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There is little doubt in my mind that I have made a terrible mistake somewhere in my life. As if possessed, I maniacally agreed to review these most horrific of times. When other students are huddling inside, locking their doors in an attempt to keep the wanton destruction of the outside world at arm’s length, I’m throwing myself into the pit.
For reference, I have been at this university for six years. I am a world apart from these newly minted young adults. I want to make it abundantly clear, I understand: I am out of touch — I prefer going home, ordering pizza, and falling asleep on the couch watching a rerun of Downton Abbey than going to town. I like music that can only be described as eclectic or, in more derogatory terms, weird. So when I’m disparaging towards the entire concept of first year please don’t take it to heart. These are just the rumblings of that weird old guy you ignore when you pass him in the hall. One day, in the far off future, you may find yourself in my position, coming to these same uncomfortable realisations about how boring you have become.
And so, into O-Week, I descend.
MONDAY — Hermitude
My media passes have been delivered. A stack of fabric squares, emblazoned with the name Robin Fernando (that cruel giant of the Wellington music scene — his logo tellingly a crown, as if to remind you that everything that happens in this city’s nightlife is part of his fiefdom), stare me in the face. I break out in a cold sweat.
I am uncomfortable.
The doors opened 45 minutes ago, and the stream of students coming in has not slowed once. The Hunter Lounge is bulging, almost full but, despite the hustle and bustle, the energy within the room is muted. Despite the best intentions of Emwa, no one really seems quite sure of what they’re meant to be doing yet. There is no dancing, only the awkward shuffle that persists for around 30 seconds before self-consciousness takes over. There are two students near the front, clearly having taken their first cap, peaking far too early. I absent-mindedly wonder if they’ll make it to the end of the night, or if they’ll end up in the VUWSA safe room as one of Rory’s underlings tells them it’ll be ok.
“I need to piss so bad, if I can’t find the loo soon I’m just going to piss on the floor.”
I have entered my own personal hell. As bad trap remixes of recent pop songs blare out of the (admittedly very impressive) audio set up, the crowd claps offbeat. Every piercing slap rings through my ears, causing my jaw to lock tighter and tighter. It only worsens when Kendrick’s m.A.A.d City begins to blare, and the incredibly white audience raps along to every word, turning what was one of my favourite tracks of 2012 into a problematic thinkpiece about caucasian males feeling it’s appropriate to scream racial slurs — as long as it’s in a club setting.
Suddenly two figures, clad in white hats, appear. The light bursts out around them, giving the appearance of halos. Their celestial status affirmed, the crowd drops all pretense and simply begins to scream, “Hermitude!” The noise is brutal, painful. This is a god who demands little to be seen.
Those who took their stimulants earlier are beginning to tire. A crowd begins to form at the rear of the room, masses of bodies leaning against walls in a desperate attempt to reorient themselves. Someone pukes in the bathroom, a queue of people forms preparing to do the same. I approach one of those at the rear of the room and gently ask what they think of the act. “I don’t even know them, I just came because all my friends did.”
The mass consumes all in its path. It consumes language — in its place, guttural sound. It consumes dance — in its place, flailing. I no longer know if this is a holy place, or the fields of Sodom. I return home. Drained and apathetic, I notice there’s blood in my mouth. One down.
TUESDAY — Toga Party
I wake fundamentally torn. I like Drax Project; I think they’re a genuine breath of fresh air within the local pop-jazz scene. But they had to pick this gig of all gigs, the most ritualistic of all nights.
The opening act, Sweet Mix Kids, are strange. Apparently the new trend is to have someone play electronic drums over a pop track, because this is the second night in a row that this has been a band’s gimmick. They messily mix Rihanna into Michael Jackson. Despite this strange blend, the crowd eats it up. These are songs they know the words to. They scream along, half a beat behind as the band attempts to pull them into the correct time signature.
