On a Friday night in late July, a huge crowd gathered outside Neck of the Woods on Karangahape Road. This in itself isn’t noteworthy – a line of people often stretches past Magic Hollow and St Pierre’s Sushi and even past Verona when there’s a big event on – but there was palpably more excitement in the conversations in the queue, a pervading air of anticipation.
VICE NZ even sent someone to capture the crowd vibe. Their roving reporter asked a simple question: what’s missing from New Zealand’s club scene? A few gave considered answers, while many more revelled in giddy youthfulness (one poor lad was falling over himself to recall the time he slept on “some random stairs” on Queen Street and went to work the next day; who hasn’t?), but the most pertinent rebuttal to the question, a true local success story, was waiting inside Neck of the Woods, and was the reason everyone had come out that night. Welcome to Club SACHI: they’ve been expecting you.
Tāmaki Makaurau duo Nick Chrisp and Will Thomas formed SACHI in 2014, almost 10 years ago, and their standing in electronic music circles has been on a steep incline ever since. Alongside their contemporary and close friend, Montell2099, they became the first-ever New Zealand artists to play Belgium’s iconic Tomorrowland Festival last year. But even though their career had been progressing strongly before 2022, the Tomorrowland booking was a monumental surprise to SACHI.
It came out of left field,” Will tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ. “We’d never really played in Europe before, we hadn’t really built ourselves in that market yet. And then to get asked to play [Tomorrowland], it was like, ‘What the hell?!’”
For the two electronic music fanatics, who had spent the previous decade keenly watching the official Tomorrowland aftermovies (“cinematic masterpieces,” Will insists), it was a dream come true. “I feel like we almost skipped playing some small club or something, to like two people,” Will concedes. “It was mad but it was amazing. It’s an incredible festival.”
How did two Auckland musicians end up playing at such a famous festival? It turns out they had “close personal friend” Netsky to thank. “We’ve hung out a bunch. He hosted a stage at the festival and had us and Montell on, so we were the first two Kiwis to play the festival,” Will says. We can’t thank him enough for the opportunity.”
For Nick, just being at Tomorrowland, with its myriad electronic genres and kaleidoscopic sights and sounds, ended up being a learning experience. “I probably watched like 20 sets over the two days,” he recalls, “and saw everything from trance to very fast German techno to rhythm and dubstep. It’s like a Guillermo del Toro film or Lord of the Rings, like a fantastical mythical town. It’s like an adult Disneyland!”
The boys also unlocked new fans through their Tomorrowland set, despite most of the crowd initially having “no idea who the hell we were,” according to Nick. “We still get messages to this day being like, ‘When are you guys coming to Belgium?’ ‘When are you guys coming to this town’ etc. It’s always been a goal of ours to reach all the deepest ends of the world.
Both Nick and Will are in the US when we speak, bound for Seattle the following day. That’s where they can usually be found now: the duo have made Los Angeles their home base, not far from where Coachella is held every year, and the beloved festival is next on their career bucket list. “We’d love to do Fuji Rock in Japan,” Will adds, while Nick claims that “Burning Man would be fucking sick as well.” (Lucky that they didn’t attend the disastrous desert festival this year.)
But following their historic Tomorrowland turn in 2022, they returned home this year. In the depths of a miserable New Zealand winter, Nick and Will put on Club SACHI, a series of intimate DJ club nights across Aotearoa, taking it back to the smaller homeland rooms they came up in, and it came to a conclusion that night in July at Neck of the Woods.
“It was so good, man,” Will happily reflects. “It totally exceeded all expectations. All the turnouts in every city were amazing. We played heaps of new music and it was a wild experience.”
“The sick thing about the Club SACHI tour was that every night was different,” Nick says. “The sets we played each night were completely different. I don’t think we could pick a favourite to be honest.”
