Culture, Feature

The Storytellers is a research project executed by author, event manager, researcher and creative director of the website Africa On My Sleeve, Makanaka Tuwe. Now living in Morocco, Maka has been running projects for years. This one in particular began as a university requirement for her masters qualification, but grew to become an intrinsic bond between the nine young Afro/Kiwi women involved; exploring ways to shift the mainstream narrative of African people and perceptions of them, the answer was to become the storytellers themselves.

Maka says “Over a period of two months The Storytellers and I met on Sunday afternoons and what was a creative research project soon became a space of healing, seeing ourselves reflected in our worlds and a safe space were we could unravel. Through the creation of content we produced visual outputs that explore and share the experiences of third culture identity, African representation, being a woman of colour, black love, cultural heritage, colourism, tokenism and intersectionality within African identity.”


Dancer Chanwyn Southgate produced a piece in tribute to Brenda Fassie, a South African musical legend; photographer Synthia Bahati asked what does an African look like? In her project Huemans of Africa; a song by singer/songwriter Laila Ben-Brahim called Our Heritage addresses feeling pride in one’s genetic make up; #BLACKGIRLDIARIES explores what happens when being different affects you negatively by Tadiwa Tomu;
mixed race Rita Wakefield writes an essay asking ‘What Is Blackness’; ‘A Weak in My Life’ is a body of poems by Mwangileni Kampanga; there’s a series of memes by Adorate Mizero called ‘A Reflection of the Diasporic African Millennial’ and Rumbi Tomu a focuses on Black Love .

“On the food chain of life it goes white men, white women, black men, black women.” – Makanaka Tuwe.



“This research is aiming to provide an impetus for researchers, policy makers and those interested in African development to start exploring different participatory and alternative methodologies to countering the issues that come with migration, identity and representation for people of African descent in the New Zealand context. I begin the exegesis with a personal narrative I wrote as a reflexive diary entry during the research process. The decision to begin Chapter One with Home but never Home was to highlight the reality of navigating life as a woman of African descent in New Zealand and the conversations I engage in about identity and belongingness.” Download Maka’s research HERE.

Go behind the scenes with S E R U M and T H E S T O R Y T E L L E R S photo shoot/interview processes below:



“For a long time I felt ‘stuck’ between living in western societies norm and following the path of my cultures. Unfortunately, society made me feel discouraged to be who I intrinsically and biologically am. I was trying to mould myself into someone I wasn’t just to fit in and feel ‘white’ – for lack of a better word. Eventually, the more I grew, I started to learn more about my culture, heritage and customs and realised that in order of representing who my family and I am, I would have to stand out at times. I wouldn’t need to wear my hair straight to school or eat promptly with a fork and knife. Some people took my dad’s broken English and heavy accent to mean ‘welfare’ or ‘refuge’, when I saw it as intelligence and wisdom. My brother would even simplify or change his name so people wouldn’t overlook his CV or just to make it easier for people. My dark-skinned friends and I would be labelled at school as the troubled kids and be disciplined without having done anything wrong. Women in my family who wear cultural clothing in public would be labelled, ridiculed, mocked or stared at when they were innocently walking through the city. I am now at a place where I am 100% proud to be a Moroccan-Samoan Kiwi. The values I learn from each enable me to grow, I feel like I have roots when before I felt discouraged, ashamed and a little lost. I love celebrating everyones differences from the inside to the outside because with difference there is no learning, growing or understanding.This song is about finding my love and appreciation for my heritage and culture in my early adulthood.” – Laila. Listen to her song HERE.


Interview, Threads

These holidays 22-year-old designer and personal stylist Jett Nichol is dropping some golden knowledge and then taking a one way trip to the United States. It’s his dream to intern for Kanye West. “Me and Kanye are going to be friends one day” he tells me, and somehow, the intelligent part of me can picture it. Jett has a confidence about him, he’s passionate, articulate and has a work ethic to aspire to. Since he moved to Auckland two years ago from Taradale, Hawke’s Bay he’s been flipping burgers for 80 hours a week, at a joint called Better Burger. This year he’s managed to save enough money to buy a Rolex and a new pair of Rick Owens for ‘his bag’. He explains:

“There’s a thing called ‘the bag’ which they mention in hip hop – they’re not talking about money they’re talking about God. Straight up, they’re talking about that feeling in your chest when everything is going correctly and you understand that the stars align sometimes – it’s when you get that feeling in your stomach.

Plans to fill his bag include spending downtime with girlfriend Poppy and swimming and sitting in a Japanese sauna. Having researched everything down to his suitcase when preparing for his trip, to me, it’s a reflection of the designer in him. After Japan the plan is to head to the States solo. “Either New York or LA, I might flip a coin or some shit. Some rooms, you can only get into alone,” he explains. In this interview we talk about the right way to ‘get clout’, styling rappers and having the confidence to recognise your own greatness. “Kanye’s the one guy I wanna work for. Designer’s have always got apprentices. Masters like Yves St Laurent was the apprentice of Dior… My friend Taylor Burn from Auckland though is now Virgil [Abloh’s] personal assistant.”