“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” plays, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Last night’s sense of freedom is palpable tonight. They have spent ~48 hours without direction now, choosing what they want to do, with no restriction from family. They have not yet tasted the unique pain that is pulling your third all-nighter in a row in a desperate attempt to finish an assignment. They do not know the pain of receiving your annual Studylink letter informing you exactly how much you owe the government.
There is little to say about Drax. They play the tracks that they know are popular. Shaan performs his impressive falsetto to the adoration of the crowd, who cheer louder whenever his lips touch the saxophone. Ben plays impressive solos and Sam ensures the low end sounds good. Matt plays some eclectic drum fills. I enjoy it.
The crowd is not so well-behaved. Multiple times the set is broken up by a member of the band asking for a towel to dry off equipment, soaked by audience members waving around their free water bottles.
WEDNESDAY — Comedy Night
Tonight is a godsend. I can avoid the larger crowds, and sweat won’t be the most common liquid of the night. I can say, with genuine happiness in my voice, I’m happy I’m seeing Guy Williams. Not because I like him, not because I think he’s funny, but because for the first time in 48 hours I have a chance to sleep.
Alice Brine opens. Clearly Tinder is a hot topic within the comedy community, because it’s all her act has been about so far. Tinder in Hamilton. Tinder in the Wellington Airport. Wild. Lines about profile pictures. Lines about chats. One kid from Lower Hutt speaks up when it’s mentioned. Admittedly I enjoy the lines about Hamilton, having grown up there myself. There’s a dick blood joke. I always appreciate a good dick joke, because I’m a child. She finishes her set with some joke about tagging a dude as a dog. The audience laughs. I die a little more inside.
Guy Williams, that monolith of a man. This man from Jono and Ben, that most middle New Zealand of shows. The crowd is ready. They’re pumped. The men in the audience came to laugh at funny shit, not some feminist jokes. They’re so fucking ready to laugh and they were not expecting what’s been happening so far. When Guy comes on stage he’s rapping the Jay-Z part from that one Linkin Park track. He’s altered the lyrics to be something funny? I think he has anyway. There are some airhorns. People scream when he talks about Wellington. He clarifies he’s not a sex offender — good stuff I guess. Guy’s set is surprisingly forward-thinking. There are jokes about privilege, the white male psyche. It’s very different to his television persona.
A girl a few rows ahead of me squeals and looks like she’s about to pee herself. I try not to cry.
THURSDAY — Kid Ink
My brief respite over, I am forced back into the fray. I woke up this morning feeling like death: the beginnings of a cold, some foreign virus has taken up residence inside me. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I look worse than I feel. I haven’t shaved all week. I’m beginning to look like a creep, but I have reached a stage where I simply don’t care.
The opener begins his set. Some unpronounceable name I end up googling and find out is the scientific term for the banana tree. He’s clearly a bit more into it himself than the crowd is, but overall his performance is solid. Abrzy comes on and, while his rapping is okay, I wish he spent less time between songs talking about how thankful he is for the set time. It’s all a bit uncomfortable and nobody really seems sure how to react to it.
Sweet Mix Kids play again. I expected them to be performing the same set as Tuesday, but instead they play a much more hip hop heavy set, less of the 4-2-da-floor and more trap-inspired drums. I’m pleasantly surprised, as is the girl I spot wearing four wristbands that indicate she has paid for the privilege I’m simply whining about.
Kid Ink comes on, and he proves far more popular than I expected. The predominantly white crowd sings along to his more radio-friendly hits, and mumbles whenever a double-time cadence bar is spit. The room shakes, either from the density of the bass or the fact people are actually jumping along in time. There is a touching moment where Ink holds the hand of a girl in the front row. Rihanna’s “Love in a Hopeless Place” comes to mind, and I wonder if this ranks above my current belief that finding love in an airport bathroom is the worst.
