Interview: DEM MOB chat about their track “DIP” addressing racism and cultural identity

DEM MOB discuss the importance of taking control of one’s life and making choices that align with one’s goals and aspirations. Their advice to young musicians, emphasizes the importance of perseverance and not giving up on one’s dreams. They’ve recently released a single, “DIP” that exposes some of the injustices and difficulties that Indigenous people still face today. We sat down with Elisha, Jontae and Matt from the band to discuss their single and more.

Let’s start with the song that you’ve just released, “DIP”. What was like the motivation behind writing it? Was there something specific incident or just a general build-up of how you feel?

Elisha: I think a little bit of both. I mean, I was out shopping yesterday with security guards following me. Just the obvious aspect of that. We’re trying to develop young role models and future leaders and how to do this if it’s such a struggle to in our job in everyday life. So, “DIP” was kind of like an anthem of that mostly to provide the young ones with educational choices to be able to navigate the system.

I read that Natasha Wanganeen was the director of the video clip. How was it working with her?

Jontai: It was pretty good. We learned a lot of stuff off of her, and she was also excited about it, because it was her first time, shooting a music video. And helping us as DEM MOB. So yeah, working alongside her was so big, you know, because like she also brings some of the families over, just like we did as well. And it was incredible, she was doing most of the work but like, just a bit of it. She was like giving them advice and like telling them like, over here and over there and stuff. It was pretty good working alongside a movie star.

Matt: She was really cool with the idea and Natasha has been a long-time supporter of the group. She saw us play on our first show together. Over the last four years, we’ve crossed paths a bunch of times. So, when we hit her up, we’re like, hey, do you want to direct this clip? She was like, yeah, but it wasn’t till we’re actually filming the clip that she was like, “Thanks for giving me like my first chance at directing”. We were spun out; she was so good. And all the film crew that we’re working with were like hot shots of the of the film industry that she’d worked with, other photographers, and for them to see her in that role and go like she is the director, you know, as well. Yeah. That like organically, gave her that platform as well and us not realizing that’s what we were doing when we started the process.

I guess for yourselves and also for her, how do you see yourself in in in the community as role models?

Elisha: I guess, like expectations, keeping them consistent. But the end of the day, being human, everyone makes mistakes. Depending on the situation and incidents, it’s how you bounce back. Younger kids are always watching, everyone’s watching what you’re doing. Just to be able to create something. Obviously, it’s sustainability within that as you know, as a student, as an artist, as a producer, as an uncle, as you know, to the little brothers, not only through our music and through what we’re trying to do with this project DEM MOB, but it’s everyday lives and the younger mob coming up.

It looks like you had a lot of fun making the video.

Matt: That was definitely our biggest production. Biggest planning. It took months. We had to push back dates because it rained the first time. We had a day in December in Adelaide we thought would be alright, and then all of a sudden, it’s pissing down with rain. Because of the cast, you know, we had a lot of mob and stuff involved come down. We had to tell everyone don’t come, please don’t come. All the posts that were doing well in social media were the ones that are telling people that it was on. People are sharing that, and no one was sharing the ones saying like, hey, don’t come. Some still rocked up. But then what happened was that we postponed it for a few weeks, and we did it again. And we still had a massive turnout. It was great.

You came from the APY lands. How did you make your first break into music? What was the catalyst that got you into mainstream music?

Jontae: It was a challenge because we live in a small community, like maybe 100 or 150. We never thought hip hop could be a thing in our community because there’s a lot of reggae. Reggae is really big in different communities, also Alice Springs way, there’s heaps. So as a hip hop artist also going mainstream, it’s really special for us. We’re just going to keep pushing we’re going to keep supporting and helping and stuff and like also growing.

I understand that you’re doing music workshops with the local kids up there as well.

Matt: Not just in the APY lands, we do workshops all over SA. We did a workshop in Barcelona. That was amazing. We went over to Barcelona to play Primavera. We’re playing at a festival, one of, if not the biggest festival in Europe with 140,000 people, Kendrick Lamar, Blur all these live acts. The first day that we got there we went to the local youth hub, for Barcelona kids. Because it’s such a tourist town, like there’s not a lot for these kids to do anymore. We went there and did a workshop with them and ended up doing a live performance with them in the streets. It’s like one of those old squares in the middle of and then the balconies hanging out watching out you know, with their Messi flags and whatnot. Just to walk away from that and being able to give the kids tickets to come to the festival; they got to come and watch our performance. That’s what we’ll try to do wherever we go. It’s how we believe we in giving back and bringing up crew.

Elisha: that’s kind of been the main driver, what’s driven us, I reckon individually, but as a group as well, and we all agree on that. We give back as much as we can because that’s just who we are as people. To be able to give local artists exposure to help them develop and help them create the first set towards playing their first show, and then go on into the industry to become an individual act. And obviously, watching their career grow is something that that we cherish. It starts from little memories, performing with kids and doing presentations at schools. Giving them that first kick, you know, giving them the first torch, when they go out and about, they’ve always got this memory of what we did for them when they were younger?

