THE HARDEST HIT
Since a tragic incident during the filming of a music video, hip-hop trio Bliss n Eso has changed its outlook on life and music, writes Andrew McMillen
OBliss n Eso’s Max MacKinnon, Jonathan Notley and Tarik Ejjamai; facing page, Johann Ofner, who died during the filming of their music video n Monday, January 22, a 28-yearold man named Johann Ofner left his home on the Gold Coast to go to work in Brisbane. Muscled, tattooed and quick to laugh, Ofner was thrilled by the role he had landed as a stuntman in a music video for an upcoming single by Sydney-based hip-hop trio Bliss n Eso. He called his friend and business partner as soon as he was picked for the part, and learned that his hulking presence was required for a scene involving a poker game that is disrupted by armed robbers.
Ofner’s life was large and full, with key scenes, achievements and affirmations posted to his Instagram profile, where he had 19,000 followers. Many people knew him as Yogi, a nickname that had stuck with him since high school. An actor, athlete, stuntman and coowner of a fitness training and lifestyle clothing business named AMPM, Ofner had recently recorded an appearance on the Nine Network television program Australian Ninja Warrior. It had not yet been broadcast, but he quietly hoped it might serve as the key to unlocking another level of his flourishing career in front of the camera. Ofner’s seven-year-old daughter, Kyarna, was an extrovert keen to follow in his athletic footsteps, as her own Instagram profile — set up by her dad — showed.
The music video appearance was for a song titled Friend Like You, the second single from Bliss n Eso’s sixth album Off the Grid, which this week went to No 1 on the ARIA charts. Built on a message about being able to rely on the support of your loved ones during tough times, and a powerful vocal hook by American soul singer Lee Fields — “Is there anybody out there feeling like I do?” — its optimistic motif was in harmony with the trio’s overarching lyrical themes. Such positivity has long since struck a chord with Australian audiences: Bliss n Eso’s previous two albums both debuted atop the ARIA album charts in 2010 and 2013, and both achieved platinum certification of more than 70,000 sales. The group’s last major national tour was seen by more than 55,000 fans across the country.
After a week-long production, the video’s final scenes were being filmed downstairs in a Brisbane city bar called Brooklyn Standard. From the closed set, Ofner posted media on his Instagram of the weapons that were being used in the poker robbery scene. “Our Asian gangster props today!” he wrote alongside a video of the firearms in their packing case.
During the afternoon, however, troubling reports emerged. Later, detective inspector Tom Armitt addressed media gathered near the bar and announced that a man had died as a result of wounds to his chest. Soon his identity would be confirmed as a 28-year-old stuntman who lived on the Gold Coast. Johann Ofner would not be coming home from work. It was late Monday afternoon when the rumours began reaching the members of Bliss n Eso. Since it formed almost two decades ago, the trio has comprised high-school friends MC Eso (Max MacKinnon), MC Bliss (Jonathan Notley), and DJ Izm (Tarik Ejjamai). The night before, the three men — each in his mid-30s — had made cameo appearances in the Friend Like You video before returning to their homes in Sydney, intending to reconvene at a Melbourne recording studio later in the week to continue work on their forthcoming album.
Notley was asleep when the phone calls began, and a neighbour nearly broke down his front door while attempting to reach him and confirm he wasn’t injured. “Time stopped still,” recalls MacKinnon. “It was just a shock. I called Izm, and he didn’t really believe me.” After speaking with his bandmate, Ejjamai turned on the TV to discover the shooting was the top news story. Then came a huge number of phone calls and text messages “from every single person in our lives going, ‘ Are you OK? What’s happened? Are you guys all right?’ ” he says. “People thought that we were shot; they didn’t know what was going on.”
Neither did the group, really. After confirming the death with people who were on the set, Bliss n Eso’s manager of 10 years, Adam Jankie, contacted each member by text message and instructed them not to speak to anyone else and to stay off their social media accounts, as he didn’t want them to contribute to the tornado of misinformation that continued to grow in size and velocity over the next 24 hours. The main question that kept coming up was inevitable, however: What were you guys doing with guns?
The original idea for the Friend Like You music video was to depict a series of interconnected storylines that centred on the travels of a $50 note as it touched the lives of several peo-