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Opinion

‘Change is a good thing, one should welcome it like an old friend’

Diger Rokwell

Photo:Cam Campbell

WA hip hop groundbreaker, Ashley Hosken, is celebrating a decade of creating music as Diger Rokwell. He took time out for a chat with ATS…

You released Digstrumentals 10 years ago – who were you and what was on your mind at the time?

I was living in Kingsley with my sister, surfing, collecting records, playing instruments, making beats. It was the early days of being a teacher, newly single after a very bad break up from a short term, but long drawn out relationship, I was dabbling in street art and creativity under the guise of Diger Rokwell and in the collective of The Community. At this stage, my beatmaker name was Step Truth. But I decided to call all of my artistic pursuits Diger Rokwell, as it was based upon cut and paste methodology, sampling both in a visual and musical context. So I decided to get together what I had been making in my studio as a release. I had played few gigs and my music was getting played on RTRFM, so it seemed like the right time to release music. 

 Before everything we know you for – what role did music play in your upbringing? Your music displays a love of so many genres…

My parents always played music on long car trips and on Sunday morning, mostly 50s/60s stuff: Gene Pitney, Beach Boys, Neil Diamond, Buddy Holly, and heap of country rock like America, John Denver, so definitely inspired by that, and my sister is nine years older than me and lived in the UK in the early 90s, and she would bring home music with her when she visited home like The Orb, early Manchester Music, house and techno. Plus, my brother who is five years older than me, would be going to raves and involved in the Perth scene in the mid-to-late-90s. So the music inspiration was diverse and sourced from everywhere. I played the trumpet at primary and early high school, and then fell in love with grunge music after seeing Nirvana’s Smell like Teen Spirit on MTV in the States, when we were on holiday there. So I bought a bass, and then later an electric guitar. And being a left-handed I had to play it upside down, which caused my guitar teacher so much confusion, so I generally was self-taught.

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Mathas has told me of when you first met at The Moon Café – what are your recollections?

I started DJ-ing there on Saturday nights as my friend worked there and asked Georgia – Tom’s sister, The Moon owner – if I could DJ for there, so I did a poster for it, and then Georgia showed her brother, Mathas, about the New Year’s Day night that was going to happen at The Moon. The Moon was a meeting place for like-minded creatives. And I remember seeing Mathas first perform at his 21st birthday, and was super impressed that Perth peeps were playing my type of hip hop live, and I was making similar stuff at the time. After becoming friends, we started the Intention to Dine gigs that led to the formation of The Community, which lead to the formation of Colab, the Down Underground show on RTRFM, many nights and gigs and so much more. 

As you say, the ensuing NY gig led to the formation of The Community. Describe the force this has been in your life…

The Community was the place where I learnt how to do somethings: organise gigs, make music, create merch, network, promote, create family and eventually a record label. It showed me that I was really quite organised and could do a whole manner of things at once. For me it was a blessing and a curse, as it was usually a few others and myself really driving it. It started in Perth at the right time, as there was a void of alternative hip hop and electronica being made, and it helped other crews develop their own community, and put Perth on the map in a national perspective as we linked with like-minded crews in the East.

We have shifted the brand to be more in line with a record label model, The Community Records, as it provides us with a chance to continue to branch out and develop new talents. I feel the term ‘the community’ now again belongs to the Perth community again, and that is where it should be, for the use of people and the respective communities striving for a common goal. 

What do you look for from collaborators? And what have a variety of them brought over the years?

They are mainly friend firsts, collaborators second. Felicity Groom is a firm friend of mine and our children hang out together, so we spent most of our hanging time now in parks and at BBQs. I would see in the future another Rokwell and Groom LP come together. Mathas was a mate first, and collaborator second, I would love to do a whole LP with him one day, as we complement each other in a way, but I don’t think we have captured that on a recording properly yet. 

What have been the releases in your discography that you feel where you (a) have really lifted a notch and (b) have moved your career forward?

I feel the releases have all been a lift in the notch in my musical production skills and moved my career forward in cementing the love of producing music of varying genre and having the freedom to do what I want. Probably not the secret to commercial success, but I feel extremely proud of what I have achieved with producing music on a modest budget, gigging and touring, still being able to have a real job, a home, a family and a life outside of music, not being burnt out by the industry or a one trick pony. From the early days to sampling heavy, to now playing all of the instruments myself and only sampling minimally, I feel that Innersense, Seeds, Sprouts, and Rows are all real departures into more legitimate music heading towards more fertile grounds of creativity in the future. The Beat Tourism projects. Digerbodia and Sri Diger, were innovative in the way they sampled music that had not been incorporated into hip hop yet. So I feel those two streams of Diger Rokwell music will continue to prevail. 

You’ve done a limited-edition mixtape with two mixes of music you’ve created over the last decade. Describe it…

It is basically two x 45-minute mixes mixed by myself featuring the music, singles, remixes, collabs and things over the decade of Diger Rokwell music. It is presented on a limited-edition tape, all designed by myself. I feel it is a good product to have to celebrate the milestone as it is something new for me, pressing music to tape, but also something familiar, and it has been a real pleasure revisiting the releases over time and seeing how things have changed and evolved. Change is a good thing, one should welcome it like an old friend. 

What are your plans and hopes for the future?

More music creations, more towards releasing more music under a few other guises to keep things fresh, I have been working a few things. This year, I will be releasing my third Beat Tourism project which is an exploration into the second hand 50-100-yen bins in Japan, that is nearly complete and now entering the mixing stage, it has a real early ‘90s hip hop feel to it and is 10 tracks deep. More beat tourism in Indonesia. Maybe a Jungle inspired Diger Rokwell release?

I have been writing lyrics and hopefully do something under another name that is a cross between The Gorillaz, Madlib and psych-inspired beats. Maybe a psych rap release? Maybe a psychedelic blue grass release? More house music under a different name? I would like to learn how to kite surf. 

A Decade Of Diger Rokwell is celebrated at Late Night Valentine on Friday, May 25, with help from Nathan Jay, MYSTIC/FORTUNE, Out Of The Blue, Akoka and Rok Riley. Full details at www.facebook.com/events/1619838131445921/

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