What a total pleasure it is to be able to spin words together about an extraordinary evening where New Zealand’s most iconic contemporary band broke down their walls and became utterly vulnerable in an 82-minute visual work. And what a spectacular time it was to view this documentary during the month of Movember – a season to recognise and discuss men’s mental health.
On Monday night SIX60, their friends, family, fans, special guests and makers of the documentary gathered together in Auckland’s Civic Theatre to cast their eyes over the long-awaited premiere SIX60: Till The Lights Go Out.
In a way only a ritual Māori pōwhiri can usher an immediate silence of a crowd, we all came to a total hush as neglected ice-creams dripped and popcorn scoffing was briefly paused. The karanga was stunning and emotional; I hadn’t seen one in years. This set the tone of the entire night.
Director Julia Parnell was welcomed onto the stage and let us in on the wonderful yet grueling process it was to pull this movie together in the right way. “At some point you have to hand it over to the people and let it become theirs” Parnell proclaimed.
“So, Civic audience, I hand it over to you all.”
The Six60 boys, all uniformly dressed in sharp black suits, came up and took center stage as the Te Reo Māori version of ‘Don’t Forget Your Roots’ filled the theatre. Within the first 3 seconds you knew which song was about to escape from Matiu Walters and in an orchestrated bang about 30 Māori performers joined in with their voices, dance and poi.
The civic erupted in applause as the poi circulated the air. A sense of belonging, community and pride for New Zealand culture poured through the theatre as the opening credits began.
The film itself was phenomenal, an incredible work of art that delved into each of the boys’ individual stories, at times getting so intensely personal that I’d look over to the front rows where the band was sitting to see if they were genuinely okay with what was up on screen. Director Julia Parnell boldly delved into SIX60’s family life which showcased a very different upbringing for all the boys, making their involvement with each other even more special. She explored parts of their personal life which revealed some real mental health struggles and the reality of having to give up other career visions. She then explored the side of the band’s history that would be unknown to many – revealing binge drinking problems, arguments, a near break-up and the terrible tragedy of the 2016 performance in Dunedin where a full balcony collapsed, leaving student Bailley Unahi paralysed from the waist down. To say the least, it got emotional.
Sprinkled throughout the film were flashback highlights of their sold-out Western Springs Stadium show in 2019 – something that’s never been done before by a New Zealand artist or band. Seeing how the boys had used social media to grow such a huge following was pretty unbelievable and a common talking-point amongst the networking in the Civic after the film. In the Western Springs packed out crowd were people from all ages, colours, and walks of life. These scenes depicted that SIX60 truly doesn’t have a niche demographic; they produce their anthems for everyone.
We also got to see where the SIX60 journey all began. Most of the boys played rugby together at Otago University and would jam after games back at their flat on 660 Castle Street. Before long, a hype started to build around the band and all their extended friends would completely pack out the flat to see the guys play. An excessive amount of binge drinking went on and it got to the point, as they began to play venue-shows, where lead singer Matiu Walters admitted “the booze was out of control…it was the only way we knew how to perform.” Only once the boys accepted that taking their music seriously as a career would require full dedication and commitment did the excessive drinking stop, propelling them closer on their journey to stardom.
Intertwined throughout the work were crazy cool graphics, where a roving birds’ eye would set the scene of a city, and then the name of the region would be overlayed in these huge electric letters that looked like they were protruding out of the township. It was an epic way to showcase the far stretches of the country where SIX60’s roots began, as well as keeping the ‘Kiwi road trip’ aesthetic.
I came away from the film totally in awe of these musicians (and entrepreneurs, really). These five unique and talented souls have done something beyond wild, creating music that genuinely resonates with the masses.
The film is certainly an inspiring watch and I would highly recommend it to all. It brings you so much closer to the band as it dives deep into the stories behind their music. My partner is now an adoring SIX60 fan and hasn’t stopped playing their tunes since the night of the premiere. It’s been 4 days. 4 DAYS. Parnell and the wider production team, you’ve done your job!!
SIX60: Till The Lights Go Out is in cinemas now – you can get tickets here.