The Gathering 2000
EIGHT THOUSAND SOULS IN A HERMETICALLY SEALED WORLD. FOOD, DRINK, DANCE MUSIC, SHELTER FROM THE MILLENNIAL ELEMENTS THAT WILL CONSUME SO MUCH OF THE COUNTRY - NO BOOZE, NO AGGRO, NO CONCRETE. IT'S NOT QUITE UTOPIA, UNNATURAL FOR THIS MANY PEOPLE TO LIVE ON A HILLTOP TAKAKA FARM DOTTED WITH NATURAL SINKHOLES AND NATIVE BUSH FOR THREE DAYS - JUST TRY USING THE PORTALOOS ON DAY TWO. THE GATHERING IS HERE AGAIN, THOUGH, AND CRITIC SPOKE TO A DEDICATED GATHERER (THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE WHO GO ARE CALLED - CUTE, EH?) AND PUBLICIST ALISON GREEN ABOUT PUTTING TOGETHER WHAT MIXMAG HAS PROPHETICALLY DECLARED TO BE ONE OF 'THE 100 BEST MILLENNIUM EVENTS ON THE PLANET'...
It might not have happened, Gathering 2000. At the start of the year rumours abounded: that it would be too expensive to stage, the farmer was asking $100,000 for the use of his land, it would be a free party, noone would go, the organisers were sick of it all. Last one first, Ms Green - sick of it? "It takes a lot out of the crew. Some of us spend six months of the year on it and the other six months thinking about it. After we clean up everyone heads for the hills and says 'Oh no, never again.' But it's kind of got us, it's a very special event, we always come back for more."
Ticket prices have risen steeply from last year, reflecting, says Green, the greater costs of putting on a millennium event. "It's a combination of suppliers needing to pay their crews more and competition for the gear. There are at least ten thousand events happening in New Zealand on that night, it's just amazing, and a lot of them will need marquees, generators, lights, things like that."
The Gathering, for good or ill, has got caught up in pre-millennial hype. The 2000 event will be the culmination of the first cycle of Gatherings - they were originally supposed to end with this one but, says Green, "We've come to the conclusion that this probably won't be our last. We'd just never thought beyond the millennium before, it was too big."
"That unknown quantity of Y2K, and what will happen at midnight, has meant a lot of people have said to me 'The Gathering is the only place I want to be for the millennium.' It's partly because they'll feel safe, not surrounded by the bedlam of drunkenness and mayhem in the city. We're completely isolated, we have our own generators, so power and everything aren't going to affect us in the same way. It's significant for us as individuals as well. When you're a kid you sit in the car and you watch all the zeros changing on the odometer thing, you go woohooo, that's really cool."
With 9,999 other parties going on, many of them one-offs to take advantage of the millennium, The Gathering is well-placed. "The reason why it's still happily progressing while much larger events are falling over is that we've built up trust and a following, a way of working, and we've maintained our credibility. People don't see us as taking advantage of the millennium."
The Gathering succeeds in providing the blend of town and country life unique to big outdoor dance parties - the ability to wander away and watch the dawn or sit in a huge tent, staring into a throbbing strobe. "It spans the spectrum from a very ritualistic experience with very ancient elements in it, but we're also utilising new and cutting edge technology," says Green. People gather (adjective: what gatherers do - also cute) especially for this dual experience.
Tickets? Originally there were only 6,000 issued, but these sold out in just five weeks, so they decided to release another 2,000. "We originally thought nobody would want to come this year, but we don't want those extra 2,000 people to miss out. The demand is very strong, sales are way faster than ever before. We also had a two-tier system this year, tickets up until October 1 were $105, but after that they went to $125. That was partly to get people into gear earlier, and partly because we need the cash-flow - Sweetwaters in particular has meant a lot of companies are needing much larger deposits than they ever have done before."
Apart from the music, design is the other key factor in most gatherers experience - huge sculptures of metal, wood and stone; ethereal stiltwalkers with fluorescent masks; banners and papier maché and crystals and a million other little details that make you feel like a child on a treasure hunt, or a magpie drawn to yet another shiny thing. Gathering 2000 will feature a mix of old and new work, says Green.
"There are particular things which have become favourites, like the lilies in the house tent and the masks in the trance zone. We'll try to use them in a different way. It's like coming full circle again. Something else that's very nice is that the Entrain crew are coming to The Gathering to work with us on art, they're bringing their beautiful fluorescent banners.... it allows us to come full circle. The Entrain parties which happened on top of Takaka Hill in the three years before The Gathering were really the seed of what the Gathering later became. I'm really pleased they'll be working with us."
Another crowd favourite was The Gathering documentary, which will return this year. "We had a rest, but Kylie, who directed the last one, is putting together a crew again. This time we want it to be from much more of a gatherer's perspective. Last time we looked at it from an organiser's viewpoint. We're also hoping to enter it into a whole lot of international film festivals, so we'll be able to take the party around the world, that'll be fun!"
Finally, I ask Alison Green to tell me her hitpicks for the three most important things potential Gatherers need to gather with at The Gathering. She stretches the definition of '3' quite a lot... "A tent, a sleeping bag and a sleeping mat... we'll say 'camping eqiuipment', that can be one, all the camping gear you need to make yourself really comfortable. Warm clothes: lots of layers, it gets freezing up there at night. Sun block and a sunhat, too because it gets hot during the day. A water bottle - you should be drinking a pint of water per hour, in small sips, when you're dancing hard out. That's really important.... And money, we're having two eft-pos machines, so there shouldn't be the huge queues. That's actually the only part of The Gathering that's connected to the outside world, if you exclude the direct line to the police. It's the only bit we can't guarantee, until midnight on the 31st it'll be sweet, but after that? I don't know.... The other thing, perhaps more important than anything else, is the right attitude. Open-mindedness, a sense of joy, a sense of community, caring and sharing, being good to yourself and the environment and the people around you. Up the hill we are, at the risk of sounding trite, a great big family. The reason why The Gathering works so well is because of the attitude of the crew and the gatherers alike, that almost everybody treats it that way."
If you want details on where it's at, how it's at, where it's been and what it looks like, the best place to go is the Gathering website, at www.gathering.co.nz. The programme will be available there as a PDF file for downloading shortly.
THE GATHERING OFFERS A VARIETY OF PURPOSE-DESIGNED SPACES, TEMPTING ENOUGH TO TEMPT EVEN THE MOST TEMPESTUOUS OF TEMPERS.
Zone 1: Trance/Techno
The main event - a big outdoor clearing with huge speakers so far apart that you get a weird delay effect if you're standing at one end... I did, anyway.
Zone 2: Drum'n'Bass/Dub/Reggae
While away your days in the outdoors lostening to softly-soft dub and reggae grooves, then spend your nights jumping about like an insect to harder drum'n'bass shenanigans.
Zone 3: Hardcore/Hard Bag House
Zone 4: House
Over 100 DJs vied for a place in this tent, so it better be kick-arse. Usually packed, luxuriant and a lot sexier than most of the other zones, if you know what I mean.
Zone 5: Ambient/Jazz/Classical
Three-for-one deal in the forest behind Zone 1. This area will run from the evening of the 30th (for early comers) to the evening of the 2nd (for late leavers).
Zone 6: Tribal
An all-acoustic area with loads of drums and whooping and hollering. Bring a tambourine.
Zone 7: Movies
Also starting on the 30th, and featuring a range of NZ short films, weird things and, you guessed it, The Gathering documentary (it's part of that 'full circle' thing).