‘Mapping Auckland’s Venues’ is a series by music writer and historian Gareth Shute that looks at the growth, contraction and general change in the city’s live music scene over the years. In this instalment, first published by Audioculture, Shute takes a look back at the decade where ‘Think Big’ applied just as much to shoulder pads as it did to public works projects.
In many ways, the 1980s marked the beginning of the music scene as we know it. Licensing laws had sufficiently eased to the point where the main venues were now bars (rather than the cabarets and dancehalls of the 60s). The Gluepot was in its heyday in Ponsonby and at the top of the central city was Mainstreet, where Radio With Pictures filmed a series of live performances that provided a nationwide platform for rising bands on the scene.
The Māori and Pacific influence on local music was felt through clubs like Peppermill at the bottom of town and Cleopatra’s in Panmure, where a new blend of funk, soul and reggae was brewing. By the late 80s, the latest in electronic dance music reached the turntables of the clubs in town and created a new scene that was multi-racial and vibrant. From this point on, it becomes hard to conceive of a “venue” as just being a place where bands played and so the map below also includes clubs where DJs pushed the music culture of the city forward.
It wasn’t long before DJs such as Roger Perry became drawcards in themselves. Perry was first brought on board by promoter/DJ Simon Grigg and his partner Tom Sampson at Asylum in 1986. He stayed with them as they moved to The Playground and The Siren in 1989. These clubs champion the new sounds of house music and hip hop, while The Siren also helped kickstart the High Street scene that would gain pace in the decade that followed.
It’s also worth mentioning one of the oddities of the era. The actor Russell Crowe was a presence on the scene as singer (Russ le Roq) and promoter. He had his own spot called The Venue on Symonds Street (in the same location that would become SPAM), but he learnt the ropes as host alongside Tom Sharplin at King Creoles under the Civic. The drawcard for this venue was that it had the body of a car extending out over the dancefloor that acted as the club’s DJ booth (it remained there when the same spot later became Berlin).
As the decade progressed, the music styles changed rapidly. Punk gave way to post-punk, new wave and ska. These acts rubbed shoulders with acts from Flying Nun and played in the same bars, which included Windsor Castle (Parnell Rise), XS Cafe (Airedale St), Rumba Bar (Albert St), The Reverb Room (Symonds St), the Rising Sun (K Rd), and all-ages co-up SPAM (Symonds St). In 1989, guitar music gained a new lease of life with the five-bands-for-five-dollars glam metal shows at the Powerstation.
Across the city new forms of music were coming into their own – Herbs ignited the local reggae scene with their gigs at the Gluepot, Ardijah created a new form of Polynesian funk at Cleopatra’s and groundbreaking local hip hop act Upper Hutt Posse arrived in Auckland in 1989, performing at The Siren and dance parties around town. Older styles of music still survived too, with popular blues and jazz nights at Alhambra and Java Jive in Ponsonby (the latter also had many country acts). Up until 1981, you could even still dance to Arthur Skelton’s big band (formed around 1949) playing at The Orange.
All in all, it was quite a decade for catching live music, no matter what your tastes.
This content was published in partnership with Audioculture, the noisy library of New Zealand music.