Tradition of memorable music during O-Week continues

Six60 performs to a home crowd in 2017. Photo: Vaughan Elder
Six60 performs to a home crowd in 2017. Photo: Vaughan Elder
As the University of Otago celebrates 150 years, Jono Edwards revisits the sights and sounds of orientations past. Today, on the morning of O-Week’s biggest gig, at Forsyth Barr Stadium, he looks back at the soundtracks of Orientation.

Music has always been the gravitational force at the heart of Orientation.

As the festivities began to take the crown from Capping as the premier student celebration in the 1980s, the bigger the early year acts became.

Former Otago University Students' Association social activities manager Stephen Hall-Jones said every year he tried to secure one big international act.

A stage diver is pulled from the crowd by security as Head Like a Hole play in 1999. Photo:...
A stage diver is pulled from the crowd by security as Head Like a Hole play in 1999. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
In 1987, this was English folk-punk singer Billy Bragg, which was the first Orientation show to sell out the Union Hall.

''I had to go and plead to him because we ran out of a tanker of beer that night. We had to get him on stage, because then everyone would go flocking to the Union Hall and we wouldn't get in trouble with the students.''

Robert Scott, who played Orientation many times with his bands The Clean and The Bats, said the celebrations had a special atmosphere.

''For some of those kids starting at uni it was the first time they'd seen a band.''

The organisers had personal preferences which would ''tend towards indie'', he said.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis pump up a soldout crowd at Forsyth Barr Stadium in 2013. Photo: Craig Baxter
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis pump up a soldout crowd at Forsyth Barr Stadium in 2013. Photo: Craig Baxter
He remembers one year in which material was draped over the auditorium like a huge tent.

By the end of the show the room was a sauna and the audience was dripping with sweat.

National acts which played those years included Dave Dobbin, The Exponents and Shihad.

New Zealand 1980s new wave band Peking Man had the ''record for biggest queue'' in that period, which stretched from the Union Hall to Unicol, Mr Hall-Jones said.

When Rob McCann assumed the role in 2000 his idea was to widen the scope of music to grow the shows.

This included Dunedin Town Hall concerts as well as after-parties.

''That meant a place for your electronic music which couldn't usually sell a hall,'' Mr McCann said.

He developed the underage segment of festivities, including allowing people who were too young to drink into shows with a wristband system.

There were some memorable shows in that time, he said.

''Watching Neil Finn crowd surfing to Don't Dream It's Over on an acoustic guitar was something to behold.''

Now with tastes changing, so has the music.

One of the fastest-selling shows was Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who were announced in late 2012 to play the next year.

While the act was popular when booked, by the time of the concert they were among the world's biggest artists and sold out a 5500 Forsyth Barr Stadium gig.

Current students' association events manager Jason Schroeder said Orientation was now definitely more DJ-oriented.

''Although we try to make sure we have opportunities for people who want to see bands.''

While the local act shows had dropped off slightly, the students' association hoped acquiring Starter's Bar in North Dunedin would help with the ability to hold a range of small to medium-sized shows.

jono.edwards@odt.co.nz

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