“Each new hour, holds new chances, for new beginnings…” (Horizons – LTJ Bukem)
I landed in Christchurch on the 3rd of February on a beautiful hot sunny summers day, and my second cousins were there to greet me.
I spent the next couple of weeks hanging out with them, swimming, sightseeing and getting to know Christchurch, all before I would begin my first term at NASDA – The National Academy Of Singing and Dramatic Art, a school in which only 12 people per year were accepted. The YMCA where I was staying seemed cool enough, full of lots of different characters. My room-mate Julie was very pretty, super friendly and also a Christian. While she was fun, and open and very kind, It seemed she was fighting a never ending battle with her good and bad ‘Angels’. We spent many nights going out discovering the nightlife of Christchurch, trying to find clubs where we could dance til the early hours, meet boys and drink. Julie sometimes would just throw her Christianity out the window for the night and get plastered, kiss a bunch of boys and be sick in the street on the way home.
It used to bemuse me the way God was so prevalent in her life yet she ignored him when she fancied. At the same time, she spoke about God with such a conviction that it was hard not to admire the strength of her faith and absolute certainty of his existence. Overall, she was a good friend to me, and despite our differences, we became each other’s best mate.
While living at the hostel I also met Donna who was a vegetarian, and inspired by her knowledge and arguments surrounding vegetarianism, I began to dabble in eating less meat, and finding out more about mass animal slaughter and production. I liked that Donna had her facts clear about why she chose to be a vegetarian, and being an animal lover myself and having grown up on a farm, I could understand her choice and again -admired her conviction.
Meanwhile NASDA was an interesting development in my life. For the first day there we had been informed in our acceptance letter that we had to be precisely on time. I arrived first and waited and watched as one by one the other 11 student filtered into the room. While I was polite and said hello, I chose not to indulge in too much conversation, preferring to check everyone out and see what they were about. I had rekindled my love of skateboarding while in my second year at university and on that first day I wore my baggy boy leg shorts and skateboarding t shirt. I guess I thought I was a bit of a bad arse compared to all these clean cut girls and guys who were entering the room, but I was soon to get to know them all in some form or another, and forge some great friendships.
We were welcomed by the second years and I immediately warmed to one girl – Emmanuelle, who looked and acted a little more alternative than the rest. I also liked the vibe of Mat who was in my year. He had a completely shaved head to the skin and these bright blue eyes. Again he looked a little different to everyone else in our year, and funnily enough, Mat, Emmanuelle and I all became very close buddies.
The first year at NASDA for students is all about breaking you down, clearing away any ego and building up that blank canvas with the skills needed for the stage, television and singing performances. Or, as Emmanuelle so eloquently put it -‘Emotionally raping you’. It sounds a bit over dramatic, but then we all were. There were often arguments with various tutors asking us to take off our jewellery, wear less makeup or dress more appropriately for class. But it was such a contradiction for young adults, trying to find out who they were and how we wished to be perceived, and often using the way we dressed and presented ourselves to do so. To take away the things that we felt ‘made’ us as people, often felt like we were losing ourselves. And it was a time for feeling lost, and being found. While a lot of students struggled financially (the school was expensive) and got sick in the winter, and felt pushed and strained by the demanding schedule the school gave us, we were also provided with excellent tutors and fantastic opportunities to expand our dramatic knowledge.
We learned classical singing mostly, but we also studied performance singing and muscial theatre, jazz dance, yoga, tai chi, ballet, and tap, we learned rapier and dagger skills, radio announcing, television and stage acting and how to write our own scripted performances.
We also got tickets to see some wonderful theatre, dance and even Opera. It was a time of real self discovery, all the costumes and theatrics, techniques and rules, and I definitely learned a lot in my first year in Christchurch.
But I at this time I also discovered something else that was to completely change my course of life.
When I had been in Wellington I had had a chance to indulge a bit in a few nights of rave music and staying out dancing til the early hours, but the raves I encountered in Christchurch, took it to another level.
