Only in its second year, The Gathering is already regarded as the most popular dance music event in New Zealand. Staged on top of Takaka Hill, an hour outside of Nelson, the two day event begins on New Year's Eve and winds up on January 2. On the bill are Salmonella Dub, Pitch Black, Baiter Cell, Unit 23, Short Fuse, Epsilon Blue, Subsonic Sound Systems, and Soundproof/Trigger, plus DJs selected from around the country. A wide spectrum of dance music is represented over five individual stages. On offer is an outdoor techno/trance area, a dub, dancehall, hip hop, drum'n'bass marquee, separate house and techno tents, and an outdoor ambient area. Grant Smithies, one of the organisers of the event, applauds the variety of music.
"The whole idea of The Gathering is that the usual competitive bullshit of factions of the dance scene is set aside, and to celebrate some kind of unity between dance culture from around the country."
Last year The Gathering was attended by over 6,000 people, and, remarkably, there were no arrests.
"Mostly that's down to it being an alcohol-free event," says Smithies. "if you have six and a half thousand pissed folk getting overstimulated by lights and music and mayhem for a couple of days, you generally end up with difficult situations and violence. This year there will be 10,000 people [that's 8,000, Grant - WebEd], and I anticipate it being really sweet as far as people getting on with each other and not being aggro."
The absence of alcohol has led some media to label the event as a 'drug-fest', but that's not the case says Smithies.
"That's a really easy angle for cheap journalism, and it's really overplayed. People take drugs for a variety of reasons, they don't just take them in association with dance events. People will take acid or ecstasy and go to a dance party, there's no point in denying that, but they'll also take acid or ecstasy and go and see the All Blacks play, go to The Big Day Out, go to the beach - that's part of youth culture, not part of dance culture."
Smithies expects the positive reputation of The Gathering to grow after the 97/98 event, but says the increased popularity won't mean it will become a commercialised dance music theme park. "An endlessly bigger dance event is not an aim of The Gathering. We want it to remain fun, so that people are into it for the quality of the event and not the size."