|Photo: Glenn Hunt|
By Stephen Jewell. Published in Pavement magazine, August/September, 1999.
When the second summer of love first exploded in Britain in 1988, many New Zealand musicians, from Benny Staples to Jed Town, chose to base themselves in London, the epicenter of the burgeoning dance music scene. Hereford-born Cian O'Donnell, however, chose to travel in the opposite direction, ending up in Wellington, where, ironically, he was first introduced to the art of Djing.
O'Donnell left England at age 18 on a world trip which took in the American west coast and Australia before he arrived in Wellington with only $17 in his pocket. Fortunately, within a day of his arrival, O'Donnell found himself a flat and a job in a record shop. ''The DJing side was just something I fell into," reflects O'Donnell.
''A friend of mine, who is basically my inspiration, a guy called Koa, he saw my record collection and said, 'Look, you've got to buy some turntables.' And I was like, 'Well, maybe. He then went out and found someone who was selling some second- hand Technics. He basically conned me into buying them and moving in with him so that he had decks at his house."
After forming the Funky Monks with Mu, Leon and Matt Morrell, O'Donnell became a fixture in the Wellington music scene before shifting to Auckland a couple of years ago to take up a residency at the Khuja Lounge.
''The big difference between Wellington and Auckland, because of Auckland's actual size and how it's structured, is that there is a lot more interaction between the actual DJs,'' he muses. ''People seem to be a bit precious about what they're doing. A lot of things in Auckland don't turn me on. A lot of people ask me why l don't do more gigs and why I stay at the Khuja Lounge but I can actually nurture something at Khuja.
Auckland is so dominated by house and drum & bass but I like to feel that, through Khuja, I've offered an alternative."
O'Donnell has made quite a name for himself with his Latin-tinged house sets but is quick to point out that there is a lot more to his music than Basement Jaxx-style beats. ''People think I've been playing Latin the whole time, which definitely isn't the case," he asserts.
''I'm totally open-minded. I'll spin the whole musical spectrum over the course of an evening if I'm given the chance. I especially like playing music which is a fusion of lots of different bits and pieces. You can't call it world music but there's a lot of music coming out with traditional rhythms or instruments internalised with beats. What I play is such a big melting pot of everything. One minute you can be listening to phat beats or Latin, then it could go into breakbeat. But I like to think that it always flows.''
O'Donnell recently left New Zealand on a world trip which will take him to London and the year 2000 carnival in Rio before returning to New Zealand next year. But first up for O'Donnell is San Francisco, where he will DJ with Tom Thump from Love, Haight and Ubiquity. ''San Fran' is my kind of town," declares O'Donnell, ''especially with its musical background. It's got its roots firmly stuck in black music which is something the Funky Monks and I have always tried to promote".