The first night Julie and I found something even remotely alternative to the usual mainstream music clubs we had been attending (and which I hated) was by mere accident. We were heading into town one night, I think it was a Sunday (I was probably walking Julie to an evening’s church service), and as we passed under the Bridge of Remembrance memorial, to our left we heard music coming out of a club whose door was partially open.
Drawn by the pulsating beat and shouts we could hear filtering out into the street, Julie and I approached and curiously peered inside the door. Inside a DJ was spinning some deep House and people everywhere were dancing. On the tables, behind the bar and most definitely on the dance floor.
We stepped in over the threshold and I immediately asked the guy in front of me what was going on.
He told us it was actually a closing party for that particular bar which straight away made me feel slightly gutted. If parties were like this in this bar – so different to all the usual drunken bullshit of the rest of the bars on ‘The strip’ – then we had truly been missing out!
When I said this to the guy he told me we should check out a place that was opening called The Licker Lounge. He said there would be DJs spinning nearly every night of the week and was definitely the place to be.
As Julie and I left the bar and headed down the street, we resolved to hit The Licker Lounge and see for ourselves.
The weekend we finally got there was actually also the official club opening party so it was packed out with people overflowing into the street and music pumping through the bar. I loved the way that everyone looked different and made a real effort to be individual with their appearance. Everyone I talked to seemed to be creative in some way, and passionate about music and dancing, and unsurprisingly The Licker Lounge became a staple in my life for the next few years.
Another place that Julie and I became regulars at was Java, the local alternative coffee shop. It was here that I met a few of the girls who would go on to become great friends of mine. At first I stopped there for lunch with NASDA mates when we could be bothered walking that far from the college, but then Julie and I used to leave the YMCA to visit Java on week nights for a hot chocolate, Saturday mornings for breakfast, and evenings before we hit The Licker Lounge. Here we picked up flyers announcing upcoming dance parties and heard people talking about certain DJs who would be visiting town. It was my first real taste of culture that truly appealed to me – People of all backgrounds brought together with a love of dancing and positive vibes. The first couple of parties we attended were smaller gatherings in little underground spots which gave us the perfect introduction to what was to come.
Julie and I tuned into the local alternative radio station RDU to find out when the best shows were on playing the kind of music we enjoyed (‘The Breaks’ Spinning Drum n Bass, Breaks, and Jungle 7-9pm Monday nights) and as Christchurch had such a buzzing youth culture we quickly got to know who was who around town.
I met, and rapidly developed a crush for a tall shaven haired DJ/Producer who gave me some attention over a couple of months. Despite nothing ever really eventuating between us, (except him inspiring me to write a bunch of overly emotional poems and songs on the piano), one thing I did get from meeting him was an introduction to more raves where he DJ’d Breaks, and the notion of producing your own tunes. This guy had collaborated with his ex girlfriend on a bunch of Breaks tunes, and rather underwhelmed by her voice, it was the first trigger within me where I thought “I could easily do that.. I would love to sing over Electronic Music”
I then started going to the local record stores and checking out whatever CDs had been put out on the personal listening stations to see what was hot. Most of it was stuff I wasn’t really into but here I met a friendly bleach blonde DJ with a massive smile called Ben Kinesis (who played on RDU 7-9pm Thursday nights) and who often gave me info about forthcoming raves, It was also where I saw a flyer for a night coming up featuring a guy from the UK called Ed Rush. Back at the Y, Julie, Donna and her boyfriend and I, all decided we would go to this night, and I also invited Mat from NASDA along as through our growing friendship we had discovered a mutual love of electronic music.
We purchased a load of alcohol and spent an hour before the gig getting rather drunk. When we eventually arrived at the venue, I seem to recall I spent a lot of the gig sitting in the side-bar smoking and drinking, and when I did finally hit the dance floor, I’m ashamed to say I was so wasted I could barely dance, and hardly remember the music.
