With the release of their newest EP TAWHITO, the kaupapa driven MOKOTRON speaks to a reimagined future without colonisation. As an electronic artist, MOKOTRON exists in an art form that you wouldn’t associate with Māori. From Detroit to Aotearoa, MOKOTRON is a reminder that Māori can and should exist in any art form we wish.
Craccum interviews MOKOTRON this week, and we discuss dystopian futures, Transformers lore, indigenous bass, and the ghost in the machine.
Where does your name come from?
Moko derives from Rūaumoko, the atua who dwells underground and is the source of seismic activity and earthquakes. Tron is short for Cybertron, the home world and source of the AllSpark. Mokotron carries all these meanings: a descendant of the ancestors who left their tribal home world but carry the AllSpark with them; a disciple of Rūaumoko dedicated to the art of seismic Indigenous bass that dwells underground.
What music do you listen to? What’s in your current playlist and what’s in your “favourite tracks of all time” playlist?
Straight electro: Aux 88, Keith Tucker, Posatronix, Anthony Rother, Kwasir, Kraftwerk, DMX Krew, Go Nuclear, Miss Kitty and the Hacker, Underground Resistance, Dopplereffekt.
As a Māori artist, how does your culture inform your art?
I think it’s important to embody being Māori in every aspect of our lives. So for me, if I’m Māori, and I’m making art, that art should reflect my reality, what I see, think and feel. To me, the only thing that this country can contribute to the world is Māori culture and language. If we are always copying other cultures without contributing something to the world, we’re just being cultural vampires. We have to give something back.
You make reference to a lot of late-70s early 80s art forms online. Taglines such as “INDIGENOUS BASS FOR YOUR MUTHA@#$%&* FACE” and images of Rock Steady Crew reference hip-hop and the graffiti/B-Boy scenes of the 80s. How formative were these art forms in your life and music?
I grew up in the 80s, I remember what it was like seeing hip hop culture explode on the streets of South Auckland. Back in those days, when we didn’t have Māori language schools, or Māori Television, or anything Māori really, this was a culture that allowed us to express our experiences in the cities. Those influences are huge for me, though it’s just as important to draw on our own waiata, pātere, karakia, pūoro. I’m sitting between the two, it’s been a creatively productive space to be in.
A lot of references are made to the Detroit techno scene when discussing your music. Is there an influence there?
Detroit is a huge influence for me. Detroit techno asks, what does it mean to live with the machine? Does the machine have a soul? We are the soul of the machine, we are the soul of the city. Growing up around the factories, train tracks, and industrial areas on the edge of the CBD, this is my rohe, this is my ngāhere. Detroit music speaks to our urban experiences amongst the steel and concrete. That’s always resonated with me.
The Detroit electronic scene spoke to Afrofuturism discourse with a re-purposing of technology to create a new form of music that appealed to a marginalized underground population. There appears to be an element of Māori-futurism in your music. Does your music speak to a similar discourse?
Dystopian futures are a common theme in electronic music. For me, it’s not something we need to imagine or worry about, we are already living the dystopian futures of our ancestors’ nightmares. For me, I’m not really trying to represent the future in what I do: we’re already there, this is our reality. So, when I write music I’m trying to represent that reality of what it means to be Indigenous in the city: the bass represents the concrete streets, the drums represent the buildings and high rises, the synths represent the way the light cuts through the cities and the hum of traffic echoing off the buildings, the pūoro represent the wāhine and kuia that keep our communities alive in the city, the purerehua represent the whisper of the ancestors who are ever present—the whole song creates an urban marae, from which we sing, speak, dance, weep.
The social context of your art exists at the intersections of a lot of differing, almost foreign elements. A Māori electronic artist in a mostly Pākehā music industry. Is there a worry that your music is too esoteric for mainstream consumption?, or is it more important to remain creative and be accepted by those who enjoy your art/peers within your art form?
To be honest I don’t write music for mainstream consumption, or for my peers. I need to express what I hear and think and feel in my head and to reflect my reality and experiences, so that I can stay safe and well. No one needs to listen to what I do. I think the attention I’m getting with this project locally and overseas is bizarre.
I gotta say too, in this country we get gaslit constantly into thinking our culture is irrelevant, yet any time you reach outside this country you realise the world loves Māori people, they love our culture and our art and they will go out of their way to support us. All the support I get from Māori and Pasifika is heart-warming. But Pākehā all over the country and all over the world have been supporting my music too. We should never underestimate the world’s yearning to hear Indigenous voices.
Is there a desire to influence other Māori to step into what makes them uncomfortable, to exist in art forms that you usually wouldn’t associate Māori with?
Definitely. That’s why this project has been anonymous—I’m sick of people I know telling me I need to sound like LAB or Katchafire. We don’t have to just make reggae, hip hop, or soul, we can make any kind of music we want. More importantly we need to make music that sounds like us, with our reo, our pūoro, our kaupapa, and it doesn’t just have to be kapa haka. Can we make music that is ancient and modern?
If you could work with any artist from any genre, dead or alive, who would you choose?
Tuini Ngāwai! And Kraftwerk. Both, at the same time. Actually, Tuini Ngāwai working with Kraftwerk and I’ll just watch. In awe.
What is your gear looking like? What music software are you using to create?
We’re living in a second golden age of analog hardware so that’s what I’m using: analog synths, drum machines, and vocoders. And a little bit of FM, tape, and guitar pedals as well. I use Logic Audio to record and master. I don’t really write with software.
What non-music influences have helped form and create your music?
Linda Waimarie Nikora’s research into rarohenga and the spirit world have inspired a lot of my tunes recently. Hone Kouka’s trilogy Waiora, Home Fires, and The Prophet and their stories of urban Māori, Brair Grace-Smith’s idea of an iwi rising up out of the concrete and asphalt streets in the city in the play 100 Cousins.
Last question, is there anything you’d like to leave us with? A philosophy on life, perhaps? Or some guidance for our creative tauira here at UoA
If you’re always following what is current, you’ll never be current.
You can listen to MOKOTRON’s newest EP TAWHITO here https://soundcloud.com/mokotron