Well known to underground electronic music fans in Brisbane, Rikki Newton has been a fixture in the scene for over 15 years. Along with Adam Swain, Rikki has brought quality house and techno music to local clubs with Subtrakt Events. Subtrakt’s 10th anniversary will take place on Saturday 25 November at The Foundry Brisbane, featuring Fred P and Simon Caldwell.
Q. Rikki, the first time I saw you DJ you were playing house music at Family nightclub. It would have been around 10 years ago. You have certainly seen and done a lot as both a DJ and promoter in that time. What have been some of the highlights of your DJ career so far?
A. I was lucky enough to hold down a five year residency at Family from 2004-2009, where I learnt a lot about the art of DJing. Some of my most memorable gigs/nights took place there, most notably the few times time I had the opportunity to warm up for Ben Watt in 2004 & 2006. Ben was the reason I wanted to become a DJ after frequenting his fortnightly house events, Lazy Dog, during my 2 year stint living in London in 2000 & 2001. Another fave gig was warming up for Âme (Frank Wiedemann) at The Empire Hotel in 2007. I played my first festival gig in 2006 (I think) on the locals stage at Good Vibrations. Had plenty of mates there that day so vibes were high and it’s one that’s always stuck with me.
Obviously Subtrakt has also given me plenty of opportunities to play alongside some of my favourite artists and the parties that stand out for me include Steve Bug (2nd Birthday @ Barsoma), Fred P’s first visit in 2014, Steffi & Virginia and the Giegling Showcase in 2015. Warming up for Derrick May when he and Jeff Mills played for Andromeda Festival at Woolly Mammoth last year was also a night that will stick with me forever.
Q. How did electronic music come into your life? I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to hear about some of the records that captured your interest in your formative years.
A. Growing up in a relatively small town I wasn’t really exposed to electronic music at an early age. I was more into my indie rock early on until I started going to Big Day Out festivals around 1993. So it was attending these festivals and also from watching a lot of Rage that I slowly started listening to more electronic music. Some notable performances in The Boiler Room at BDO’s in the mid to late 90’s were Roni Size, Basement Jaxx, Underworld, Prodigy & Fat Boy Slim. Influential albums during this period include Leftfield – Leftism, Stereo MC’s – Connected, Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole, Underworld – 2nd Toughest in the Infants, Fat Boy Slim – Better Living Through Chemistry.
It wasn’t until I moved to London in 1999 that I began immersing myself into the club scene and began listening to house & techno. Fabric had just opened around then so I would spend most weekends there as well as the Sunday Lazy Dog parties.
Q. What drove you to begin running your own events?
A. I had been a resident of Family for five years during 2004-2009 and towards the end of that time the club had started to take a different direction musically. I’ve never been one to DJ for the sake of it and never understood those DJs that play what they’re told to and not what they want to. So when I started getting the talks from management about playing particular styles or genres I knew it was time to move on. Myself and fellow Family resident Jamie Smith then decided to start our own event where we could play exactly what we wanted to with some of our fave local DJs in a more intimate environment, away from the larger clubs.
Jamie and I began Subtrakt in September 2007 at the now infamous Barsoma, and that continued until mid 2008 when Jamie decided to step away. Around this time I had recently met Adam Swain, and after getting to know him and his taste in music it seemed natural to invite him to be my new Subtrakt partner. That partnership continued until Jan 2016, when Adam moved to Thailand, and I took it upon myself to fund and run Subtrakt on my own from that point on.
Q. I got to know you at your Drũm nights which you put on with Hakan Henry, which ran for a couple of years from 2014. They were great parties, with an intimate and friendly vibe, at Montague in Fortitude Valley. At the other end of the event spectrum you have organised the Andromeda Festival. No doubt they are a lot of work, but you must enjoy being involved in running music events. Where does that dedication come from?
A. I guess after DJing and holding down residencies around Brisbane for approximately six years, I wanted to give something more to the scene. So the next progression was to run my own events. Subtrakt had already been operating for eight years when Hakan and I decided to start Drũm. The focus of those parties was to give a bunch of local DJs the opportunity to be a resident of a monthly party and play on rotation on a regular basis. There are not too many opportunities in Bris for young up & coming underground DJs to do this so we wanted to round up our fave locals and give them that chance.
After running club events for 7-8 years it was time to move onto a larger project and that became Andromeda Festival. I played and attended Subsonic Festival just outside of Sydney in 2013 and had such a great experience. It got me thinking and asking myself why we didn’t have something like this happening in SE QLD.
