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Interview: Dominic Hoey on hip-hop, poetry, gentrification and dealing with chronic illness

Article – Joseph Cederwall

Dominic Hoey is a poet, author, musician, actor and chronic illness sufferer. He has previously performed under the stage name Tourettes as a hip-hop artist releasing a number of acclaimed solo works. After a sold out debut season in 2017, Dominic …

Dominic Hoey is a poet, author, musician, actor and chronic illness sufferer. He has previously performed under the stage name Tourettes as a hip-hop artist releasing a number of acclaimed solo works. After a sold out debut season in 2017, Dominic will bring his original autobiographical theatre piece ‘Your Heart Looks Like A Vagina’ back for a return season at The Basement Theatre in Auckland and to Wellington’s BATS Theatre in April.

Scoop co-editor Joseph Cederwall talked to Dominic in Wellington where he was appearing at the Readers and Writers week.

Firstly, tell us a bit about the play?
It’s basically about getting sick with an autoimmune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis or AS, losing everything in my life and getting it back again. But its kind of funny at the same time, because even while the situation was going on, and it was quite scary and heart breaking, it was funny. It was just so ridiculous; having the doctor say I was fine when I couldn’t even walk, or the case officer at WINZ saying I should just get a job using a cash register. So even while it was going on I was thinking this is good material and taking notes, so when it came time to write the play I had a lot of inspiration.

Sounds very Kafkaesque
Yeah for real, any time you are dealing with the bureaucracy of the welfare system it is really Kafkaesque.

How did you first get into Hip Hop
Family were definitely super political – they weren’t really encouraging but they weren’t discouraging so saying I was going to be a rapper was met with the same response as if I had of said I was going to be a doctor.

When I was about 15 Friend whose dad was a lawyer for the Black Power and used to go to the UK for work and bring back cassettes of Hip Hop – and we would just listen and rap along to them. Then, when I was about 15 we started a rap group at high school called ‘Homesqueeze’– I’ve always felt like that when it is good, hip hop can be the ultimate form of expression because it’s so free you can do anything with in it – like you can be poetic, you can be literal, songs can be a minute or 12 mins. Also when I was growing up in the 80s rappers were like superheroes – I remember seeing a video od Run DMC and thinking it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

It was short-lived – we did one gig and had a practice at somebody’s house party in Ponsonby and it got home invaded by some gang prospects so that put a damper on things for a little while but I was still rapping and free styling the whole time. Then I was part of another group called 5th floor and did a bunch of shows down in Wellington.

What are your thoughts on current hip-hop/rap and the dynamic between ‘conscious’ and ‘gangster’ styles
I don’t really listen to much hip-hop anymore. I kind of just woke up one day and I was just sick of it. I guess from being involved in it and listening to it for so long – like 25 years. I mean I sort of still do, there are some rappers who I will still listen to when they put new stuff out and some good new artists that I like but I think generally its just bullshit and ego ad I eel when you get to a certain age it’s kind of hard to get into that bravado – it’s kind of like a young persons’ thing.

But I do think in NZ now we’ve got some great young artists – Jess B, Eno and Dirty, Mellow Downs, even SWIDT – are all doing great stuff. It’s actually pretty exciting, I think it’s definitely the healthiest the scene has ever been, and the nature of it today with social media etc means they are self sufficient in a way that we weren’t able to be.

I saw you were working with Nga Rangatahi Toa as a youth mentor, that is an awesome organisation, are you still involved?
I’m not working Rangatahi at the moment, but I am working with another programme called Atawhai run by the Kindness Institute and doing some freelancing, like for a programme down in Kaponga in Taranaki that a friend runs.

It must be fulfilling work?
Oh yeah for sure, I’d really love to do more of it but it’s just kind of hard as there is very little funding for these programmes.

Hopefully that improves with Jacinda at the helm.
Yeah well hopefully all this talk about child poverty is going to lead to some improvements in that space.

How did you get into ‘real’ poetry?
I always kind of did both, but I remember showing some poetry i wrote to mates at high school and they were just like ‘what the fuck are you doing that for’ – it just seemed kind of weird. But then around that same time I met of my hip-hop crew happened to have a sister who was a poet and another friends’ Mum was quite a famous poet. So that was how I was introduced to actual proper poetry symbolism metaphors etc. My friend, even though he as younger than me was using imagery and metaphor in his rhymes, so that was how I learned about all that stuff rather than just literally writing what I was thinking.

So you were always writing?
Yeah I was always compulsively writing but there was no direction to it because my schools were always so shit i wasn’t really encouraged at all.

How were you exposed to slam poetry as a vehicle for your art?
That happened completely by accident. I went past this cafe one day in 2000 and it had this sign outside saying poetry competition tonight, so I went back home and finished off this poem I had been writing and went back. And I won it so I was like oh shit this is a thing. Because I’d never even heard of Slam before that, but it was also around the time that Def Jam Poetry began blowing up and they came to NZ too, so that I guess opened my eyes to what it could be and that there were actually other people doing poetry, so I started incorporating it into my hip-hop sets after that.

