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Some-BODY once told me, Christchurch would host a Shrek Rave (Photo: Josie Adams)
Some-BODY once told me, Christchurch would host a Shrek Rave (Photo: Josie Adams)

Pop CultureJanuary 2, 2024

Panic! At the Shrek Rave

Some-BODY once told me, Christchurch would host a Shrek Rave (Photo: Josie Adams)
Some-BODY once told me, Christchurch would host a Shrek Rave (Photo: Josie Adams)

Summer reissue: It’s a movie, a musical, a meme and now… a touring international dance party? Alex Casey attends the Ōtautahi leg of the global touring Shrek Rave.

First published on August 26, 2023.

Puss in Boots darted through the villagers, emerging through a cloud of vape smoke with urgent news from across the kingdom. “Oh my god, there’s green on the toilet seat!” she shrieked. “Someone has painted their ass!” 

We were only two hours into the Shrek Rave at Christchurch’s Engineers bar, and already there had been as much villainy, romance, humour and abject body horror as you’d find in any one of the four Shrek films in the franchise (six if you count the Puss in Boots spinoffs, 15 if you count the various short films, TV and interactive specials).  

Earlier that night, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the Shrek rave at all. I’m in my 30s now – if it’s past 10.30pm and I’m not in bed, dropping a melatonin, listening to a British man whispering HelloFresh discounts on a sleep podcast, then normally I’d tell you to notify Urban Search and Rescue. But my age also means I am a millennial with strong childhood memories of Shrek, including dancing in the role of “villager in a striped Shanton shirt that makes no dramaturgical sense” in the unauthorised production of Shrek 2 at the Masterton Town Hall in 2004.  

The author, botching the opening number of Shrek the Musical in 2004. (Photo: Alex Casey)

The first Shrek movie, released in 2001, set in motion a cultural phenomenon so significant that by 2020 it had become the first animated film of the new millennium to be preserved by the Library of Congress. Shrek was groundbreaking not only in its 3D animation, which paved the way for decades of animated feature films, but in its rebellion against movie tropes. Subverting Disney’s handsome hero, noble steed and damsel in distress, Shrek took a big, green, grumpy, gooey ogre, gave him a Scottish accent and a ripper soundtrack, and a classic was born. 

Since the heady days of VHS, Shrek has continued to ooze through all corners of popular culture, from Broadway musicals to celebrity Halloween costumes, eventually becoming the movie that launched a thousand memes. This has all culminated, naturally, in an internationally touring Shrek Rave, which promises Shrek meet-and-greets, costume prizes and “cooked Shrek visuals.”

While rewatching Shrek – my way of preloading for the rave – I was struck by how deeply entrenched so much of the dialogue was in my lizard brain. Sure, the animation now looks like an old 48 Hours entry from the YooBee School of Design, but when that damn ogre bursts through that damn toilet door along with the “SOME-” of ‘All Star’ by Smash Mouth, I couldn’t help but feel a pure, soul-level euphoria.

It was with all this nostalgic energy that I burst through the door at Engineers Bar like a post-toilet ogre, just as ‘All Star’ was playing to an empty dance floor (at 9.30pm??? Save some for later Augustus!). We were invited to load up on green glow sticks and green lollipops, and were greeted by a giant Shrek photowall made of balloons. I had opted for green paper ears along with every piece of green clothing in the house, including my partner’s slime green polar fleece vest, without considering that, logically, that meant I was dressed as a naked Shrek. 

With my two 31-year-old steeds, so much older than everyone in the room that we looked like undercover cops, we went to the bar and assessed the Shrek-themed options – Shrek Juice, Donkey Drank, Farquaad Fizz. I asked if I could have a Shrek Juice without alcohol. “It’s just pineapple and alcohol,” the bartender replied. While gratefully receiving the biggest tumbler of pineapple juice I’ve ever seen, I asked if he had worked a Shrek rave before. “It’s my second,” he replied, voice wavering like a war veteran. “Green shots at 2am… it’s chaos.” 

I went outside and introduced myself to girls dressed as lingerie-clad versions of Shrek characters. Lara, 22, a yassified dragon, had just had a birthday and bought tickets for herself and Georgia, 21, a yassified fairy godmother. “It was time for a girls’ night,” Lara nodded, sipping a glowing green drink. She said she chose her dragon costume as a longtime fan of the mythical beast, revealing a giant intricate thigh tattoo of a dragon beneath her fishnets. As for Georgia’s costume choice, she explained: “I just think the fairy godmother is a bad bitch.” 

