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deadforest & Dera Meelan in Conversation

Acclaimed New Zealand MC deadforest has unleashed his debut album,

PLASTIC’ - his finest project yet, produced in its entirety by extraordinaire Dera Meelan.

"We are the most dialed in that we’ve ever been. We really know what we want now."

The pair effortlessly push the boundaries of hip-hop, clashing deadforest’s gritty rap flows with Dera’s gut-punching production. A blend of influences ranging from drill rap, to techno and DNB, ‘PLASTIC’ is a masterful combination of sounds, fitting as the pair have dubbed it “seven-in-one hip hop”.

On the album deadforest dissects his upbringing, reinforcing his pride for Manurewa, and touches on stories from his journey to finding his identity. All while gliding through the electrifying production from long time collaborator and homie, Dera Meelan. This album is his shining moment, reminding us that he is one of New Zealand’s most refreshing artists right now, truly providing a leader for the next generation of young artists to follow.

On the release day of deadforest’s debut album, ‘PLASTIC’, we sat down with deadforest and Dera Meelan to listen in on an insightful conversation between the collaborators. They touch on all sorts of topics, from the early days of making music, to the sporadic nature of their infamous 2019 smasher ‘Fire Sale’.

Do you guys have any memories of each other in high school?

DF: Yeah! heaps. Funny story, my sister and him were the same year and she comes up to me in the middle of school, almost crying. And I’m like ‘Oh g what’s wrong?’ and she’s like ‘It’s Dera, he keeps roasting me’, so yeah, that’s probably the first memory I have of this guy to be honest.

D: Yeah I couldn’t fight, I had to fight with my mouth, ya know? It was either that, or get jumped.

DF: Haha you did it man, you survived.

D: Yeah I made it out the trenches aye. But yeah, there’s earlier memories. Apparently I was a real crackhead… we lived 2 or 3 houses away from each other at Friedlanders Road in Rewa. We went to the same kindy and he said that one day we made muffins and I was walking out...

DF: It would have been like his orientation day at Kindy. So we would have just been vibing out.

D: And he said that I got my muffin, dipped it in a pond of water and ate it.

DF: So there’s like magnets in the little pond of water and the kids fish them up. It was the end of the day, he had been a menace all of the day, then the last thing he did was dunk his muffin in the water and eat it, then leave holding his mum’s hand.

D: I had to assert my dominance

DF: No one’s forgotten that aye

D: yeah that links back to the fighting thing you know. If you can’t beat em’, scare em’.

D: yeah high school was interesting aye, we were just far apart in age where talking to each other wasn’t outside of the question.

DF: Conversing was just normal

D: Yeah and similar friend groups, so it was like seeing each other around school. You were in a band back then.

DF: Yeah, yeah

D: what was it called?

DF: Hello Headache

D: Yeah, how long did that go for?

DF: So I changed schools in 2014, then things just got too hard to maintain.

D: What point was It where you were like ‘I want to make hip hop’ from the band shit? Or was that like a precursor?

DF: Ah, that’s a fucking good question. I don’t know, I always knew the band shit wouldn’t stick aye. Like, we could have been the best musicians in Rewa, we could have been the best musicians in NZ – like the best post hardcore band, but just at the time, no one’s listening to post hardcore. It just wasn’t really going anywhere, and I could see that. And I always knew that I could be good at rap, I just had to try it.

D: I remember it was 2016 and when you had just dropped Anthem. You had the video done in your living room, from DNP. I remember hearing that, and actually I didn’t like you. I was like this is too good, and I commented too, like fuck this guy he is really good.

Just mad at how good it was?

D: Yeah!

DF: Cause at that time, we lived literally around the corner

D: Yeah, and it came out of nowhere, cause before then you had a few releases, but that’s the one that kind of blew up in the community.

DF: Yeah that’s when I was like rapping my ass off…I don’t even know why I decided to do that. You’re right, how does it go from electronic and post hardcore…and now I’m rapping? That’s kind of funny.