In one of the photos posted from the Dunedin set, the genuine intimacy of the Club SACHI tour is evident: taken from above, the image shows Nick and Will, resplendent in all-white, surrounded by revellers on either side, their decks within fingertip reach of some. But for the boys who came up in house parties and community halls in Dunedin and Auckland, who value their music whānau above all else, they felt right at home.
“In the live environment, there’s this exchange of energy – you can’t have one part of it without the other, you can’t have the performer without the audience,” Nick says. “We’ve always been interested in who the community is: who are these people coming to the shows, hanging outside, trying to have a conversation or get a photo? How can we be more tapped in with the audience that has found our music?”
Soon enough, Will is recalling their early gigs. “We started out playing gigs while underage. We’d get to the door and the bouncers would be like, ‘Get fucked!’”
“Word would get out and then people would take the stories of our gigs back to their hometowns – it was proper DIY,” Nick says about their Dunedin days. “So many of those early things we were just making up as we went along!”
In their hometown, they were helped by Auckland’s strong electronic music community. “We’re all kind of critiquing each other’s stuff, working on each other’s stuff, and coming to each other’s gigs,” Nick says. “And out of that you’ve got guys like Montell and the Lee Mvtthews guys.” (“Whole Again”, their first single of the year – and first in 18 months – was given an exhilarating remix by fellow Kiwi duo FOVOS.)
Hustling is what the SACHI boys have always done. “We used to do this thing where we would hang out at hotels when there would be big touring festivals on. We would just wait in the hotel lobbies with a USB stick of our music – we gave a USB to Skrillex, Steve Aoki, Post Malone,” Will reveals.
Their daring endeavour never met with any success until Diplo came along. “We saw that he was at this restaurant around the corner from our house, so we went there and he came out in a sort of motorcade of SUVs. I just ran up to one of the SUVs, banged on the window with a USB of our music, and threw it in a window,” Will continues.
Diplo caught it and six months later, the superstar producer played one of the USB songs on his BBC Radio One show. “We got one of those tweet bot things being like, ‘SACHI, “No More”, BBC Radio One,’” Will laughs. Eighth time’s the charm, I say. “Something like that. We probably gave away hundreds of dollars worth of USB sticks. But it was worth it!”
A SACHI x Diplo collaboration hasn’t been forthcoming just yet, but Will is hopeful for the future. “One of our friends in LA works with him a lot in the studio… we’re kind of setting something up. We did post a TikTok recapping the [USB] story and he commented on it. We’re plotting part two, where we’ll give him another USB of our music.”
As of September, entry to Club SACHI has a new mandate. Nick and Will dropped their new single, “Feel Good”, that month, a collaboration with Mali-Koa that urges – as you can surmise from the title – just one thing. “We wrote it on the most miserable day in London, thinking that we should write a song for a day that has the opposite feeling,” the boys explain.
The gleeful anthem is, in every way, primed for summertime, the soundtrack to drinking Pals in a Ponsonby bar, or dancing as the sun begins to set at a festival. In every way, too, it’s unpretentious electronica, a song with a simple but well-meaning message.
But what makes SACHI feel good? “Eating, dancing, sweating, recording, conversating, travelling, being in the ocean, being in remote natural environments, sitting, sleeping, pondering existence,” is their lengthy answer. “I think coming into the Southern Hemisphere summer people are sensing brighter days ahead, so it’s a sweet pairing to that feeling,” they add. “We’ll definitely be playing it at all of our upcoming shows.”
What’s missing from New Zealand’s club scene? The talent is certainly there. There are artists like EMWA and FOVOS; the DIY spirit is being kept alive through the likes of Bassment and FILTH. If the infrastructure and the industry catches up, a promising future is definitely attainable.
Nick and Will, too, aren’t going away anytime soon. Despite celebrating their 10th anniversary as SACHI next year, both are still only 25 years old. They’ve packed a lot into the previous decade, and Will says there’s a lot more to come. “We’re working on an album right now. We’re going to be trickling that out over the foreseeable future. Hopefully some stuff in Australia. We’re just ramping things up. I honestly feel like we’re only getting started.”