Raver's riposte

Christchurch Press, 12 January 2002

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Thirty-something GUS ROXBURGH dances to the defence of The Gathering New Year's event, which made a less-than-favourable impression on some observers.

New Year for me is about not reading the papers. It's not easy but I try to maintain a media ban for at least a few days.

There is something blissful about not knowing what is going on in the world for just a week or two. And there's something disquieting about realising that nothing has really changed when you do get back to the diet of daily media.

But sometimes I can't help but take a sneaky look back at the papers I missed. Reading Peter Christian's article about the Golden Bay New Year's Eve dance party The Gathering ("Morning hush among the ravers", January 3, 2002) however, raised my blood pressure for the first time in 2002.

Like Christian, the self-proclaimed "world's oldest punk rocker", I too braved The Gathering. Unlike him I had a completely different take on events. And I would have to say that Christian is living proof that too much pogoing atrophies the brain.

Before readers jump to the conclusion that I am just another prepubescent body-pierced raver, let me explain. Like Christian I am no spring chicken. I am about to hit the wrong side of 35. While that doesn't quite put me in Peter Christian's age bracket, it does make me twice the age of many "Gatherers".

It also means I have seen a little of what Christian wistfully recalls as "the days when rock was rock". I agree with him. There is nothing like the energy of seeing a live band perform. When all the elements come together and a band plays a truly blinding set it can transport a crowd. As Neil Young famously said, "rock and roll will never die".

But it sure will keep evolving. And electronic music, dance music - call it what you like - is the latest step in the evolution. It is an acquired taste but it is music. And John Digweed, the "pom DJ who earned big bucks to mutilate his records" is a maestro of his particular style of dance music. He may not play a traditional instrument but behind a stack of turntables, CD players, samplers, mixers, and computers he composed a four-hour-plus set that had all the elements of a classical symphony. Over several "movements" he built a storming set that held the 1500 people left at the Cobb Valley site on the last morning of The Gathering spellbound.

Music has always been a matter of taste - since the first caveboys beat a stick on a hollowed log and their caveparents turned to each other and said "I just don't get it".

Taste aside, Christian seems to have taken a preconceived notion to The Gathering, determined to hold on to it. In doing so he missed the point.

I also remember the old days of New Year's Eve. The days when December 31 was a virtual excuse for a riot. I have been at some traditional New Year's spots where the ground was covered in broken glass and vomit; where women were mauled and not a few raped; where fights broke out and the worst excesses of Kiwi drinking behaviour were displayed.

I've also been to four Gatherings in the last six years and seen none of this. The atmosphere is overwhelmingly friendly and positive. The Gathering is alcohol-free and that seems to be the difference. Sure there is the very real issue of so-called "dance party drugs" which needs to be addressed. But having witnessed both scenes, all I can say is that events like The Gathering feel a lot safer than being in a drunken New Year's crowd at the Portage, Taupo, or Kaiteriteri. If I had teenage children I know where I would rather they went!

On the issue of "dance party drugs", Christian is wrong. Organisers did not "give instructions on how to take drugs". The Gathering pamphlet given to ticket-holders clearly states: "The Gathering does not condone the use of drugs - taking any drug is risky, the safest option is not to do it at all." It goes on to note that most people "do party straight and have an awesome time without drugs." The pamphlet does, however, note that the choice is up to the individual and, in my opinion, offers responsible guidelines for those who do choose to indulge. Christian also noted that there was a stand offering to test the strength of drugs. It should be pointed out that this stand was not condoned by the organisers and was closed once they realised what was going on.

Another point: The Gathering may have looked like a "badly planned territorial army camp" to Christian at 8am the morning after but I am sure Woodstock looked worse.

I found The Gathering to be fantastically well planned. The organisers have worked hard to alleviate problems of earlier years and have created a site that worked brilliantly. There was no waiting to get in. Food areas were uncrowded and the food healthy and good value. Toilets were generally clean and plentiful. Rubbish was almost religiously recycled, and security staff were friendly and helpful. The effort and creativity put into making the site look spectacular was huge.

The over-all impression I had was of a smoothly-run, well-attended event. None of this is easy to achieve in a fairly remote outside site, but a huge effort was taken to look after the environment and to ensure each Gatherer takes responsibility to do so too.

As for Christian's aside about a stallholder who packed up and left because no-one was buying, the juice stand proprietor I spoke to had sold $2000 worth of fresh juice by 4pm on New Year's Eve. Judging by the smile on his face and the fact that he had juiced a tonne and a half of fruit two days later, the event was well worth his attending.

As a January 4 Nelson Mail editorial noted, The Gathering and the other Golden Bay New Year dance party, the Vision festival, "brought thousands of visitors to the Nelson region and were problem-free. This is not only a considerable achievement by the organisers. It also represents a significant boost to the regional economy."

The only two attendees Christian appeared to have spoken to noted that "there were too many kids". Of course these events appeal to the young, but around our campsite was an extended group of people from New Zealand and overseas, all in their 30s or 40s. Most were professionals, all responsible, all had a fantastic time, and none of us felt as old as Christian clearly did.

In future, I suggest, he should stick to more passive pursuits like reviewing compilations of '70s punk classics. Both the Gathering organisers and the Gatherers are to be congratulated for an excellent, trouble-free and positive event. Happy New Year!


Caption: PHOTO: NELSON EVENING MAIL A performer in the fire pit at this year's Gathering.

Gus Roxburgh, Christchurch Press, 12 January 2002

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