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The Grow Room: A K Rd spot where art is thriving

The Wireless logo The Wireless 21/02/2017

This Auckland collective takes creative buds to full bloom.

© Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited "We just wanted a spot that was separate from making music in our garage, having neighbours complaining and stuff," says Ryan Shelford Hendriks, co-founder of The Grow Room.

Photo: Stjohn Milgrew/The Wireless

From the street, there’s little to indicate that beyond the plain exterior of Samoa House, on Karangahape Rd, there’s a crew shaping the next generation of art in one of Auckland’s most creative communities.

When I visit, a couch just inside the entrance is draped with young men in school uniform, part of The Grow Room’s growing roster of talent. They’re just here to hang out, dutifully keeping quiet through as I interview others in the crew, even as the room grows stiflingly hot, the air-con having been switched off so my recording is free of hum.

Ryan Shelford Hendriks co-founded The Grow Room with Ethan King a few years ago, initially leasing a space a couple blocks further down towards Queen St, in St Kevin’s Arcade.  

“We just wanted a spot that was separate from making music in our garage, having neighbours complaining and stuff. It was just creating a spot that, marae-style, we’d all sleep in, and make music,” Ryan says.

The spot they started brought in other musicians, friends and like-minded collaborators. When the rent went up everyone came together to help out. The collective started to form.

“A strong feeling I had was the separation from suburbia, or being isolated in a part of the city where you could feel free to do creative things,” says the collective’s social media manager, Larsen Winata Tito-Taylor.

Larsen makes music as Whyfi. His recorded output so far is a collection of sluggish, dusty beats, reminiscent of some of the Los Angeles beat scene, but with a distinctly Aotearoa flavour. This style defined The Grow Room early on, as they made their recordings available online through the likes of Bandcamp, but it’s not a sound they want to be pigeonholed by.  

“We kind of embody a hip-hop ethos,” Tito Taylor says, “but I’ve always felt there’s this underlying punk, DIY thing to it as well. There’s a whole side to what we’re doing that is unseen, that delves into that kind of alternative, punk catharsis.”

The Grow Room’s name might be a cheeky reference to certain psychoactive flora, but it’s other meaning explains what’s at the collective’s heart. Ryan says: “It’s a self-affirmation: no matter what situation arises, the answer is to grow through it.”

And everyone learns from one another and the bar keeps rising higher.

“I only started making beats this year. I got a machine and Larsen’s already done 10,000 hours on the machine. All the stuff that could’ve taken me a year to figure out producing by myself, he shows me the first time I’m making beats,” Ryan says.

Eli Scholer and Ryan Shelfold Hendriks. © Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited Eli Scholer and Ryan Shelfold Hendriks. Eli Scholer and Ryan Shelfold Hendriks.

Photo: Stjohn Milgrew/The Wireless

For Eli Scholer, who makes music as Affsid Kidjhagiffy, the space offered a welcome environment at a time when he needed it.

“I was going through various mental things and my social skills were really suffering. I was really searching for some kind of family beyond my family. It was really cool being with a bunch of like-minded creatives who only want to innovate ... We try to represent some emotions that you can’t really put into words.”

As well as musicians, The Grow Room has attracted other creatives who want to help and hang out. Ornthira Khamna is one such person. “What do I do here …” she contemplates. “I work on events sometimes … I work on design … and just chill. Vibes.”

Ornthira is the only woman in the room during my visit. It wasn’t much different when she first came by either. “It was just a bunch of dudes!” she says. But despite that, she felt very welcome. “I felt like I’d finally found family, or a home, or people I could relate to.”

The gender imbalance is clearly a topic that has been discussed before and something the crew feels strongly about. Ornthira says there has been talk about running workshops and wants them to try to reach out to women.

“I personally would like to see that aimed at women-only groups as well, because I feel like some women might be intimidated by being in a group of men,” she says and every man in the room nods intently.

Making music at The Grow Room © Provided by Radio New Zealand Limited Making music at The Grow Room Laying down beats.

Photo: Stjohn Milgrew/The Wireless

The mic finds its way back to Ryan, and he continues to enthuse about the virtues of community. “The ethos of having everyone in the same physical space, nowadays, I think people sleep on that whole idea,” he says.

Larsen elaborates, saying the digital age has created a tendency towards being anti-social, but has also led to more opportunities to create communities - and that plays into the social nature of music and creative spaces like The Grow Room.  

“I’ve spent the last two years with these people. You might come together and discuss an idea for music before you even know what that’s going to sound like. I think that’s really a strong thing that we’re around each other all the time,” he says.

The interview soon devolves into a freeform chat. The air-con gets switched back on and the students come over to join in. One 16-year-old shares his technique for perfect hi-hat programming with me. People jump on the turntables and drum machines that litter the desk space. Music starts being made.

LISTEN > Music 101 story on The Grow Room:


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