This piece is an excerpt from Scarfie Flats of Dunedin by Sarah Gallagher with Ian Chapman.
The house at 660 Castle Street was built as a Presbyterian Manse in 1923, designed by architect E.W. Walden and built by Loan and Watson. By the time Ji Fraser lived there 80 years later, the house was in a pretty shoddy state of repair. When I asked him about how he found flatting in Dunedin he responded diplomatically, “Flats are not that nice to live in but have heaps of character.”
Ji hails from Gisborne but his Otago experience began at UniCol in 2005 along with the other members of the band. Ji and Matiu Walters took a couple of music papers – they’d both been turned down for the contemporary rock course. It doesn’t bother them now. In an interview with Shane Gilchrist, Matiu recalls their time at UniCol, “We’d hear each other jamming up hallways. We came together and jammed out a few New Zealand classics …We started playing covers from Katchafire, Kora, Trinity Roots etc and from then, for about two years after that, we just played at 21st parties, house parties and bars for a beer contribution.”
They’ve done very well, they signed with Universal Studios on 8 May 2010, and their single Rise Up 2.0 reached number 1 on the NZ charts on 24 th January 2011 after entering the charts on 6 Sept 2010. Nearly a decade on the band, Duncan Crieve (self confessed “lapsed Six60 hater and music critic”) stated the band have “achieved historically unprecedented success” by breaking music charts and filling Western Springs.
In 2006 Matiu and Ji moved into 660 Castle Street with friends from UniCol – Hoani Matenga, (who starred in Scarfie Days) and Eli Paewai who were both in the Otago Colts with Matiu. They had spent time jamming in their rooms in Hall and thought it’d be good to flat together and get a band going. Eli does not have fond memories of the state of the flat, “ It was ugly, draughty, run-down, all-brick with dirty carpets and wallpaper that made your eyes dilate, he remembers. You had to wear a jacket all the time. It stank.”
In an interview with Stuff, Hoani said, “We were all rugby boys and if it wasn’t for rugby there would be no Six60, so that’s quite cool … We started doing gigs around Dunedin and New Zealand and started getting a bit of a following.” They played house parties, sometimes for free, sometimes for Speights, and concentrated on getting better. Being 20 metres from The Gardies Tavern which was still open at the time, they’d often have the pub punters follow them home.
Hoani left the band after getting signed on with the Highlanders, in an interview with John McKenzie (TVNZ) he said, “I loved every minute with the band and music’s a big part of who I am – but you’ve only got rugby for a short period of time … I sort of owed it to myself and my old man, who passed away at the time, to see where I could go with it.”
They referred to the flat amongst themselves, and to others, as 660, and as the band formed and they started playing shows, they became known as the 660 boys. When it came to releasing their first EP, they decided to call themselves Six60, after that Castle Street flat – “it was a place that meant so much to us”.
Before their first NZ tour Ji contacted a friend who has a clothing label called Search. One of their designers came up with a range of ideas for a logo for the band, the brief was to include the name and reference the Castle Street flat. It was used on the Rise Up 2.0 release cover. The guys like the idea of strong visually memorable graphics to identify themselves.
So, why did this flat mean so much to them. “That’s where it all began,” Ji elaborated, “it’s where I wrote my first song, it’s where we had our first practice together. It was the beginning of everything.” Like so many other Otago alumni, Ji feels the experience flatting has a great impact on students because for many it’s their first time living independently. “They’re really special for a lot of people. So many good times, a lot of bad times too. They’re a rich source of memories.”
These sentiments are evident in the music video for Don’t forget your Roots (directed by Robin Walters, July 2011) cruising through the streets of the Dunedin North landscape, and highlighting a number of named flats of the day. As Eli said, “We are still pretty conscious that house is where we come from – Roots has been around for years and it’s about that, about not forgetting who you are.”
Hope you enjoyed this preview. Borrow a copy from your nearest library, treat yourself and buy a copy from your local bookshop or gift it to somebody special.