Mount Roskill is a listless suburb of Auckland, a collection of cul-de-sacs resting under heavy skies on the slopes of a dormant volcano. When New Orleans photographer Aubrey Edwards visited on one of her frequent trips to New Zealand, she spotted some teenagers riding the streets with huge sirens strapped to their handlebars. Within 24 hours, she had found them on social media and was back to photograph them at their unofficial headquarters, the small street of Howell Crescent.
Calling themselves "Straight Outta Roskill," the group of locals has worked out sophisticated car-battery systems to rig up pushbikes with sirens to blast music. The craze has caught on around the city, and police have accused young people of stealing sirens from local schools to attach to their bikes. But Straight Outta Roskill, the originators, insist they never steal. They're church boys.
VICE spoke to Edwards about photographing the group and their code.
VICE: So who are these guys riding around with ludicrously big sirens on their bikes?
Aubrey: They're mostly Mormon and mostly Tongan. There are other Pacific Islanders and Catholics and Christians. It's kind of an extension of their church. They're not a gang; they're very clear about that. Their rules are when they pass by someone who is elderly, they turn down their music, and they don't play their music on Sabbath. They're very wholesome kids
How did it all start, and how does it work?
When I do these projects, I'll do lots of subcultural work, and I'll trace back to who were the pioneers. The pioneer of this group is about 24. He started it when he was 16. The youngest members are about five. It came out of seeing cars that were decked out with these speakers, but they couldn't drive, so they decided to take that form of expression and strap it on to these really shitty bikes. Through different trial and error, they figured out the best way to create these platforms, figure out the best way to rig the speakers to batteries. They've got this system down. They call it strapping. They'll strap their bikes up and ride through the streets, but mostly they'll meet for these battles with other kids on bikes to see who has the loudest music.
Is the street where you shot really where it all began?
Yes, it's right on Howell Crescent. They say they're the first ones who started doing it. There's another group called the Farm Boys who started doing it and another group down south.
What do they get for winning a battle?
Street cred. They get to call themselves king, but it's always disputed who actually wins, so they'll have another battle.
What's the best music to play for a win?
They play some music from Tonga, so they're representing their homeland. Apparently the worst music has the highest treble and that's the loudest music, so the battles are really horrible music going back and forth. Maroon 5. Lady Bee. Celine Dion.
Where do they get those giant speakers?
They're [sirens]. They'll get them from secondhand stores, from alarm stores. They said they don't steal any of them. Each bike has about five speakers.
What's the secret to getting the winning sound levels?
Different bikes have different ways of doing it. They all have a car battery. So everything is connected to a basket that holds a car battery. From that it feeds to a receiver and that plugs into an auxiliary cord that plugs into their phone. It's tested. It's tried and true.
They've had some negative blowback in the media. How open were they to you photographing them?
My background is in visual anthropology. There's always gaining trust and being transparent about what your intentions are. It was a tattooed American girl that found them on Instagram, so I think they were really curious. I went the first day and showed up on Howell Crescent and waited until they started coming. I talked to them, and then asked if I could come back and take photos the next day. So they had time to get their bikes ready.
Why are they called Straight Outta Roskill?
Yeah, it's from "Straight Outta Compton." It was interesting because given their Christian ideology, it's very different from what they're pulling from in American culture. I grew up in LA listening to Ice T and all that. They said it comes from that. I asked why and they said, "Well, we like it." I think it just sounds hard.
Words by Frances Morton. Follow her on Twitter.