So all the events I’ve been involved in over the years stem from having a passion for the scene and wanting to contribute something different to the norm. DJing and holding down those residencies from 2003–2009 gave me a lot during that time, so I wanted to give something back to the scene that had given so much to me.
Q. Brisbane’s electronic music scene has changed a great deal over the past decade, but you and Adam have stayed on and by definition, kept it real. What are your thoughts on how clubbing in Brisbane has evolved over that period?
A. From the time I started DJing in 2002, ‘underground’ music was kinda the norm in Brisbane clubs and bars. Family, Empire Hotel, Press Club, Alhambra all had a great selection of local resident DJs playing a mix of genres week in week out. You don’t really find that these days. Most venues tend to play it safe and stick to the same old commercial rubbish that every other venue plays.
So the whole being a resident in a club these days has kind of disappeared and you’re finding more and more local promoters hosting their own events. The underground scene has flourished in recent times, say the past 4-5 years, with many local crews moving outside of the usual club venues and utilising warehouse spaces, etc. to host their events. The amount of local crews running events around Bris today is an example of how the scene has evolved over the years and kept the underground alive. So thanks to Kush Club, Shade/Centre Source, BTHC, A Love Supreme, FLUX, XL & IWTFA, there’s lots to look forward to in Bris in the coming years.
Q. Subtrakt has been a mainstay in Brisbane for 10 years. It has been a beacon for popular international DJs, and I can honestly say you have held some of the most enjoyable and memorable events this town has ever got down to. Tell us how playing host to so many talented musicians from all over the world has changed your life and influenced you.
A. Thanks for the kind words, appreciate it. Well for starters it’s given me the opportunity to meet and play alongside some of my heroes, for which I am truly grateful. It’s also given me the chance to play overseas and interstate, to meet new friends and to experience this scene in other parts of the world. Some of the most memorable experiences in my life which were actually life changing, my first visit to Berghain being one. It’s not often you get to spend 18 hours in a club and find yourself walking home at 10am on a Monday morning after seeing Rodhad play for 10 hours, especially in Australia.
Q. With so many successful Subtrakt events to look back on, you must have made a lot of happy memories. Let’s say you could go back in time to relive those experiences. Which parties would you go to?
A. The 2nd birthday with Steve Bug (2009) was probably the biggest event attendance wise that we held at Barsoma. Think we got 400+ through the door that night and understandably, the venue was buzzing!
The 7th birthday with Claire Morgan (2014). Another great turn out that night but it was the vibe that made this party what it was. Claire took the roof off that night, one of the best sets we’ve seen at any Subtrakt party.
The first warehouse party we threw featured VRIL live on Easter Thursday, that was a sell out and another incredible vibe. It was a stinking hot night too so the place was a proper sweat box with a lot of dancers getting their gear off.
Q. It’s been 10 years of amazing music, and you’ve decided to wind things down. In Subtrakt‘s impending absence, what is your hope for the electronic music scene in Brisbane? What pieces of wisdom do you want to pass on to the younger generation?
A. I wouldn’t call it wisdom, but if I had any advice to pass on it would be to stay true to yourself, and in a scene that is as small as Brisbane it’s important to support each other and not be in direct competition with one another.
Q. On Saturday 25 November, Brisbane will celebrate 10 years of Subtrakt at The Foundry. The event will feature master of the deepest of house and lushest of techno, the legendary New York native Fred P (aka Black Jazz Consortium). Aussie DJ royalty Simon Caldwell is headlining too. Local support comes from yourself, Chris George, Baax, Neil Hind, Jim Z, Matt Treffene, Emma Stevenson, Jawgoh, Alex Millington, Jimmy Ellis and Mumbles. What a note to finish on! How do you feel about Subtrakt coming to an end?
A. Yep, the 10th I’m really looking forward to. Two absolute legends of the scene in Fred & Simon so can’t wait. There’ll actually be one last ‘farewell’ party following the 10th birthday that will take place on Sat 27th January. This will be announced following the 10th.
Mixed emotions, obviously sad that it’s coming to an end but also pretty happy with what we’ve contributed to the scene over the years. As I mentioned earlier, Brisbane has some awesome crews doing really good things so there’s lots to look forward to. I’ll be focusing more on Andromeda now so I’m really looking forward to that.
Q. Thank you so much for speaking to Underground Sound Rikki, and for all that you have done for electronic music in Brisbane. Here’s to many more years of quality tunes!
A. Thanks Underground Sound for the interview and the support over the years.