A look behind the scenes at Electric Avenue

It’s New Zealand’s biggest one-day music festival, with 35,000 happy, grooving fans dancing and singing along to some of the world’s biggest bands. But behind the scenes, it takes an army of workers to build the festival “city” in Christchurch’s Hagley Park and take it all down again. The logistics and numbers involved are mind-numbingly large - and often keep Electric Avenue organiser Callam Mitchell awake at night. Mitchell sits down with the Herald’s Pierre Nixon.

Electric Avenue has grown 20-25 per cent every year since 2015. Photo: Supplied
Electric Avenue has grown 20-25 per cent every year since 2015. Photo: Supplied
How it started

It was in 2013 when the idea of hosting a music festival floated into nightclub entrepreneur Callam Mitchell’s head.

At first, his plan was to run a two-day camping festival in the peaceful Banks Peninsula forest, at Orton Bradley Park.

But the more the idea grew, the more the Christchurch City Council wanted a music festival in the central city.

“They [the council] had actually started talking to some other promoters from out of town about bringing a pre-existing touring festival into Christchurch. So they convinced us to shelve our plans for Orton Bradley Park and move it into the city,” Mitchell told the Herald.

In 2015, the first Electric Avenue debuted on Waitangi Day to a crowd of around 8000 people, featuring local acts Shapeshifter, Fat Freddy’s Drop, and Ladi6.

The festival was slated as the first day-night event of its type in the centrally located Hagley Park and the first music festival to be held in the city post-earthquake.

Electric Avenue organiser Callam Mitchell initially planned for a two-day festival at Orton...
Electric Avenue organiser Callam Mitchell initially planned for a two-day festival at Orton Bradley Park. Photo: George Heard
Mitchell, director of Team Event which runs Electric Avenue, told the Herald that since 2015 it has grown 20-25 per cent every year.

“Last year [2023] was probably the biggest growth it had; we went from 28,000 [in 2021] to 37,000,” he said.

“We also sold out 10 days out, and we still had another 4000 or 5000 people that signed up for the waitlist.”

This year promises no difference, with 35,000 people from around New Zealand and the world expected to pile into Hagley Park on Saturday to witness acts such as The Chemical Brothers, Six60, and Hybrid Minds.

The set-up

For Mitchell and his team of five full-time staff, the planning starts about a year out from each event. However, the festival site set-up begins two weeks out from the big day.

“It’s a pretty small team, but it scales up from five in the office to about 2000 on-site,” he said.

Mitchell, who’s the mastermind behind all the logistics, said he orders about 700 porta-loos and urinals from three different companies.

And 150,000 drinks are also ordered to fuel the thousands of festival-goers, with 500 bar staff on deck to serve them.

“Getting the hangar in is the first big crucial piece that sort of takes four or five days to build, then the production guys can go in.”

The festival site itself covers a whopping 100,000 square meters, needing around 10km of fencing for crowd control.

To fit enough scaffolding around Hagley Park, Mitchell said, about seven B-trains are loaded up and delivered from Hamilton.

And to keep things safe, there’s a team of 300 security staff on hand.

All this adds up to a hefty price tag of more than $6 million, showing just how committed Mitchell is to keeping Electric Avenue going year after year.

Electric Avenue organiser Callam Mitchell speaks about the logistics that go into hosting New...
Electric Avenue organiser Callam Mitchell speaks about the logistics that go into hosting New Zealand's biggest one-day music festival. Photo: George Heard
Booking acts

Electric Avenue has hosted some of the biggest international acts from Rudimental, Dizzee Rascal, Flume and Pendulum to local acts like Benee, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Lorde and Shapeshifter.

Mitchell said his booking process begins about a year out from the next festival.

“Often the process is just approaching the artist directly that we want on the lineup,” he said.

“We work with Australian or national tour promoters to make sure there’s enough of a circuit to make an offer to someone that’s travelling all the way from America or Europe.”

He admitted it’s “not cheap” hosting an act like his 2024 headliner The Chemical Brothers.

“People think it’s just a couple of guys on stage, but there’s a tour party of 23.”

He said his booking method is to have a really “balanced” line-up with no target audience in mind.

“The idea is to bring people in the park, so we’ve got to be pretty broad in our programming, but it has got to be good music to start with,” he said.

For future events, Mitchell said he’s interested in booking unique artists that aren’t in the mainstream but can “blow people away”.

Economic impact

Electric Avenue is one of the biggest tourism drivers for the South Island’s biggest city.

According to ChristchurchNZ’s economic report, last year’s event sold out with a record 37,842 attendees, 47 per cent of whom came from outside Canterbury, generating close to 40,000 visitor nights in the city.

ChristchurchNZ head of major events Karena Finnie said: “$5,613,848 of visitor expenditure was attributed to Electric Avenue, at an average of $313 per visitor.”

Mitchell told the Herald that due to the current demand, a two-day version of the festival is being discussed.

“There are challenges with trying to grow and dealing with whether it’s reached its capacity in Christchurch or whether the city can handle it any more, but we just need a few more hotels,” he said.

“The two-day model has always been part of the business plan when we were looking at Orton Bradley Park, but there are a lot of challenges in an urban environment running an event over two days.”

About 2000 contractors work over two weeks to bring Electric Avenue to life. Photo: George Heard
About 2000 contractors work over two weeks to bring Electric Avenue to life. Photo: George Heard
Quickfire questions

Who is your dream artist you’d like to have on the Electric Avenue line-up?

“It was The Chemical Brothers, but now I’m gonna need a new dream. I can’t give too much away, but there are a few acts on our list already for 2025 which is pretty exciting.”

What do you love about your job?

“I ask myself the same question … this time of year I question my life decisions. We just love being able to put on a great party and see people’s vibe on the day.”

When you were younger did you used to host the parties?

“Pretty much. I used to run events for the Student Association and a nightclub before that, so I’ve always been into putting on parties for the people.”

What keeps you up at night the night before the show?

“It’s getting the simple things right. Last year, we had a couple of little operational issues. One of our providers let us down on the gate so it’s making sure the basics are done right and the customer experience is really good.”

Do you have friendly competition with other festival directors from around New Zealand?

“It’s quite healthy. I tend to get on pretty well with most of those guys and I talk to them all the time. There’s quite a crew from Rhythm and Vines coming, The Rhythm and Alps guys will be coming, some of the Bay Dreams guys will be coming.”

What is the craziest item an artist has requested as part of their rider?

“One last year that was pretty colourful was Lorde’s. It was a huge touring party of 25 or 30 on the road. In the backstage area there might have been seven trailers for the crew.”

How profitable is running a massive event like this?

“It’s quite a thin line that you walk on and a lot of risk … So we’re not going out buying Ferraris or anything like that.”

-By Pierre Nixon