SERUM: Isn’t it incredible what Kiwis can do these days?

J: Crazy. Kids here are different. There’s actually a demand now, it’s building really fast.

SERUM: Yeah we’ve got so much talent here, like a little concentrated island/country.

J: Cause we’re so friendly. Obviously there’s exceptions but I think we admire the culture of whatever we wanna way too hard. We’re fans but since we’re so far away we get a misconstrued idea of all of it and we end up putting a spin on it into our own shit, the kids here are so different, we’re fire as.

SERUM: Describe what you’re style’s like?

J: Bold, bright, but it’s equally as dark. I don’t know it’s just bold without being dramatic or offensive, like cartoonish I guess. I like big letters, big colours, a lot of textured fabrics, shit you ain’t gonna find in AS Colour.

Shirt designed and made by Jett.

SERUM: Where do you shop?

J: I actually don’t. Last place I shopped was at Zambesi and that was probably like mid to end of last year. I bought some Margiela and some Rick Owen shoes. I don’t like shopping man, there’s so much shit product. When I buy something I have to do a lot of research. I started looking into best suitcases to buy and they were all shit and so dumb. I was like ‘How could I have this? This doesn’t represent me in no way’, so I bought a $300 suitcase, rimowa, aluminum, it’s fucking hard. I like minimal utilitarian products and the best of it. I feel like Rick Owens makes the best shoes in the world. I like to buy really little of high quality things. If I was a girl I would not be touching Glassons or anything.

SERUM: Fast fashion is a big fucking problem.

J: It is. But the best way to get clothes is just like the type of shit you run into in your life – there’s something natural and sexy about it, the way you got it. Some of my favorite pieces ever are pants, jackets that were hand-me-downs from my uncle. They’re ripped and old but it’s just dope. Shit that you find in your parents’ wardrobe as well – it’s that shit that creates the most vivid homegrown styles

SERUM: For you. How much is too much to spend on a garment?

J: None – there’s not too much. Those t-shirts, green ones, $600. Like who the fuck is going to own a t-shirt for $600?! I believe everyone should own their dream pair of shoes, whether they cost $300 or $5k.

I feel like everyone needs their dream pair of shoes as soon as you can afford that shit – get them shits. I mean, what the fuck are people spending money on like what is there?


SERUM: How in your words would you say fashion is an extension of personality and why is it important?

J: It’s all about mood. The word fashion is …fashion is almost like an accessory to style. Style is just essence of character you know. It’s the purest form of someone’s soul, I don’t wanna say soul but it’s really deep rooted. Style is – they know what they’re doing they know where they’re going and why, even if they don’t realise they know. It gets quite spiritual I think style at least and then fashion is there to aid and protect style in a way and sometimes replace it. You get some losers out there that replace style with fashion though.

SERUM: When you wake up how do you know what you’re going to put on?

J: It’s always about what type of character I wanna be that day like what type of movie am I in today. Sometimes I feel minimal like right now I’m wearing black and two white stripes, Ricks. For sure sometimes I feel busy as and I wanna wear mad accessories like patterns, I feel like fucking people off.

SERUM: Name your top four designers.

J: Without saying me times four, lets go Margiela number one because I feel like that was the first guy to inject irony into the industry, like the element of almost dark humour in a way; he really criticised the industry and the ins and outs of it through the clothes which is kind of buzzy. Obviously everyone’s doing it now, the idea of just rarity. That guy, there’s like two known photos of him ever. He was very anonymous, very strange. Doesn’t really have a solid logo either; he’s got a tag that’s blank – all of that shit. So yeah Margiela, coolest.

Prada – it’s uniform, really minimal, classy – you now devil wears Prada, obviously.

Kanye – he’s not my favorite designer in the world but I still think he crushes it. He’s making a lot of statements I mean Season One, that fucked fashion up for sure in menswear.

SERUM: Yeah I fell for that real quick, completely in love.

J: Yeah and I don’t think the effects of that have been seen yet either, people are going to click maybe 10 years later but nah, Season One meant fucking heaps.

SERUM: Also the choreographer he chose for those shows was the same woman – Vanessa Beecroft and I just loved that human installation approach.

J: Yeah it was rare aye.. I think Helmut Lang did that as well. They had a kinda stand-still-army-type vibe.

SERUM: What do you think of celebrity designers?

J: I don’t know if I think anything of celebrity designers. It’s all good, after hearing so many Kanye interviews I try to stay away from the whole class-ism thing. Like try to not box people in you know if there’s a celebrity and they wanna do something different it’s like fuck yeah do it.

Name some..


J: Rihanna’s so fire. .


J: Who is a shitty one?

Savings from Better Burger.

SERUM: I just think for someone who lives it, breathes it, and then a random comes along and dabbles in it, must get frustrating, no?

J: Well I’m tryna live it. I’ve been doing 80 hours a week there. I’m not even playing, I’ve been just saving money this year to try and bag myself. Aw wait, first designer is Nigo!

