MC Donald ‘Oldwun’ McNulty reminisces ahead of the group’s New Zealand swan song; plus, selected Homegrown highlights.
Cultural cringe has plagued New Zealand’s history like a mild but persistent head cold, so innocuous you could almost forget it’s there. It has pervaded our artistic back catalogue, from early colonial literature, to the British and American accents adopted by Jordan Luck in his early career, to every pop punk band ever. Often subliminal, it takes something totally removed from the cringe to throw its affect and misrepresentative nature into view.
When Nesian Mystik released their first single, ‘Nesian Style’, it heralded something new on Aotearoa’s cultural soundscape; urban, and unashamedly influenced by the Pacific in a way New Zealand hadn’t heard before, particularly in New Zealand hip hop. It was an aural blend of the contemporary cultural makeup of New Zealand, in particular that of West and South Auckland. It struck a chord, and the subsequent album Polysaturated, released in 2002 through Bounce Records, went five-times platinum and sold over 60,000 copies.
I met with Donald ‘Oldwun’ McNulty after their sold out summer Australian tour. McNulty is a big, affable, and eloquent man, with a thick Afro and a hint of the curated smile a musician gets when he’s done enough interviews.
Speaking of the Nesian Mystik sound and it’s cultural representation, McNulty says, “It just kind of clicked in that way. The diversity of influences we all have, and the way they merge, produced the Nesian Mystik sound. Even when we tried to change things, it always sounded like Nesian Mystik.”
When it comes to Nesian Mystik, the sound is more than just a reflection of cultural soundscapes, but a broader representation of New Zealand and it’s cultural characteristics (if not clichés). If the Number 8 Wire mentality is no longer literal, it has, much like New Zealand’s population, become urban.
Says McNulty on the process behind writing Polysaturated: “we weren’t the richest back then; we made our beats on a Playstation, on a game called Music 2000. They’re the beats we used on the first album.”
Despite almost calling it quits in 2011, right before starting another world tour, McNulty says the band hasn’t experienced anything in the way of a breakdown in the band relationships. “No tension, no nothing. It’s a brotherhood, it’s beyond the point of friendship.”
Despite nearly 15 years of Nesian Mystik, it seems their popularity is as strong as ever. Currently, the band holds the record for the most Top 10 singles for a local artist in the New Zealand charts, with 11, spanning all four of their albums. A sellout summer tour of Australia in the bank, Homegrown to come, and a fast growing Facebook profile, with over 50,000 Likes and 26,000 new Likes in the last two months, they continue to have impressive reach and a connection with their audience. Which begs the question, why stop?
“[When] we initially called it quits it was becoming mundane. It ended up being more about the money than the passion for performing. Then over the last year or so, we found that passion, since we said we’re going to do our last show.”
Realising something is coming to an end is often the catalyst for the first stages of nostalgia, even before the era has ended; a shift in perspective that highlights the good and dims the negative. More so, it seems, for the audience. Even so, as McNulty says, each of the band members has their own solo projects the work on. The split for the band heralds an opportunity to focus on those project, a prospect McNulty says they are all excited about, despite the change in the creative process it entails.
“It’s more pressure on ourselves, I guess. Writing with the other boys, you only have to write 16 bars, compared to a whole song. But we have the freedom to express ourselves in our own ways, and challenge ourselves more.”
Change and challenge comes also from the music industry at large. The remaining three Nesian Mystik records never came close to the five-times platinum that Polysaturated achieved, though each album has reached at least gold. The drop in sales is something McNulty accounts for in part to the technological developments of file sharing and digital piracy.
“The music industry has changed a lot here in New Zealand. When we first came out, we came out at the peak of New Zealand music. It was a high time, everybody blowing up, with Scribe, and the Dawn Raid crew. It was just epic.”
Polysaturated was funded by the Creative New Zealand Album Grant (since abolished, after the 2010 Caddick Report) to the tune of $50,000, something McNulty credits as something without which their careers may have turned out very differently.
