Picture this: The Gathering 2000. Takaka Hill, between Nelson and Golden Bay. A two day dance party set on a large paddock called Canaan Downs, nestled amongst bush forest at the edge of the Abel Tasman National Park. Perhaps 13,000 people turn up to party through the millennium, many with forged tickets and no preparations. About 10,000 were expected. Three large tents house two dance zones and all food stalls. Everything else, five other dance zones, camping and parking areas, portaloos - all outside.
Now add near-continuous rain.
Forget Y2K: a cinch. Don't worry about the Antichrist; he didn't show. Just imagine: a sea of mud. Land of long brown puddle. Underwater tents. Broken and sprained limbs. Wet, tearful kiddies. Add a touch of hypothermia. Drugs. And dance music: house, funk, trance, techno, drum and bass, dub, and more, pumping out of massive sound systems. The Gathering doesn't stop for a bit of rain. Two options: dance, or be miserable. Now THAT'S a party!
DECEMBER 30th. Sell our spare ticket to an Israeli guy in Motueka for $50. His girlfriend from Darlington, England, tells us the one about The Gathering being number three on Oprah's millennium party list. I tell her about Quentin Tarantino being a regular but not about killer skinhead hordes. There's a queue of vehicles up Takaka Hill. At one point it stretches back through Motueka. Nobody moves very far, very fast. We take six hours to drive to site. Pitch tents in forest at about 1am, crash out.
DECEMBER 31. Awake to lichen-covered forest tent city. "Where there's lichen the air is really fresh and clean," observes an expert. Dance zones kick off midday. Party time. A funky marae-looking stage set up turns out to be Drum and Bass/Dub zone, fatefully outside for first time. Happy Hardcore/Industrial is its usual pressure cooker metal facade. Later in night it steams as its occupants boil - or maybe that was a smoke machine. Trance is huge half alien / half medieval with massive surround sound system. House is just a big white tent but with excellent layered ceiling and, later, lighting. Dodgy gift on the dance floor of House from a friend is half an e.
Englishman Andy Greenman's funky techno/house set rocks: Octave One, Paperclip People, Slam. We dance like mad things. Rain begins somewhere in here. It gets dark, we toast with smuggled vodka, take more drugs in our tent then head back to party, a disorganised rabble who instantly lose half our posse in the blackness. Foolishly I leave my torch in tent. Rain steady and heavy now, so our diminished posse cruise past Dub Asylum doing their excellent number 'Patience' in Drum and Bass and into nice, dryish House again.
It's weird in here, but fun. Floor is already mostly mud, DJ B-Low, alledgedly a jungle DJ by day, does twisted cut and paste things that somehow make lots of sense even though it's rough as guts. Then DJ Clinton Smiley takes over, cuts up Basement Jaxx, plays Inner City's 'Good Life'. Euphoric cheers greet each track the crowd knows (most of them). Nobody cares about Smiley's initially dodgy mixing. It's rammed in here; I strip off to stay cool. Remaining compadre and I dance like crazy amongst surging crowd. It all gets too much. "Must trance!" I shout. Leave, stand on some woman's foot. "Bastard!" she screams. Sorry....
Trance really isn't me, at least not alone in the dark, rain, tripping off my head with strangers, although Baitercell play completely huge bass business, sustained FWWW-WOOOM tones which get the very best out of the 100K sound system. I get very wet very quickly and decide to head back to tent for possible company and definite change of clothing - I've left my hoody in House and am too out of it to retrieve it in the crowd.... But in dark I can't find our tent in forest, so jump into my car. Wrap towel around my head. Rain pounds on car roof like 250 bpm techno. Quick inventory: wet, cold, alone. Car. Top of hill. Middle of nowhere. On acid. "This is not good," I think. Car clock says 11.40pm. Clear choice: freezing millennium basket case, or warmth of House. I babble along what's left of road, sliding through bog past Salmonella Dub doing 'For The Love Of It' on marae.... Told later they were great....
Suddenly it's 2000AD. All music stops. House empties. Everybody goes to see what's happening: fireworks, firedancers, karanga, something Scottish outside. Lucky for me; in empty House I find hoody, then friends. Rescued from oblivion and warm, my bad trip turns around. We dance til dawn. Non-dancing types get physical message: outta the way, this is a dancefloor, man! Or at least it was... Hot drinks vendor in Food in morning offers opinion: "It's a bit down this year, eh?" It's the weather, stupid. Crash, exhausted, smelly, dirty but somehow dry, around nine.
