To celebrate the final week of NZ Music Month, Rolling Stone AU/NZ is running an interview with a notable New Zealand artist, past, present or future, each day. First up is up-and-coming sibling hip hop duo NO COMPLY.
At Auckland’s BIG FAN a couple of months ago, three New Zealand artists took to the stage for Live Nation and Vodafone Ones To Watch.
There was a tender singer-songwriter, a soulful crooner, and a livewire hip hop duo: can you guess which one led the industry crowd in an unexpected spot of guided meditation?
“They fucking sat down, I couldn’t believe it,” Ethan Blackwood, one half of sibling duo NO COMPLY, says, still in disbelief. “I didn’t even tell them to sit down!” You can lead an industry person to water, and you can make them drink.
It wasn’t surprising that it was a hip hop group leading the crowd in a chant of “Om” – several hip hop stars have exalted the benefits of meditation – but it was a shock that it was NO COMPLY doing it: in just a handful of years, Ethan and his brother, Fynn, have become renowned in Aotearoa for their high-octane live shows, few hushed meditators in sight.
“It was a lot more in-your-face,” Ethan concedes about their earlier shows, which included frequent stage dives. “We’re definitely different people from back then.”
The brothers took Ayahuasca in Peru last year, leading to them “feeling a bit more centred,” but that’s not to say the new NO COMPLY lacks energy. “We’re still doing the crazy shit,” insists Fynn.
Their recent support slot for viral sensation bbno$ is a case in point: “I just saw some footage this morning of a song we hadn’t even put out, someone was filming it,” Fynn says. “By the second hook, everyone was singing the lyrics, and I was like, ‘holy shit!’”
On what was their first international opener, the Blackwoods couldn’t believe that the Wellington crowd were chanting their names. “It was real fun, it was cool,” Ethan coolly adds.
Over Zoom a few weeks after that Ones To Watch showcase, NO COMPLY are focused on their new EP, BKATIT, a collection of six no-nonsense cuts that strongly builds on the promise they showed on 2021’s WELCOME TO BAD.
BKATIT is them at their most collaborative. “We’ve been doing more and more writing, chucking some verses on there,” Fynn explains, before complimenting his brother. “He’s good at writing a hook, he’s probably better at writing a hook than me.”
The EP is firmly of its time, jumping at breakneck speed from genre to genre, largely due to the brothers’ varied music tastes. Fynn developed a penchant for hyperpop – the dynamic track “ALL MY FRIENDS” recalls the chaotic force of 100 gecs – while Ethan stopped listening to hip hop at all for a time. “I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz,” he laughs. “Lots of Miles Davis, even some classical stuff, which has been real nice.”
Their openness to all kinds of music stretches back to their childhood in Takapuna. “Dad was a drummer and played in a lot of bands, and mum worked in radio and was a producer,” Fynn explains. “We were surrounded by a lot of creative people when we were younger.”
They made sure to bring that communal spirit into adulthood. “At our last flat in Grey Lynn, we had kind of an open door policy. There were always people popping in and popping out, and we used those influences,” Fynn adds.
For the uninitiated, the brothers took their musical moniker from a skateboarding trick, and Auckland’s thriving skateboarding scene proved pivotal to the pair growing up. “We used to get kicked out or chased out of spots by angry security, so the name for me is both a homage to skating and a refusal to obey the status quo,” as Ethan previously told Rolling Stone AU/NZ.
The skatepark was also where Fynn was introduced to a lot of hip hop, quickly passing on the love to his brother. “It was like secondhand smoke,” Ethan puts it. “(He showed me) Eminem tapes and Scribe – shout out Scribe!”
“Before that we fucking hated each other!”
Fynn is talking about his relationship with his brother before they formed NO COMPLY. “We went through that phase – our relationship only started to become a proper relationship when we started making music,” Ethan agrees.
NO COMPLY then started to take shape around 2019, with the pair taking much different routes to get to the group. Surely working so closely with one’s brother can be infuriatingly stressful? “You grow up, you figure your shit out a bit more,” Fynn admits. “It’s kind of perfect timing really.”
It probably helps that the brothers ensure there’s always a sense of fun in their music. “There’s a lot (of artists) who seem to take themselves too seriously,” Ethan says,” and it doesn’t seem fun.” Fynn agrees. “Keep the fun in the live shows, always.”
Always be yourself is the NO COMPLY motto, in other words, no matter where this project takes them. “Like, give a shit about your craft, but just focusing on your image and becoming someone you’re not ust doesn’t seem very appealing,” Fynn says. “Having to uphold that all the time – imagine being an A-list celebrity, having to be in that persona 24/7, it’d be exhausting.”
NO COMPLY, of course, are just one of the acts currently making New Zealand hip hop so exciting.
Fynn has a theory about why things are popping off so much. “The cool thing for us is coming through in like a transitional phase, where we get the chance to work with the people we looked up to, and we also get to experience the next generation under us coming up,” he says.
“There’s still so much coming through and there’s still all those OGs doing their thing. It’s a really cool time to be in the community.” He pauses. “There’s always been amazing hip hop artists in NZ, but I think it’s just more of a focal point on it now.”
The current camaraderie in the country’s hip hop community has keenly impacted the brothers. “Everyone that we’ve met has been super lovely and really keen to collaborate or chat,” Ethan says. “I think it’s all about the energy,” Fynn adds. “We don’t come off as standoffish, we go up to people and we’re like ‘we fucking love your stuff.’ The energy you chuck out there is the stuff that you receive.”
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The final stop of their whirlwind Aotearoa tour happens to be a hometown show, which Ethan is expecting to go off.
“In Auckland, we know so many people, so naturally it does have a different energy,” he explains. “All your friends are there, and you get a little bit more carried away.”
Will hometown fans be singing along to every word of their songs like the Wellington crowd did? The brothers will appreciate it if it happens, but they’re already planning new cuts to keep everyone interested and the momentum going. “We’ve already got the buttons for the new EP,” Ethan reveals. “That’s pretty much good to go. We’re just gonna keep making music.”
And following the tour of their home country, Ethan and Fynn have their sights set on the UK. It’s a musical landscape that Ethan feels he’ll fit in to well, being fond of breakbeat and garage.
“We’re hustling at the moment in Devonport until September, and then we’ll go early next year,” he says. “We’ll still be releasing our music in Aotearoa but we’ll be building our connections over there as well. We’ve got to remember the fans and all the people that support us are the reason we can do shows and stuff.”