A dragon and a fairy godmother walk into a bar. (Photo: Alex Casey)

As we talked about the power and nostalgia of Shrek – despite us being a decade apart, they said it defined their childhood too – another theme emerged that I hadn’t thought of yet. “It’s something you can watch at all ages but also the story is all about diversity and love,” said Georgia. “He’s an ugly ogre and he still finds love, donkey and dragon get together, it’s really inclusive.” Indeed, Shrek has also been heralded as a queer icon in recent years, with lines for much larger and more lavish international Shrek Raves “radiating queer energy.

Beyond Shrek’s inclusivity, Georgia and Lara also mention “Shrek is love, Shrek is life” being a big thing at their high school. For those unfamiliar, this is an extremely NSFW Shrek meme that originated on 4Chan in 2013, inspiring an animated viral video in 2014 which was described by Slate as “off brand Sims porn.” I asked if they were here because of the memes, or as genuine Shrek fans, or something in between. “It’s a little bit of both,” said Georgia. “It’s fun, it’s childhood, but also everything is just a meme now.” 

I slid into the next booth to speak to George, dressed as Princess Fiona, Kōwhai, dressed as “gay Shrek” and Paige, dressed as Puss in Boots. “Shrek is a gay icon” Kōwhai said from behind non-canon speed dealer sunglasses and a Hello Kitty fan. “If Shrek were real in 2023, I feel like he’d be serving gay.” George, aka Princess Fiona, took a deep drag on his vape. “It’s serving cunty”, he affirmed, politely breathing a dragon cloud of smoke over his shoulder. They too were fans of Shrek the movie, but Shrek the meme was never far from conversation. 

George, Kōwhai and Paige have their photo taken. (Photo: Alex Casey)

Adjusting his red wig, George posited that he could probably teach a university paper on Shrek memes. “This all first started with ‘Shrek is Life’ series – in the circle of memes, those videos are what drove Shrek into popular memedom.” I asked what about that particular meme made it so popular. “The laughably sized Shrek penis,” he replied. “I didn’t care to go past the first episode – even for me it was too much.” Paige (Puss in Boots) felt like the memes had created a Shrek bandwagon, and only the “true fans” know what Shrek really means.

“I watched it a few nights ago and it really is a classic,” she said. “It was my favourite movie, and the only thing my mum could put on to calm us kids down,” added Kōwhai. At the peak, she estimates her family’s Shrek VHS was played at least five times a day. That deep childhood connection is what she thinks has drawn everyone to something as absurd as a Shrek Rave, all these years later. “It’s a way of connecting and being able to reminisce about these strong, positive memories together,” she said. “I think everyone’s quite disconnected in that sense now.” 

On that poignant note, a Shrek walked past leaving an unmistakable pong in his wake. “That guy totally just crop dusted us,” said George. 

By now more and more people were starting to arrive, and the green painted faces on the dimly-lit dance floor were starting to look worse and worse. A woman in an extremely photorealistic Princess Fiona gown, which she later revealed she bought online a month ago, danced with a decidedly non-Shrek suitor in jeans and a puffer jacket. But I was interested in the more reserved ravers who weren’t dressed up at all, so I sidled up to a trio of young lads wearing tidy shirts, jeans and town shoes with not an ounce of Shrek paraphernalia on their person. 

While they weren’t dressed up – and despite the fact they thought they were buying tickets to a Barbie night – Hayden, Kion and their surly friend who didn’t want to give his name still had their own deep history with Shrek. “I loved ‘Shrek is love, Shrek is life,” said Kion. “It’s my childhood.” Before I had time to ask how he felt about a 4Chan shitpost pornographic Sims video being his childhood, he added that it wasn’t just about the meme. “Honestly, coming to a party like this inspired by a childhood hero is a dream come true.” 

