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Auckland Rapper Tourettes on Not Being an Asshole in an Asshole World

We take a walk with the rapper through his former neighbourhood and discuss the changing face of Grey Lynn.

When talking to Dominic Hoey aka Tourettes, you soon get used to the way he slowly turns his body to address you. His spine, fused at the neck by arthritis (“My spine is made out of dog hair and chewing gum,” is how he puts it in his track “No Losers @ Winz” ) means that he has the aspect of someone permanently wearing an invisible neck brace. Which only makes his stream of productivity more impressive.

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A new album, Feel Like Shit, Looking Great, is being released in May, Iceland his first novel will be published by Steele Roberts later this year, he and some friends produce the weekly How Not To Be An Asshole podcast, he is a mentor with Nga Rangatahi Toa Creative Arts’ Initiative and every weekend he seems to be performing his stridently political poetry somewhere around Auckland. He’s touring New Zealand with country singer Will Wood, beginning with a performance at Auckland’s Wine Cellar tonight. How to explain his prodigious output? “I am infested with ideas” he raps.

Tourettes work is steeped in the Auckland of his youth, so one Saturday we wanderd aimlessly around Grey Lynn, the once working-class suburb where he grew up but which has now been gentrified beyond recognition, as we talked equally as aimlessly about the challenges of pursuing a creative life in Auckland.

Hoey, 38, no longer lives in the suburb, but it features prominently in his work – the working title of his novel was Grey Lynn – and it is a place about which he has mixed feelings: like many, Hoey has been priced out of the suburb, one that is home to many memories.

We walked across the north-western motorway, where a giant billboard stood advertising the latest season of The Bachelor to passing motorists, and into Grey Lynn, through the park and past his childhood home. It was the day of the Auckland City Limits festival, music and loud voices emanating from houses, revellers on the streets.

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“How many times have we danced this piece of concrete?” Hoey asked in a recent collaboration with artist Margarita Vovna. The answer, in Grey Lynn, is quite a lot. “I didn’t really stop living around here until 2010. So that’s a lot of time to spend somewhere. It still feels like home but it’s just totally not, because everyone has gone and everything has changed and you just can’t afford it.”

We walk past his old primary school. Hoey remembers a time when many of the city’s prominent rappers and graffiti artists were coming out of this area. Sadly, no longer. “I guess the thing with gentrification – not just in Grey Lynn obviously because this is happening worldwide – is that you destroy not just artists’ communities but communities in general, and it does just leave this kind of gulf, you know. And people say, ‘But it’ll just set up somewhere else,’ and it might, but it might take 20 or 30 years for that to happen.”

The Auckland described in his latest track, “The New New Zealand”, released today, is a place where such communities have been shattered: it’s a city where, “The rich can be eccentric while the poor merely crazy/And the real estate section is filled with mould-covered bedrooms for $250 a week”, where the creative class is completely isolated from the money and power of the city, and where “No one cares about your life, just what you do for a living.”

Inspiration for the track came after a couple of storied Auckland institutions, St Kevin’s Arcade and Las Vegas Strip Club, both on Auckland’s Karangahape Road, were sold to property developers. “Some of the press releases people were putting out were like talking about how we were going to bring a higher class of person to K Road. People weren’t even disguising what they were thinking. There was so much going on at that time – I guess there still is – so much unbridled detestation of poor people, of people who were struggling for whatever reason.”

For Hoey, the change he has seen in Grey Lynn – where friends and family no longer live behind the now impeccably kept facades of white-fronted villas – has prefigured all of this. With one difference. Now, he says, the gentrification of central Auckland, and the resulting disharmony, proceeds without even lip service to inclusion and equality: “Now it’s just like, ‘Let’s get these fucking people out of here and make some money.’ I guess maybe it’s better in a way because you know exactly what people are thinking, rather than having some kind of illusion about it.”

Catch Dominic Tourettes and Will Wood at these shows:
March 31 – Wine Cellar, Auckland
April 1 – Wine Cellar, Auckland
April 2 - Butter Factory, Whangarei
April 3 - Leigh Sawmill Cafe, Leigh
April 6 - Common Room, Hastings
April 7 - House Concert Napier
April 8 - Moon 1, Wellington
April 9 - Le Cafe, Picton
April 15 - Wundebar Lyttelton
April 16 - The Sherwood, Queenstown
April 17 - Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru
April 20 - Donovans Store, Okarito
April 22 - Moutere Inn, Moutere
April 23 - Rogue Stage, Rotorua
April 27 - Wine Cellar, Auckland

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