D: I remember the hip hop side blowing up…was it early 2016. I was like oh yep I’ll start making hip hop beats and I started using GarageBand on my phone, but before that I was making EDM on my iPad. You know the WQ Bass?

DF: Oh yeah I do, holy shit!

D: They had an iOS version called Cubassis, so I’d make it on the iPad and it was pretty in-depth too. I don’t know if its still on there, but I remember I saved up money and it was 40 bucks and I gave it to my dad and said can I use your card please…he was like what the fuck did you purchase a $40 app for? But yeah, I was making shitty EDM remixes and stuff. I did a remix of ‘Bounce’ by Calvin Harris, which is hard cause it was the master. So how do you flip a song that’s already done?

DF: Yep hahaha

D: It was the groundwork. That shit was hard as fuck though. This always interests me, what was the first programme you used?

DF: Oh fuck, have you guys heard of Hammerhead?

D: Oh yeah, I think I have yeah

DF: Its’ basically just a sequencer with drum sounds on it. It’s funny cause when I moved to Fruity Loops they have the same sequencer, it’s like a 16 bar thing.

D: Like old school.

DF: Yeah, exactly. And I was thinking oh this is easy, as long as I can draw a basic beat.

D: Yeah I there were like two steps of me getting into music. The first was just like me getting a programme and doing nothing in it for 3 months.

DF: How did you even find out how to use the interface? Cause I feel that’s a really weird thing to grasp.

D: I was on my sister’s laptop and I was you tubing how to make beats, and everyone was talking about Ableton. Cause from their perspective, everyone’s like a grown person trying to get into music. So I downloaded Ableton Lite and I had no idea what the fuck... I think it took me 2 weeks to start fucking around with the audio, pitch and performance settings. But that’s all I could do and I was like ‘nah, I give up on this’. Then I remember I must have been 11 or 12 and my parents got me a 3DS for my birthday. There was this app on the Nintendo store called Rhytmic. It was like an 8 bit synthesiser, like a DAW. It was crazy, you had 8-bit sounds but then you also had piano, bass and drums and shit. So I started making beats on there. But yeah, fuck its always a trip trying to bounce around.

DF: Even learning to try and make a sound is crazy.

D: I like it like an artist figuring what canvas they want to paint on or some shit. Not everything works for everyone

DF: Yeah, true.

D: Some motherfuckers are like ‘use Ableton, it’s better than anything else’. That’s why I never switched, it’s like being a chef… you can still cook, but if you switch kitchens, you’ll burn food.

DF: You’re unfamiliar…

D: Also I was stabbing myself in the leg cause it meant I could only have apple products to be able to make music on Logic. So I was on my phone for 2 years, it was fuckin’ stupid… but it worked though! You know GarageBand on the iPhone is in depth now, back then I had to improvise.

DF: That’s all we had back then…

D: It was tough.

DF: What about you? We both didn't grow up on hip-hop necessarily, at what point did you decide to make hip-hop?

D: I think it was when I was 15 or 16… That’s when I discovered local artists. It made me think it was possible. All of the artists I looked up to were EDM and electronic artists from overseas… I think the first piece of hip-hop that I saw that was close to people our age was KVKA’s ‘WHO YOU’

DF: Oh yes! Man that was a pivotal moment in NZ

D: I was like damn, yeah I want to make hip-hop. I always wanted to make music, I just wasn't sure what music.

DF: Did you think you would stick to it at the time?

D: To be honest, no. There was no foundation behind it, but slowly I came to like it. It was way easier to make than electronic music. When did you start going up on SoundCloud?

DF: 2017, and that’s when I played at R&V. That was so fun, so crazy.

D: What a trip aye. Five years! When did we link up again? 2018?

DF: Yeah, 2018. We were at a birthday… It was Brandon Ling’s birthday!

D: Bro it was! It was at Roxy.

DF: Daaaamn…

D: I remember thinking I needed to address the elephant in the room, there was some sort of tension between us.

DF: I think it came with who we were friends with at the time.

