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Why Auckland’s nightlife is dominated by the temporary and the ephemeral.


Feb 2, 2023 City Life

Over time spent skulking around the different night-life scenes in Auckland, I’ve learned that the people to follow are the ones who get there early (like, the-DJ-is-still-plugging-in early). As a dedicated, lifelong late-night person, I’m a little late to the leaving-early game — but there’s an important reason for my new rule about leaving at 1am. I’ve had the music stopped and the lights turned on on me in some of Auckland’s worst places. There’s nothing more emotionally sobering than making full eye contact with someone holding a mop. Get there early, however, and you see the space around you meet its potential. Watch the people wearing sensible sneakers stretching. Early is where it’s at.

I won’t admit who I was there to see, but one Friday night I was at The Studio, wondering about all the people who’d arrived at the opening of the doors with me. It was like a school social before the Raro hits — friend groups scattered around the edges of the dance floor, talking awkwardly as the playlist thumped into the cavernous space. By the time the main act played, my friend and
I had been spilled on, rubbed on and made temporary friends in the toilets. The DJs also did about five encores — maybe because they felt sad that afterwards, we’d all just be going home.

If I had a place to go, I would do this every weekend. Like my athleisure-clad companions, I’d use the night-time for exercising, breaking out of the reality of time and space, levitating above my normal. Exercising as much as partying. Maybe I need to stop complaining and start something myself, someone told me while we were sitting on a mutual friend’s deck one night, waiting for their party to start. But that’s not me. I’m a follower. A lurker.

What if the greatest time this city has to offer is defined by its tendency towards the temporary? A touring DJ playing the most competent of German techno sets at The Studio is a joyous event because it’s ephemeral. Realising this is like getting elbowed right in the heart (which literally happened to me on my way out). A restaurant notorious for playing too-loud club music while you eat pasta, surrounded by club-ready staff, celebrates its birthday by moving tables aside for a dance floor, its usual glam-cram ethos transitioning seamlessly for the occasion — but we would never do this every weekend.

Aucklanders are either lazy or there’s still not enough of us or we bore quickly, frothing over experiences we expect to get only once. You don’t get bored, though, when you find the one thing that’s really, truly just for you. FILTH, a party with a focus on queer, trans and indigenous folks and people of colour, in both talent and audience, ventured into day raves at the Hollywood and managed to garner a loyal following.

For this crowd, FILTH is a scene at the leading edge of rave culture, celebrating club music and your body being a part of your outfit. Spaces need to be cultivated for people to feel that kind of freedom. Each new instalment is an opportunity for styling a new norm for Auckland — the October party featured headline DJs allyXpress from the UK and New Jersey’s UNIIQU3; the latter gave me my favourite overseas dance experience. She was even better here. I can’t see how FILTH could go permanent, though; the anticipation of and preparation for the occasional parties are part of the joy of it. But all hail a landlord who sees this kind of programming as valuable ROI for Auckland.

I talked a bit with someone I met in a toilet about the venues that value dancing as more than just something to make money off. We were both curious about the new iteration of Met and Code (which is triggering for me, having been at an all-girls school in Auckland in the early 2000s) as new venue-for-hire The Mothership, which neither of us has been to yet. Il Brutto has been open since last January and its Saturday nights are excellent, if you don’t mind the arc of justice bending towards psytrance.

The momentary thrill of the new is a specific benefit of Auckland’s club night culture. It seems almost impossible to make sustainable businesses out of niche scenes, particularly when those running them don’t have bazillionaire parents happy to subsidise the rent. Variety, then, is something we’re good at. Sustainability, not so much.

Under house lights again, I accept it’s time to go home. I fall in step with a friend the moment I decide to walk. She offers me her bag of fries. We’re heading in the same direction, under a light rain, comparing how weird our nights have been. She’s gone to multiple house parties then ended up on Karangahape Rd. I started out watching a poetry open mic after work and am surprised to find it’s now 3am. If there’s an upside to the constant chop and change of events on the small streets of Auckland, it’s this: fellow night owls are bound to meet at the end. When our paths diverge, I hand her back her fries — they were only temporary, too.

This story was published in Metro N° 437.
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