Take Me Back: Box & Cause Célèbre 20th Reunion
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Doormen Sam and Riseti, photo: Brigid Grigg-Eyley
Auckland’s most famous and influential nightclub, Box & Cause Célèbre, is reuniting for one night only! The Queen City’s original nightclub pioneers are getting back together for a Special 20th Anniversary Party. The promoters, the players, the DJs and the doormen will all be there. The line-up reads like a Who’s Who of Auckland Nightclubbing...
Box & Cause Célèbre 20th Reunion
Saturday 27 June @ The Studio
Haines Quartet featuring Joel Haines
Bluespeak featuring Greg Johnson
The Lawrence Quintet featuring Peter Urlich
Sam Hill and Sample Gee
For eight years, from 1989-1997, the Box & Cause Célèbre was the epicentre of the New Zealand nightclub scene. Twenty years later, its status is justifiably legendary, with a dedicated Facebook group and the number of folks who claim to have been there all those years back growing year by year.
The Box was a cultural hotbed for Auckland’s evolution as an international, cosmopolitan city. It was clubbing for adults – mixing art, fashion and a broader musical palette, from jazz and blues to hip hop and techno. It made the concept of nightclubbing accessible, being the first club to embrace Auckland’s multi-cultural diversity, as well as its colourful gay scene.
With a new attitude and new music, Box & Cause Célèbre became the showcase for Auckland after dark, and also won favour as the first choice destination for visiting international stars.
Many of the musicians and personalities who cut their teeth in the club – including Greg Churchill, Bevan Keys, Nathan Haines, Peter Urlich, Sam Hill, Sample Gee, Roger Perry, Manuel Bundy and Soane – still dominate Auckland’s nightlife today.
These seasoned performers, along with Sydney based Box legend Rob Salmon and Los Angeles based Célèbre crooner Greg Johnson, needed little encouragement to add their names to the line-up for the Box & Cause Célèbre 20th Reunion – titled “Take Me Back”, after Rhythmatic’s classic 12”, released in 1990.
Because, for many people, what made the Box & Célèbre special was that it was a family, with a sense of camaraderie and kinship that revolved around the people who worked there, the people who spent so many nights there, and the music.
“Take Me Back”
Box & Cause Célèbre 20th Reunion
Saturday 27 June @ The Studio, 340 Karangahape Rd
Limited $45 earlybird tickets on sale from
Monday 11 May
Available exclusively at Strangely Normal (O’Connell St) and Marvel (Ponsonby Rd)
tickets available through iTicket and selected outlets.
Full ticketing and event details to follow…
For more information, a huge selection of period photographs, or interviews with the Box & Célèbre DJs, musicians and nightclub proprietors, please contact:
A BRIEF CLUBBING HISTORY
Returning from London in 1989, Simon Grigg and Tom Sampson signed the lease on a split room underground space in the heart of Auckland City. Those grotty old doors at 35 High Street would become the best club address in New Zealand.
Inspired by a trip to New York – in particular, a club called Nell’s in Manhattan – the place was refitted, painted and upholstered, including a large new bar and a couple of new DJ booths, in 7 days and nights.
The concept for Cause Célèbre & Box was for a semi-sophisticated members club playing jazz on one side, quite elitist; with a no holds barred, raw, underground dance club on the other.
The cover charge was initially just $2, then later $5 (for the best and most innovative DJs and musicians in the country!) with VIP members getting in free.
The idea was for the resident Box DJs to build a club following. The first line-up was Roger Perry and Jon Davis.
When Roger left for London, an Auckland Grammar sixth former called Rob Salmon was offered a job as trainee resident, and for the next few years he balanced school with club life, often arriving in his school uniform to rehearse in the afternoons.
The new sounds of Progressive House and Wild Pitch, along with dark, dubby, tracky House, became Rob's trademark, as he pushed the bass bins on the best sound-system in New Zealand (a Cerwin Vega system, tuned nightly by Tom) to the limit.
Late in 1990, a young DJ called Manuel Bundy, who played contemporary hip hop and funk, was hired to play from 2pm till close.
After 1am, when De Brett's bars closed, you really had trouble moving in the Box. From 1990 to 1997, Box and Célèbre had an average of 800-1000 customers through every Friday night, and about 800 on a Saturday.
Manuel left in 1992 (although he featured in Célèbre from 1995) and Rob moved to the late slot, extending to 6am when the late license came in at the end of 1993. Just about every major house record that broke in Auckland from 1990 to 1995 was broken by Rob Salmon at the Box. Rob mixed a series of cassettes called ‘Box Mix 1’, ‘Box Mix 2’, etc, which were sold over the bar. These are ridiculously rare now.
Rob Salmon’s Box Classics, 1990-95:
LFO – LFO
Rhythmatic – Take Me Back
Danny Tenaglia – Bottom Heavy
Junior Vasquez – Get Your Hands Off My Man
Lion Rock – Lion Rock
Xpress 2 – London Express
Hardfloor – Acperience
Public Enemy – Shut 'em Down
In late 1995, Rob left for New York, where he would make quite a name for himself, and an unknown Christchurch DJ was asked to move up to Auckland and take over. Greg Churchill had a tougher, techier style, and his sets took the club on quite a journey from beginning to end.
There were a variety of very cool techno nights on a Thursday with a loyal following, regular theme parties like Retro or Madchester, and Auckland's first regular Drum and Bass night was in the Box. In 1995, a much smaller room named The IceBox, and featuring the new Tech-house style, was opened just off the main room.
The Box released the first NZ DJ mix album, mixed by Greg Churchill and Dean Webb, and called simply ‘Box’, in a metal tin in 1996. It was limited to 1500 copies and is pretty collectible these days.
