The personal and powerful forces behind Neil Morris’ DRMNGNOW hip hop project

The personal and powerful forces behind Neil Morris’ DRMNGNOW hip hop project

Words by Augustus Welby

In January 2018, Neil Morris launched the hip hop project DRMNGNOW with the song ‘Australia Does Not Exist’. Despite what some commenters on YouTube seem to think, it’s not a song endorsing flat earth theory. Rather, it highlights the illegitimacy of the country Australia, as founded by the British Empire.

“There was a reason why that was the first track,” Morris says. “For myself, ever since I started to go to university, straight out of high school and in my late teens, I very much questioned the things that were passed to us and the identity of Australianisms and Australia and a government structure that is not really serving anybody the greatest good.

“Look at the incredibly rapid rate we’re heading to catastrophic circumstances, obviously environmentally, and the social and political unrest that we’ve been moving more and more towards in recent years. From a very young age I was quite cognisant of how it was that these oppressive forces were affecting Indigenous people, first and foremost.”

Morris has followed up with four further singles over the last 18 months. More recently, ‘We See You’, looks at mental health issues within Indigenous communities, with particular reference to the devastating suicide figures that have emerged this year – between January and May, 62 First Nations people died by suicide.

Morris has a close personal connection to the issue, having experienced depression himself and witnessing mental illness take family members away from him. Understandably, he felt an urgent need to write a song on the subject.

“So many of our young people don’t make it and I was one of those young people who could’ve been another statistic,” he says. “I found it very traumatising to start the year off with so much publicity [about] this catastrophic spree of extremely young Indigenous people committing suicide. Those things don’t happen by chance. It’s not by chance that Indigenous suicides are getting worse when you correlate that with the fact we have a right-wing government that is causing all kinds of mayhem and difficulty for all of us, but certainly Indigenous peoples.

“If I’m going to create music, at least within this juncture in time, it really needs to make the most utilisation of a platform to speak very clearly and very strongly about one thing or another that advocates for my peoples.”

DRMNGNOW is playing at the Strawberry Fields festival in late November. Morris’ music is built on deep electronic beats that speak to the body, but it’s also very cerebral, emotive and spiritual. Suffice to say, it doesn’t obviously lend itself to the hedonist atmosphere of a music festival.

“Ultimately my music is about Indigenous culture, it’s about Indigenous spirituality in the now, it’s about resilience and it’s about evoking people in a way that those mentioned things can somehow become pertinent to people if they’re not before that experience. Or it can evoke them to go deeper within how they might connect to that and interact with that and want to understand that.”

However, while Morris identifies the potential for raising and spreading awareness, he has mixed feelings about the festival environment in general.

“There’s parts of me that are really troubled by the way that festival culture has emerged and not had Indigeneity as a central pillar to how we’re originally evolved in this country. What I see at the moment is we’re having to work back to front to get Indigeneity respected effectively within cultural environments. Unfortunately, it’s quite a recent thing that festivals are taking heed to that and really listening to Indigenous people.

“At this point, unfortunately, as Indigenous people within music we are thrust in this very awkward predicament of either not being present and not raising awareness or being present and raising awareness and knowing that there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Catch DRMNGNOW at Strawberry Fields, happening in Tocumwal from Friday November 29 until Sunday December 1. The festival is sold out but join the waitlist via the festival website.