Before Six60 ruled the New Zealand summer airwaves, there was Nesian Mystik. Jogai Bhatt misses them dearly.
It’s that time of the year again. As the pohutukawa blooms and your MCM sheds his chinos in favour of cargo shorts, the humble New Zealand summer gears up to commit its annual sonic self-sacrifice: a full three months dedicated to the sound of Six60. From beach trips and BBQs to Eden Park’s limited playlist for the cricket season, cracking open a cold one with the boys will be scored by the Dunedin quintet for as long as we shall see light. A sweaty, migraine-inducing, cheerily Kiwiana purgatory for all.
Alright, I don’t actually hate Six60. But their domination of the season has become a sort of running joke amongst me and my sisters, with every impulsive trip to Kmart or Countdown paving the way for at least one unwelcome listen of ‘Don’t Give It Up’, courtesy of virtually any radio station (except bFM, of course). It is, for us, 2017’s equivalent of being Rickrolled.
It was during one of these trips that we started reminiscing about the sound of summer that once was. What did dominate the airwaves before Six60? I fell into a nostalgia-fuelled coma for maybe five minutes and experienced one of those flashback montages like people do in movies: woah, there’s the C4 logo … and there’s Jermaine! … and I can hear ‘Ghetto Flower’ … and a Mai FM sting … and now I’m seeing John and Carol getting fish and chips from Fat Freddy’s Drop! What a dream. Minutes away from Mt Eden Countdown and we had our answer.
Nesian Mystik was, and always will be, the sound of summer in Aotearoa. As Gareth Shute mentions in this excellent profile for Audio Culture, Nesian was key to the breakthrough of New Zealand hip-hop in the early 2000s. They absolutely dominated the local music charts during their decade-plus lifetime, with a record-breaking 11 Top 10 singles and all four albums reaching the Top 20.
Formed in the music room of Western Springs College (shoutouts), the group comprised of Te Awanui “Awa” Reeder, Donny “Tha Kid Oldwun” McNulty, Junior “Junz” Rikiau, David “Dmon Finguz” Atai, Heathdale “Notiq” Manukau, and Feleti “Sabre” Strickson-Pua. For 12 years, they laid down a smooth blend of guitars, hip-hop beats, synth lines and vocal harmonies before disbanding in 2011 – suspiciously, the same year Six60 released their self-titled debut.
I have three distinct memories connected to Nesian Mystik. The first is from around the time my family immigrated to New Zealand in the early 2000s. I had just finished my first year at Newton Central Primary (shoutouts), and inadvertently began my first summer holiday tradition: blasting our $10 Kmart fan on high speed and sitting in front of the TV all day, consuming any and all content the free-to-air channels could provide. It was this during this fateful 2003 summer that I remember first seeing it: a Coca-Cola ad campaign featuring Nesian Mystik’s ‘For the People’. Attractive, fun-loving, ethnically-ambiguous people in their best beach attire, filling their vehicles to the brim with chilly bins; swimming, laughing, dancing. Wow! An image of bliss! That goddamn Coke ad informed my idea of what a Kiwi summer could be – and it was glorious.
The second memory is from Christmas in the Park, 2009. I was just old enough to process how much of a breeding ground it is for sexually-charged twelvies looking to pash by the portaloos, yet young enough to happily go anyway. I think Drew Neemia opened the night with a rock-infused Christmas carol just before Opshop took the stage. Dobbo might’ve been there too – can’t be sure but it’s how I’d like to remember it. We were halfway into the evening when one of the kids from the family seated next to us pulled out his speaker set and started blasting ‘Nesian 101’. They began harmonising at the top of their lungs. The kid with the speakers considered himself some kind of beatboxing savant, aiding the others through a sleek chorus before taking centre-stage with Tha Kid Oldwun’s verse. They were, indisputably, incredible. No one within a 20-foot radius was paying attention to what was happening on stage. Nesian Mystik was out here spreading Christmas cheer and they didn’t even know it.
The third and most recent memory stems from a family trip to India in the summer of 2015. Desperately craving street-style Indian food that even Jai Jalaram Sandringham couldn’t replicate (RIP), I spent my first four weeks there living it up. Eating all the dabeli I could get my hands on, purchasing expenny lehengas like money meant nothing, and road-tripping like a Pākehā trying to find their spiritual self. It was all well and good – until it wasn’t. I started missing New Zealand. I wanted to buy a $2 ice cream from the dairy near my house. I wanted to nap at Sentinel. I wanted to attend a friend’s BBQ and make small talk with their aunty Sharyn. We had another two weeks left in Gujarat and I was getting pretty homesick. Spotify hadn’t launched in India yet, so I downloaded the home brand alternative and streamed the first thing that came to mind: Nesian Mystik’s debut album Polysaturated. And I had an epiphany.
Nesian Mystik’s music represents a sort of microcosm of life in Aotearoa. From references to Tagata Pasifika and the Grey Lynn community, to two fried eggs on that $1 bread, their sound effortlessly captures the simplest pleasures of life. Their mahi is warm and resilient – only enhanced by the season that so fittingly parallels it. Unapologetically brown and unmistakably New Zealand.
Let this ode to Nesian Mystik compel you to revisit the sound of summer that once was. And if you hear Six60 on the radio one more time? Maybe, y’know, check your frequency.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.