The Gathering

Lava 3-16 December 1997

Last issue Jason Harding took us through an introduction to New Zealand's biggest dance party, The Gathering, taking place again this year at Takaka over New Year's. This week, we're talking to Gathering organiser Grant Smithies about the lineup, logistics and the philosophy behind the event......

Lava: Who's playing this year?
Smithies: There's about 100 or so djs and a large number of live acts. Live wise, there's Non Place Urban Field, an intriguing character from Germany; some people coming over from the UK called Pure Science who make live house music; J.Jeff, whose tapes rock as far as underground house gear goes; Salmonella Dub; Trigger and Soundproof, the two branches of what was Unitone HiFi; Short Fuse, which is a NZ drum'n'bass geezer (Tim Prebble) whose CD is just about to come out; Subsonic Soundsystem from Hamilton; The Roots Foundation doing the reggae thing from Wellington.... who else? The full list will be out this week. We're deliberately not promoting artists as being headline acts: just dividing people up into "live" or "dj". We also haven't fallen over ourselves to get 'big' names: we received plenty of submissions from people who don't happen to be in the in crowd, but have excellent skills. Same with overseas names: we don't see the point in paying big money for people because of their fame when there's people in Christchurch, Auckland, Dunedin and who knows where else who have been doing it for just as long and are just as talented.

Lava: What's the site setup?
Smithies: There's the outdoor area where there's lots of bands like you would have heard on the AK97 release like Baitercell, Pitch Black and Unit 23, people making various kinds of techno, that's the zone with the biggest sound system. Then there's a vast circus tent where there'll be the drum'n'bass and hip hop zone, which also has serious video wall capabilities. There's also a house marquee, where I spent a bit of time last year and had a rocking good time, that's the place for music with the serious funky basslines and underground house. There's also an amplified acoustic/ambient area, where there'll be drumming and stuff. There's a sinkhole near the bush where a little village formed last year, with people setting up ambient rigs and generally chilling out. There's also a hardcore techno tent, which was almost demolished last year, it was so full. We'll be playing movies in there during the day. And we've got about 30 or so cafes providing food, so there will be someone in there playing the loungey, jazzy stuff.

Lava: This is on a serious scale. How many are involved in the organisation?
Smithies: There's four main organisers, doing all the logistics and planning. Then there's an arts crew, a technical crew and a construction crew that number up to about 100. The arts crew have been working on the thing off-site, and they'll get there on Boxing Day with the construction crew and they'll live there from then on putting the whole thing together.

Lava: How many people have you planned for?
Smithies: We're releasing 8,000 tickets this year. We're setting up for 10,000, but by the time you account for the crew, performers, press and the rest there's only going to be 8,000 available for sale, which means that there will probably be a lot of people who will miss out, considering that the 6,000 from last year will probably tell a few people each.... so it would definitely pay to get tickets early. There won't be any gate sales at all. The thing about it is it's a participatory thing: if something like this gets too huge it just becomes a circus, where a lot of people go along to watch, which to me isn't the idea. We're also concerned that we don't have too much of a negative impact on the environment up there.

Lava: Is it a profitable venture?
Smithies: Last year we didn't make a profit. I'm hoping this year that people who have put six months of work in will get paid something. Loads of people are working part time doing stuff, but The Gathering takes a massive personal toll, which is fine, but you've got to pay people. No-one's making vast quantities of dosh: if we were into that we'd be selling 15,000 tickets and finding a more accessible site. We want to pay the performers, pay the costs of staging and hopefully get some compensation for the time we've all put in.

Lava: So you're not freaking out about the cost of the thing?
Smithies: No, there's people who have been involved in the dance culture here for years, and we all support each other. That's the beauty of it compared to the scenes in a lot of big cities, where promoters and djs are constantly dissing each other and undermining each other, which is so counterproductive. But something like this, where there isn't the headliner-type hype, people are doing it because they're into it; I mean, people are playing for fifty bucks plus travel. We have to support each other to work, to keep the whole thing moving ahead, so people can make and listen to good local electronic music. Events like this are built on cooperation and people doing it because they love the music.

Lava: When do you want us to arrive?
Smithies: It kicks off on the 31st at midday. People usually arrive a few days beforehand, and last year people organised events in the town that masses of people went to. There's people camping in the various valleys that lead up the Takaka Hill, for a few days beforehand, then everyone goes up the hill on the day. This year we're going to allow in housetrucks and big vans a day early, because they take a while to get up what is a pretty serious hill. The road itself is about 10ks of one-way mountain road, so the more big vehicles that get up there the day before the better. Then we'll be opening the gates at 8am on the 31st, and all the zones will be firing up at the same time at midday. Then it's all on for two days.... I'm really looking forward to it.

Next issue: the full lineup, site map, directions, and everything else you need to know. Tickets are on sale now, and if you live north of Farewell Spit, don't forget to phone 0800 802 802 and book your ferry ticket.

Stephen, Lava, 3-16 December 1997

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