You also recently released your highly acclaimed debut novel Iceland, how would you describe it?
It’s a novel about class, poverty, drugs and a love story of two artists seemingly trapped in the oppressive gentrification of Central Auckland.

Sounds close to home, how autobiographical or informed by real situations is it and how much fiction?
It’s 95% fiction. There are a couple of real stories in there. That said, it is quite close to how I was living in my 20’s.

How do you feel about the effects of gentrification on Auckland?

It used to really bother me but I don’t really care anymore, I think I’ve just checked out because it’s so irreparably fucked and broken now. But I guess I’m pretty old now, so I guess for young people there is stuff going on I don’t know about but I’m sick of everything being set up for rich people that’s what is nice about coming down here, there are still places where people can be weird and poor and different where everything up there is just set up for these conformist cowards who get upset about everything and call the cops all the time.

When did you become aware of your health issues?
I was about 35 so it was about 5 years ago. I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what it was. I was living in Melbourne at the time and it just deteriorated really quickly and I had to move back. I got misdiagnosed a bunch and then a friend just said ‘you should go to a rich person’s doctor’ because I was just going to a cheap doctor. So I did that, it cost me $70 and they figured out what it was.

Was it a shock?
It was kind of a relief to have a diagnosis to be honest, because I had been in so much pain and people kept saying it’s cancer so it was kind of a weight off my mind. And I was quite lucky that I reacted well to the drugs right away and got my life back quite quickly. Like I have one friend who has it and can’t even do anything, and nothing really works for him, so I was quite fortunate in that sense.

What has helped most with the psychological aspect?

Just keeping busy, doing things I always wanted to do but maybe wasn’t, including the play – it was something Id always wanted to do, and I always wanted to teach creative writing and I’ve started doing that. I guess it was kind of a bit of a kick up the ass in a way. Also charging properly for my time, which I didn’t really do before. All of sudden it was like a pain in the ass to do stuff now, so I had to figure how much I should charge to make it worth leaving the house.

Have you done much Meditation and yoga since the diagnosis?
Yeah my partner is a meditation and yoga teacher, and the programme I mentioned before Atawhai, a big component of that is teaching meditation and yoga. So I try and meditate every day and do yoga a couple of times a week, which definitely helps.

So it sounds like this health crisis has Shaped your life and put you on a different path, has it made your mission more clear?
Yeah for sure, and I also think it has simplified things, because i only have so much energy in a day so I’m not going to waste time doing other stuff. And also I’ve just though whatever happens, good or bad there are all these other options to follow. But I have been very lucky that a lot of very positive stuff has happened since, whereas if it had gone the other way it may have been a bit harder to deal with.

What was the motivation for play?
Raising awareness around AI disease, around the condition, but also just a new avenue to get my work out there and perform, because i love creating and performing.

What do you hope it achieves?
I know when I got diagnosed it was quite lonely, I’d never heard if this disease, I didn’t know anyone else who had it and so it was really awesome that when I first did it in Auckland all these people who were obviously sick were coming to it and coming up to me afterwards and talking to me about their condition and what they were going through. I think ultimately I’d like to start some kind of organisation to bring people together like that. Because disease like we have, so called ‘invisible diseases’ are so common but they are not very well recognised. And I think there is a lot of stigma around it, you know a lot of people feel guilty because they look healthy.

I guess life always informs art right?
Yeah I unfortunately can’t seem to write about other stuff. But I think it’s the job of creative people to take these things and make the everyday poignant, beautiful and funny.

Medical system – what is lacking?
Support is the main thing – you see specialist once a year for maybe 10 minutes. Also, I think they need to be more open to holistic and alternative healthcare options. And just the support, there is a complete lack of it currently. I mean it’s not their fault either, its completely underfunded. And I guess labour has the chance now to step up and address it. When I got sick I thought there must be some form of support, counselling or support or something, but it was like “nah here’s a pamphlet see ya later.”

Even with the welfare system, they make you go and get a doctors cert over and over again, and there is no understanding of the fact that people with chronic illnesses it’s pretty full on and traumatic and they should be supporting people in those situations more.

Medical Cannabis why are we stuck in a heartless system despite progress overseas and all the evidence of its benefits?
Its fucked – I was so excited when we got a change in Government and I heard we were going to have a referendum but then it was a big let down that it won’t be until 2020 and there seems to be no progress on medical cannabis. It’s hard to believe it’s not because of big pharmaceutical companies paying off the politicians. I mean I’m sure some of the National politicians are genuinely anti, but I reckon a lot of it would come down to kick backs, and outside lobby groups etc.

So what is next for you after this play?
I have a poetry book that’s almost finished and I’m going to start on a new novel in June.

‘Your Heart Looks Like a Vagina’ by Dominic ‘Tourettes’ Hoey.

April 17-21st 2018 – 6:30pm
The Heyday Dome at BATS Theatre, Wellington
Tickets available via
April 10-14th 2018 – 8:00pm
The Basement Theatre
Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
Tickets available via
Here is a Loading Docs Video of Dominic speaking about the making of the play:

#Losing from Loading Docs on“>Vimeo.

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