I’m going to be honest, I went into Auckland City Limits thinking it was going to be a long day at a relatively empty music festival where the only true standout act would be Grammy award-winning Kendrick Lamar. But praise the music festival gods, because despite SoulFest, Westfest and Echo Festival all having to cancel, Auckland City Limits was actually a really good festival. Especially considering it was the very first one!

The festival itself was nicely laid out, with plenty of room for people to move about. There was a funky little market section selling jewellery and clothes and flax bags. “ACL Eats” was another cool section, with a bunch of different booths for different restaurants. Proper quality food too; some of it looked quite gourmet. There were plenty of normal festival food options as well, so you could get the best of both worlds.

There were also other forms of entertainment, like rides and artwork. Samsung even had an area set up which showcased their virtual reality headset. When you put it on you would get a full 360° view from the stage where one of the acts would be performing at the time. It was a little pixelated and very disorientating, but the concept was cool.


I’ll get to the actual music acts soon; first I want to acknowledge that there were a couple of risky aspects of the festival. One was the payment method. The festival was “cashless” meaning none of the stores accepted cash or EFTPOS. Instead money gots topped up via a chip on your wristband. Whilst this did help make lines for food and drink quicker, lining up to top up the wristband took ages. In addition, there was a $3 activation fee which seemed pretty unfair. It really should have been paid for as part of the $200 ticket.

Another risky aspect was the use of Globelets, were the only cups used at the festival. You paid two dollars for it and then if you returned it you got your two bucks back. Sure, they got annoying to hold, but because they cost money nobody wanted to throw them away, plus they make for a cool collectable. The aim was to help prevent littering, and I had a good look at the end of the night and not only were there very few Globelets on the ground, people were actually picking them up in the hope they would return them and make some money. I don’t know if they got extra money, but either way I think this was a great success.


Gang of Youths

Now the most important thing at the festival: the music! The first act I saw was Australian band  Gang of Youths. They had a very Aussie rock sound mixed in with The Killers. The frontman would switch from playing guitar and singing to just singing. He was quite flamboyant, and I have to admit I had a little cringe when he did the jazz hands, but near the end he (not very gracefully) climbed over the barricade, sung in the crowd and danced with a couple people and it was really cool. I have a lot of respect for artists who go into the pit without security and for him to carry on performing in the pit was rad, so props to them.


Highly Suspect

The next act I saw was Highly Suspect. I’d never heard their music before, I only knew they were a rock band from Brooklyn and they were Grammy-nominated. So I wasn’t too sure what they’d be like, but they were awesome! They have a similar style to Kings of Leon and Royal Blood. The highlight of the act was a song called Serotonia, which started with the lead singer Johnny Stevens alone on stage playing his guitar and singing, eventually to be joined on stage by his fellow band members. It was a very intimate song; Johnny’s vocals gave me goosebumps. It was a magical experience.

Broods were pretty cool. They played some new songs which sounded great. I felt Georgia Nott was a little awkward at times, like when she got everyone to wish her uncle a happy birthday, or when she took off her shoes because they were uncomfortable. The crowd were particularly rough on them nearer to the end of the set, especially on the other side of the stadium where fans were bored of them and were chanting for Action Bronson.


Action Bronson

When Bronson arrived. the crowd went nuts. People were jumping into the VIP area to get closer to him. He was definitely one of the more questionable acts, due to the All Ages atmosphere. With a set like his he would not have been allowed anywhere near Auckland Kiddie Limits. Regardless, he nailed it. He threw his hat in the crowd along with bottles of water he had poured onto himself and another bottle which he had thrown up into the lighting rig. Bronson was very charismatic and seemed to really enjoy the NZ crowd.


The Naked and Famous’ Alisa Xayalith

The Naked and Famous performed an awesome set. They are pretty much New Zealand’s best festival act on offer. It was their first show back at home since 2014 but it didn’t seem like they had been away that long. They nailed each song and they even played some new ones. Higher was particularly catchy. Both new songs they played were closer to the sound of In Rolling Waves than Passive Me Aggressive You. Hopefully it’s an indication that they will have a new album out this year. They closed with their anthem Young Blood, which the crowd loved, singing along to every word.

Fat Freddy’s Drop were on next. (RIP me for missing Cold War Kids because they clashed). FFD is the kind of band that’s sort of a Kiwi rite of passage; every Kiwi needs to see them live regardless of whether they like them or not. They came out in their suits and were just suave. They really were. The whole set was very jammy and to be honest hearing ten minute versions of songs got a little boring, despite trombone/tuba player Hopepa’s dancing.


The National

The National were very interesting. They weren’t particularly fun to watch on the big screens because of the ever-changing filters that blocked the screen most the time. But their sound in general was good. Matt Berninger would occasionally be a bit mumbley, but I was told that’s his style, so I’ll let him off.

By the time The National were finishing up, people were already passing out in the crowd for Kendrick Lamar. I should point out all the acts came on when they were supposed to, give or take two minutes. So the 20-minute wait for Kendrick was pretty frustrating, but it built the suspense pretty well. Soon the band started jamming and Lamar came onto the stage. He scanned the crowd and looked pretty shocked at how full the stadium had become. Then he opened his mouth and performed For Free? Not a word was missed. It was poetry in motion. Lamar killed his performance; it was just him, his words and his band, and it was phenomenal. He proved he deserved every single one of those Grammys.


Kendrick Lamar

Lamar performed an amazing set, from the complicated Backstreet Freestyle to fan favourite B**ch, Don’t Kill My Vibe. He was desperate to make the crowd the loudest he’s ever had. He came out for his encore and performed Alright and I swear at some points the ground was shaking from people jumping so much.

Lamar is a god. Everyone who saw his performance knows they witnessed something special. He is, without a doubt, the best in the rap game today.

Auckland City Limits was an awesome festival, especially considering it was the very first one. It seemed busy so I’m hoping it made enough money to continue to do its thing. Maybe next year sort the wristbands out a little better, and make it easier to access the Globelet holders. A slightly cheaper ticket would be rad too; $150 is reasonable I think. Other than that it was top-notch – I’m certainly going again next year!