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The Christchurch music scene: An ageing population

Annabel Kean
The Haze Band
The Haze at Rockquest in 2012.  Supplied

A decade ago there were nearly 10 all-ages venues. Now, there are none.

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Creation was a converted movie theatre, tucked just behind the Christ Church Cathedral on Worcester Street.  

On a Friday or Saturday night, you might find the venue bursting at the seams with booming bass and gig-goers.

On one of these nights in 2003, a thirteen-year-old Sam Meni made his way through the gates and to the front door. He’d never been to a show before, it was a new experience, but he made it in with no hiccups.

No one asked for his ID, no bouncers bustled him out, and he wasn’t out of place as a kid only one year into his teens.

Because Creation was an all-ages music venue: A place where young people could reap all the benefits of any other venue, made possible by simply taking alcohol out of the equation.

14 years (and a good go at running all-ages gigs himself) later, Sam Meni started a petition.

He has appealed to the Christchurch City Council, the Christchurch Youth Council and youth organisation, Zeal, to start taking steps towards opening a new venue.

Go back one decade, and the under-18s were spoilt for choice for places to watch a band over a few raspberry cokes.

There was The Media Club, the Otautahi Social Centre, Concrete Club, Fuse (Still there, just not a venue), Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, Kreation Art House, Zebedees, The Jetset Lounge (Occasionally all-ages), The Shed and Creation - at least.

So far, nearly 500 people have agreed with Sam enough to click “Sign This Petition”.

The Media Club

The Jetset Lounge

Ōtautahi Social Centre

Red Panda HQ - White Elephant - Concrete Club



No new growth

The Media Club was started by the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand (MAINZ) as a place for students to have hands on sound experience, and it was run by Marcus Winstanley. Since 2011, he’s noticed a gap in the age of musicians.

He runs bar and venue Darkroom, and thinks the lack of all-ages venues has created a young musician drought - emerging bands are made up of people in their mid-twenties and up, and that’s about it. 

The Christchurch music scene is strong, but when asked why, many of those that are part of it credit the exposure they had from a young age.

If you visit the old sites of The Media Club, Ōtautahi Social Centre and Zebedees, you wouldn’t know that they’d been there. Metronews met up with a few of the people that lived and breathed these spaces, in the very same places they used to be.

A $7 dollar profit

The main culprit for these places going under and never resurfacing, is the demolition of low-cost buildings post-earthquake. All-ages gigs don’t make much money as it is, so funding is key if show organisers have to cough up even more just to afford the venue.

Sam started Re:VIVE with Georgia Soloman a year ago as a way to keep up momentum for youth music after Zebedees closed in 2014. What’s been keeping them back is funding; because sales from cans of Coca-Cola don’t exactly pay to keep a venue running.

Finding funding is the first step, but Sam and Georgia have to register Re:VIVE as a charitable trust to even apply. The money they did have coming in wasn’t cutting it, and they were “applying for grants left, right and centre”.

The biggest profit they made on a gig was $7.

Sam thinks their age was holding them back: “They saw us as a bunch of young kids trying to start up something”.

The few successful shows were with international acts, but that’s not what they want to do. The goal is to help young, local musicians get a leg up in the industry.

Until it closed a few years back, that’s what Zebedees was achieving. Steve and Jennie White ran the show there for 16 years, with funding from the Christchurch City Council and The Rātā Foundation paying their rent at the Blenheim Road venue.

They weren’t making any money, so the place chugged along on volunteers and good will.

Steve choked up several times talking about Zebedees. He and Jennie put everything into keeping it going, and he says he’d “do it again in a heartbeat”, but it was time for them to step back.

A band that stopped short

The Haze played gigs for 6 years from 2009. Every member was under 18 during those years.

Their bassist, Cameron Champion, doesn’t think they would have had a chance of sticking around for that long if it hadn’t been for the dads of the five band members.

Richard, band member Max Earnshaw’s dad, was essentially the band manager. He booked the band gigs wherever he could: The A&P Show, Kidsfest, Muscle Car Madness (A car show). 

Something the band struggled with was getting people to take them seriously, and without a place of their own to perform, sometimes it was hard for them to find somewhere to play their music. 

They played at Zebedees a handful of times, but Cameron thinks the venue was a little too heavy for their pop-rock five piece. More than once, every band member had to bring a parent along just so they were allowed in the venue they were playing at. 

The band’s Zac Knopp thinks the lack of places to play actually pushed the band to record more as a way to get their music out, but eventually it wore them down. 

Cameron even suggested that venue owners just saw them as “a bunch of 15-year-olds” and they had to go out of their way to prove their worth as young musicians.


The funding formula

At the moment, The Rātā Foundation doesn’t fund any all-ages music venues.  

Spokesperson Tanya Bethell told Metronews they’re currently funding several youth organisations, including White Elephant. They put on youth focussed events, and used to organised gigs too. 

There’s no reason the foundation wouldn’t fund a venue, Tanya says it just “needs to fit the bill”. 

To fit the bill, an applicant should prove the funding will go towards “Positive relationships, a safe environment with things to do and the opportunity to make a contribution”. 

All that, and ensuring it goes towards improving the wellbeing of youth aged 10 to 25. 

Alternatively, someone opening a venue could skip the funding and figure out a way around it. 

It’s under wraps at this stage, but an all-ages venue is in the pipeline. They’re a well-established hospitality operator, and the plan is to set a venue up in the city centre in the next year or so. 

To keep it afloat, they’ll host an all-ages event once a month. That way, they can pay the bills with the usual sales from a bar the rest of the time. 

But until then, it’s playing in school halls and garages - or not all.