HEAVEN ON A HILL - The Gathering - Nelson

Pavement, December 1997 - January 1998

1997 has been an amazing year for dance music in New Zealand. The exceptional quality of local DJs playing the clubs, bars and parties in all the major centres, combined with the impressive number and array of touring international talent, has made this arguably the most extraordinary year of dance music since turntables were invented. With that in mind, anyone into the dual delights of dance music and camping should have already heard about The Gathering, Nelson's contribution to the country's dance scene and possibly the best option for New Year's Eve.

Simultaneously a New Year's party, techno rave, music festival and summer camping holiday running from December 31 to January 2, The Gathering once again occupies the land atop Takaka Hill in Nelson. The event offers a chance to celebrate the cream of New Zealand's dance talent in the clean country air, with a record 8,000 people expected this year.

Nelson-based DJ and promoter Grant Smithies, one of the major forces behind The Gathering, argues that the expansion of the event illustrates the progression of musical tastes in this country. Last year, about 50 performers moved and grooved 6,000 people. This year, more than 200 DJs and live acts [well, maybe 150 altogether - WebEd] will take the audience well into the small hours of the morning and past the break of dawn.

With six zones of music continuously pumping hardcore, funk, dub, drum'n'bass, ambient and trance, with a circus-sized big-top tent serving as home to house and hip-hop, you can savour the flavours of a full 48-hour feast of beats'n'bass. Then, when it all gets too much for your mind and your body and sensory overload takes hold, you can crash as you please at the 'tent village' which will spring up opposite the sound-stages.

If punters thought the line-up of DJs and live acts last year was impressive, this year the organisers aim to outdo the wildest expectations. International guests include Nonplace Urban Field, a German electronic artist whose sound Smithies intriguingly describes as "warm and strange techno noodlings"; global operator and occasional Christchurch resident OB1, aka Slipmatt/Matt O'Brien, who will be returning from Japan especially to play; and Pure Science from London, who will be mixing a live set. At time of going to press, the full line-up of local DJs was still being finalised. However, Smithies guarantees an unbeatable selection of the best DJs the South Island has to offer and a number of leading turntable wizards and live acts from the North Island.

"Our intention is to showcase the diversity of indigenous dance music talent," explains Smithies.

Auckland's Soundproof and Trigger (formerly Unitone HiFi) will be dealing dub and house, while Mechanism, Pitch Black, Unit 23, Ruffstep and Mu from Wellington will complement numerous members of the vibrant Christchurch scene, including Salmonella Dub, Phantom, DJ Pots and Pylon.

"This year, we actually turned down interested international DJs because we just didn't need them," brags Smithies. "When DJs are really into what they're doing and doing it with skill, it doesn't matter whether they're from Timaru or London. So many performers are coming purely out of a love of dance music and a desire to take part, not for financial gain. This sets up a refreshing vibe which everyone responds to."

The 'no tension' vibe is also added to by the 'no alcohol' policy, a deliberate move by the promoters of The Gathering to offer a different experience to most New Year's Eve celebrations which, insists Smithies, "revolve around getting as pissed as possible". After all, dancing all day and night in the sweet country air is an appealing alternative to simply staying in the city and downing too many bevvies in a stuffy pub or club.

Transforming the placid pasture of Canaan Downs into a lush land of milky mixes and hardcore honey is a major mission. Everything from turntables to toilets have to be trucked onto the site, a one-hour drive from Nelson. And revelers will be surrounded by the surreal combination of alpine wilderness and the most advanced sound, visual and coffee-making technology around. And catering to urbanites who exist on Red Bull and panini, Christchurch cafes such as Venus are uprooting their entire operations, including espresso machines and staff, and relocating on-site for the duration of The Gathering.

This year, The Gathering is the focus of what Smithies calls "a media frenzy", with youth television channels, student radio and Pavement, a principal sponsor of The Gathering this year, providing extensive coverage before, during and after the event, with plans underway to also film a documentary.

Pre-sale tickets are priced at $50 [plus $1 booking fee - WebEd] , restricted to 8,000 and on sale now throughout the country, with no gate sales. So don't make the trek without a ticket! Smithies anticipates a sell-out well in advance of the event itself and warns that, in order to avoid disappointment, you shouldn't leave it too late to pick up your pass to Paradise!

Hannah Bhuiya, Pavement, December 1997 - January 1998

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