Matt: I think it’s important for us as well. Now we’re getting so heavily involved in the industry, we really hold in our hearts that this is art. It’s not sport and shouldn’t be competitive. We shouldn’t have artists competing with each other for the same bill on a festival and labels pitting us against each other. We should all be working together to make the desire for live music bigger within the general public. If we can do that, we can say that this is really important. We actually have to share it and build it up. You have more punters coming in. There’s always more money, more food for everyone. You know, whereas the time you get competitive, and you hear people talk tall poppies and stuff and it’s not good for anyone.

Apart from Barcelona, you’ve had the WOMAD experience and cleaning up at the 2024 SA Music Awards. What are some of the other highlights of your career?

Jontae: My favorite was our birthday parties. We do our own performance to celebrate one of our birthdays. Like if it’s Elisha’s birthday, we’d book a bar or something and then you know, we do Happy Birthday, and then we perform there. That’s what I really love to be honest. I kind of love like, like just lifting ourselves up, having a lot of fun and bringing everybody over.

Elisha: the fact that you mentioned SA Award stuff. I wished for for a couple of years that we could bag an award within the next couple of years. and this was about two years ago. We were coming in last year, obviously not thinking that we’re gonna rack up anything and we came away with five. To actually clean-up was saying something. That put a lot more expectations on the group to be more committed and to be more consistent. Have been recognized at that level and to be recognized again; all that helped drive more passion in others and more love to share those moments.

Matt: I think, for myself, the highlights of the film we talked about are mine as well. But just to give more scope, what we’ve done from the day dot with this band is manifest what we want. I just believe that when you manifest something you don’t believe that there is any other option. So don’t give up your work and everything you do until that happens. So, every hurdle that comes along the way you go, well that’s part of the journey because I’m not stopping. And a lot of the stuff that’s happened to us have been things like 1% chance.

Like playing WOMAD, having WOMAD give us such good booking that we played straight after Florence and the Machine. So, then we’ve got you know, 10,000 people there instead of 200. And of those, the booker from Primavera in Barcelona and the vice president of the Lincoln Center watch that one hour. It was the first time we’ve ever done a one-hour show. Some of the songs we were finishing the night before. He just grabbed us and gone cool; we’re taking you to New York. We’re taking you to Barcelona.

But even just as recently as this past Sunday, we played down at Mount Gambier with Regurgitator who were a huge influence on me growing up. And for me, over halfway through the set to see Regurgitator watching us play. I’ve supported a lot of big bands and half the time they never watch. As soon as we got off the stage, they’re like, can you guys get back up with us. So, we got up on stage with them at the end of their set that night. Those things, the people that we meet along the way and the people that generally see what we’re about, that’s what I think is the best thing about all of it.

So, have you got any particular artists that you admire, like particularly Aboriginal artists, that have been an influence on you?

Jontae: For me Bakerboy, because back in school, (Elisha was a senior at the time, like maybe year 10), we saw Bakerboy perform at WOMAD for the first time. This was in 2017 and I was like, 14 at that time, and I was like blown away.

Elisha: I like dipping my feet into all sorts of stuff. Whatever vibe I like, that artist I listen to. I listen to a lot of shit. The desert reggae scene, I grew up playing with like, you know, older people that I looked up to so that was kind of like the main my element then growing up. I wanted to be like them, to be able to play in bands like all the family at home and stuff. So obviously, I’ve gotten to that point real quick.

Matt: I think yeah, the formative years, because it was such a remote and isolated place. It’s like the heroes are the guys down the road in the 150 people communities. As we started touring around and stuff and getting to meet people, you know, we got to play with Barker. She’s lovely. Love to do more stuff with her. JK – 47, we’ve been crossing paths with him about three times and he’s great. AB Original, any of the contemporary artists that are really doing it a couple of steps up from us.

To the young kids out there thinking they’d like to do what you guys do, what advice would you give them?

Jontae: Just keep pushing when times get tough. Just don’t give up, find ways around it, you know? Keep manifesting and yeah, you will soon be up there. It’s relief that you went so far but never gave up, you know? Yeah, just keep pushing.

Elisha: We’ve written a song about it, probably gonna be one of the next singles. There’s a line in there like only me can save me. You can have excuses. You can blame other family, or you can be frustrated with everything around you. But your life is yours to drive. And if you don’t have the motivation, or the courage to be able to take that driving wheel and steer towards where you want to head, well you’re just your own problem. So, at the end of the day, you know, you got to take control of your life.

Every choice, every step you make, every move you make, that’s all on you. At the end of the day you have full control, 100% control of what you do. You just gotta get you just got to keep going and you got to keep going where you want to go.

Matt: Pride is the Devil. If you fuck up, you’ve got to own it. For young kids it’s important to either stop yourself getting to that place and push out the haters. If you’re doing something good, then people are talking about you, that’s because you’re killing it. If you make music, you’ve just gotta remember why you do it.

Catch DEM MOB as the support act for the national Seth Sentry tour