“Unimpressed” I can hear all the DnB heads saying, I missed what could have been an excellent first experience of Ed Rush, but I can tell you now, he wasn’t spinning pure DnB back then, it was when the music was still shifting and it was still more Breaks and Electro – which again I wasn’t massively into.
What I do remember most about the night is at the end, when Mat and I left and I was spinning out so badly I could barely walk. Mat had to carry me on his back all the way back to the Y like a sack of potatoes that threatened to hit the footpath at any moment.
The lesson learnt from this night however was one with regard to drinking and raving. It is OK to drink and it is OK to dance, but being drunk and trying to dance will never give you the full appreciation of a heavy sound system and a dope tune. Needless to say I have never really been a big drinker while out raving since then.
My first flyer that I picked up that mentioned the sacred word ‘Rave’ was called ‘The Six Million Dollar Rave’ and The headliner was Mechanism – a super talented and lovely guy who was making waves within the scene for his atmosphere infused Techno.
Also on the line up was local boy Obi-Wan vs Slipmat, the same guy – but playing two types of sets. I knew him for playing Happy Harcore, but his sound was obviously evolving. Pylon, who was spinning some of the first Drum n Bass to hit town in amongst the Breaks, and Solidstate who was playing Breaks back then too.
As with Ed Rush, The Six Million Dollar Rave was held in the biggest, and certainly at that time – the dopest club in Christchurch – The Ministry. It was an unconventional shape – more rectangular than anything, with a long bar along one wall, and decked out in lots of steel and wood. When I first started going there they used to open both the large main room and another smaller room off to the side. On the night I went to The Six Million Dollar Rave the other room had people like Grind playing, aka Richie, who worked at Java and so who I got to know quite well, who was playing Techno, and K8 one of the only female DJ’s around at this time who played blissed out beats to chill too.
Back in those days the raves were all genres, and we enjoyed going to check Trance and House, Breaks and Techno, sometimes there was even a bit of Hip Hop in the side room for good measure.
From this party, it suddenly seemed there were so many awesome raves not to be missed: Flux, Spellbound, Duplokit, Tremors, Karma, Metropolis… so many things happening throughout the year, not to mention the local live bands that played at places like The Jetset Lounge, or The Dux De Lux a wicked venue down near The Arts Centre, with outdoor seating and heaters in the summer months, and a delicious vegetarian restaurant and beer brewery inside. It felt like I was absorbing music left, right and centre, and I couldn’t get enough!
Around the beginning of August, tired of living at the Y, Julie, Donna and I all decided to move in together and found ourselves this weird, loft type flat in a bunch of old offices converted into apartments nicknamed HighPara, due to them being above the PARA swimming pool shop on High Street.
Donna and I had the two rooms that stood on tall beams overlooking the lounge, and Julie had the ground floor room with no windows. In fact none of us had real windows, our rooms were a sort of mezzanine type structure, and I hung a blanket over the only ‘window’ my room had so as to block out the light from the old art deco windows that looked out into an alley way, and to keep out the smell of cooking that wafted up from the tiny cupboard like kitchen.
We furnished it with retro furniture that Donna had obtained, and filled one entire wall with rave and album posters.
Somewhere along the way I met Jasmine, a beautiful pixie faced creature with a sweet temperament. I think we probably met at Java, as she dated Richie ‘Grind’. I never argued with her except when debating about life or religion, we never bored of each others company when we spent time together and if either of us needed the other – we would be there. In fact this has maintained throughout the last fifteen years and I am proud to say we are still friends. Her best mate was another pretty girl named Charlotte and I used to spend time with the two of them – often taking trips out to where they kept their horses and helping muck out. I loved horses but as my sister had one when we were younger – which she grew bored of very quickly, I was never allowed one. Through Jas and Charlotte I got to indulge in my love of horses and it was another thing that bonded us, as well as our love of rave music.
