Greg Bruce is a weekend magazines writer for NZME.

What really goes on in Auckland's clubs

From left: Loic Quedec, Gerard Barton and Freddie McKenzie at Roxy Bar. Photo / Getty Images
From left: Loic Quedec, Gerard Barton and Freddie McKenzie at Roxy Bar. Photo / Getty Images

I rolled up to Roxy about 10.15pm on Saturday night, not knowing whether "rolled up" is something the cool kids would say in the club, nor whether "in the club" is something the cool kids would say in the club. I was so far out of my depth that I could not have said for sure even whether "cool" is something the cool kids would say in whatever they now say instead of "in the club".

I had just received a text from my wife, who was at home in Glen Eden with our three preschoolers, who were being woken on a rotational basis by the music from our neighbours' house party. Her text read, "If the Roxy isn't going off, maybe recommend the party on Sarona Ave. It sounds pretty pumping. While you're out, try to find out new terms for 'going off' and 'pumping'."

Fort Lane after 10pm on a Saturday is a place for mostly extremely young and vigorous people in heavy scent, very occasionally vaping. Not so prevalent are middle-aged dads in regulation office chinos, faux-suede brown boots from Hannahs and a pale blue short-sleeved shirt from a generic menswear outlet.

I approached Roxy slowly, hands in pockets, from the Fort St end of Fort Lane, eyes locked on the two strong-looking doormen dressed in full black and taking occasional hugs from young, attractive women and handshakes from young, attractive men. I approached unconfidently.

The smaller, more threatening-looking doorman, without even really looking at me, lowered his arm, a cruel barrier. I stopped and he turned to me with his hard eyes.

"Private function," he said, a claim I knew not to be true, because Gerard Barton, the man who is employed in large part to keep this club hot and central to the Auckland party scene, had told me on the phone just a few hours earlier that he had booked one of the club's VIP booths for us from 10pm.

"I'm supposed to be meeting Gerard," I said. He replied with silence.

"Go around the corner to Everybody's," the other doorman said, breaking the tension. "Maybe you'll find Gerard there."

I knew I wouldn't find Gerard there, because I knew he was en route from a 40th birthday party in Balmoral. But what was I going to do? If you don't got it, you don't got it, and that is something the cool kids would never say.

As I walked away, I heard the doormen slap hands and laugh. Keeping losers out and making sure the scene is always going off, or at least pumping: these are their KPIs. They had done good work. You couldn't really begrudge them that.

There was nobody in Everybody's, so I went back out and stood on Fort Lane, directly opposite the doormen, for what felt like half an hour but was actually closer to 25 minutes. At one stage, someone asked me the way to 1885, which is one of Roxy's fiercest competitors for the cool party dollar. I gave precise directions.

It was hard, standing there humiliated, alone in the dark alley, watching excitable young people passing in laughing packs. I wanted nothing more than to go home. I was on the verge of it several times. It would have been so easy just to tap thrice on my iPhone and have an Uber appear from the darkness to swallow my much-diminished ego.

The thought of being back in my suburban idyll, listening to the neighbours' party music —Blue (Da Ba Dee), Poi E, My Heart Will Go On — without having to actually party, was the most delicious thing.

Then I saw Barton walking towards me, wearing full green medical scrubs, with a surgical mask around his wrist, and I knew then that my night was far from over.

Upstairs at the bar, he asked what I wanted to drink. I told him I wasn't drinking. Without replying, he turned to the barman and ordered one bottle of Moet and two shots of the bar's best tequila. When the barman pulled out a bottle of tequila, Barton waved it away and asked for a better one.

His day had started around lunchtime at a friend's white-themed hen's party at a mansion in Orakei. He'd left there around 8pm and transitioned to his friend's 40th, which had the fancy dress theme, "What did you want to be when you grew up?" which was why he was dressed as a doctor. It had been a long day. It wasn't like he was sober.

He was clearly in his element. In the minute or two it took to get to the bar, he had talked to between six and 10 people, kissing, hugging, laughing. He had introduced me to so many people in such a short space of time that it had proven impossible to know who any of them were.

Barton, 34, has been promoting for clubs, organising club nights, making clubs hot, bringing cool people together and other vague-sounding jobs like that for all his working life.

"I'd rather not be here," he said, quite soon after we arrived at Roxy.

"Where would you rather be?" I asked.

He pillowed his hands to the side of his head and closed his eyes, but within two hours he would be drinking Moet out of the bottle and standing on the seat in one of Roxy's VIP booths, dancing with his butt out over the table. So that would turn out to be a bit of a head-scratcher, in terms of resolving statement with action.

