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May 11, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage | [ssba]

Dog Days Are Over

Do you go to shows?

For a few years on either side of 18, I didn’t. Bars were expensive. Why pay to see the same folk band play the same song about the same girl in the front row every weekend? In 2012, that finally changed – Puppies, a new bar, had just opened, and I felt well-dressed enough (I wasn’t) to venture into Mighty Mighty, the upstairs bar known as something of an alt-paradise. Shows meant I had more to look forward to than just ‘booze’ every weekend, and kept me from wallowing in the music I listened to at age 17.

Just two years later, both of them are closing. Mighty Mighty will hold its last show on 24 May, Puppies on 21 June. You should care about this, but you shouldn’t despair.

Let me describe them for a sec. Mighty is an institution, up a very long set of stairs off Cuba Mall, past two bouncers and a door charge. The space itself is a long, narrow room, perpendicular to the street, which somehow fits a stage, a dancing area, lounge seating, a very long bar, and the second-most-cramped smoking area known to man. The décor is, in a word, eclectic.

Mighty always wants to surprise you. It’s reliable in this – you can drop in there any drinking night and see a DJ making the ‘80s her bitch, or some teenagers hurting their instruments, or a Beyoncé karaoke party, or Lorde’s only Wellington show. “I just always have a good time there,” explains a friend, struggling to remember a particular story. “Once, this lady with giant eyelashes kind of just screamed and hit a drum; we were really into it.” Another friend did their first line in the bathroom, while the members of Lontalius were allowed to trade their free drink credits for a toasted sandwich whenever they played there. Sally, the co-owner, patched up a friend’s hand when he turned up bleeding, then gave him a shot of tequila for the pain.

Mighty and Puppies probably serve a lot of the same people, but they aren’t all that alike.

Puppies is as a venue with all the annoying shit taken out. Bands start on time, and keep to a strict schedule. It’s always free after 12, the sound never fucks out, and you never feel obligated to buy drinks. “I tried to make Puppies feel like a cross between a warehouse, dance-party bunker and shitty student flat,” explains Blink, who owns and runs Puppies “‘cause those are the best spaces for shows.” He succeeded.

Puppies sits in a basement on the corner of Tory and Vivian. Its smoking area is basically the steps down to that basement (first-most cramped!). Inside is a kind of weird, large room, with a big concrete pillar, a very low stage, a bar, some seating that nobody ever sits on, and the door to a tiny little room called ‘The Internet’, where the shows are more intimate than a teenage couple at Te Papa. Here is where Blink’s favourite show at Puppies took place, Wellington producer Race Banyon’s release of Whatever Dreams Are Made Of. “His first proper headline show,” explains Blink, “and the sweat was dripping off the ceiling.”

During its short run, Puppies became the de facto home of electronic music in Wellington. “It’s definitely the only venue where I’ve felt happy with the sound quality of electronic music,” explains Race Banyon, real name Eddie Johnston. “Blink also put a lot of thought into lineups; he would make sure the acts playing in a night would work together in a great way.”

Nostalgia is cool and all, but why are they shutting again? Mighty’s owners remain vague, blaming changing circumstances – but it seems likely that their rents will be going way up, as most of the buildings on Cuba St require major earthquake strengthening. Meanwhile, Blink always referred to Puppies as something of a temporary experiment.

Then there’s Wellington itself. We aren’t always the best at turning up to things, or turning up sober, or bothering with a cover charge, or seeking out new music at all. Blink was surprised by how “insular” the Wellington scene is, “how afraid people are of stepping outside of their comfort zones.” We know what we like, which often leads to us not trying out anything new at all.

Blink reeled off a list of other venues – Pyramid Club, 19 Tory St, Fred’s, Understudy, James Cabaret – places I have heard of but never bothered visiting. Then there’s all the steady stalwarts we take for granted, places like Bodega and San Fran. Any cultural economy will have a lot of ‘churn’; that’s the nature of a business that values youth and experimentation. It’s not like Wellington will ever run out of young people keen to have a drink and dance somewhere that isn’t Courtenay Place. In fact – we might have too many venues already. “We need more house parties,” proclaims Blink. “Gimme some punk energy in a living room any day.”

Not that this isn’t sad. It is. But it isn’t the end.



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