It’s a tale seemingly as old as time. The first and second-year students come to University and almost immediately find their way to the Outback Inn and Bar 101. Sure, the argument could be made that the slightly edgier and rebellious ones would find their way to a Static or subsequently a Back Bar but either way, since the beginning of everything there was University and there were a few mainstay nightclubs.
Eventually the students would either age out or risk becoming the tragic cliché of a middle-aged student (24-year-old) still desperately hanging on to the notion they were young and relevant. Some of the smarter ones would age gracefully, finding bars that would better suit their advancing years. House on Hood served as an elderly care facility, catering to a precession of 24-year-olds and over that weren’t quite ready to give up town but couldn’t think of anything worse than being seen with first year students. Some would find their way to Wonder Horse, usually to fulfill a latent fantasy of finding a divorcee to care for. This would carry on for a few more years before the part of each of us that craves exhibitionism eventually dies. The part that felt the compulsion to pretend we can dance while still trying to smash Jager Bombs and Back Drafts. No longer would we feel the compulsion to be seen in someone’s Snapchat story. Instead, with measured reluctance, we would go gracefully into that good night. We would hang up our nice clothes and settle in with slippers and Netflix, not in an “and chill” way but more of an “I can’t wait to talk about this episode of Snowpiercer with people in my study group tomorrow” way.
And the cycle would repeat.
Except for that time that it didn’t.
It is hard to point to a specific beginning, there was no atom bomb, no instigating factor to any of it but for about three years, from 2014 to 2017, the student body collectively decided to just say no. Not to drugs, no one was that stupid. Instead, we said no to town as the primary destination. For whatever reason, we collectively decided to hang out in our homes. Instead of simply preloading before the walk to town (or taxi if you were particularly boujee).
While no one will ever really understand what caused the phenomenon, there are some credible theories. Each is worth at least lip service here.
THEORY ONE – TOWN JUST GOT TOO EXPENSIVE AND MONOTONOUS
This one is likely the most credible of the bunch. The reality is that the venue owners were suffering from years of internalised competition and driving prices down on one another. So much so that the market and the landlords pressed for a correction. Prices had to go up, and as they did so did pre-drinking, this then became its own ouroboros. Pre-loaded students stopped buying drinks in town which resulted in prices being raised and cover charges being introduced. Add to that, the overly cumbersome legislative body that saw a venue or two raise prices and decided they were the new benchmark. Anyone dropping significantly below that was contravening the law and resulted in students being priced out of a student venue and the two boxes of Waikato from Pak’nSave suddenly looked more appealing than ever.
THEORY TWO – PRODUCTION VALUES AND THE RISE OF THE DJ
Almost overnight everyone became a DJ. It wasn’t unreasonable to hear about a house party featuring Snead Place Project or some new MC that was the must-see of the week. It’s almost like trying to decide whether the chicken or the egg came first but the rise of the house party and the rise of DJ deck sales are pretty synonymous. Future mother of the Nation, Jacinda Ardern, had shown that anyone with a remotely cool Spotify playlist could call themselves a DJ and play the small stage at R&V and with that, a generation of musicians was born. Everyone went to at least one house party with a strobe light and a smoke machine and we all remember that one guy who was completely frittered and standing way too close to everything. Every party had a DnB standard and comparatively, town was still playing to the insta-brunch-white-girl who was living and dying on a diet of Ed Sheran and Ariana Grande. House parties just seemed unquestionably edgier than anything else on offer.
THEORY THREE – DRUGS, DRUGS, DRUGS, AND THE PERKS OF NO LONGER BEING A WALLFLOWER
This one probably needs a little more clarity because it goes without saying that there was still no shortage of drugs in town. Anyone who has ever queued for a disabled toilet understands that the drug problem was not a supply and demand issue. The difference was that there was freedom and unpredictability that came with the house party. People were openly doing lines, in fact, it was more cooperative than any other group project. That isn’t to say that the same cliques weren’t in operation, it was still very much the social hierarchy that Mean Girls established. But there was something to be said for the empowerment that came from not having a bouncer watching your every move. If you wanted to completely reinvent yourself for a night you could. You wanted to mingle and hear stories. You wanted to play beer pong and Kings Cup and you wanted, more than anything else, to be free to experiment sexually. House parties gave you an opportunity to step away from the person you were expected to be. If that meant that you spent the evening listening to shit yarns and giggling uncontrollably then that was a great night.
When we were writing this the common theme was the unpredictability of the house party led to an environment where “memories were made.” Outside of town’s big weeks (O’Week and Re’O) anything interesting that was happening was happening at Snead or Cameron Road. Even now the stories told by the former editors and the students in the office are about the nights they set couches on fire or “fell asleep in a shower during sex.” Those tales are the ones that will live in the memory, or in some cases infamy.
AND THEN IT WAS GONE
Almost as quickly as it happened, one day the revival of the house party disappeared again. What was once the place to be now seemed passé. The house party generation graduated and the next one was lured like a Siren’s song to the bright lights of the Outback Inn and Bar 101. The glitter of novelty and the desire to have the Outback experience that their brothers, sisters, and in some cases now fathers had talked about began to create a post-modern nostalgic yearning. Everything that had seemed old and tired a year prior had become fresh and new again.
Behind the scenes, there had been some work put in to make town a destination again. The Back Bar had started to emulate, and in some cases outright plagiarise what had worked against them for the last few years. DJ’s started to view an evening set at Static or Back Bar as the zenith of success, and the white girl had been lured to a revamped House on Hood for fish bowls and the exaggerated appearance of maturity because of a live band. The golden age of the house party was over and normal service had resumed.
There were still pockets of resistance finding their way to Nivara Lounge but for the most part, the idea of the house party was reduced to a special occasion and the period of experimentation and breaking social norms faded into a distant memory.
If there is a lesson to be learned here then we have no fucking clue what it is supposed to be. This isn’t some call to arms telling every second year to throw a party. It isn’t even some yearning for a time that no longer exists. If anything we are back to where this article began. A tale as old as time. A reminder that for as long as there have been students, there has been student culture. Most of the time that is found on the dance floor of a bar but every now and then, if it is needed, the rules are subject to change. The student experience that every first-year seeks ends up being exactly whatever they choose to make it. Adapt or die, life finds a way… Honestly, there are a thousand clichés but perhaps the real truth is that whatever you do just do it in a way that you will look back on it in ten years and think “how did I get away with that?”