Let me begin with a disclaimer: I have never been to a uni event. Three years in and not a single bar crawl, foam party, Re-O’ Week or Vesbar bender has been attended. This isn’t to say I don’t go out; there’s nothing better than throwing it down at REC or 1885 after a couple of drinks. But the whole university event thing has never really appealed to me and I could never understand why people thought the first week of the semester was a good time to get trolleyed. On irony alone, the idea of covering AUT’s Hikuwai Sounds gig was entertaining enough for me to give it a shot.
Serious regrets. If it wasn’t for my journalistic integrity, I would stay exactly where I am (sprawled across my couch with the newest season of Suits and last night’s leftover dumplings) and fake a review. Integrity wins out and I grab my free ticket, ID and a healthy dose of cynicism before setting off into town.
You could sense the event before you could see it. I walked down St Pauls Street, as the muffled pounding music beat through the concrete. A couple of girls walking past question where it’s coming from, “I think it’s that bar, Vespa or something.” Clearly, they didn’t see the countless poster advertisements that are tacked up all through the CBD.
The music grows louder and you can see shards of light escaping through the gaps in the buildings. I turn the corner and brace myself for a mass of giddy students, ready to make some regrettable decisions under the influence. I’m instead met with a painfully empty plaza. Kids are scattered around the edges like they’re at a year eight social, except with alcohol. Confused, I pull my phone out and double check the start time of 7.30pm and remember that nothing actually ever starts until two hours past the event time. I notice that the AUT library is still open and fight the urge to seek refuge there until it closes at 10pm. “Dance ‘til you’re dead”: Heads Will Roll pounds through the speakers, seeming to emphasize the fact that the only thing dead here is the dance floor.
Scrolling through Instagram at a Vesbar table I hear the music cut out as a voice comes over the loudspeaker. “Don’t be lamos, come up to the front and DANCE!” a voice yells out. A young student, clearly the emcee of tonight, hollers into the microphone, “Move your butts,” she yells, “let me fucking hear ya!” A lone ‘woohoo’ echoes around the plaza in response. Four or five people tentatively wander toward the stage as the emcee continues her hype speech, “This is Jess fucking B! She’s amazing,” her voice beginning to go hoarse, “she’s great, she’s cooler than all of us combined!” Although I cringe for this girl, it seems to be paying off as more people gather in the centre.
Finally, JessB comes on and people start to groove; an involuntary toe tap here, a gentle sway there. The alcohol clearly hits some of the party-goers who have spread too hard and are throwing down moves like nobody’s business. Not a rap fan myself, I do appreciate that with Kendrick Lamar performing tonight at Spark Arena, it’s a tough night to be a hip-hop act. However, three songs in and JessB has got people yelling back lyrics and forming dance circles.
“No one looks like they’re having fun,” remark a couple as they loiter at the edge of the event entrance. Turning around, they head back towards Queens Street in search of more promising dance floors. They’re brutal words but not totally wrong. After JessB worked hard to amp up the crowd there is an awkward 30-minute interlude between acts when people are expected to grab a drink and food, but instead choose to head into town. Meanwhile, over a dozen security guards patrol the event, decked out in Hi-Vis vests and walkie-talkies, as if a crazed riot could erupt at any moment. At this point, it seems unlikely.
The second act graces the stage and soon Theia’s dreamy vocals fills the plaza. A slightly more chill vibe than JessB and I can’t say I’m not a little relieved. Nursing a third (or fourth) drink, I zone out to the ethereal pop singer’s latest album and start to wonder just how much this entire event costs and how much of it my student loan is paying for. While the music is arguably decent, there’s no question that if I was making the effort to come out, I’d rather spend the Friday night at a club packed with people, dancing to some classic top 40.
Finally, the headline act is here and you can tell this is what the hundred or so people have been waiting for. Kingdon Te Itinga Chapple-Wilson is familiar with the number one slot in New Zealand charts under his performance name Kings and is here to get the party started. In a flash of blue and purple, the artist jumps straight into a solid set list that gets people onto the dance floor and grooving.
With the plaza finally resembling something of a party, I’m almost disappointed to get a text from my ride home saying that they’re waiting. Almost. Jumping into the car, I debrief the night to them as we both lament of the lack of college culture in Auckland. You don’t want to shit on AUTSA (they’re clearly desperate to imitate the famed party-vibe of Otago and Wellington) but when events start to cost tens of thousands of dollars, and it’s coming out of student fees, you start to wonder when they’ll just call it quits. As someone who isn’t sold on party culture anyway, there’s a chance I’m a biased buzzkill, but I’m sure there are others who would rather the budget for AUT’s ‘Biggest Event of the Year’ get put towards discounted coffee at Newsfeed or an extra $100 in their pocket each year.