To some they cause nothing but scorn, but those who take part in mermaid battles in South and West Auckland say it’s ‘brotherhood’ offering a group of mainly Pacific youngsters a positive alternative to nightclubs and gangs.
It’s a balmy Sunday afternoon and I’m waiting for my interview subjects in a quiet industrial lane in MÄngere, after hitting a few golf balls at a nearby driving range.
The silence is broken by a grumbling line of six or seven cars coming from the end of the road.
After pulling into an empty parking lot, about 10-15 young Pacific men jump out of their vehicles, greet each other warmly, before one of them invites me in for a chat.
Paul Lesoa, who is a soft-spoken born-and-raised SÄmoan with a touch of bright yellow hair, is one of the founders of the SWAT team, which stands for Switching Without A Trace, referring to the group’s ability when it comes to it’s about “switching” or playing their siren jams.
Siren jams or beats are a unique and relatively new style of music that you may have heard at 4 a.m. in your district, or via viral track of Jawsh 685 from Manurewa’Lax (siren beat)‘ on TikTok or in the background of by Jason Derulo hit song wild love. These are mostly remixes of high-pitched reggae music played over horn speakers or public address systems, which adherents call âsirens,â attached to cars or sometimes bicycles. These groups then clash at all hours of the night, garnering a fair amount of negative messaging. advertising as well as some confusion, given that Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” is one of the prime samples.
But Lesoa says this emerging subculture, which he says comprises around 20 Auckland clubs and up to 5,000 members and followers, judging by the number of attendees at an event, has been grossly misunderstood.
“I guess the biggest misunderstanding is where we get our sirens from. We buy them overseas or from some of Penrose’s suppliers. There is a minority who might steal products, but the vast majority done legally,â he said.
“Basically everyone has a hobby and although our hobby can be quite disturbing and we understand how disturbing it can be, we just want our own safe space away from people to do it.”
To some, a large group of guys gathering around cars late on a Saturday night can seem intimidating or threatening. But Lesoa says this activity is actually driven by a desire to stay out of trouble and express creativity.
“We just like music, we like to dance, and that’s better than going out to a club or drinking in a bar in town, where there are fights, etc.”
It also requires a high level of technical skill, given that setup means wiring and soldering multiple sirens and amplifiers onto frames that rest on and around cars, as well as the ability to sample and produce dance remixes that match at the ideal pitch and tone. for this type of instrument.
Mark Leleifi is another leader within the group. He says their team includes welders, mechanics and people working in manufacturing, and while he works in road construction, a career as an electrician may well be on the horizon.
“I see the guys who put up the power poles and a lot of what they do is similar to what we do with our sirens, so I could see myself working for Vector or North Power or jobs like that one day.”
He says a recent battle took two weeks of preparation, working long hours at night to hook up 40 sirens and 10 amplifiers to his car.
âEach siren costs between $80 and $100, so with the amplifiers and other equipment, it was probably worth around $7,000 for the whole stack.
âBut for us, it’s just our way of expressing ourselves and our love for music. Plus, for many of us, we’d rather hook up a car than hit the clubs or party. However, it’s a bit difficult at the moment because the police and the council are against us.
Lesoa explains that the reason Celine Dion is so popular is not because of her heartfelt lyrics, but because of the high-pitched content of her music.
âWe organize battles and compete for different titles and categories. The battle involves three rounds which are scored by judges and one of the main things judged is clarity – so any distortion or reverberation will put you on the losing end.
“CÃ©line Dion is popular because it’s such a clean song – so we try to use music that has high treble, is clear and doesn’t have a lot of bass. Reggae is our favorite because it has good rhythms and does not sound distorted.
Lesoa says they have been trying to contact Auckland Council to find out what they can do to get permits to hold events that won’t disturb residents, but so far “it’s been difficult to do in so that someone takes this seriously”.
“Everyone has their own hobby and other hobbies have their own space, so all we want is our own space, so we can go somewhere and not get fined, not get in trouble and then go home.”
Having just left a practice, which has been set up away from homes and businesses â wisely, given my inaccuracy and that of many of my fellow hackers â I can’t help but wonder if he’s right. . To further illustrate the point, after missing hundreds of balls around a huge paddock, many of us will then head to a huge piece of prime land subsidized by the council in the middle of town that can only be used by other golfers to live out our Tiger Woods inspired dreams.
Lesoa says being in a mermaid club is more than just a hobby, as it has the potential to create positive change among a demographic more known for issues such as gang violence and unemployment.
“You’d be surprised how talented and creative these guys are,” he says.
âIt’s not easy to connect all these mermaids together and there’s also a real camaraderie to learn from and help each other. It keeps guys off the streets, it keeps guys out of gangs, and it’s a brotherhood here. And for some, they’re now thinking, ‘oh, maybe I could make a job out of it’.
But judging by the response from Auckland council regarding the provision of accommodation for these groups, it seems there is still a long way to go before mermaid clubs receive golf-like support, or something. from as noisy as off-road motor racing, which has the use of an isolated area belonging to the municipality by the airport.
James Hassall, Auckland Council’s chief executive for licensing and regulatory compliance, provided a written statement saying clubs would need both permission from local councils and consent from resources as noise can exceed the limits set in the unit plan.
âThe council has received inquiries about holding ‘mermaid clubs’ but so far none have resulted in a request for an event to be held legitimately.
âThere have been many complaints in recent years from neighboring properties when loud gatherings take place informally on public streets or on vacant land.
“It’s important to note that the noise limits apply across the Auckland region, even in areas that might be considered remote.”
And according to a spokesperson for the MÄngere-ÅtÄhuhu local council, no official request has reached the council, “but they have received a number of complaints from the community about the problem of noise at odd hours”.
“The group is encouraged to contact the council through formal channels such as a public forum at our business meetings, but the council wants to understand how the group plans to mitigate noise issues.”