We arrived into Seddonville and the rain hadn’t cleared, and Rob from Murchison Heli Guide called it off as it was ‘flat out’ raining on his side of the hill. P. Digsss played some drums on the table while we listened to some music in the Inn. You can see his musical creativity flowing all the time. With the heli called off we decided to ride into the Mokihinui Forks Hut and stay overnight. If the weather cleared the heli would pick us up from there in the morning; if it didn’t then we’d ride out. We set off, and the gorgeous singletrack through lush ferns amazed our group. P. Digsss had his tunes playing through his speaker and the vibe was roots-rock-reggae. He was riding along while singing to these tracks, and his enthusiasm was infectious. We stopped on the side of the track to have a bite to eat whilst overlooking the stunning Mokihinui river. The reggae tunes continued to play as P. Digsss busted some rhymes while dancing along. Man, this guy has a ton of energy and style.
We finally arrived at the Mokihinui Forks Hut. We settled in and unpacked our gear (including beers and a bottle of wine). The sand flies were super intense, so we couldn’t sit outside and ventured inside instead. Hut talk; P. Digsss yarns about the association with playing live music and the endorphins you get after a concert. He says he gets the same feeling after riding his mountain bike and this is why he’s so attracted to it. After a beer he opens up about his early days growing up in the skate parks and beaches of Hawkes Bay. As a teen it was there he would grow and develop his enthusiasm for music. He used to love the ol’ school skate VCR tapes with all the different ranges of music. This was where he learned how to combine sport with music. He used to imagine he was in a skate video and select in his mind the best track to skate to. Nowadays he thinks about what would be the best track to mountain bike to. When he was a youth he was the lead singer for a heavy metal band, but it didn’t really go anywhere and he decided to soar to the South Island and give Queenstown a nudge. Shredding the slopes on his snowboard during the day, he also discovered a thriving nightlife scene. He would start hanging with DJ Downtown Brown from Sunshine Sound System. He was doing a ton of gigs with Downtown Brown in the late ‘90s, then Downtown Brown said he was too good for small local acts and he should MC for a band called Shapeshifter. He auditioned and got the opportunity to go tour with them to see if he’d be the right fit. Knowing that this would be his one and only opportunity with them, he told himself he’d need to go above and beyond with every concert. He killed it on the tour and Shapeshifter asked him to join the band. The rest is history, as they say, and almost 20 years of it.
As the night goes on, we cook dinner, light the candles and pour more wine to lubricate the hut talk. P. Digsss yarns about staying independent and building the live shows to create the following. He says the music industry is quick to bring you in, make its money and just as quickly spit you out. Shapeshifter are now self-managed and do what they feel is right, regardless of whether its good or bad from a commercial sense. In the modern age of music streaming and algorithms, P. Digsss says we’ve lost the art of searching for music and artists being paid properly for their work. He’s stoked that all the Shapeshifter band members have managed to live off their art. We then listen to some exclusive, as yet unheard cuts on an upcoming album they are working on. I obliviously can’t talk it about it much, but it was really good and P. Digsss sang his part to us sitting in the hut, which was a real a privilege.
The next day we awake to the clouds lingering in the hills that surround Mokihinui Forks Hut, and while we wait for the helicopter, we cook up some brekkie. Over a cuppa coffee the hut talk starts again; I ask P. Digsss about the ‘System is a Vampire’ album (which he named) and you can see his mind go back to that time and place. He then unleashes all the back-end stories from their travels, gigs and time in the recording studio. It’s like being inside the Shapeshifter encyclopedia! The song ‘Twin Galaxies’, which is one of my favorites, is an emotional song for P. Digsss as it’s about his dad passing away and another band member’s relative passing away. This was the last track on the album and the recording had all the band members in tears afterwards. P. Digsss said writing and singing the song helped him release the pain he was going through. Music, like riding, has a way of expressing feelings that often can’t be talked about.
The Murchison Heli Tours Helicopter hovers around the Mokihinui Forks Hut and comes in for landing. The stoke between the crew goes off the Richter scale. I’m super excited too and hope I can contain some of the energy to ride my bike properly. We fly up to Heaven’s Door and get our first run in. This is rock star status! Clouds start to roll in and P. Digsss is so energetic about being out in the wilderness. His enthusiasm, adventurous vibe and riding style are impressive, and he carries himself with warm charm. We reach Old Ghost Lake, thick cloud now surrounds us, a quick bit of lunch and then we go down the track for another pick up. The heli drops us down to the ‘Boneyard’ and P. Digsss starts sending it on the switchbacks, you can see him getting into his groove. We get the last pick up from the heli and head back to the Rough & Tumble lodge. The heli lands and we’re all pumped from an amazing day’s riding and being taken in a heli around some of NZ’s best backcountry. P. Digsss’s bro shakes Rob from Murchinson Heli Tours hand and then pulls him in for a man hug. This guy has a ton of respect for people.
Most of the yarns with P. Digsss have a tough element to them; the lifestyle of a professional musician doesn’t come easy. Which is true for aspiring professional mountain bike riders too. P. Digsss stays it’s about being true to who you are and what you believe in. Shapeshifter have all worked hard to get this dream a reality and they continue to work hard to this day. Most things in life take time, energy and sacrifice, and P. Digsss relates it to riding: you get out what you put into it. His passion and connection with music is evident throughout the whole trip, from the music he was singing to beats on the bike and the constant need to groove. His energy for riding and life is unstoppable.
The front man of Shapeshifter has goals for more riding adventures. He looks forward to his time on the bike in between gigs and often takes it on the road with him. It’s the perfect antidote to all the hype and mayhem that surrounds his hectic lifestyle. I’m just stoked to have spent this time with him, learning about his life behind the music while spinning our pedals and helicopter blades through some of this country’s most spectacular scenery and riding.
Words & Images: Liam Friary & Ray Tiddy
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