It’s been 10 years since the release of Dane Rumble’s solo album The Experiment. Josie Adams looks back on why New Zealand fell so hard and fast.
It sometimes feels like Dane Rumble was a mass hallucination. In the space of a decade, we’ve seen what was once just a standard summer bop – ‘Cruel’ – turn into a beloved piece of Kiwiana. Its creator is a cryptid. No one has seen him in years, and even back then you couldn’t be sure.
At The Experiment’s launch, a decade ago yesterday, Dane Rumble had only one wish: “I just want to write the best album that I can and for every song to be as awesome as it can possibly be.”
It’s hard to say if it’s the best album he’s capable of making. He only ever made two. It was good enough, or at least singular enough, to keep him in the public eye until he chose to leave it in 2013.
The Rumblemania phenomenon lasted for only a few brief years, but we can’t shake it. How did the man become the myth?
Within the man lives a kid: Kid Deft. That was Dane Rumble’s name in Fast Crew, the five-person hip-hop group best known for garish sweatshirts and this absolute banger:
The first time the New Zealand public heard Rumblings on its airwaves was in 2002, with Fast Crew’s single ‘Mr Radio’. As Kid Deft, he was honing his songwriting: ‘I Got’ shows off his keen ear for a hook, and ‘Mr Radio’ and ‘Suburbia Streets’ showcase a storytelling talent he’d put to good use in his 2010 music videos.
Fast Crew would last for nine years, and support huge international acts like Missy Elliot and DMX, but nothing lasts forever; such is the nature of the game. It was time for Kid Deft to shed some inches of hair and become the man we all have burned into our memories: Dane Rumble.
In the two years between Fast Crew and Dane Rumble™ he transformed. He became a pop artist. Hair gelled, pants tight, shades on. His first solo single was the 2009 hit ‘Always Be Here’, which remains one of his best songs; but it’s not how we remember him.
It’s the superimposed galaxies and purple lights of ‘Cruel’ that are embedded deep in the consciousness of every New Zealander. When he wrote it, he knew what he’d done. “This is 100% a hit,” he thought. “This is the best song I’ve ever written.” In the music video, he goes to space to get away from an ex-girlfriend.
The Spinoff Books editor Catherine Woulfe interviewed him just two weeks before The Experiment came out, and remembers him as having “nice skin and good patter”. He was calm, unbothered by his imminent local stardom. He spoke of the ultimate goal: designing his own sunglasses.
Shades would become his gimmick over the next couple of years. I once saw him sitting on a couch (indoors) with shades on. For years, I wondered what was underneath those sweet rims. When he was Kid Deft he rapped so hard, and with so much jaw vigour, that the muscles around his eyes were permanently tensed. The windows to his soul were so puckered by the intensity of his flow that I had no idea what I was looking at. Did anyone ever see Dane Rumble’s eyes?
For a time, it was plausible that Dane Rumble was just Drew Neemia with sunglasses on. Rumours spread that he loved public transport, but only because a man with a sharp jawline and massive shades was spotted at a Glenfield bus stop and on a train out of Britomart. The mystery was only added to when he failed to turn up to a Parachute gig. Was he a myth? Was he a mass hallucination? Was he AI-generated?
Whatever he was, between 2008 and 2012 everyone wanted a piece of him. He featured on J. Williams’ ‘Takes Me Higher,’ singing about the love of a beautiful woman while surrounded by luxury cars and some very tired Bendon models. He supported The Eagles (!) on their tour. He was in November Zulu’s ‘Second to None’, rapping and fighting the rockers in a wrestling ring.
He also, allegedly, called music journalist Hussein Moses a “little snake” in an email after Moses wrote up an interview in a style that Rumble didn’t appreciate; the story and email screenshot have both been scrubbed from both The Corner and Twitter, but writer Joe Nunweek described the interaction as Rumble “making a dick of himself in his own words and [Moses] simply provided the mortar for the bricks”. According to Nunweek, Moses’ crime was pointing out that Rumble’s music didn’t do it for a lot of critics. One critic, Simon Sweetman, wrote a scathing review:
“This will be shoved down people’s faces as being great new music from New Zealand and it’s not. It’s horrible. And everyone involved should feel very ashamed. They are selling a lie.”
Sam Wicks, Moses’ commissioning editor at Real Groove, confirmed that he was blacklisted by Rumble’s label following the piece. As far as he can recall, Moses’ crime was calling Fast Crew critically unloved.
Nunweek said there were valid criticisms of Dane Rumble’s music, but in large part there was bias against him. “Fast Crew were a bit of a running joke for what were, in retrospect, pretty snobby and elitist reasons,” he said. “So when Dane Rumble came out solo he was kind of a big target.”
It’s all history now, and not how the vast majority of the country will remember Dane Rumble.
He won best male solo artist at the NZ Music Awards and most played at the APRAs, proving you don’t have to choose between quality and quantity. Get you a man who can do both, plus a DJ set at Ohakune Mardi Gras.
Every year someone asks where Dane Rumble is. Every year, the answer is the same – Sydney – but that’s deeply unsatisfying. What we’re really asking is: how did a man who could exude that much charisma with only the lower half of his face get driven out of New Zealand music?
The boring truth is: he wasn’t driven away, not even by people comparing him to Drew Neemia. He opted out of the business we call show and got into the hardest rock of all: diamonds. After designing a ring and getting Scotty Nicols, lead singer of Late Nyte Hype, to make it, the duo realised they had something sweet going on. Thus, bespoke custom jeweller Culét was born.
He’s a man dedicated to bespoke experiences. He once met a stranger at a bus stop and took him to a party. He 3D-printed rings for Zac Franich and Erin Simpson. He rhymed “campervan” with “gasoline” and we all believed it worked.
Dane Rumble opened the Point Chevalier KFC in 2010, only a year before the Double Down was introduced. Did he, a proven deadset legend, have a hand in it? It’s impossible to know. One thing we do know is that 10 years ago he launched more than a few dozen Family Feasts – he launched an ascent to NZ pop immortality.