8 Nov 2023

David and Goliath battle for the NZEA Award for Best Music Event 2023

by Jenny Barrett

University of Canterbury Students Association’s A Little Doof up against Ed Sheeran, Synthony, & Homegrown

(photos by Hamish Hobbs, Vantage Media)

Ben Ellis, Events Manager at University of Canterbury Students’​ Association, whilst slightly amazed to be shortlisted alongside the likes of Ed Sheeran, Homegrown, Outfield, and Synthony in the Domain sees it as an acknowledgement of a lot of hard work, “ As a team, we have strived to create music events to the same standard as Rhythm & Vines or Electric Ave, moving away from an attitude that they are ‘just for students’. I see this award nomination as recognition that we are achieving that level of professionalism.”


Behind the nomination also sits an epic tale of commitment, enthusiasm and a fair amount of Kiwi ingenuity. Ben and his team had huge sympathy for the students who began university life in 2022, “Omicron had just arrived in New Zealand so there was no ‘O’ week, not one of our 3,000-plus people outdoor music events went ahead. Some students threw their own O week events and you’d pass people dressed in togas sitting around a crate, but many just went home because what was the point in being in Christchurch to do online lectures?”


Three months later the government relaxed the restrictions, eight days before the end of term, “The first years had missed one of the best times of their lives so we were determined to pull something together. We wanted to give them a taste of what was to come in terms of events at UCSA before the end of their first semester, hence A Little Doof.”


Having utilised the Haere-roa Amphitheatre previously as the second stage for bigger festivals they  cookie cuttered the stage design, entry, and bar, A Little Doof was up and running and the team had eight days to sell seven hundred tickets, wake up the dormant events industry, and get to grips with the latest government restrictions.


“We sold seven hundred tickets in a week. To be honest it wasn’t just the students who were up for it, also the contractors who’d had no events since new year. The fencing hire company, the water station guys, everyone threw their support behind it. Together, everyone put more staff on than was needed to raise morale in the events sector.”

DJs, deprived of audiences yet again through the peak summer festival season, were amped too and Ben secured UC’s own upcoming DnB act Pirapus and pulled in PORIS, regular at Baydreams, Northern Bass, and Rhythm & Vines, to replace Elipsa who Covid scuppered a few days out. Button B and Foxtrot, two other local DJs completed the line-up.

Alongside planning the programme, there was a concerted effort to keep everyone safe, “We spent the first two and a half days deciphering the new protocols. We knew the capacity limits had been removed and you no longer needed to be seated but we didn’t know what other restrictions remained in place. Health and safety was our absolute priority and all our staff wore masks. We put other measures in place too such as avoiding our audience mingling on entry and exit with a drama society event happening that same night.”

Kiwi ingenuity

The dearth of events meant that there was no problem sourcing the gear. They used Trailer Stages for their TSL-15, Pixel for the LED screens and Bounce for the audio. TES (Technical Event Solutions) handled the lighting, “We had our own Jake Russell on visuals and our Production Manager was Joseph Reeves, who has now moved onto Venues Otautahi.”

The biggest problem was logistical, “We always use a HIAB to lift the stage off the truck but as it had rained all week prior we couldn’t drive the truck on the lawn. Well we tried and it got stuck.” Plan B was a hairy lift over a creek, “The arm of the HIAB only just had enough reach and we had to use some number eight wire thinking. We were lucky the HIAB driver was game for it and the stage owner was ok with us leaving it there for two weeks whilst the lawn dried out. There was no way we were doing that lift again.”

The NZEA Award

It was Ben himself who submitted A Little Doof for the award, “The event was a huge success and I felt incredibly lucky to be able to do it. I think it stands out because we were so dedicated to running something for our students, our staff and contractors; that we followed best practice around health and safety, event production and management; and of course because we did it all in eight days. I’m not sure we’ll pick up the award on the night in light of the competition,” Ben chuckles, “But the nomination itself really means something to us in reaffirming the direction that we are heading for our students.”

The NZEA Awards will be announced at the 2023 Gala Evening on Thursday 9 November 2023 at Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre.


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