Growth of nightlife: 1970s and 1980s
In 1971 laws were passed allowing licensed cabarets where drinks could be served until 3 a.m. or even later. New Zealanders could now enter a dance venue, buy a drink and kick up their heels without fear of arrest. The result was more than an entertainment boom; New Zealanders also enjoyed a live music revolution.
Some flocked to the discothèque or disco, where tightly clothed patrons boogied at a distance from each other, beneath mirror balls. A typical fully licensed disco of the era was Slack Alice, on Wellington’s Plimmer Steps. One visitor described it: ‘[T]he atmosphere is one of youthful sophistication. Tables and seating for 250 are arranged around the stage and dance floor … big bright red and yellow “portholes” also help separate the tables. The same tonings are reflected in the carpet though to more subdued shades of maroon and gold.’1
Others, however, preferred the unlicensed nightclubs that sprang up. Legendary Auckland rock venues of the 1960s and 1970s included Tabla, the Crypt and Granny’s in Durham Lane. The lesbian KG Club opened in 1972, as the lesbian and gay community gained new visibility.
Fashions kept changing. In 1978, as Auckland’s punk-rock community emerged, Granny’s took on a new identity as the run-down Zwines. Writer Simon Grigg recalled of this infamous venue that ‘whether you went to a party after … or to a pub before, at some stage during the night you ended up in this seedy, smelly black hole.’2
Slick, heavily designed nightclubs in the 1980s boasted laser lights and massive sound systems. In the capital, patrons danced until dawn at Clare’s, Ecstasy Plus and the Arena. Auckland’s best-known clubs of the era were A Certain Bar, the Brat and The Venue. Out in the provinces, too, clubs boomed. 1980s Palmerston North, for example, saw the Buffalo Music Show, Fez, Zed, Champers, the Ritz, Exchequers, Kaz Bar and Deco come and go.
Buffaloes vs. bikers
Palmerston North DJ Gerhard Pierard remembers that ‘the owner of the hotel shut [Buffalo Music] down because he didn't like the look of the “Freaks” we were attracting … rich coming from a bloke who dressed up in a Super Liquorman outfit and directed traffic in the carpark.’3 Buffalo Music’s time at Café de Paris ended just as abruptly. The bikers who hung out in the front bar didn’t like the clubbers in the back bar or their music. A dance-floor fight over DJ Karl Pierard’s choice of music was the end of that arrangement.
Many clubs began as a regular night in pubs, with the bar take going to the pub and the door take to the club. Palmerston North’s Buffalo Music was hosted at the Super Liquor Man, Commercial and Café de Paris hotels before turning into Fez at the Southern Cross.
Club culture: 1990s and 2000s
The 1990s saw an explosion in dance music and DJ culture in nightclubs, continuing in the 2000s. A further overhaul of liquor laws in 1989 paved the way for almost total liberalisation of nightlife and round-the-clock drinking. The drug of choice in the 1990s was often ecstasy, and that in the 2000s legal ‘herbal highs’.
The nightclub scene expanded. Dance parties and raves were often held in warehouses or other buildings not designed as clubs or pubs, or outside. Christchurch’s mystery bus raves took clubbers to locations revealed at the last minute, often in the Port Hills; there were raves held in the bush in the Wellington region.
Clubs continued to attract and build their own subcultures – hip-hop clubs, like Wellington’s La Luna, sprang up, and disco made a comeback. The Asylum in Auckland’s Mt Eden pioneered the heavy new electronic sounds that were the dominant sound of the 1990s.