Sunday, July 27
Peanut Butter Wolf, born Chris Manak, is a hip-hop DJ and producer and the founder of Stones Throw Records. His show in Wellington, the final from a series of dates around Australia and New Zealand accompanied a screening of the Stones Throw records documentary, Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton. There was support from local DJs too.
So, the evening started with a screening of the film at 6pm – and an immediate re-screen at 7.30. You had the choice of arriving early, turning up for the second screening or watching both. The film tells Manak’s story as a record-buying kid obsessed with new wave and punk and hip-hop, playing in bands, building up his record collection and from there sticking a toe in the water as a turntablist and beatmaker. When he continued to receive rejection letters – or worse, silence – he decided to stop submitting his mixtapes and demos. He had another plan. He would start a label. Stones Throw was created – and from there we’re taken on a tour of all the seminal instrumental hip-hop, funk, soul and rap that Manak oversaw as the tastemaker choosing quirky, innovative artists, shining the light on new findings. We know the names – and we get to see and hear from many of them on the doco: Madlib, J Dilla, Jonwayne, J Rocc, Dam-Funk, James Pants and MF Doom (as part of the Madvillain duo with Madlib).
Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton talks through the highs and lows of the label – from struggling, almost going under to introducing a staple of fresh and fantastic musicians/producers – that constant balancing act between art and commerce of course. Aloe Blacc seemed to arrive at the right time to make Stones Throw some coin, for example. His music nowhere near as important as Madlib’s offerings under a dozen different aliases, but a huge part of the story in the sense that he kept the label afloat; we hear from important names connected with hip-hop culture too: Questlove of The Roots, Mike D from The Beastie Boys.
It’s a great snapshot – and watching it in a bar, with an audience that knew the highs and lows, the key tracks and artists was a blast; I was reminded of watching Scratch at Wellington’s Film Festival a decade or so ago. An event. A moment. It felt important. It seemed so inspiring for being part of that energy.
But good as that all was – and I’m not sure why we’re not seeing more documentary/film watching going on in pubs, I’d like to see more music movies in bars – the real highlight was the AV set from Peanut Butter Wolf. Mixing video footage the Wolf took us on a tour of hip-hop, as he moved through tributes to Dilla and Biggie, via key cuts from the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr – it started to become clear that as well as providing some cool cut-up images and live remixing, as well as lighting up a dance-floor with a head-nodding, hand waving crowd (Meow was packed!) this was actually glimpses into Peanut Butter Wolf’s life – it was, in a sense, his musical autobiography; a set of influences, antecedents and favourites cut to fit, his life as mixtape.
Tributes to Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and James Brown were all in keeping with hip-hop and its cosmopolitan flavours but then Wolf was able to blend in traces of his new wave influences, and disco and funk.