Nigo – he designed BAPE and then Human Made – I think BAPE is the best streetwear label ever to do it. It brought streetwear to a really childish place but like, luxury. It was just buzzy like straight out of SpongeBob and then Pharrell… great celebrity designer, shout out to celebrity designers.

SERUM: I mean these days no one is one thing.

J: Yeah it’s kind of a renaissance huh.

Jett & Sizwe worked together at Better Burger.

SERUM: How do you feel about clout chasing ?

J: I’m a clout chaser. LOLS. There’s just a way to do it and a way to not do it – everyone wants to be popping so it’s like – you got to do it but you’ve got to know that you’ve got the bag. You’ve got to chase the clout within yourself rather than following other people’s clout. Sure people can give you followers but no one’s really giving you clout like passion and it always comes down to how you’re feeling inside. That’s where style sits, style is the essence of clout which comes back to God. It’s all very spiritual. You’ve just gotta focus on yourself – watch your own back and don’t bother about anyone else’s. If you can help someone else’s bag do that and if you can see that someone can help your bag – do that. But it’s about your bag, don’t steal anyone else’s cause you’ve got your own right there. Everyone’s got it. The people that are hating or clout chasing the wrong way – they’ve got a bag of their own but they dropped it on the floor, forgot about it and are going after someone else’s. It’s dumb. Focus on your own name, spend a lot of time alone ..

Nah, we’re gonna crush it.

Who’s we?


Interview: Alphabethead- Genius Is A Terrible Word For Anyone Still Alive

Feature, Interview, Music


Photo from Melissa Cowan

David Alphabethead has a wealth of knowledge in general. But where New Zealand’s hip hop scene is blessed, is that he is a patron of the art form himself. ‘Had my tastes have been any different I could have gone down the Guns N’ Roses route’. Specializing in Djing and production, he is also a visual artist. But don’t call him a genius, as others have, because he doesn’t agree with it. ‘I know that if I make a piece of music that’s great, it’s because I’m standing on the shoulder of giants.’ While his character sets him apart from the average man, ‘genius’ seems to be a fitting word when no other words seems right — ‘I really hope to live up to it one day, but I think that’s terrible to say to anyone — while they’re still alive.’ Someone awesome, is what whendidyoufallinlovewithhiphop will say. As our conversation shifts and weaves through his musical beginnings; discovering hip hop from an older neighbor boy, to entering his first DJ competition and having local Wellington legend DJ Kerb kick his ass; opening for Scribe and being cheered off stage due to what can only be described as a massive shift in the hip hop market at the time; to now, where he teaches his beloved genre turntabilism with NZ legend DJ Raw. He suggests it is possible boys might have the upper hand over girls when it comes to turntable technique thanks to excessive use of video game controllers. But, ‘I digress, I digress’, he says as we swerve through subjects from Jay Z’s new album, ‘saccharine’ music and his personal struggle to accept sampled music as ‘authentic art’. ‘Because it’s made from components of something else. I used to give my music away free because I knew I was taking amazing music from the past, tweaking it slightly and passing it off as my own’. Citing Sir-Vere’s ‘Recognize’ show as references of early inspiration; the RESPECT exhibition at the Dowse Gallery in Lower Hutt, Skratchcon 2000 and other fundamental hip hop events in Wellington, New Zealand and overseas, Alphabethead is surely a new OG for this generation and the next in New Zealand hip hop.

HH: What are some of you earliest memories of music ?

A: Some of my earliest memories would definitely be the National Radio program. I grew up in a home that wasn’t particularly musical at all. My folks were school teachers and lecturers at uni and they listen to National Radio. So it was always spoken word stuff. But in doing so, eventually on National Radio I’d heard snippets of different types of music. So there was not any particular kind of band or group or genre I liked; I was just immersed in everything through the National Radio program. I hadn’t even dabbled in music until nine or 10. Mum thought it would be a good idea to learn the piano because she came from a very poor background and was never able to do a musical instrument. She was like, ‘I’m going to give my kids the chance to learn’, so she started paying for me to visit a lady every week; that continued for about seven or eight years.

HH: When did you start finding your own music?

A: Funnily enough I lived in a really rich neighborhood of kids my age. I was so lucky that all my friends lived in my neighborhood. There was a big kid up the road called Shane Metric. One day my folks got this amazing stereo, it was a Sony stereo with a CD player. I had no CD’s so my friend was like, ‘look, you’ve got this awesome CD player, I’ll lend you some CD’s, and he gave me a pile of CD’s — it was Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction, Cypress Hill’s ‘Black Sunday’, De La Soul – Three Feet High and Rising. Queen- Greatest Hits One and Two. It was this big pile. Nirvana. And I just was blown away by the shininess of the discs; the way you put them on a tray. And I listened to all the CD’s — the ones that gripped me were the hip hop ones. Three Feet High and Rising and the Cypress Hill album; they were the first two albums I heard. From then on, I knew, I want to rekindle the joy I felt when I listened to those artists and I started getting into hip hop, so that was the doorway, this guy just handing me all these CD’s.

HH: So what he gave you was what you got?

