When Tinie Tempah took to the Rhythm and Vines stage in 2010, the atmosphere at Waiohika Estate was swept with a sort of magic.
Fresh off the Glastonbury stage where he had performed with Snoop Dogg, Tempah had only broken into the industry with thanks to hits like “Pass Out” and “Written in the Stars” months earlier.
As the sun went down over rolling green hills, revellers matched the rapper’s energy by belting out every word and dancing under the dimming sky. Everyone was making the most of hearing a fresh new international artist while looking forward to another year just around the corner.
It was the kind of moment that Rhythm and Vines has become renowned for creating. Each year, similar scenes are recreated with a different array of talent and refreshed crowds, but one constant remains: the classic Aotearoa backdrop.
Tens of thousands of Kiwis from around the country pack their bags annually and set out on an adventure to the golden vineyards to be among the first in the world to see in the New Year.
As months of planning come to life, days are spent hanging out with friends, unwinding from the year that’s been, and the chance to listen to some of the best live music available is embraced.
But by the time Rhythm and Vines co-founder and director Hamish Pinkham watches those revellers bellow out the countdown on New Year’s Eve, he’s already thinking about which artists to book for the next edition.
He thinks they’ve nailed the recipe for what works over the years, but it’s always a welcome moment when it all goes their way. Tempah, for example, was pitched as an emerging artist but ended up being one of that year’s biggest breakthroughs.
“We’re planning this festival eight months out, so a lot of the decisions we make have already been made towards our goal. It’s a nice tick of approval to see it all come together,” Pinkham says. “Seeing him [Tempah] in New Zealand and seeing the whole crowd sing his lyrics back to him was a really memorable moment for the festival.”
Pinkham explains that extensive consideration and planning goes into each Rhythm and Vines: it’s about knowing who to take a bet on while also securing acts who can safely deliver a successful live show.
“We work really hard all year to build this vision over a number of years to get to where we’ve got,” he explains. “It’s not a surprise to see the crowd reaction because it’s something we’ve dreamt about and worked towards all year – it’s just the final cherry on top to see the artists entertain the masses.”
Although the party atmosphere in the picturesque landscape is a huge drawcard, music is the beating heart of Rhythm and Vines, and the expectation to bring top-tier local and international artists is never too far from Pinkham’s mind. “I think we’re really good at focusing on what we are – we’re not trying to be everything to everyone,” he insists.
Attendance numbers got as high as 30,000 a little over 10 years ago, but Pinkham says the sweet spot is about 23,000. “I think we cater to that audience and we innovate every year. We’re not scared of trying new things and that’s a reason we’ve been able to last the distance as well.”
For local artists, it can be the earliest opportunity to get on a festival lineup.
“Being able to put a number of leading Kiwi acts on their first stage and to see them go on as established artists is something I’m really proud of,” Pinkham says.
He points to now-famous acts like Six60 and The Naked and Famous who were introduced to the festival setting on the Rhythm and Vines stage.
Over the years, the festival has reeled in countless big names from overseas too: Calvin Harris, Chance the Rapper, Moby, Bastille, Tame Impala, and Flume have all played the Rhythm and Vines stage.
In the years leading up to Chase and Status making their Gisborne debut, a Facebook page dedicated to showing organisers of Rhythm and Vines “how truly grateful we would be if they managed to bless us with the presence of what can only be described as the drum and bass act of our generation” attracted thousands of followers. Pinkham was only too happy to oblige.
“It was quite a significant moment – probably the biggest crowds we’d had [at that point] for the main stage and the music just resonated with New Zealanders. It was a real moment for the festival.”
Being in charge, of course, comes with some perks, and Pinkham has had the chance to bring some of his own musical heroes to Rhythm and Vines.
“The likes of James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem, Justice, [the] 2 Many DJs guys, Diplo, and Major Lazer. [It’s] always rewarding to be able to promote acts that resonate with you,” he says.
Pinkham has watched the festival’s growth since he and a group of university friends decided to throw a party to see in the New Year when he was just 21 years old. Although they didn’t know it at the time, their spontaneous idea on a surfing holiday was the beginning of what has become one of New Zealand’s most iconic annual events.
“There’s been lots of struggles and lots of pain, but also some really rewarding times. Seeing that growth, it’s almost like a proud parent moment,” he says. “It’s got a great legacy, so it’s in a good place.”
“It’s a huge part of New Zealand culture and provides so much enjoyment for so many Kiwis. These things don’t happen by accident.”
View this post on Instagram
This year’s lineup includes Dom Dolla, Becky Hill, Declan McKenna, and many more artist are already set to be festival favourites.
As the festival quickly approaches, organisers are encouraging previous attendees to share their highlights as part of a new campaign dubbed 21 Memories.
“It’s a chance to reflect on our 21 years of the festival and give people a chance to reminisce and look back through their photos,” Pinkham explains.
“I know I’ve been looking back through my attendance – all 21 years. It’s just a chance to celebrate the achievement – thinking back to the friends we’ve spent those summers with and some of the artists we’ve seen.”
More information about Rhythm and Vines is available here.