An expanded Electric Avenue festival in Christchurch's Hagley Park was the wettest yet. James Dann was there.
Who would be a festival promoter?
You spend months of meticulous planning to ensure your gig goes as smoothly as possible. You’re confident in Canterbury’s dry summer weather.
Then, an hour before your headline act goes on, the skies open, the temperature drops, and your summer music festival quickly turns into an act of survival.
So it went for Christchurch’s Electric Avenue festival yesterday.
In its sixth year, the festival - held in North Hagley Park - expanded to four stages, with 20,000 punters expected to walk through the gates.
The date, February 22nd, is one marked with sadness. It’s the day Christchurch’s fatal 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck in 2011.
Nine years later, the city - or at least the crowd at Electric Avenue - seemed to have largely moved on.
There was a message displayed at 12:51 declaring a minute’s since, but it was hard to tell whether anyone actually observed it.
As with any festival, the opening sets were a chance for local acts to test out the sound system, while punters made their way into the grounds.
Two of the day’s best acts were playing on the Cosmic stage, tucked away at the far end of the site, next to the lake.
Christchurch group Beacon Bloom - a three-piece (guitar, bass, drums) supplemented with synths and drum pads - brought a dance party energy, with their four-to-the-floor drumming and driving, post-punk baselines.
Australian electro-pop group Confidence Man featured live drums and synth with a heavy electro-house backing.
They turned the irony up to 11, with their two front people - Janet Planet and Sugar Bones - bringing co-ordinated dance moves, a series of costume changes, and a comic sensuality that kept the crowd distracted from the rain that had started falling.
Aussie pop-rockers Lime Cordiale were the first big draw of the day. Their weaponised twee sound, which featured trombone and clarinet, had many in the crowd singing along.
I’m not that into Aussie guys rapping in faux-Jamaican accents, so I went to the Lake Stage to catch Home Brew.
Tom Scott has a deep catalogue of songs that the crowd were all too keen to sing along to and a super tight backing band.
While other groups throughout the day played it pretty safe, Scott displayed the edge and unpredictability that you want from a rockstar. He made political statements and digs at the people who booked him - biting the hand that feeds, with the audience eating out of his hand.
One of the other explicitly political acts was Brass Against, a Brooklyn-based group that’s bringing protest music back… but with a horn section.
Hearing Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Guerrilla Radio’ with a trombone solo is certainly a novel concept, but in my opinion, not one worth full set of songs.
By this stage thousands of people had arrived at the festival. Infrastructure that had looked like overkill a couple of hours ago - the huge number of bars, the rows and rows of portaloos - was now surrounded by large queues.
Wellington reggae veterans The Black Seeds played the Lake stage at 3pm, delighting the growing crowd during what would turn out to be the best part of the day.
Then, at around 4:30, just as Australian singer-songwriter Matt Corby was signing about the sunshine, the real rain set in. It got steadier and steadier, until it was clear - this was the real deal.
A number found shelter under awnings and tents. Others tried to pile into the Rave Cave - the only stage with a roof - with Police eventually introducing a one-in-one-out policy. Many stood beneath tree branches.
As the rain settled in, the Festival was a rather surreal sight - with hundreds taking shelter wherever they could, the stages were left almost entirely empty.
Some had come prepared with pocket ponchos or rubbish bags. Others took the lids off rubbish bins and wore them as hats.
The problem wasn’t just the rain, it was the temperature, which had plummeted to 10 or 11 degrees. Many who’d dressed for a summer’s day were soon wet and cold.
In the middle of all this, two young men attempted to enter the festival by paddling across Lake Victoria in an inflatable dingy. They soon realised there were half a dozen cops and security staff waiting ashore. This led to a protracted stand-off, with the boat hovering about 10 metres offshore, and the two men getting progressively wetter and drunker, with no resolution in sight.
With the rain showing no signs of abating, and punters starting to head for the exits, Ben Harper took the stage a little early. As soon as the opening notes of slide guitar on ‘Ground On Down’ rang out across the park, people forgot their cold and discomfit and ran towards the main stage.
Harper’s singalong classic ’Steal My Kisses’ came soon after, and the bodies in the crowd created some temporary warmth.
By 8pm, the rain had finished, and if you hadn’t been soaked to the bone, you could almost say the conditions were pleasant. Still, large numbers of people had left, and while there were good crowds at each of the stages, there weren’t many people in the spaces between.
The crowd at the Cosmic Stage was at its largest when Wellington drum n bass duo The Upbeats played, and with the sea of emergency ponchos, and the mud underfoot, it felt more like an outdoor festival, not one smack in the middle of a city.
Aussie EDM larrikins Peking Duk were determined to start a party by any means necessary, and if that meant getting the crowd to sing “Waisake Naholo” to ‘Seven Nation Army’, then so be it. It was notable that many of Peking Duck’s biggest moments were when they were doing covers or simply playing other people’s songs. Highlights included ABBA’s ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ and the Flashdance theme.
The last act to play was Australian drum n bass trio Pendulum, who did not disappoint. The played atop a five metre-high pyramid of screens, with smoke and pyrotechnics, delivering their hits at a frantic pace.
A light drizzle had started to drift back across the park, but the heat of the dancing masses meant that few noticed.
Still damp, now getting cold, I slunk off into the night.