A: If my tastes had been any different I could have gone down the Guns N’ Roses route; everything he gave me was amazing. There may have been Smashing Pumpkins as well, but it was the hip hop ones…Oh and I completely forgot there was NWA, their greatest hits comp. Those three just blew me away. I don’t know what it was about them.

HH: From there where did you go?

A: From there I was just like, ‘Shane. These ones. This hip hop stuff. I love it.’ From there on he gave me more Cypress Hill, more De la. Then I went on my own fact finding missions. Shortly after that I discovered the magazine, The Source and I’d always turn to the back and whatever albums got a four or five mic review, I’d buy it.

HH: So where did you grow up?

A: Johnsonville, I went to Onlsow College.

“I think turntabilism was always kind of associated with the backpacking style of hip hop you know?”

HH: Back then was it hard to find hip hop?

A: This is an amazing time. This is mid 90’s. Just before the internet boom. I finished high school in the year 2000, so I must have started in 95′. The internet was around but we were still dealing with 56k modems so the internet could be used for fact-finding but it wasn’t as fleshed out and as dense in knowledge as what it is today — if I wanted to download one song, I’d set it going and in the morning, I slept through the night, and in the morning, fingers crossed it was successful. Funnily enough, I was still buying music. I was mowing lawns and then going down to Tandy’s in J’Ville mall. I would buy my music there on cassette most of the time.

HH: How did you become more involved with hip hop?

A: As I continued meeting people at college; we all knew very little about hip hop; but through primitive internet and through The Wednesday Night Jam on Active we were exposed to heaps of different hip hop acts. All of us would buy different albums and we would all trade and do different cassette dubs. My friend John was really into Mobb Deep and Raekwon. I got the Ghostface Killah and the De la Soul albums. Patrick, he was into the real hard stuff like Scarface and the Doc on NWA. So we all had our different angles. I had this other mate, he was really into Hieroglyphics Crew like Del The Funky Homosapien and then one other guy was into the Boot Camp Clik kinda. So this is the mid 90’s, we all traded. I did do graph back in the day, and I actually got caught [doing] graffiti and had to do — it wasn’t community service because I was under age — but I had to go and paint fences and go back to school in the school holidays. Me and Patrick, we got busted; so I tried the tagging and the graffiti and the break dancing. We had a little cypher thing going and even freestyling. Then the other thing I should have said, do you know how I said we were dubbing cassettes? It was always me who dubbed the cassettes. I was the guy who had the two tape decks and I got really good at pausing tapes and recording songs off the radio; so I always think that was the gateway into DJ’ing. Being the controller and the compiler of mixtapes. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a DJ when I was doing the pause tapes. I was just making the tapes and putting all my favourite songs on them. From the tapes it eventually became my favourite segments. So from sampling a three-minute song I’d just sample 10 seconds or 20 seconds. I started making mixtapes with the record and the pause button. I made a really dense one called ‘My New Particle People’ and it was the idea of the particles of sound in the air being cut really thinly so it was probably 100 different sources. I lent it to my friend, and his big brother wanted to make a dub; I just thought that was so awesome — positive reinforcement. So I did a dub and then he did a dub and so maybe there was about, eventually, 10 copies in circulation and it really gave me a good buzz that someone else was appreciating my handy work; the way I chopped the mixtape together. I think little thumbs up from people you admire is probably what made me pursue the DJ path and want to do that more and more.

HH: Looking back at it now, how did it occur to you to take little particles of songs? Because now, it’s a part of the art of it, but back then you said you had no idea?

A: There was one thing I forgot to mention and that was a group called ‘Art Of Noise’. I heard [a song of theirs called Peter Gun] when I was a kid on National Radio [which] I recorded and played over and over again — they were sampling — a primitive sampling band. Not hip hop. But a producer of that band, Trevor Horn, is quite well-known for producing other bands. He used the sampling keyboard very earlier on; he’d sample a key note and then pitch it up; heaps of their songs were made in that way. Their song, ‘Beatbox’ is a bit of a bboy classic. I think the fact that on National Radio, I used to listen to Monty Python skits and Goon Show skits, these are all absurd comedy that would chop and change. And then of course there was turntablism on the radio — Wednesday Night Jam on Radio Active, and listening to that, that was quite frantic in the way it jumped from one to another. I really liked that. That ADHD style of changing lanes.

HH: So after sharing tapes what happened?

A: Then, I discovered the ‘Recognize’ show. There was a music channel, I don’t know if it was called C4. Maybe it was. This is late 90’s now. There was a show hosted by Sir-Vere and DLT and this is around the time that my love for hip hop had just reached its peak. It was on every Monday night and it gave an insight into everything that was happening in America. They even played IAM from France one time and they played UK hip hop. But Sir-Vere was really into the DJ battle scene and he used to run the ITF’s. I knew none of this but he mentioned them in the Recognize show; they showed little excerpts of battles. They had a special on The X-Ecutioners and then I thought, ‘Oh my god, there’s not just rappers, there’s not just DJ’s, there could be DJ crews’ and there’s a whole art form in this. Then, there was a place called DJ Culture, a store in Auckland, and I called them up and just asked them lots of questions about equipment; and they sent me this pamphlet, it was a big fold out of everything they sold and it just boggled the mind because everything was so expensive. I had this pamphlet; I’ve still got it somewhere, it’s really dog-eared. And I’d go through it, gaze at the different devices and just thought, ‘one day I’d really like to get this’, so I just started mowing lawns — continued to mow lawns and save up pocket-money and it took me about three years to save up enough money. But while I was doing that I was still making the pause tapes and everything. When I finished high school at the very end in 2000, I had enough money and I bought the turntables.