Charisma, spunk, being willing to say what you think: these are the qualities Barton identifies as the common traits of Auckland's leading party people and they are qualities he embodied that night. But then again, sometime either a bit before or a bit after the booth-dancing and the bottle-swigging, through sad eyes that were increasingly squinty, he looked at me seriously and said, "This is my job."

A few days earlier, he had told me: "Having a job like mine is very taxing on the body and the soul sometimes. You just have to constantly be up, you have to be 100 per cent happy all the time, it's your job to make people happy and comfortable. I did it for so long. Sometimes when you hit the off button and you actually get to see how much you have to put on for everybody, it's a bit overwhelming."

Time warps, obviously, when you're in a darkened corner booth filled with a rotating cast of attractive strangers kissing and hugging Barton and drinking great gulps of Moet from the bottle, so it was either midnight or some completely different time when a voice rose above the music and said "Look who's heeeeeerre!" and I turned to see that the voice belonged to noted party boy Loic Quedec, who was referring to the arrival of himself.

At 22, full-time Instagram fashion guy Quedec is already big on the Auckland scene and friends with a lot of prominent people, including Barton.

Colin Mathura-Jeffree, who is usually held up as the leading example of the Auckland man who is never not at a party, says that although he is invited to two events every day, on average, he attends, on average, only three a week. By contrast, Quedec, who is friends with Mathura-Jeffree, was recently out partying every day for 13 straight days.

"It started off on a Tuesday," Quedec says, "then — God — it was a new Zambesi collection launch on the Wednesday, then on the Thursday — dammit, what was Thursday? Oh, I think it was a vodka launch or something, then on the the Friday I ended up just going out, then on the Saturday, um, that was, ah, the night that I was flying to Fiji, BlueSky Fiji, so I partied for Saturday, Sunday, Monday Tuesday, Wednesday, came back Wednesday night, went to a movie premiere — Justice League — and then Thursday ... God! I just can't remember Thursday."

On the night of his grand entrance at Roxy, he was wearing some kind of flamboyant blazer arrangement over mid-thigh-length shorts. Pointing at his ensemble, Barton said, "What do you call that, bitch?" Quedec replied, "A jacket, bitch!" and then they let loose at each other with a phenomenal number of one-line insults all ending in "bitch". It was either very good-natured or vaguely the opposite.

Quedec's position in the scene has been built partly off his Instagram account, which contains photos of him in a wide array of mostly monochrome streetwear, doing a range of hard facials, wearing small-lensed sunglasses. The aesthetic is "Eastern European Drug Dealer Who Won't Brook Your Shit".

As a social media personality/influencer he's been flown to many big events, including first class on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong Fashion Week, and somewhere else overseas by Samsung. He drops brand and product names casually throughout our chat: Grey Goose, Moet, Veuve, Rolls Royce, Landrover NZ Polo Open, Rhythm and Vines, Our House — organisations that have paid him or given him free stuff or both — these being the currency of a social media influencer.

His ice-cold Instagram styling is incongruous with his actual personality, which is excitable and warm and unself-conscious. At Roxy on Saturday night, contemporaneous with his announcement of his arrival, he danced solo for several minutes to the fresh hip-hop jams, in front of our booth. In addition to me and Barton, that area by then contained a party photographer, a young woman who had recently run a marathon, and another young woman who refused to say what she did but knew someone prominent in social media.

Quedec had spent the day at a big electronic music festival called Summerfest. It wasn't like he was sober. I'd texted him a couple of hours earlier to ask if he was coming to Roxy tonight and he'd replied, "Freu still here broo" and then followed that almost immediately with another text, "Pretty roll d haha". After spending a good few minutes rooting around in urbandictionary.com I still had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.

Gemma Ross and Hamish Pinkham at Les Gens Winter Masquerade Ball at Marivare House, 2014.
Gemma Ross and Hamish Pinkham at Les Gens Winter Masquerade Ball at Marivare House, 2014.

A few days before, I had met 18-year-old DJ Freddie McKenzie, at home in the Remuera mansion he shares with his parents. The pool area is off the chain.

McKenzie is trying to make it in the scene and has risen quickly. He's only recently started DJing at cool parties around town, including at Roxy, where his older brother works behind the bar.

His goal has always been to be a big shot musical artist and producer. He has worked on Max Key's vlog, mostly behind the camera, but is transitioning, growing his name and his brand.

Asked if he thinks he's part of the scene, McKenzie says, "I'd say I'm definitely broken into it slightly." But he adds, "Where I have broken into it, I feel like I've pissed off a couple of people at the same time ... I get really excited sometimes and I like to talk and I'm energetic, as opposed to people who have been around longer and are maybe a bit more mature. I'm a bit more excitable and I feel like I might have pissed off some people who don't like my attitude. When I piss off people, it's not intentional. I don't want to make enemies. I hate enemies. Even if someone doesn't like me for one day, that sits at the back of my mind and I go to sleep thinking, 'This person doesn't like me — that sucks.' Even though there are all these other people that might like me, there's this one person [who] really has an impact on me.

