Getting high, naturally

Nelson Mail, 2 January 2001

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Get wired. Get a tattoo. Get fed. Get driven. Get dressed. Get an image. Get it all at the Gathering - even a herbal high.

The sideshow to the incessant pump of the music at the country's biggest dance festival, in Takaka's Cobb Valley, is the marketplace that has sprung up to cater to the particular needs of the mostly 20-something partygoers.

As might be expected, clubbing paraphenalia lines the stalls. Fluorescent bands, glow sticks, body glitter, water guns and bubble pipes are popular items to brandish under the strobe lights on the dance floor.

Stalls offer "herbal highs" - special blends of natural ingredients to give dancers energy into the wee small hours. "The Bomb" owner Matthew Ogden says his products are made of rare ingredients sourced in China and South America and offer a "nice uplifting high".

Tony Fraser at Big Buzz Enterprises stall says his "Colt" energy drink is a herbal high, and a natural alternative for people "who want to avoid taking hard drugs". Natural versions of the drug speed and ecstasy have been the most popular.

Dee King of Cybernymph stall says her array of bubble pipes are popular, but is shy of explaining why. Glow-stick seller Rhiannon Wilson says punters "just want to have fun". In the clothing line, stalls sell the spacesuit cuts of nightclub fashion along with sarongs and ethnic garb - all you need to fit in with the surreal street style of the dance event.

Permanent image adjustment is also possible. Tatooists at Dig a Tattoo say they have been working into the night piercing skin and etching designs destined for display on the dance floor. Some have opted for the Gathering's green "g" symbol as a permanent memento of their experiece. Debbie Brayshaw says the atmosphere of the event encourages people to get a new tattoo or piercing. "I think the Gathering has a big impression on people."

Dance culture affects the food too.

Hot chips and meat pies are for beer festivals. here fruit smoothies and sushi are in demand by a more sophisticated crowd as the usual array of vegetarian and vegan fare, plus ethnic foods and endless vans offering espresso and cappuccino done city style.

Like any other market, the laws of supply and demand create opportunities at the Gathering. The 2.5km distance between the campsite and the dance zones is one example. At $2, truck rides have proved a success for one opportunist driver, while food stallholder Andy Darragh has diversified into scooter hire. The scheme which has weary walkers paying for a one-way scooter trip has its pitfalls, Mr Darragh says. "The problem is people having a tiki tour on the way. We've already lost one."

Last year's incessant rain inspired another stallholder. Rhys Vidgen of Small Planet Recycling decided to cater to the needs of sodden campers this year with a stall selling waterproof ponchos, tents and jackets. He has hedged his bets though. "When it rains, ponchos are popular, when the sun shines, it's sunscreen."

Out the back is a rejuvenation clinic for those needing relief from the dancing and the austerity of camping. A spa bath and Thai massage were appreciated by those just off the dance floor at 11 in the morning. "Mmmm," purred an appreciative punter as her dancing aches and pains were massaged away. "It's just what I need."

Jane O'Loughlin, Nelson Mail, 2 January 2001

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