First with Rob, and then Greg, Simon Grigg hosted ‘Beats Per Minute’ every Thursday on 95bFM, providing the Box with a weekly radio show featuring batches of new vinyl that were imported at some cost from the UK and US.
From 1995, Greg Churchill absolutely dominated the Box (and then Auckland’s) dancefloors. His regular eight hour sets were legendary. Many customers arrived at door opening time and stayed on the floor until 6am. Once Greg left the club, in real terms, that was the end of the Box.
Other local DJs who made their name at the Box include Dean Webb, Sam Hill, Sample Gee, Timmy Schumacher, Chelsea, Stephen Green, Miro, Jason Holloran, Rob Warner, James Chesterman, Simon Flower and Mechanism.
Greg Churchill’s Box Classics, 1995-98:
Thomas Bangalter – Trax On The Rocks
Peace Division – Phaze K
Green Velvet – Answering Machine
Basement Jaxx – Fly Life
Cevin Fisher – The Freaks Come Out
Danny Tenaglia – Elements
Chez Damier – Close (Derrick Carter Mix)
The Box was the first club in New Zealand to regularly host international DJs. The first international was actually rapper Ice T, with DJs. Next was Norman Cook, with the Beats International crew in mid 1989. The real biggie was Andy Weatherall. Auckland had seen nothing like him. He inspired a whole generation of DJs. Gilles Peterson came a bit later and confused much of the large crowd by stopping records to explain what they were.
Other internationals who played at Box included Judge Jules (several times), Paul Oakenfold, Derrick May, DJ Sneak, Derrick Carter, Jeff Mills, Ashley Beadle, Eric Rug, Miles Hollway, Roy the Roach (several times), The Grid (several times), Stacey Pullen, Dave Angel, Alex Patterson, Mathew Herbert, Richie Hawtin, Doc Scott, Dom & Roland, Kemestry & Storm, Ed Rush and Grooverider.
You came down the stairs, went straight ahead into the Box or took a hard left into the other side of the club… Cause Célèbre was firstly and foremost about jazz, soul and funk – and it was the best bar in town for years.
Simon and Tom invited in a junior partner, Kevin ‘The Hat’ Hewson, probably the best cocktail barman in Auckland and late of the infamous Le Bom Dean Martini Club. The interior was designed by Anne Sampson, who also ran it with a fairly firm hand, and the walls featured the art of Gavin Chilcott.
Even when international DJs played at Box, Célèbre was always open to the regulars on Fridays and Saturdays – that was important to the philosophy of the club. The only exception to that was the night that U2 hired the room for a private party. Simon and Tom put Paul Oakenfold in the Box for $5 to compensate!
Cause Célèbre was Auckland's VIP bar... the place where all the touring acts came, where Tom Jones bought girls Moet, where Eric Clapton sneered at Jimmy Barnes, where Hall & Oates were bar-flies, where you could see David Soul at one end of the bar and John Hurt at the other, where Ice T lay on the floor singing ‘My Funny Valentine’, where Mick Jagger tried to get in free (Riseti said he could afford $5 and had to pay...and he did), and where Harvey Keitel could be found for weeks on end whilst filming ‘The Piano’.
Célèbre was the venue for dozens of showcase events from Texas to Nigel Kennedy (who also dropped by on occasion to play with the local bands). It was where promoters held parties for their artists, where product launches were done, where the key fashion parades were to be found, where television and film productions held their wrap parties.
But mostly it was about the bands, the DJs that played between them, and the people who queued nightly to see them. The regular Bluespeak Thursdays, or Tommy Adderley and Frank Gibson doing jazz standards, or Freebass (with the Haines and Harrop brothers), The Lawrence Quintet with Peter Urlich, Mark De Clive-Lowe, Supergroove on Fridays, Tony Hopkins' wonderful line-ups, or Nathan Haines and the Enforcers, who played every Saturday, and quite a few Fridays, for four years to standing room only crowds.
Célèbre was the only place where you could catch a band that came on at 1.30am and played till 6am with sweat running down the walls. Coupled with the DJs, Manuel Bundy, Gerhardt Pierard and Bevan Keys, there was nothing like it in Auckland.
Cause Célèbre Resident Bands:
Nathan Haines and The Enforcers
The Lawrence Quintet featuring Peter Urlich
Mark De Clive-Lowe and The Enforcers
Bluespeak featuring Greg Johnson
Murray McNabb Band
Tony Hopkins Band
Frank Gibson Band featuring Tommy Adderley
James Gaelyn Band
In 1996, Retro nights started on Wednesdays, and carried on for years, with DJ Wanda L’Amour, and then Grant Marshall who expanded it into the Box room. In fact, Retro became so successful that it covered the club's weekly running costs.
The Cause Célèbre bar was dominated by the legendary Kevin ‘The Hat’, who worked with a succession of assistants. The classic High Street drink was the 42, which was four shots of vodka over ice in a tall glass, filled with lime juice. It was developed by De Brett's Phil Rikers, but Célèbre developed its own takes on that, most notably the Watermelon 42, thousands of which were sold every week, along with Strawberry 42s, Chocolate 42s, Passionfruit 42s...
The Box & Célèbre’s respected and trusted doormen were absolutely key to the way the club ran. Apart from Riseti (Rose to everyone), who was both the head doorman and the standard bearer, there was Soane Filitonga and Tim Sulusi, both later DJs of some reputation, Leonard, Sam, George and, briefly, Pauly Fuemana.
Tom sold his share of Box & Cause Célèbre in 1996, and Simon followed in 1997. After 1998, the scene moved up to Calibre in K’ Rd where, ironically, Roger Perry and former doorman Soane would create the Box's natural successor as the Auckland club of record.