D: I remember that first time you came over, you were smoking a blunt in my room, and we made a song and dropped it the next week. Things just started rolling after that.

DF: We just kept shitting out music fast as hell.

D: The work rate was interesting back then, we were all working. I had a full time job.

DF: I was always the one that recorded other people, and myself, and made the beats… Once I met you, and you were doing all of that and it was sounding really good, I just thought it was too easy.

D: I think that was the first time you were able to take a backseat and just focus on the rapping. It’s stressful as fuck dealing with all of that.

DF: I think the mixing part really drained me.

D: When you have to listen to it on repeat, you start to doubt the rap itself. There was such a crazy energy in the air in 2018, especially in the NZ underground scene…

DF: Yeah, feverishly hungry.

D: I’d say that’s the most comradery I’ve ever seen in NZ music, period. Would you agree?

DF: I do, but I know nobody else would agree. People older than us and even younger wouldn't have seen that.

DF: The SoundCloud community was very tight knit. Everyone was so supportive, there wasn’t any competition. Everyone was motivating each other. No ego attached.

D: We were just making it to make it. We had so many shows as well, three or four gigs a weekend? My first shows were with you. I didn't even know how to DJ, you just told me to go up there and vibe!

I definitely want to hear about the 75 EP

D: I remember at this time I had just started getting managed by our manager now, and Church & AP’s manager Manu - and he asked me what my first step was, and I said we had this project from the year before, we could just remix and master that. So I got all the original tracks, remixed them, mastered them again… and I thought five tracks wasn’t enough, so we should add a few more. We made one, pulled another song out and remixed it, and then I was going through my old beats and ‘Fire Sale’ came up… I kept pushing Lincoln to finish it, he was like “yeah yeah yeah”

DF: Was that before the house part was added?

D: Yeah, way before. I remember going on it and it still had a hook from when you were half asleep… I remember looping it and sending it to you, and I didn’t think anything of it on the day, but you came with FABLE...

DF: Oh I remember that… oh! And we made ‘Beware’ as well that same day.

D: yeah it was in the last ten minutes, and you were like “Oh I gotta chop” so I said just record this, and you did your entire verse then and there. I remember listening thinking, what the fuck? This is way too good for this! I did the first thing that came to my mind and put the house drums on it, didn't even think that much about it. I remember you went home, it was a Sunday and I had to get everything to Manu by 12 - so I mixed and mastered it, and sent it in. I remember when it dropped everyone was freaking out…

DF: Yeah I was like “This? This one out of all 7?”

D: It would have these random spikes of listeners, and then kind of snowballed since then. That entire thing was made in ten minutes, it’s crazy. I’ve noticed our best songs are made when we have to go soon… If we have half an hour left we are just like “oh just one more thing”

DF: It even happens in the studio! We’ll have the last 30 minutes left in the studio and so we start doing something…

D: We make gorilla noises and shit, and then in the last 30 minutes we make music.

DF: Can you think why we did that?

D: The gorilla noises?

DF: No! The Fire Sale beat flip, the house beat.

D: I had been playing around with house music, I’ve always loved it.

DF: We hadn’t done house music before.

D: Fire Sale was my first leap of faith… you know when you try something for the first time and you like it enough so you say fuck it, and put it out to see what people think. I guess in the moment it felt right. I had a few hundred followers, he had about 3000 followers… we had no Spotify or anything. That was our first ever release, we thought it wouldn't really matter anyway. It worked out really, really well.

It was actually the first song I listened to this year

DF: Oh really?

Yeah! We were at R&V, and Church & AP played their remix of it, and it was just stuck in my head all night, so the next morning it was the first thing I played.

DF: Starting the year right!

D: The first moment when I thought the track might go somewhere was when we performed it and everyone knew the lyrics… there would have only been one hundred and fifty people or so, but it amazed me. Whenever you have a song that blows up, I feel like you want to keep doing that thing… but we completely turned right and didn't look back from there. I feel like it wouldn't make Fire Sale so special. We didn't ‘Fast and Furious’ the song…

DF: Definitely. Like doing the remixes and shit was viable, cause we had let it breathe.