HH: What kind were they?

A: They were Technics. And before that I did have one Nu Mark belt drive actually. So I did start a bit earlier than that, and that one was a cheap DJ In A Box turntable, like a $200 one, which still would have bankrupted a little 16-year-old boy. Once I had them I was just immersed in them. I practiced before and after school and sometimes I’d even jump the fence at lunch break and go home and practice.

“Radio Active on the Wednesday night jam… listening to that, that was quite frantic in the way it jumped from one to another. And I really liked that. That ADHD style of changing lanes.”

HH: You never wagged school to do practice?

A: Oh this was by sixth and seventh form and because my parents were both teachers, they’d instilled in me that sort of work ethic. So school was never really too hard in terms of balancing. They just were strict, ‘you do your homework, soon as you get home, then from six onwards you can jam all night.’ And I did. Otherwise, they’d smack me.

HH: So was it then that you began entering competitions?

A: Yeah well, [sighs with a smile], it’s ridiculous to think how little I knew about DJing as the big picture. I knew about hip hop and scratching back then. I didn’t know there was a place called Courtenay Place and night clubs. When I read your interview with Raw and his gateway; starting off DJ’ing clubs and cutting his teeth there, well, I didn’t know about the subset of club DJ’s. I just knew about turntabilism and using the turntables as an instrument — that was always my angle. And yeah the gateway. How can people see you? It was the ITF battles, the Vestax battles and the DMC that were the best ways to get your name out. Also maybe when I was about 17 I managed to sneak into a couple of those DJ battles that Sir-Vere put on. At one of them, the international guest was Total Eclipse and another one was Kraze. It just blew my mind. These competitions were mind-blowing and I went home and I just practiced and practiced. There was a local record store called Flipside and as luck would have it there was a flyer calling for all up-coming turntabilists to enter. I saw the flyer, took it home, filled out all the details, paid the $10 registration and that was it. I got a phone call and [the audition] wasn’t in front of an audience. There were so many people back in the day who entered these battles, they’d have a preliminary screening, as it were, that happened up at the old Radio Active in a back room. I’d been practicing over and over; a little three-minute set which I hoped would encapsulate the very primitive skills I had. I managed to make it through to the main event — that was my first time performing in front of an audience. This is the year 2000, the ITF Southern Regionals. In those days it would pack out, Indigo, which is now San Francisco Bathhouse would just pack out with people just loving turntabilism.


Photo from Melissa Cowan Photography

HH: Then what happened?

A: Well then the battle. My hands shook, the needles skipped — I totally got smoked. I think I battled a guy called Kerb who went on to become a friend of mine the following year, so I was stoked to make it through. I didn’t do very well in that at all, however, there was a little scratch I did that elicited a bit of a crowd response and even though I did badly, it was enough of a buzz. It was an amazing buzz. I probably couldn’t get to sleep that night to keep me doing it; and luckily back then there was about three or four battles a year. There was another one in six months and I set my sights on it and thought, ‘I really want to do it’. I’m so glad I wasn’t beaten up by not doing very well. Because I had another friend who went into that same battle and we were both newbies; we’d been in the game six months and he challenged DJ Raw, and he got absolutely smoked. Embarrassingly smoked. He never went in battles again after that. It was just too much of a pound to his ego and I really felt for him man. It’s an amazing thing, I mean I’m really competitive in my life and I was quite competitive in the battles — taking a loss in the right way is really important. I think that might have been one of his first losses in his life and it knocked him back and he’s actually not the only one like that… Eventually I started winning the Wellington battles. At this stage when I started winning I had just finished high school and I was up at uni studying physics and computer science; and uni, once you get your work done, you’ve got heaps of spare time; I still lived at home with my folks so I could practice for long hours. I went in all the comps in 2000 and then eventually in 2001, I won the Wellington round of ITFs then the DMC. But then I went up to the hip hop summit for the New Zealand finals, I lost there. P-Money won it that year. Oh yeah, that was the year when P-Money was the DJ God. He was on Recognize, he dropped ‘Big Things’ after winning the NZ championship for the second time, so it was perfect timing. He was the [ITF] champ from 1999 to 2001. And he was definitely the guy I looked up to…There was definitely a lot of competition in the DJ scene between Wellington and Auckland and I remember Raw and Rhys, they always wanted me to take out Auckland, that was the main goal, and Auckland wanted to do the same. That was the Auckland era for ITF and I was happy to be able to bring the title back to Wellington. Rhys B especially was always like, ‘Aw Dave you’ve got to bring the title back to Wellington’.