The Shrek Wall in all its glory. (Photo: Alex Casey)

I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, so I asked him if he had a favourite Shrek moment from his childhood. “There’s so many of them,” he mused. “Maybe when they go to Lord Farquaad’s big castle and Shrek says ‘Do you think he’s overcompensating for something’?” Surely, as a young kid, he wouldn’t have known what that was all about? “Oh, I think I knew”, he smirked. Anything else to look forward to tonight? “Just a good time with the boys,” shrugged Hayden. Before I left, I asked their surly friend if he had any thoughts on Shrek. “I haven’t seen it,” he mumbled. 

By 11pm the dance floor was filling up and things were starting to get a little more ravey. Lord Farquaad had fashioned a giant skipping rope out of glow sticks and Princess Fiona was raving with a small Shrek toy held high. The DJ, a bearded man at least double the age of the clientele, was spinning megamix after megamix. “Are you here because of the memes”, I tried to ask another Princess Fiona over a deafening mash-up of Lizzo’s ‘About Damn Time’ and the Spice Girls’ ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ “What?” she yelled back. “Nothing,” I replied. 

The author in the thick of the swamp. (Photo: Josie Adams)

Some people dressed as cowboys (?) turned up, along with more and more non-Shrek ravers. There was someone in an All Blacks beanie, another in plain clothes who had simply written “SHREK” down his arm in black paint. ‘Mr Brightside’ filled the dance floor as two Shreks made out in perfect timing with Brandon Flowers singing “It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss”. A guy wearing glittery weed-shaped glasses attempted to aurally crop dust the dance floor by blowing a whistle. My fellow undercover cop Josie put a firm stop to it immediately. 

“I feel like we’re getting further and further away from Shrek,” Josie said as the DJ fell firmly off his rocker with ‘Why Does Love Do This To Me’ by The Exponents, about as relevant to this room of 20-year-olds as an ancient Gregorian chant. Our sole goal at this point was to stick it out until the promised midnight Smash Mouth singalong, but but it was now 11.24pm and we were starting to fade. DJ Mad-as-a-Cut-Snake was now playing The Proclaimers and we subconsciously co-opted the cool 500 Miles “marching move” to inch us closer to the exit than ever before.

Me at 11.24pm. (Photo: Alex Casey)

With said marching move, you could also sort the wheat from the chaff, aka the young people from the old people. The three marching blind mice and their marching friends were also in their 30s, although one mouse was only here because they needed someone to complete the costume trio. “I don’t know about the memes,” bellowed the main blind mouse, “all I know is that Shrek is god.” There was less than 10 minutes till midnight, a drunk girl in Shrek ears stumbled past us with one eye shut, and we were officially holding out for a hero till the end of the night. 

Josie tried to drain the remnants of her Farquaad Fizz, spluttering “that’s Robitussin”. I had by this point consumed so much pineapple juice that I worried I might never sleep again. I dashed to the toilet to kill some precious minutes before freedom, greeted by the green-ass-printed throne. Given that the lock was broken and the toilet seat had a Shrek bum print on it, I was forced to hover above the seat, one hand on the door and the other steadying myself in a humiliating squat. “Girl, I’m ‘bout to have a panic attack,” Lizzo crooned through the stall door. 

After the clock struck midnight, the Smash Mouth singalong finally happened – but not how I imagined it. It wasn’t ‘All Star’ but ‘I’m a Believer’, which robbed us of the chance to yell “SOME-BODY” with a room full of strangers. Nonetheless, a cluster of about 30 battlers did their best to singalong. Outside, a young man was trying to throw glow sticks directly into his female friends’ cleavage. Kōwhai had wiped off her face paint (“Worried it would stain”) and George had taken off his Fiona dress and wig (he had used his civilian clothes to form her “boobs”). 

We found our jackets and headed down the stairs into the freezing Christchurch night, just as a jubilant Pinocchio arrived and dozens of stumbling Shreks teemed around the nearby souvlaki stand. A young woman walking past in a corset and cargo pants stopped us. “What’s going on in there? There’s heaps of people around with green on.” We told her that it was a Shrek rave, where people dressed as Shrek danced to (sometimes) the music of Shrek. “Oh, is it a big… community?” she replied. “Not really,” I shrugged, genuinely unable to add any more insight.

“You can’t end the night now!” a Shrek urgently interrupted us. “Fat Eddie’s is going off!” It was 12.23am when we jumped in the Uber. As a wise ogre once said: that’ll do Donkey, that’ll do.

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