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

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

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-

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