Dance, music, participation, no drugs and the freedom to express individuality come to the fore in conversations with any of The Gathering's three organisers.
This year will be the third time what has become the country's biggest dance party is to take over the remote 18ha site on Canaan Downs, perched on Takaka Hill. This year 10,000 tickets have gone on sale to the 48-hour event which is to start at noon on Wednesday, December 30. Last year, 8000 attended the event.
The event has been organised by three very different people. Nelson Mail reporter Helen Murdoch talks to a performer, a realist and a visionary.
The realist: Greg Shaw
Greg Shaw is a realist. The son of a railwayman, he left school to follow in his father's footsteps.
"I do the books and keep them honest," Greg says of his fellow Gathering organisers as he looks intensely through his wire-rimmed glasses and smiles. Lounging on the deck of the family's Stanley Crescent home in ripped jeans and a T-shirt, Greg sips coffee and looks at the strip of sea view. "Most of the people involved are really good artists - but when it comes to practical things like money, they need someone to do a budget and keep them to it."
Greg is better known in the Nelson region for his involvement with Everyman Records in Hardy Street. He's been in partnership there for 8 1/2 years. "I love it, I really do love it. I think I'll die there. It's like selling people joy. It's probably a bit like selling books, anything which has that little bit of fantasy."
He says that owning or working in a record store had been a dream of his since he was in his teens. "I can remember sitting in a friend's bedroom when I was about 15 saying 'One day I'm going to work in a record shop'."
He's come a long way from when he started with the New Zealand Railways as a 16-year-old school-leaver who had freshly flunked University Entrance. "I joined when there were a lot of people retiring and, when I finished there at 28, I was a transport licensing officer for the Otago-Southland branch. I'm not a trained accountant. The Railways taught me about business and how to deal with people."
He says leaving the Railways was a total lifestyle decision. "We were going to move to either the Bay of Islands, the Coromandel or Nelson - and the other two were too close to Auckland."
Greg and his partner moved to Mapua and bought a dairy in Motueka which they converted into a sandwich bar. "It just broke even for three years." The summer they sold it, Greg alternately worked for Abel Tasman National Park Enterprises and drove an orchard tractor. Always the music fiend, he also spent regular hours probing the collections offered by Everyman Records. "Halfway through that first summer, one of the partners rang me up and asked me if I wanted a share."
He has not been content to simply sit on the record sales fence - he has been involved in the music industry boots and all. "I find it exciting, managing bands. Sometimes you are just a signature away from making a lot of money - and doing it."
He admits he has faith in the industry - "it has the ability to fulfill dreams" - and says he loves to turn people on to music they have not heard before. Last year's Gathering turned him on to a music scene he had not experienced before. "I didn't really like the idea of dance music, I like live bands. I've been won over - slightly."
He says he agreed to help last year's organisers as he felt they were "really brave." "When you have to supply everything into a site, it is such a gamble - I thought they needed the support. Any sane person wouldn't have even tried it."
He said last year's Gathering gave him the same feeling as an early Nambassa festival. "It's that feelgood thing, although it could have been the lack of sleep. But what's wrong with music that does that to people? And that is what The Gathering is all about - it's about letting artists be artists and rewarding them. We give them a big canvas and we pay for it."
He says the common perception that The Gathering was a major money-earner for the organsiers was wrong. "Every year it costs more, as peple expect more, and we want to provide more - we're our own worst enemies. The main aim for The Gathering is to pay all the bills and provide a good dance party."
The visionary: Murray Kingi
The dark green curtains are half-drawn over the windows of the basement room, but even in the dim light it still looks as if a computer-generated bomb has gone off. Electrical wires spool off reels, tools are scattered, clothes, computer covers and the odd keyboard are spread across the table tops, around computer terminals and record turntables and dripping to the floor.
A wooden Buzzy Bee waits on a speaker stack.
Murray Kingi calmly surveys the room, his large frame relaxed on a computer stool. As the only surviving original Gathering organiser, he's seen it all before and he's more than prepared to do it again. "I've been an electronics hobbyist since I was small. I saved all my beans and bought one of the first home computers and studied programmes."
He says he used to annoy his computer teachers. "I was very much a nerd," he says. His hometown of Blenheim didn't offer a huge amount of job opportunities for a computer fanatic, so he left as soon as he could. "I floated from job to job between Christchurch and Wellington. I worked for Dick Smith Electronics for a while then moved to Datalink - it was very much the yuppie lifestyle. I just spent and spent, it was all gone in a flash."