NEW YEAR'S DAY, EARLY AFTERNOON. Long line of cars queue again, this time to leave. Canaan Downs is Apocalypse Now. Dazed villagers clutch blankets to their bodies. Marae is eerily quiet. All is slick devastation. Y2K or something sure hit here. This is what the aftermath of the biggest party night all century should feel like. "No shoes please" reads legend in Food tent... yeah, right. Some give in to the mud and launch headfirst into puddles to become Mud People.... One boy scout wears a full wetsuit. A sign outside the Information Tent says it's all still on. "Dance everywhere!" In a packed Food, live hiphop gets crowd going then DJ Flyboy follows up with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, the Shake song, and MC encouragement. Then he plays Wham!.... Back out to House for latin workout, glimpse woman dressed as large bean, lead along on leash by her friend.
NEW YEAR'S DAY, EVENING. Two of our party give up and go home. Others decide to camp out for the night, leaving just three hardcore partyheads from nine starters. We scoff at such behaviour and down our remaining drugs. There's life in this party yet. Random "WOOOOHOOO!" waves break out around campsites. We join in, howl into night then sing Brothers Johnson's 'Stomp' and Loleatta Holloway's 'Love Sensation', badly.... "Time/Can't take/My love/A-waaaaaaaaayyyyy!" Ah, drugs. Terrible things....
DJ Trace (UK) is playing in Drum and Bass but we are addicted to House and head there, even though rain has stopped. Starry night. The Gathering is an amusement park with many different rides, all lit up, pulsing. Lasers play virtual dancing figures across forest while actual tiny dancing figures dot massive Trance zone. Only true party people remain. Vibe is considerably more up than chaos of last night. Everyone has their mudfeet on. In House, DJ Chris Cox keeps it deep, tight, jazzy. From his superb set I only recognise DJ Q's 'Glasgow's Jazz', Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' (we do) and Cosmos' 'Summer In Space': "Can you feeeeeeeeeel the sunshine?" (we can).
House feels like funky church with its white billowing ceiling and crowd responding to groovy preacher in pulpit. A lucky few dance on plywood, the rest contemplate dichotomy of heavenly ceiling and secular mud underfoot.... Adjust dancing styles accordingly. The next DJs, Lil' Bastard and Misda Nil spin more full-on trippy close-your-eyes-and-spin business (we do) and shuffly sifty underground tunes until dawn approaches. Apart from mud, House is best club on Earth. Confirmed sighting: Skin from Skunk Anansie. Only a few hardcore remain as I spill out towards six, Sunday morning. Later, compadre tells of nude white witch and naked blue woman weaving out of woods to Trance, about eight, dancing into sunshine. He swears it wasn't drugs... Hallelujah, clear day! Shouts of joy as sun makes brief appearance. It doesn't last. Rain starts up in earnest again, drenching us all one final time as we pack up and join car queue on road out, to Nelson, hot showers and bed. "Next one's in Fiji" says gap-toothed Gathering guy on way out.
Post script, headline, January 4: 'Evacuation ends dance festival.' Christchurch's conservative The Press hypes the busloads of gatherers departing G2000 into "an emergency evacuation of more than 300 muddy people suffering from exposure". The report on the guy who gets too close to a bonfire and sets his head on fire is pretty funny though. And "there were no alcohol-related problems." Kudos to Gathering staff who went around each and every tent on New Year's Day offering free blankets, food and shelter to anyone who got too cold and wet.
An earlier item in The Press gets it right: from something like 13,000, 40 people were actually evacuated. Forty doesn't seem like a catastrophe to me. The rain and cloud at least kept it from getting frosty on Takaka Hill - Gathering publicist Alison Green said it snowed a few days before New Year's. Nelson ends up getting half its January rainfall in the first two days, but nobody dies of exposure. Typical media bad news bullshit. Go, The Gathering. Green also says someone made at least $375,000 from forged tickets. She can't say yet whether The Gathering made money.
From The Gathering email list, weeks later: "My mum caught me dancing to the washing machine a couple of days after I got back to their place after TheG."