When did a discussion of this album come around?

DF: We always knew we wanted to make one this year, it was in the plans and we had talked about it.

D: We wanted to familiarise deadforest. We started working on it in July?

DF: Yeah that’s when we started talking more about it. We were optimistic about it because the Country was open.

D: We were lucky too because we had just finished recording the album, then went into lockdown that same week. So, at least I could mix and master it and finish everything off at home.

DF: If it had been a day later, the whole thing would have been pushed back.

D: It came out at the right time as well, I don't think anybody would be listening if it was released this time last year. There was a lot of planning.

DF: Would you agree that everything came together very naturally?

D: Definitely, it didn't feel forced.

DF: There weren't any times where we were sitting and pondering the track list, everything just fell into place. It was a domino effect.

D: We just chipped away at it and suddenly had ten songs.

DF: I think the only song that we really knuckled down on was for the first song, and even that was only a twenty minute conversation!

D: Yeah, the intro and outro to an album is very important. People have short attention spans, so we needed to make the first song draw people in. I’m also happy about how the last song came out too.

DF: It went through a couple of revisions.

That’s my favourite one on the album, for sure.

D: I’ve been trying to think about which one is my favourite, I’m not too sure… I feel like each one of them represents a different element to the album. What would you say your favourite one is?

DF: Probably the last song. I feel like we really hit the nail on the head with that one. It’s cool because the start of the album doesn't sound anything like the end of the album, and I think we did a good job at that. That wasn't even something we were trying to do, it just happened naturally.

D: It’s a fine balance trying to achieve that in ten songs, if you look at albums from the early 2010’s, a debut album couldn't be less than 15 songs… Now it’s different. I think it works out for the better now as well because you put more thought into each song. Have you ever had an artist you’ve loved for years, and you go back to their first album and you’re like woah, there are sooo many songs that just got swept under the rug. I went back to Joe Budden’s debut album and it was eighteen songs… and all of it was trash. That’s where you can shoot yourself in the leg. I think it works for people like Pinkpantheress and Tierra Whack, because they did it differently. I think ten is a good number. I think songs are getting shorter. Back in the day it was like a 3-in-one shampoo, you would have the radio edit the extended mix and the club mix… but now, you just get one… and it’s all met in the middle, all 3 of those.

DF: And it’s 100% clean… someone messaged me earlier today day saying “Thank you so much for letting me be able to play this at work”

D: Yeah, there isn't much profanity. I think there is a time and a place to be swearing in people’s ears…

DF: And it's my next album!

D: Going back to the hardcore metal grunge sound… That cracked me up by the way, seeing how many genres there were on my Spotify wrapped. I swear some of them are made up… bubblegum grunge pop? The fuck is that. I was reading the genres I listen to and I was like huh?

What would you call your genre?

D: That’s hard…

DF: Probably progressive hip-hop. When I talk to DNP about the culture, I think he refers to it as Alt-bunga…

D: I always get tied up on that question, when people ask me what I make I’m like oh fuck I don't actually know.

DF: I just hit them with its progressive.

D: There’s a lot of elements in there, it’s a stir fry of influence… I’d call it the $7 plate.

DF: I’d say it’s a seven-in-one when people ask me, it's seven-in-one hip-hop.

You guys have collaborated a lot in the past, but what was different about this album?

D: I think we were confident in what our sound was. I think it made a major difference. With this album we knew we had a sound so it was easier to stray from it, but still have it sound like one central idea.

DF: We had some sense of direction, and we knew what we were doing this time. I think also personally, I just had more focus. I had a conversation with our manager Manu, and he told me to focus more… and after that I thought of the album.

D: We are the most dialed in that we’ve ever been. We really know what we want now.

DF: We have grown with our music.

Have a listen to deadforest's debut album, 'PLASTIC' on Spotify below:

Words by Oli Spencer


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