“In those days it would pack out. Indigo, which is now San Francisco Bathhouse would just pack out with people just loving turntabilism.”

HH: Okay, when you did that, what was the feeling like?

A: That was awesome! It wasn’t just the one battle and then win. There was a road to it — all these battles. There was the Welly battle — the ITF. And it just got me honing all my routines and then it all headed towards September which was the NZ final in 2002. It was probably the greatest feeling I’ve ever had. I would have been, I think I was 18, and it was probably the greatest day of my life at the time. I’d never actually left the country so I had to rush to get my passport because when I won they said ‘get your passport because in 10 days you’ll be off to London’, and that was amazing fun. And I went over with Raw – he’d been in the year 2000 so he knew a lot about getting around in London and just wanted to look after me. It was so awesome for them to send us with a chaperone like that.

HH: You know how you said in 2000 the DJ’ing scene and turntablism was huge? Drag it to now, when it isn’t as popular. Is it just that the trends have changed or technology has made it different?

A: I do think that everything does go in cycles. You know how thinking back over the history of music there was the garage rock and psychedelic era and then prog rock came and then prog rock dove tailed into punk and to post punk. I’ve always said in interviews that I think turntabilsim peaked in the year 2000. It was gestating between 1990 and 1994. Then by 1995 and 1996 the battles were happening, but then they had the avenues and the streams to get the videos circulating around the world. Then once the internet came in, we could all keep up ‘with the jones’ so to speak and learn the new techniques; and then in the year 2000 the movie Scratch came out and then Skratchcon 2000 happened, a big convention for turntabilism. The world finals were at a really huge place called the Millennium Dome in London; it was huge and people were like ‘turntabilism is a viable art form’ and is here to stay — and how wrong we were, because all the turn out for those events started dwindling. This is around the time that Final Scratch was coming in, but I reckon there was just a paradigm shift in the way DJ’s played. In my day it was all about chopping records and manipulating them with your hand. If you teleport through the last 10 years to now, the club style of DJ’ing, it’s very — dancing is the most important thing, and rocking the crowd. This was a small part in time where the art form, people would stand and watch. But once you’ve seen it once or twice there’s not really the incentive to keep going back. It’s like turntabilism — been there, done that. I don’t know about when you were at high school, but there was a roller-blading phase right, and rolling blading was the real sweet thing for a while after skate boarding at my school. It was like, try it, have heaps of fun, and then one student out of 50 – it might resonate with them and they might become a pro. But then everyone else fades away and moves on to something else. I do think it happened with turntabilism. It’s unsure why. Do you know how there was the sample based hip hop era in the late 90’s? And then in the early 2000’s that’s where Timbaland’s beats and Neptunes and Swizz Beats were doing really well. The sound of hip hop was changing as well, and I think turntabilism was always kind of associated with the backpacking style of hip hop you know? Where people would hang onto the message in the music and be really aware of the subtleties in a DJ set. I think it became the jiggy beats kind of thing and that was the new thing. And some of them, P-Money was really good at using the current music. He was playing Jay Z beats and he played some Neptunes in his sets. So he was always on the cusp, I was always a bit behind the trends [laughs].

HH: Yeah, but something happened in that period for me, and I still can’t put my finger on it. Because I mean I still like to watch turntabilism, and the skill in the art form of all the sub genres like breakin and stuff, but then when things got really sponsored it just felt different. Did you find that?

A: It’s so funny because it was changing and I could see it changing around me and I could see at certain gigs, the attendance dwindling and then at other gigs becoming really big and the type of people that were going changing from the heads to just a more younger, dare I say more ‘poppy’ audience. Like I remember, it’s probably cheeky to say, Scribe blew up and this must have been round the time of battling and I got to support him. I practiced and practiced and at that gig, people just chanted over the top of me, ‘BRING ON SCRIBE, BRING ON SCRIBE!’ demanded him. And the audience, to look around, it wasn’t really hip hop heads. It was more pop music listeners and then all the other support acts, except Scribe were not appreciated. So it wasn’t the love of the culture of hip hop, it was the love of this face they’ve seen on the box and yeah, it requires some deep thought to think what else was happening around the time. Because what did happen, and we could say the 90’s era hip hop fans were all aging and all having babies… but maybe we shouldn’t say that, because it’s not the case.

HH: Because I was 16 at the time, so it was the time when I really wanted to find something awesome, and it was like quick sand in my hand…I was trying to grip onto something solid and it kept slipping away. And yeah, I couldn’t find what I was looking for.

A: That’s a great term to describe it. I really felt for some of the turntabilists who came up after me cause it was when the attendance at the events was dwindling. It was just like that. There once was this huge scene, I do think that losing Sir-Vere, who is super ambitious and moves on to great things — and I think he’d done his time with ITF — losing him was a major blow because he was so amazing at coordinating all those events.

HH: It’s funny how it works.

