The Dux de Lux: The Unofficial Cultural Centre of Christchurch

20th May 2011 By Dr. Sharon McIver c/o
I think everyone who was here on that fateful and fatal day in February will agree – we are a city of losses. Some of those losses are devastating most are ongoing and yet the piles of loss mount up along with the piles of everything else we’ve spent the last three months shovelling up. Some days they come randomly as we travel past a favourite café/church/school and find it literally either down or out we are reminded again of just how expansive this loss is. No matter how affected by the quake individually we all know the pain and poignancy of seeing a caved in wall and thinking about all the times we sat beneath it. When it’s down we can at least see the devastation and understand why we’ll never see that much loved place again but there’s something quite surreal about driving past an old haunt and finding no trace of it other than a sign saying where the tenants have moved to (if you’re lucky). One place that’s a little bit down but not so much that it can’t be fixed is the Dux de Lux – and man am I looking forward to the day that I can lift a pint of Ginger Tom and toast the return of my favourite pub at its usual premises on the outer reaches of the Arts Centre the cultural hub of Christchurch. At least that’s what I’m hoping. Because it’s one thing to regretfully say goodbye to a heap of rubble but to lose the one bar in this entire city that I can claim to have consistently visited all the drinking-age years I’ve lived here because of politics? Forgive me for getting all Cheryl on it but that fucking hurts. The Dux de Lux is far more than a restaurant/bar/venue complex – and the man who owns it. It has served the good citizens of Christchurch and the globe for 33 years and in a city known for its racism (yet another version of which was manifest in the ‘No Chinatown’ post-its on the wall at the recent Share An IdeaCommunity,Music Organisations,Community,Music Organisations,Community,Music Organisations,Community,Music Organisations,Community,Music Organisations,Community,Music Organisations,Community,Music Organisations,Community,Music Organisations, FundingExpo) the Dux is our multicultural multinational multi-age and crucially multi-class meeting place that proves that racism is only present in a minority – and a dumb one at that. It’s the place you go when you’re meeting someone graduating bored in need of some live music sorting hungry kids out with nachos or getting sloshed with the workmates at Christmas time. For out of town Otautahi natives it’s a traditional Boxing Day meeting place and I’ve heard that there’s even a bar in the complex where you can watch the rugby. In fact I’ll wager a couple of their famous pitchers that most of us are far more familiar with the insides of this comfy old student union building than we are with the ornate stone masonry of the Cathedral. My first memories of the Dux date back to the 80’s when we discovered that the $4 quiche was good enough to divert some of our Saturday morning shopping money for lunch. There we sat with our hair back-combed into a ‘Villa Maria bulge’ and played at our new found status of being grown ups drinking the cheapest wine and sharing desserts. A year or so later the Club Bar was the cool pre-Romanovs hangout on Thursday nights. Bulges were out and I have a distinct memory of trying to look mysterious (which probably translated as surly) behind a long fringe of hair. But my fondest memories of the Dux are from the six years starting in the mid 90’s when I was lucky enough to work for The Press as a music reviewer. At the time none of us could’ve predicted how huge New Zealand music would become and with radio stations still reluctant to play local tunes the best way to discover something was to hear it live. And the Dux was the only place in town that consistently provided free live music at least four nights a week. More local musical enclaves have formed there than in any other music venue in the past three decades. For that alone I believe that Christchurch owes something to Richard Sinke and his vision – the Dux is the Kohanga Reo of Christchurch music. My own memories of gigs are too numerous to mention but of the years that I reviewed many bands there a few vivid highlights stand out not least the Chris Knox gig where I perched in the spot behind the bar where manager Ross Herrick would let me stand on nights when it was packed and I couldn’t see squat. Yet that night as Knox’s jandalled feet kept coming perilously close to the overhead fan as he surfed over the crowd I’m sure I closed my eyes. Another night I kept close to the side door as glasses shunted along the bar and crashed to the floor during one of Salmonella Dub’s bass-heaviest tracks. Other gigs are blurry with swirling guitars and droning bass a melange of soundscapes loved by a microcosm of South Islanders who like their music mostly instrumental and more than a little bleak. For these gigs I would gravitate to the dark spot next to the juke box where I could stand in the corner eyes closed and simply drink in the sounds. There I experienced for the first time the decades-enduring soundscapists Into the Void along with the much missed Mike Hex and his band Squirm who have recently been resurrected. There I identified and fell in love with a dense heavy sound that was lifted straight from the swamp – like some kind of musical precursor to what we now know as liquefaction. That I attended some of these gigs alone is also a tribute to the Dux. It was a place where a young woman could feel safe walking into by herself and know that she would be sure to find another stalwart music fan to at least share a beer. Yet there is one gig that stands out more than any other from those years when I did my best to document a new surge in local music – the semi-final of the Roundup band competition in 1999 where I first heard Shapeshifter. I’d grown tired of Korn and RHCP rip-off bands and had started hanging out at Ministry where I discovered that I especially liked drum and bass (just another form of swamp music) but what I heard in that twenty minute set from Shapeshifter turned everything I thought I knew about the genre on its head. Close my eyes and I could’ve been on any sweaty club dancefloor but open them and I could actually watch Redford Grenell hammering out the complicated rhythms like a mechanical toy monkey crossed with an octopus whilst the rest of the band did exactly what a band is supposed to do – play like they mean it. One side of my brain was going ‘fuck this is mental’ the other was thinking ‘these guys are going to be huge.’ And that is why I beg of you to not let them take our Dux away. We’ve all lost so much already and too many of us have magical memories of the place that is the cultural centre of Christchurch to take its demise lightly. To the people who have the power to reverse the lease cancellation please try to think about what the Dux really means to us and allow it continue to be a place where our children can develop their own unique voice. God knows they’ll need it. Besides who knows how many more Shapeshifters Salmonella Dubs Squirms and Into the Voids we’d miss out on if the bureaucrats get their way? So rise up Christchurch and start kicking up some dust – sign the petition here and save our Dux de Lux! By Dr. Sharon McIver c/o