As we approach the end of 2022, this Tone Deaf series celebrates some of the artists from Australia, New Zealand and beyond that have impressed us this year. The music industry may be slowly returning to normal, but the past few years have been tough on musicians. The artists in this series are proof that creativity always endures, even in uncertain times.
Montell2099 has been proudly representing Aotearoa on the global stage for a while now, but that’s simply not enough for the man from Katikati; he wants the world to experience his country through visually-stunning visuals.
The acclaimed electronic producer just performed a sumptuous career-spanning set against the serene backdrop of Lake Alta in The Remarkables mountain range.
The performance was captured in the sublime short film Live From Lake Alta, after Montell2099 – real name Montell Pinny – and his committed crew braved punishingly cold temperatures and treacherous paths to pull the feat off.
“The visual element of my music is super important, and in a live setting the visuals are almost as important as the musical delivery,” Montell insists. “With my DJ sets I spend an incredible amount of time curating the journey – every drop has a purpose, and every breakdown moment is there for a reason.
“I always want to tell a story and take the audience on a musical journey and adding the visual element to this makes it more effective and helps immerse the audience into the world that we’ve created for them.”
Standing on a mesmerising triangle lighting installation (the work of renowned creative studio Human Person), the icy Remarkables pinnacles surrounded the producer, creating a quasi-arena for his energetic electronica; 25km away in the heaving tourist town of Queenstown, they could probably almost hear his punishing performance drifting unexpectedly down from the mountains.
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Live From Lake Alta follows his 2020 immersive short film from the starkly different location of Karekare (watch below), the small-town Kiwi boy eager to showcase the land where he hails from; he might be touring the world now, playing to thousands of people and working with artists like The Kid LAROI and Netsky, but this is where it all started.
To celebrate the release of his short film, we caught up with Montell to find out more about his life and music.
Montell2099’s Live From Lake Alta is out now.
How did your artist name come about?
I started putting out music on Soundcloud and Montell2099 was one of my many usernames that I came up with. Early on I used to change my name quite frequently, I didn’t really have a following outside of my homies who I was attending music school with. After one of my songs started doing well the name kind of just stuck.
How would you describe your music to your grandma?
To be honest, I don’t bother haha. I tend to avoid explaining the music I make with my family because they simply just won’t understand. I don’t say this in a bad way either! My family are avid listeners of R&B, hip hop and reggae. Electronic music isn’t something they’re familiar with really.
My Nan has come to a few of my shows and I think in that context it’s helped her understand what I do a bit more than if she was to listen to one of my tracks on Spotify at her house. I think for her it’s more about seeing me do my thing rather than her actually enjoying the musical stuff.
I brought her to this festival and it was the first time she had watched me live, she Facebooked Lived my entire set and cried half way through lol. Love my nan to bits.
Tell us about a few of your tracks; their titles and what they’re about?
I’ll go with one for now cause I don’t wanna harp on lol.
‘Mixed Emotions’ with Netsky is a track with a bit of sentimental value. Every time I hear it back I can vividly remember what was going on at the time. The idea for that track started during the first lockdown here in New Zealand. I spent that whole period back in my hometown at my grandparents’ bach in Athenree. After writing a bunch of ideas during that time, Boris had messaged me asking if I had any ideas to send him, that track being one of them.
The project file name to this day for ‘Mixed Emotions’ is actually called ‘Katikati DnB’ – I probably named it that because I was close to home. I feel like I grew a lot during that lockdown period, I used it as a time to self reflect and work on myself. When I hear ‘Mixed Emotions’ it reminds me of that.
What do you love about your hometown?
The thing I love most about where I’m from and it’s kinda the reason why it’s good and bad, is that it never changes. I tend to go home after a big tour or any time I travel internationally to ground myself. I see family and friends, I swim at our local beach or river, I eat the food I grew up eating, I’ go to the local pub with mates and have a beer and talk shit. It’s a very humble lifestyle, especially in comparison to the lifestyle I live on the road.
I love it though, in a weird way it reminds me of who I really am and lets me know that I’m still in there. I love that I can go home and see a mate or a family member and they’re oblivious to the fact that literally one week ago I was in Los Angeles playing at a music festival to 10,000 people or that a month ago I was in Europe playing Tomorrowland.
It’s not that they don’t care about that stuff, but more so that they value other aspects of my life just as much as all the extra shit.
Career highlight so far?
There’s many that spring to mind! Firstly and this might be a bit of recency bias but Tomorrowland was a massive one. It’s one of those festivals that you dream of playing as an electronic artist. I think what made that whole experience memorable was the friends and family that came along, and the Kiwi turnout was insane. It literally felt like I was playing in New Zealand lol.
Also playing RnV a few years ago before the New Year’s Eve countdown was a career-defining moment for me. I had never played to a crowd that size ever before. After that show I remember being so inspired and reassured that this whole thing was possible and doable. I think a lot of people that follow me always tell me about that set and how memorable of a time it was.
Fave non-music hobby?
Sport! Before music, rugby was my first love. Like every other boy in New Zealand I grew up idolising the All Blacks. From the age of five all the way until the end of college/high school, rugby was my main thing.
In recent years I’ve become an avid follower of the UFC, NBA and Premier League football. When I’m on the road or in my spare time i’m usually watching something sport-related.
What’s on your dream rider?
Honestly nothing but the basics. I always feel bad leaving unopened shit or half eaten stuff in my green room haha. So I’m cool with just water, a few snacks and maybe a beer or two.
Dream music collaboration?
Off the top of my head Skrillex would be sick. To me he’s one of the best producers, the man can make anything. I love the diversity in his catalogue, no genre is safe, and I think that speaks to his approach with music.
I get bored of making the same shit so I’m constantly always trying to push my own boundaries. That’s what makes the creative process fun for me, and I think Skrillex is the best at doing that.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’ll definitely still be doing music, who knows what kind of shit I’ll be cooking up in 10 years though haha. On the flip side, hopefully I’ll have my own crib on some farm, or in the woods somewhere in New Zealand, with a studio, a coffee machine and a dog.
Mind you with the housing crisis we got going on here in NZ that idea seems a bit far fetched at the moment. If I had those things I’d be chilling!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be kind! Not to sound preachy but as simple as it sounds you’d be surprised at how much further you can get in life by being kind to people. It’s so easy to get caught up in work and success and all these other things. But at the end of the day being a good human to me is just as valuable as any accolade.
What’s one obsession you have that no one would guess after listening to your music?
My girl will probably co-sign this big time, but I love playing online fantasy sport games. A lot of my homies live overseas or we aren’t able to be in contact as much as we used to, so fantasy gives us a reason to stay in touch with each other.
I’m also quite competitive which probably derived from me growing up playing sport my whole life, so fantasy helps fill that void a little bit too.
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