“People were a lot more supportive back then.”
The idea of challenge and increasing their independence seems to be the main source of excitement for the band. They split from their label Bounce Records for their fourth and last album, 99 A.D., to form their own label, Arch Dynasty. For the band, the label’s role in their success started to feel like responsibilities they could take on themselves.
“I think it was just a decision the boys made. We make a lot of decisions on majority rules, and with this, I think we just wanted to own everything.”
“We’re fully independent at the moment. We have our label Arch Dynasty. But then we have a marketing and distribution deal with Warners.”
And so Homegrown looms as the band’s final show in New Zealand. They sit poised to leave on a high, maintaining unprecedented success and a strong connection with their fans. Their unique approach to the industry during its most tumultuous period has made their longevity all the more impressive. So what to expect from such a band for their last show?
“We actually might have our first rehearsal.”
Nesian Mystik perform at Homegrown 2014 on February 15.
Main Image: Nesian Mystik performing at the Natural New Zealand Music Festival, Perth, November 2013. Source: Facebook.
ALEXANDER BISLEY’s selected highlights highlights from The Lumière Reader’s past coverage of artists playing at the forthcoming Homegrown music festival (Wellington Waterfront, February 15).
You don’t want to see everything at Homegrown. Sam Scott once told me: “If being as successful as The Feelers means making music like them, I’d rather be dead. As a musician that is the fucking arsehole of the world.” But what festival do you want to see everything at? (The Big Day Out was really good. But Liam Gallagher was abysmal.) Pace haters, I am a fan of Homegrown. It’s tiresome to read/hear people make the exact same complaints year after year. I’m looking forward to watching artists including Ladi 6, Cairo Knife Fight, Nesian Mystik, Head Like a Hole, and the first four of the following five profiled.
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Brotha D, Godfather of New Zealand Hip-Hop (Alexander Bisley, interview, 2005)
‘Fallen Angels’, by Deceptikonz, Dawn Raid’s star group, is a powerful and cathartic song, with incisive lyrics. Against all odds we kiwis do fly, but the rust-like forces of darkness remain a real threat. Read More
Home Again (Alexander Bisley, interview, 2013)
“I’m all about the party. That is the key to me. That’s been the base of my career to date and continues to be. I love watching a great turntablist and their skills, can appreciate a reggae selector and their tunes, but me, I’m the party rocker.” Read More
Puppet Fiction (Alexander Bisley, interview, 2013)
“Mu has a gravitational pull that has kept the band of brothers together for years. His patience, intelligence, competitiveness, and wickedly wicked sense of humour is a driving force. He can be tough, and sometimes ruthless, but he’s actually one of the most thoughtful and considerate dudes I’ve ever met.” Read More
On The Road (Alexander Bisley, interview, 2013)
“I’ve got one funny story, we were on tour in Paris at the famous Elysee Montmartre, before it burnt down. Dallas [Tamaira] was having a particularly grumpy day. The local Paris press wanted to do some interviews and Dallas said ‘Nah fuck man no way’ and then this girl walks in and she’s just drop dead gorgeous; beautiful. He’s ‘I’ll do it’.” Read More
The Orator (Alexander Bisley, interview, 2013)
“My biggest song is ‘Swing’, but I’m no perverted bastard, by any means. I have daughters.” His eloquent answers contrast with the lazy caricature of rappers as inarticulate interviewees. He lived in New York during first American album Savage Island’s production. There was too much concrete, too much craziness. “Being a Pacific Islander, I love the sea. I like to see trees and greenery and the ocean. L.A. is a better feeling, more tropical. You’ve got the Pacific Ocean right there and at the back of your mind there’s only one flight to get you home.” Read More
Tiki Taane: Past, Present, Future (Brannavan Gnanalingam, interview, 2007)
“Music has always been my mistress. Everything I do is based around music. It’s very obsessive, it’s very rewarding but at the same time it can be very draining. It can be very selfish. I can spend days in the studio and forget about the rest of the world.” Read More