Our little posse expanded as we met Sarah and Amanda, another couple of besties who were friendly and welcoming, and who were deep into their raving. Amanda lived with her Mum, Dad and sister in Lower Cashmere and always took her camera along documenting our nights out. Sarah was softly spoken and a total romantic, and was always declaring she had a new crush on the most inappropriate boy. Then one day we met M, a tall, shaven haired beauty with a strong face and huge brown eyes, full of confidence, and a cheeky smile. She quickly became tight with our crew.
Meanwhile at NASDA we as first years had spent the year learning the skills of acting and singing, but never actually performing. It was only when you graduated into your second year that you finally got to put the skills to use. Those a year ahead of us acted and sang to their hearts content and we as first years made the props and sourced the costumes, and raced around trying to fulfill the demands of our second years. I remember one winter’s evening sitting in one of the little rooms at NASDA with my knees up against the heater, sewing babies faces made out of stocking and bird seed for their play ‘Minnie Dean’.
Our building stood next to the glorious Basilica church, looking out over Barbadoes street, and as I stared out the window lost in thought, the sky suddenly opened and let loose a whirling, swirling, dusting of snowflakes.
Having never seen snow fall in a city in this way, I raced to the window squealing in delight, my nose pressed against the cold pane as the streets became lost under more and more snow, thinking to myself ‘I have to walk home in that!”.
When I finished sewing around 10.p.m, the snow had stopped falling and as I trudged through the city towards home, I marveled at the way all the old historic buildings of Christchurch glistened silently under its chilly blanket.
Even in winter we all attended dance parties, some of them up in the port hills near The Sign of the Bellbird, some out in the passes between the mountains, one perched on the edge of a still, serene lake. I never failed to be stunned by the beauty of my country and its incredible scenery in all seasons.
Christchurch in particular as a city was very beautiful. As Spring returned in October, all along the River Avon blossoms hung their heavily laden heads, as people punted in boats on the water. NASDA was getting preparations ready for its last performance of the year, a double play with a set that rotated, the first being Trojan Woman with the floor entirely covered in sand and Happy End, a musical number. It was held at The prestigious Court Theatre and so we spent most of our last days of the school year surrounded by the beautiful old architecture of the Arts Centre where the theatre was based.
I decided as an end of year treat to myself I would get my tongue pierced and as Mat already had his done and I liked the way it looked, I followed in his example and went through the very painful and uncomfortable process. Little did I know it would mean not being able to talk properly for about four days and eating only soup and ice cream! I could tell our tutors Elizabeth and Luisa were unimpressed by what I had done – but I didn’t care, school was nearly over and I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there for the summer! The Second year students graduated on the 1st of November and on the 3rd we packed out the set of Happy End, said our goodbyes and left NASDA until the following year.
When I had lived in Wellington, if it had been the end of the year I would have headed straight home to Taranaki to get away from the city and my flat. But by this time I was fully and utterly in love with Christchurch and I didn’t plan on going home until Christmas.
I had a great bunch of friends, loads of summer parties to look forward to, and Christchurch in the summer is a gorgeous place to be – surrounded by the golden colored Port Hills, with all its secret emerald bays to swim in. If I was going to stay I knew I would need a job though, so I half heartedly went to Student job search to register, even though I already had my summer of dance parties planned out starting with that month of November – ‘Chemistry’, ‘Gravity’, ‘Karma’…however the big one that everyone was talking about was a brand new New Year’s Eve festival that was going to be held up in Takaka – the same area where I had attended Entrain, but in a new location. I had seen the stickers and flyers around town and the hype was real.
‘The Gathering’ was a dance party that would go on to define dance and rave culture in New Zealand, and indeed be the paving stone for the infamous ‘New Zealand New Years Eve Festival’. When I boarded the plane home to Taranaki for Christmas, all I could think about was returning for it a few weeks later.