The Gathering

Real Groove December 1998

"The absolute, most important thing that we do is maintain the vision and maintain that sense of joy and community and togetherness. If it was different from that it wouldn't be The Gathering and it wouldn't be right."

Alison Green is one of several core organisers of The Gathering, the country's most popular dance event that is now on the eve of its third consecutive year. The three day celebration runs from December 31 until January 2 at Canaan Downs in the Takaka district, and with new year fast apporaching, Green and her fellow organisers are wishing for more working hours in the day.

They have just completed one of the major tasks, finalising the live acts due to appear at the 98/99 event. Local artists performing include Salmonella Dub, Pitch Black, Unit 23, FreQ, epsilon blue, Baitercell and Chumbwa, and from overseas, Germany's Non Place Urban Field, Australia's Animal Intelligence and from the UK, Technova (David Harrow). The DJ line-up is still to be locked into place, however Green promises a broad spectrum of music across the seven dance zones.

"We always felt it was very important to provide a whole range of musical experiences for people, not just one style, but to repesent all the styles of electronica. Then people are free to choose to spend time in different places and listen to different sorts of dance music."

The Gathering is an extremely unique event. It is quite possibly the only New Year's Eve party that has a ban on alcohol. But that is one of the many reasons why The Gathering is so special. Green agrees.

"The lack of alcohol is a very major factor in why The Gathering is so peaceful and warm and loving. There's no alcohol and it doesn't fuck people up. In the past two years, the police have decided that they do not need to have a presence at The Gathering because there's no alcohol. In Nelson, they have to have one officer on duty per every 200 revellers in the streets, but at The Gathering with 10,000 people they don't feel that they need anybody there. Alcohol causes so much shit, it's just so wonderful to be able to spend a New Year's Eve, where normally people are puking up and fighting, in an atmosphere that's completely different."

Last year's Gathering was summed up perfectly by one switched-on attendee: "People know how to get on, they've got so much more awareness of what it means to be a human being than the people who run the system we're going through at the moment. The people at The Gathering are creating a good time for themselves and everyone else."

Green has heard many similar comments from New Zealanders and from overseas visitors who have made it to the event. And it always gives her a thrill when people appreciate or become aware of the underlying themes surrounding The Gathering.

"In our wildest dreams, we want to create a model for the rest of society so that in our own small way - we're not aiming to take over the world or anything like that - but we think some of the things that happen at The Gathering, in terms of community and togetherness and empowerment, are models for society. The Gathering has always been and always will be a festival of participation and the people who come, I think a lot of them do have really good ideas about the ways to live together harmoniously."

As The Gathering has grown increasingly popular, questions have been raised by outsiders as to whether it will retain its earthy flavour and avoid commercial and/or corporate involvement. Prior to work beginning on this year's event, organisers sat down to address those issues and re-evaluate what The Gathering was all about. Green explains the vision for the event remains true.

"There are two key phrases that we feel define The Gathering. The first one has been on our publicity in the past: 'The Gathering is a festival of freedom, dance, music and participation. Your presence creates The Gathering. Take care, we are all responsible for the environment. Be nice humans.' The second one, which is also very important, is 'Unity Through Diversity'. What we see as valuable is the fact that each of us is an individual and each of us has our own individual feelings and personalities, but in terms of The Gathering, we all come together through that diversity and we become unified.

"In some ways The Gathering is quite a tribal event, it's repeating rituals that have gone on for thousands of years, in terms of a celebration of a particular time of year, in terms of a celebration through dance and in terms of losing yourself in the music. But at the same time we're achieving those incredibly ancient things through incredibly new technology - it's like a connection between the past and the future. All of these things come together in the dance, and to dance and to celebrate and to lose yourself in the music is an immensely empowering and joyful and freeing experience. And in the end that's what The Gathering is all about, sharing joy with other people in a beautiful environment."

John Russell, Real Groove, December 1998

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