It’s at this point I’m concerned. The narrative I’ve been plugging so far is that these gigs have all been terrible, and it’ll be pretty clear to anyone still reading my piece of shit feature that they are all simply not to my tastes and I was a terrible choice of reviewer. But tonight has been relatively solid. While I don’t necessarily enjoy the music performed (the co-opting of trap without an understanding of its history), it’s a lot better than a lot of O-Week gigs are. The music is modern, the crowd is enjoying it and, from the beam on the event manager’s face, it has clearly made a lot of money. So how should I judge this? As a commercial or artistic endeavour?
FRIDAY — Tinie Tempah
In an effort to understand the type of preparation that goes into an event like this, I sit in on a security briefing. All up, I’d estimate there are around 100 staff and volunteers working to help keep the event running as smoothly and safely as possible. While I’m not entirely sure about having a religious organisation as one of the volunteer groups, I’ll admit I have never felt the need for divine intervention in my life more than I do now. Security guards are given instructions on how to deal with various kinds of miscreants, a large stack of paperwork is prepared for if anyone ends up needing a trip to the hospital during the night. To my dismay, I also learn that they expect tonight to be the “worst” in comparison to the rest of the week. It’s a Friday, the gig is open to anyone, not just first years, and tickets have sold out.
The night starts off quiet and come 8:45pm I’m wondering if the earlier predictions were wrong. The majority of guests have a dad-look about them, and a slightly balding man in a polo is standing front and centre. This is not the scene I expected. There’s been no fights, no anger — it’s all been relatively nice. Abrzy performed again, and a slight mistake made by the DJ was only met by a short chant of “you fucked up” instead of a blistering crescendo. CK, probably my favourite local rapper, and Ash Brooke perform a set very reminiscent of the golden Boost Mobile days of the NZ hip hop scene. It’s intoxicating.
And so, I let my guard down.
9:15pm hits like a punch square in the face. It feels as if I looked at my phone for a second and suddenly 500 people filled the space. It’s terrifying, and the mood has changed. People are pressing the security to the backstage area, trying every trick in the book to get in. Flirting, intimidation — I see some money get pulled out and rebuffed. In this economy, mate, you’re gonna have to offer a lot better than a twenty to get someone to risk their job.
The staff are rushed, concerned. They too had clearly not expected it to be quite this bad. A patron is put in a headlock and dragged out by six guards. The telltale signs of a spliff being lit up has put everyone on high alert for the culprit. The stage manager is doing his best to ensure the artists are well looked after, while attempting to deal with an increasing number of incidents.
I would just like to make something crystal clear here. While I respect Tinie Tempah’s success, I certainly don’t give him as much credibility as an artist. His overtaking of Dizzee Rascal for best UK rap act is an absolute travesty, and the fact he regularly wins awards for best grime artist hurts me a little when I see groups like Boy Better Know get snubbed. Skepta might have managed to break through this mold last year, but grime isn’t exactly a new genre.
What can I say about the set? Well, I don’t like him as you’ve probably worked out (if you’re still reading up to this point, it’s either because you agree with me, or to see exactly how much of a pretentious wanker I am so you can write a devastatingly personal letter to the editor explaining exactly why they should never ever let me do something like this again). Musically, it was trite. From a performance standpoint, though, it’s hard to deny that it was impeccable. The set was tightly controlled, tracks flowed seamlessly, even the brief moments where he spoke to the audience seemed well rehearsed. The AV that I’ve been raving about all week was used to absolute perfection and, most importantly, the crowd loved the shit out of it.
I spent yesterday in bed, doing my absolute best not to think about the week I had just been through. I went to the Newtown Festival today. It seemed like the antithesis of everything the rest of O-Week had been.
So how the hell do I rate something like this? Giving it a high score would feel disingenuous to how much I disliked the big ticket items on the musical side, while giving it a low score would feel like I was just completely ignoring how cohesive and well put together the gig was as a whole.
I’m sitting on the loo when suddenly the bug I picked up this week rears its head. I empty what feels like litres of fluid from my nose. In a brief moment of unclogged clarity, it comes to me:
Just say it was a bit shit.
— A Literal Piece of Shit (SalientFM Manager)