A: But then again, the baton was handed to production which is pretty sweet. When the magazine Scratch came out — in fact there was a magazine called Scratch— Ah this is digressing, but it was done by The Allies which was dedicated to Turntabilism; that died out in 2003/2004. Then another magazine dedicated to production came out and that’s when we started to pay attention to who was making the beats. So I think that’s where everything shifted. When I think about all the up and coming producers back in the day, they would have been turntabilists had it been 10 years ago. Cause you know how I said it was so hard to find out about turntabilism, and I got little bits of knowledge from the radio, tiny bits from the net but as for production, I knew nothing. I knew there was a thing called the MPC but I had no idea how it worked and through getting into DJing and collecting records I found out the idea of sampling and piecing things together.

HH: So then what?

A: I should say, I battled for three years — And I don’t know if I regret it, but retrospectively — I don’t know if it was the right decision — in my last year of uni, I was doing really full on electronic stuff trying to develop an electronic nose for use of minds; that year I just decided not to defend my title and not to go in the DJ battles again. I went and tried to do my research project and I started to play in a band called the Village Of The Idiots which was a big jazz ensemble. There was a few people in the band, like a guy called Anthony Donelson who was in his 40’s. He had been around for years and he sort of took me under his wing. Up until then, I was on a steady dose of hip hop and turntabilism and he expanded my musical horizons. He showed me ethnic music. Frank Zappa. Prog rock. He showed me crout rock and of course he got me into jazz and so that was a jazz band. I was playing the turntables, just one turntable in the jazz band. In the beginning I had very minor parts. I was doing little scratches here and there to accentuate the rhythm section. That band went on for two years. We formed the Flower Orphans and we used to have a residency at Tupelo and we played every week on a Thursday. It just allowed me to develop other ways to use the turntable aside from the hip hop methods. So I guess once I got into turntabilism I just wanted to learn a much as I could about the turntables as an instrument. I think that’s where a lot of turntabilists move into the club style of DJing; that’s because they want to do more and get more out of it. I didn’t move into the club stuff, I went down the turntabilism, instrument part.

Photo From Melissa Cowan

Photo From Melissa Cowan

HH: The instrument part is bigger now…

A: Yeah no, there’s not many bands… [cracks up] remember there was that little era with Linkin Park and it was called ‘new metal’ and it kind of gave turntabilism in bands a bad name because it was always really cheesy.

HH: And you’d already been doing it when Linkin Park did it…

A: Yeah, I know. To be honest I knew a few of their songs, and I liked them, but I was never a fan. All the bands I was into were more psychedelic and sort of jazz rather than rocky. Eventually I developed my own way of [playing turntables with the jazz band]. I would go through reverb pedals and I’d do a lot of tonal scratching, which is where you take one sound and play a melody with it. But once I got into that side of turntablism I did a bit of research and there’s a lot going on outside of hip hop and turntabilism. There’s a guy called Philip Jeck and Otomo Yoshihide from Japan and Christian Marclay who are all really progressive, actually, I’d just say they’re straight up avant garde. They’re so noisy. They put symbols on the turntables and smash the turntables with chains, put that through overdrive, and they make roars of noise just from turntables. Phillip Jeck is into sampling, he plays with multiple turntables and makes little loops and I guess the aesthetic is so different. They would consider themselves ‘sonic artists’ rather than sort of boom bap hip hop makers.

I’m really competitive in my life and I was quite competitive in the battles — taking a loss in the right way is really important.”

HH: What do you reckon about labels in hip hop?

A: I, funnily enough, I have a big record collection and I do group them. I think the only benefit of grouping music is so that you can discuss music and share the knowledge. Like, if you like this, you may like this. It’s an affective way to put music for discussion, and I reckon it is journalists who come up with most of that, and it’s just to aid in discussion. So from that point of view I think it’s really amazing. But from that point of view, it’s been blown right open now. Like did you hear that new El-P and Killer Mike?

HH: [NO]

A: Oh it’s got that really aggressive sort of Bomb Squad style beats and heavy synths and some of it sounds almost post punky, 80’s stuff.

HH: I think watching what the kids are doing in hip hop now, punk’s kind of coming back into it perhaps?

A: Not in all the new stuff, but in some of it. I definitely think there’s a lot of that punk aesthetic, like remember when Tyler The Creator came out; not so much in the sonics of the song but more in the attitude. Did you hear those songs at the start of the Yeezus album? That’s kind of really harsh, industrial post-punk. When I heard those, I was like man, this is going to be a game changer, but then it dwindled. It was only like the first few, but I was like, ‘man this is pretty brave’. But then again El-P and Cannibal Ox have already done that sort of thing really effectively.

HH: Is it almost like someone like Kanye would take someone like Cannibal Ox and bring his style to the mainstream?

A: Yeah that’s exactly what I think about his new album. He’s thrown money at all these talented producers like Lunice and Hudson Mohawke and Daft Punk and just tried to pull them all together. And I really like a rapper called Pusha T — He took a Pusha T song and just kind of took it as his own on his album, so yeah, he’s taking things that are already awesome and re-packaging them as his own.

