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Not only have a thousand subgenres – witch house, anybody? – normally come and gone in the time it takes Fat Freddy’s Drop to finish one track, but the New Zealand group’s entire modus operandi seems out of kilter with the modern world. In an age in which ever more music is created from files swapped across the internet by people who’ve never met, the crucible of Fat Freddy’s music remains live performance. Instead of using their gigs as testing grounds for what they’re working on in the studio, their albums act more as condensed versions of the epic jams they play live, where the seven-strong core collective lock onto grooves for often 15 minutes or more.
Live at Roundhouse London not only captures Fat Freddy’s in their natural element, but also features tracks from 2009’s Dr. Boondigga and The Big BW LP in embryonic form. Except that “embryonic” gives completely the wrong impression, since these tracks are much bigger and fully-fleshed than their recorded incarnations. Recorded at the titular London venue in 2008, the crowd on that December evening wasn’t treated to recognisable favourites from 2005’s word-of-mouth success Based on a True Story album but – with the exception of Flashback – nearly 90 minutes of entirely new material.
They’re an act that’s either incredibly indulgent or incredibly brave – only managing to get through six tracks, it’s vital that each one has that instantly identifiable Fat Freddy’s vibe their fans adore them for, so that even the brand new can be greeted like an old friend. That’s not to say that everything sounds the same, but few bands have created a sound so uniquely theirs whilst keeping it so open for manoeuvre. So The Camel and The Raft find them steering through funk, jazz and soul whilst Pull the Catch and Shiverman take detours into drum’n’bass and house respectively, but are always steered by DJ Fitchie’s dub beats and Joe Dukie’s soulful vocals.
Trying to capture the atmosphere of a Fat Freddy’s Drop gig on record is ultimately futile, but if you’ve never been to one yourself this offers a good insight into what makes them so fertile.
Paul Clarke BBC Music Review