"So nothing I do is out there to piss anyone off. I've never done anything intentionally to piss anyone off. I'm just out there partying, having fun, and if people don't like you, that's on them."

"Do I think I'm in the scene? I would say yes, I would say I'm only just in, and there's a lot more people to meet and a lot more to go. Obviously my name wouldn't go as far as someone like Gerard or Loic or Ari [a DJ friend of his] or someone like that but I'd say it's a start and I want to meet everyone and I want to go to all these events and be able to talk to everyone and have a good time. And I'm trying my best to do that at the moment."

Colin Mathura-Jeffree and Mary-Therese Kinsella at Diner en Blanc at Pah Homestead in March.
Colin Mathura-Jeffree and Mary-Therese Kinsella at Diner en Blanc at Pah Homestead in March.

Mathura-Jeffree says he thinks of the party scene as the place where the best business is done.

Quedec knows how to do business. One instance: after the photo shoot for this article, he sent an email to the Canvas editor asking if he could photoshop the images. She said no. Another instance: explaining his ambassador role at the Landrover NZ Polo Open in February, he said, "I've got access to all the tents, like the Veuve tent, which is great. In return, I'd like this and that — like I'd love to be flown in a helicopter."

At the BlueSky Party in Fiji a couple of years ago, he was sat next to a guy he'd never met who turned out to be legendary party boy, founder and organiser of New Zealand's most significant multi-day coastal new year's party Rhythm and Vines, Hamish Pinkham.

"I was like, 'Let's totally do something; here's my email," Quedec says. "Then, a week later, when we'd flown back to New Zealand, he was like, 'Hey, I'd love to do something with you,' so ever since 2015 I've been doing Rhythm and Vines with him."

Although the others are also about business, Pinkham really is about business. He recently took me into his office and introduced me to his marketing director, long-time friend and bandmate, Kyle Bell. Bell joked about how there's a jump in sales for Rhythm and Vines whenever Pinkham goes out.

Pinkham joined in: "It's when I'm single isn't it?"

"Yeah," Bell said, "It's more that when he's got a girlfriend it's actually quite flat." He pulled up a graph showing a sales surge at the end of a longish flat patch: "He was with Sam Hayes up until there," he said.

Quedec's cultivation of his relationship with Pinkham, as with almost everything he does, is a step toward his eventual goal of having his own clothing label. Mathura-Jeffree calls him "a strategic businessman".

"It's like fun and games," Quedec says. "It's incredible to be working with some of the biggest labels and companies in the world — but it'd just be awesome to have my own label for people to wear."

"That's like my 2018 goal. I've been saying it for a few years now."

I ask if the reason it's taken him so long is because he's been going to too many parties.

He laughs. "Like, no comment!" he says. He laughs again, "Oh my God! Dammit ... maybe ... No. No comment!"

Not long after arriving at Roxy, Quedec said that, while at Summerfest, he had asked one of his friends when legit massive international DJ and headliner Deadmau5 would be on. His friend told him that Deadmau5 was already on. In other words, Quedec absolutely owned Deadmau5.

Obviously that owning will have little effect on Deadmau5's reputation but it raises a wider point about social influence.

Quedec hangs out at Roxy, thereby tacitly endorsing it as a hot place to hang out. How much influence his endorsement has on whether it really is hot depends how many other hot people think he's hot, and their own hotness depends on other hot people thinking they're hot and so on, ad infinitum across the social web. So you can see how fraught the whole scene might be, unless you're Mathura-Jeffree, who says, "When I walk into a party, I am the scene."

When I was in my early 20s and going out to famed Auckland meat market The Loaded Hog once every couple of months, all I wanted was to get laid and I never did and as a result I always had a terrible time.

Mathura-Jeffree says, "Who is the most attractive person at a party? The person having the most fun."

On my night out at Roxy I told Barton my story of how the doormen had told me I couldn't come in because there was a private function on.

"Was that just because I'm too old and nerdy? I asked him.

"They just want people who are going to spend money," he lied.

I quickly estimated that, as an Auckland homeowner, I have more assets than 90 per cent of Roxy's millennial-based clientele, and as a mid-career salaryman, I probably have more income as well.

I told Barton this and he immediately abandoned his position of three seconds before. There was zero pause before his reply, "Yeah, they just didn't want you to come in."

I left at 1am. Barton and Quedec were still there. I didn't think Roxy was especially hot.

- Canvas

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