One minute he was in Wellington selling main-frame computers and the next the sharemarket crashed. "In a week I was out of a job, so I went back to Blenheim and then decided to move to Nelson for employment and lifestyle." Again he floated between unemployment and work.
"I've always been into music and sound systems and I did an unpaid apprenticeship for a local PA firm, humping speakers and learning how to mix. I've got a good ear. Then one night I was hired out for what they called a dance party." Already into electronic music, Muray was intrigued. "I started buying a few CDs and worked a few more parties, then I went to the first Entrain party six years ago - it was a life-changing experience for me. I didn't need to get drunk or listen to music I only vaguely liked. The people weren't violent, everyone was loving and looked after you. And I danced. For the first time in my life I could be free and dance. It was a revelation, and I thought, "Im going to do this again."
That was six years ago. By honing his skills, he secured a slot at the second Entrain. At the third he played the final midnight to 2am set. "But the party had problems. It was really stressful and I went away saying that there had to be something better."
That early morning drive back from the party's Golden Downs site set The Gathering in motion. "Entrain was just a trance party. It excluded 50 percent of the dance community. I wanted the ability to bring lots of people together. I wanted lots of different nusic and from that grew lots of zones."
Murray said the first Gathering burnt him out totally. "But the response from people who went, even months afterwards, made me say, 'Okay, let's do it again'." So he did it again. Now it's his third time around. So what drives him - what's the buzz?
"Getting up on site before any work starts and imagining what it's going to look like.... giving the go-ahead for the party to start..... doing the last set on the final day.... and standing on the main stage at midnight looking over thousands of people and saying 'What have I done?'."
The perfomer: Alison Green
The slight figure of Alison Green is anchored firmly to the ground by a pair of large black work boots complete with shiny chrome toe caps. As one of the three Gathering organisers, on the ground is exactly where her feet need to be. With an elfin, yet strong, face and lively hazel eyes, Alison does not look like an organiser: she doesn't look stressed enough. Mind you, nor does she look as if she holds an honours degree in biological sciences as well as being a trained teacher - which proves how deceptive looks can be.
"Murray (Kingi) is the techo responsible for everything that can be built, plugged in or switched on, Greg (Shaw) is the financial whiz and I do everything else," she say, quickly describing her role.
To get to the point of "doing everything else" for The Gathering, Alison has followed a meandering path since she was born in Birmingham, England, 36 years ago. It is a journey that has encompassed university study, primary school teaching and travel, but she says the thing which changed her life was a Wellington-based drumming course.
A science degree came first. It was completed at Nottingham University before she headed off on her first travels through Asia and Australia. "Travelling made me realise you can do anything if you want to enough. But it is a faily selfish occupation as you travel through countries looking, taking, and moving on."
Back in the UK again, she trained as a teacher and worked in an inner-city primary school in Nottingham. She describes the job as the hardest she has ever done. "I was burnt out in three years," she says. So she went travelling again and eventually arrived in New Zealand where she planned to wait while her Australian residency was processed.
"I didn't want to be here but I went WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and ended up at the Ahu Ahu Ohu commune on the Wanganui River. I went for a week and stayed for a month and fell in love with New Zealand."
When her Australian residency came through, she found the New Zealand permit automatically attached, so she travelled back to the UK, packed up, and flew back out to settle in New Zealand. "When you are an immigrant, you can change the track of your life very easily. I don't mean change who you are, but every opportunity is now open to you and you are no longer bound by any previous path you were committed to."
She stopped in Wellington and took a position with the World Wildlife Fund. "Then I joined a tribal drumming class - that class is the key that started me off to where I am now." She found she liked drumming, and loved performing. When five members of the class formed the group Many Hands, which grew to 50 members, she helped organise two shows in Wellington's Shed 11. "It went off and I found I was good at organising people and organising things."
After an approach by an organiser of the capital's 1995 Fringe Festival, she took a major role in helping organise a show called One, which opened the festivities. "I have found that if you have a good idea, it will snowball - and if it is really good, people will ask to help you." By then she had been to the second Entrain party held on Takaka Hill, which she said "totally blew me away". She met most of the organisers [of The Gathering], who later stepped in and helped her with a 1996 Fringe Festival dance party, which had started to come unstuck.
The next year, still in Wellington, Alison was setting up websites under contract and offered to do one for The Gathering. In turn, she was asked to be the Wellington Regional Organiser. "I find I put myself in challenging situations, plus I enjoy learning something new. I am a learning junkie, I have to keep achieving." This is her first year of full involvement. [Second, actually - WebEd]
"The Gathering can be a model for other aspects of society. People can be empowered by going. We hope they take some of the concepts away with them. There is satisfaction in being involved with something which literally changes people's lives."