxurious clothing, including flowing robes and boiler-like suits, Ill Riot have an instant and intense stage presence. Intoxicating keys by James Illingworth grab the audience by the neck and suck them into the ether as Kirsten Te Rito introduces the group. She reveals much of the material was written in Mahia during the pandemic lockdown, making the music’s transition to a live setting all the more magical. “We’ll keep you warm”, she promises, and people rush to the dancefloor once again.

All I know is this is love, begins the music, a plain and pure message to Friday’s waterfront punters. Percussion inspired by Taonga pūoro provides the groundwork, giving the house genre a Māori spin. In one moment the synths whine and whistle, the next they stab and strike. The following song Shining Suns is dedicated to the relationship between nature and human society, connecting “daisies” to “Donald Trump” through its warbling instrumentals. Despite the deep meaning behind the lyrics, the melodies are deceptively upbeat, showing

off airy highs and punchy R&B verses.

The audience is thrilled to get involved in the call-and-response moment of the next waiata, eagerly waiting a chance to sing back about “wahine energy.” While they have a front-woman to be proud of, Ill Riot leaves the perfect amount of space to focus on the shimmering instrumentals at the heart of their work. The hook explodes into an utterly outrageous synth solo. Viewers hold their breath, then let it all go for the drop. Te Rito smoothly integrates a poi dance, then belts out a wordless melody that will haunt us long after the night is through.

"...a distinctly Aotearoa sound juxtaposed against otherworldly digital effects."

Later songs see the audience jumping up and down as the band imagine themselves on “trampolines,” with classic 90s keys pounding under the slamming rhythm section. Where the lyrics become simple, the production becomes winding and whimsical, guiding listeners down strange melodic paths but holding the line with a good old double clap.

On every track, the unique timbre of the live drums is deep and wooden, a distinctly Aotearoa sound juxtaposed against otherworldly digital effects. These original tunes have an innate sense of dynamic range. They pull the musical tension tight, then with every chorus release, create something fresh, yet just familiar enough. The keyboard roars, the tambourines rattle, the loops hit over and over again. You can’t bottle lightning, but it seems Ill Riot just might. They’re a musical trip, well worth the finale spot in this weekend starter showcase. If this night’s anything to go by, there’s no doubt The Performance Arcade is the place to be for Te Whanganaui-a-Tara’s most intriguing upcoming artists.

James Illingworth and Kirsten Te Rito from Ill Riot under the full moon. Photo by Melody Nixon.

Jason Parker, Willy Delphia, and Ill Riot performed on Friday February 23rd at The Performance Arcade 2024.

Danica Bryant is a lover of comic books, video games and all things Britney Spears, and a Wellington-based writer and musician who specialises in pop culture and music reviews. Working for major companies including Universal Music and Tearaway Magazine, she has a passion for revitalising the New Zealand music scene and creating a supportive, empowered arts community. Alongside her journalism work, Danica is an original singer-songwriter. Her

pop-rock-folk sound dives into the world of mental health, celebrity culture and sapphic love, inspired by artists like Fiona Apple and Lorde. Both Danica's songwriting and journalism pursue a queer neurodivergent feminist focus, and emphasise the value of representation in Aotearoa's beautiful multicultural society.


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