Zone of our own

Christchurch Press, 5 January 2001

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For four days and three nights, more than 13,000 young people from as far afield as Europe celebrated the arrival of the New Year with a festival of electronic dance in Cobb Valley, near Takaka. Reporter DIANA McCURDY and photographer RACHEL SIMPSON went along to sample the atmosphere at the Gathering.

Under the bright mid-afternoon sun of New Year's Eve, the Gathering emerged like a glittering celestial city, nestled in Cobb Valley.

From atop Takaka Hill, the thousands of parked cars and tents seemed to shimmer and glisten like a sea of mirrors. Surrounded on all sides by towering mountains, and unspoiled native bush, the scene was imbued with an almost unworldly quality.

From several hundred metres above, the Gathering looked every bit the "dream of hope" its organisers had billed it in promotional material.

On the ground, the view was decidedly more terrestrial. Buses, cars, and motorbikes crowded haphazardly onto large cow paddocks, with tents and tarpaulins dotted higgledy-piggledy around them. Gathering-goers drifted back and forth about the site. Many sported dreadlocks and painted faces. Most wore an assortment of layered clothing.

Denim jeans were a definite fashion crime at this party.

The music and dance "zones" were set up about 25 minutes walk from the tents, down a narrow, twisting road. The route constantly hummed with Gatherers walking between their tents and the entertainment.

Although alcohol was banned, and drugs were not condoned by organisers, evidence of the latter was everywhere.

Halfway along the road, six teenage girls sat on the grass snorting what appeared to be cocaine. A group of young men walked past. They stopped, stared for a moment, then laughed. "You could be a bit more discreet," one joked as they walked away.

Stalls selling Ecstasy and speed of the legal herbal kind were bustling with eager buyers. Other Gatherers puffed dreamily on pungent-smelling cigarettes that they had brought in themselves.

Elsewhere, the Safe Health for Everyone tents were kept busy assisting revellers suffering side-effects from drugs, or recovering from bad trips. For a decidedly sober and non-stoned reporter, the sight was somewhat surreal.

The main music zones were already bustling by mid afternoon. In the main "trance" zone, about 200 dancers gyrated to the thumping beat. Most were completely immersed in the music. With illicit substances pumping through their veins, they moved as one with the beat.

As each set ended, the dancers paused and looked around with slightly bewildered expressions. When the music resumed, their faces smoothed into reassured smiles, and they resumed dancing.

By midnight, almost all 13,000 Gatherers had flocked to the music zones, where they could take their pick from 24-hour house, drum and bass, trance/techno, or hardcore. Despite the large crowds, the atmosphere remained amiable throughout the night. The strict no- alcohol policy ensured most remained well behaved.

The new year was counted down in traditional style (albeit a couple of minutes late) and accompanied by a spectacular sound and light show in the trance zone. Hawkes Bay dancer Terri Ripeka Crawford, of Ngati Porou and Ngati Kahungunu, then took to the stage with a spectacular fluorescent poi dance.

Fire dancers also kept crowds amused, under the watchful eye of local fire fighters. Nelson fire officer Peter Holland enjoyed the entertainment. "We can enjoy it a lot more because of the rain we've just had in the last few hours," he said. "That's eased it for us."

Some of the performers were less enthusiastic about the event. Christchurch fire dancer Leith McLean said he thought the crowds attending the Gathering had a fantastic attitude, but he wasn't so impressed by staff. "They say that our performance makes the Gathering, but then when we get here, we feel like they don't want us. They just treat the big-name acts well, because they pull the crowds."

Whether or not the performers were satisfied, the audience certainly enjoyed themselves. Many danced until dawn, then slowly drifted back to the campsite as the sun became hot in the sky.

St John staff reported a welcome lack of major injuries and ailments on the first night. However, they were getting a strong demand for the morning-after pill, and had stockpiled 150 doses in preparation for New Year's Eve.

At 10am on New Year's Day, the campsite was already bustling with movement. The early morning bird song was quickly drowned by thumping music. Most revellers looked decidedly healthy after their night of dancing, and there was hardly a hangover in sight.

Kaikoura's Alice Cardwell was preparing for a swim in the river. "I haven't been to bed yet. I just got back to my tent and took off my clothes, and I'm going for a swim."

She said her New Year's Eve had been "wicked", although her body was sore from all the dancing. "It's been really good. Love the location. It's definitely a different rave." Sarah Hopkins, from Wellington, also stayed up all night dancing. She and a friend then set up their beds on a hillside under the sun. She said she was enjoying this Gathering more than the last. "We didn't get saturated and covered in mud. The biggest change is the water, really."

As temperatures rose, queues outside the temporary toilets grew longer, and the river became one of the most popular sites. While a few people looked somewhat the worse for wear, many were already gearing up for another night of dancing.

The Gathering ended on Wednesday at midday. It ran for four days and three nights, and about 180 performers provided non-stop entertainment.

Notable performers were Pitchblack, Way Out West, and Unit 23, in the trance/techno zone, and Clinton Smiley, Josh Webb, and Delray System in the house zone. Other well known performers included Trinity, ShapeShifter, and Salmonella Dub.


Caption: Heat in the beat: some of the thousands dancing the night away at the Gathering on New Year's Eve. Karim Khaldi, of Portiers, France, gets some sleep after a night of dance. Shortly before midnight in the trance/techno zone. Angela Lyon, left, of Dunedin, and Sarah Hopkins, of Wellington, recharged on New Year's morning after a few hours sleep. Leith McLean, of Christchurch, shows his fire-dancing skills. Trance dance: the music takes hold on New Year's Eve.

Diana McCurdy, Christchurch Press, 5 January 2001

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