rapping with randa, new zealand’s hip hop explorer
Mainard Larkin creates colourful 90s pop culture-obsessed electronic hip hop.
Photography Cameron Robinson
Like many New Zealanders raised on a diet of imported American pop culture, Mainard Larkin is obsessed with artificially sweetened snacks and sitcoms. But unlike most, he's channelled this fandom into fun-filled electronic hip hop.
Even from his name you can tell Randa has a way with words. Named Miranda at birth, he came out as a trans male in 2013 and changed his name to the anagram Mainard, while also creating his artistic identity Larz Randa, who releases music as Randa. This naming system may be confusing, but it reflects the multilayered personality behind the music.
Having rapped for friends on the school bus, Mainard moved to Sydney in 2011, spending the better part of the year writing in his room atop a laundromat while working a dead-end job. He then returned to Auckland to take a production course and pursue music. His pop culture-laden raps and colourful style garnered interest, and soon he was opening for Grimes and Crystal Castles and playing at Big Day Out. He also won a nomination for Best Music Video at the New Zealand Music Awards for the 90s sitcom-style clip for Frankenstein, and took out last year's NZ On Air Critic's Choice Prize.
With three EPs in the bag - the latest, Rangers, released in October 2014 - Randa is establishing himself as one of New Zealand's brightest rapper/producers. And by doing so while also establishing his personal identity, he's proved to be an inspiration.
You've said it was a few months after you started making music, when you were 19, that you realised you had to "make steps in order to live a comfortable life." Did making music help you come to terms with your gender identity?
It was good having an outlet to be expressive at the time. I think writing lyrics in the form of stories really helped me to understand the gender I identify with but wasn't assigned at birth. Always writing from a male character's point of view seemed to make sense while exploring my transgender self.
The overwhelming impression I get from your music is that you have a really positive attitude. Are your lyrics based on your life?
Part of it's stream-of-conscious, and part of it's based on the aesthetic that words create. I want to create imagery in people's brains. But as I write more I find it easier to draw on real life experience. Maybe just having more experiences helps, that probably makes it a lot easier.
The line from Rangers, "Some people say I'm cool/ others call me faggot," really struck me. And at that point in the video you were holding a bundle of sticks. What's that about?
It's just like, all the people that come up to me at shows are swell, and then on YouTube there's all these people calling me fag. So it's addressing that, but then being like 'I don't care,' because the definition of faggot is actually a bundle of sticks.
It must be hard to deal with people saying that.
This sounds kind of bad, but not really. I feel like it's more of an attack on the community.
It's cool that you let it roll off you, because people can be awful. Especially online.
The internet is amazing and toxic, but it's an interesting ground to be a part of.
Do you find you get inspired by it?
Totally. I spend so much time... But now I have a girlfriend and it's cool, it's the first relationship I've had. I'm kind of late-blooming in that sense. But we've been doing things! We went on a bike ride yesterday, and it's cool 'cause before if I wasn't at work I'd just be on the Internet. I love the Internet, but if I don't have someone to pull me away from it then I'm super consumed.
Now you're really doing things! How far do you want to take your music?
I guess as far as I can. I used to set goals in six-month blocks, and I've got a bunch of goals for this year. But quite recently I've been focused on just growing up, without being too conscious of that. For the first time in my life I feel like I'm not a kid; I'm a young adult.
What are your goals for 2015?
One of them is to release this zine I've been working on called Goober. I also want to release three music videos. And I want to make a fanny pack, a turtleneck and a one-size T-shirt, as a set. I'm really into people who embroider and who do appliqué… The goal is to get inspired, jack their swag, then try to do something. And hopefully maybe do a collab with my friend Dirk Peterson.
Would you want to sign with a label?
I'm open to it. I've been in a couple of situations where someone has expressed interest, but it seemed shady. Now I look back and I'm glad I didn't get caught up in it.
Sometimes labels actually hold artists back, like Sky Ferreira.
And like Katy Perry! That happened to her for a couple of years. I was thinking maybe she just made enough money to move to Hawaii and she didn't wanna be an artist, she just wanted to like, eat pineapple.
You have such a great imagination, especially with lyrics like "A Tux Wonder Dog about to make it rain chocolate chips"!
Kesha's mum helps write her songs.
Really! Are you close with your mum?
Yeah I'm super close, but I don't think she would write my songs. I'm like, 'Mum, you should make some beats. You need to write my songs.'
Are you serious?
Yeah, I'm a bit of a heckler.
Download Randa's latest EP, Rangers.