HH: Which is what he’s always done. He did that with College Dropout except with soul/oldschool R n’ B samples…Do you like Kanye?

A: Some of the songs. I had to listen to the album because everyone was talking about it. When I heard the first few tracks, ‘New Slaves’ there’s a performance on one of those late night shows in America, I can’t remember which one, and it blew me away. But the album, it was, it really disappointed me and it did feel like he’d just thrown money at a lot of different talented producers. It didn’t really mesh as a whole. Now I really like new sounds and new progressions in hip hop, like he auto tuned Nina Simone [laughs] and then bringing Hudson Mohawke in underneath; like that’s pretty progressive. Trying it, but I don’t think it actually worked musically. And then keeping the loop from that song going over another banging track that’s already amazing in its own right, then rapping over the top of that. And we’re not even getting into some of the lyrical content as well….So I’ve probably only listened to it about four or five times quite intensely.

HH: Have you heard Magna Carta?

A: Funnily enough I was listening to a few songs last night [laughs] and I have to admit he’s also trying to keep up with the new school kids. Some of the flows he adapts and some of the production’s awesome. But I think, my personal taste is so different, like you know how the album starts with Justin Timberlake singing for about a minute and a half and I think it’s saccharin. That means sickly sweet, like in a bad way. Like I’ve eaten too many lollies. I feel that. Then when the beat comes in, it’s pretty hard, then there’s the sample of Nirvana and again, what I said about Kanye, awesome idea but the execution, it didn’t work. I think those guys are getting too rich and they just throw money at everyone and they’re lyrical contents now….

HH: Do you know, oh man, I turned it off when he said he’s the new Basquiat. You know, you just can’t say that.

A: [laughs] That’s a crazy thing to say. You see where do we get started with that one. Because Basquiat died when he was so young and he never really got to achieve his full potential.

HH: So I guess for someone that’s followed hip hop for so long. Do you think the market’s just changing, so now they can get away with saying ludicrous things?

A: Definitely. It could be us. Because I remember loving and going through the back pack era and loving the message in De la Soul’s music and then remember even De la moved to the more clubby stuff like ‘Baby Phat’. So when I was listening to some new random hip hop, just clicking on it last night and yeah just the focus on partying it’s just, it’s, just hedonism really. Just partying and drinking. There used to be a label called Rawkus, and this was when I must have been 19, 20. At the beginning I loved everything they did and they put out some Mos Def and some Eminem, they put out the Soundbombing comps and Company Flow, who I love. I love Wu Tang, Gravediggaz, The Boot Camp Click stuff. I used to love Heltah Skeltah and then Biggie. Oh see! I just sound like an old schooler now. Nas, Biggie I really like. I’m just trying to think of more modern albums… I really liked Jay Z’s ‘The Black Album’ when it came out. I loved that. Good Kid M.A.A.D City, the Kendrick Lamar album. I’ve been listening to Habits and Contradictions – Schoolboy Q. I love it. But the problem with me now is I’m older than the rappers, and some of his subject matter, I’m over that period of my life, but that’s probably one of the redeeming qualities — he reminds me. Like he talks about OPP quite a bit. Cheating on people. It’s quite fun but he does have socially aware kind of songs.


HH: When did you fall in love with hip hop?

A: Yeah that would have been when I heard the De La album. Just that music. I just kept going back to that album, probably listened to it like 50 times. Same with ‘Black Sunday’ by Cypress. I’ve still got 36 Chambers in the car to this day and in the beginning it was everything to do with hip hop, I loved. Of course music was the entry, but then there was the RESPECT festival out by The Dowse gallery that exposed me to graph and breaking. DJ Raw did a little set that was really influential in my development. That was what I did. Hip hop from 13 to 19, [I was] always graphing on bits of paper, even writing primitive raps and djing. And then I moved into other genres through hip hop. It was through the idea of — What can I pillage and sample? What can I put in my DJ sets? Just to develop my own voice. So I was a huge fan of hip hop and I still am. But after all the competitions and being in bands I guess [I was like] I want to find a unique voice as a turntable artist.

HH: So as you’ve ventured on to that path, did you leave hip hop behind a bit?

A: No. I’ve always made hip hop beats at home — Oh I haven’t stopped scratching. Never did I ever stop doing turntabilism. It’s always been in my sets and I still consider my live sets as Alphabethead, hip hop. But now it’s just drawing from modern electronic music, even dubstep and drum n bass are in there. Even a bit of trap at the moment and classic rock, Deep Purple and Led Zepplin found their way in. In the last couple of years more punky stuff and more krautrocky stuff also now taking from the whole back catalogue of music; the whole recorded history and filtering that through the hip hop aesthetic of manipulation; like one of the genres I collect is just library records of ethnomusicology, so someone goes to Indonesia and records the gamelan music and there’s a few record labels like Akira and the Nonesuch Explorer Series. I always look out for them cause there’d always be new sounds. They’ve even done one in Tibet — Temple chanting from Tibet. They’ve done Greek Bouzouki sort of music, fast pluck [on the guitar].

More audio from this interview will be able in the coming days