Huge outdoor party The Gathering has become as much a part of New Zealand New Year's Eve culture as getting munted at The Mount or doing the hokie cokie at the local RSA. But recent events have cast a cloud over the planned millennium event.
The Gathering holds a special place in the hearts of thousands of New Zealanders who have trekked to the idyllic and isolated setting of Canaan Downs near Takaka for the last three years. A big three-day dance party featuring all forms of modern electronic music, it's renowned for its good vibe and good organisation, with the most recent event the smoothest running yet.
The Gathering was the brainchild of Nelson resident Murray Kingi. He was involved in the first New Year parties in the Nelson region, put on by a collective of performers, deejays, travellers and trance enthusiasts calling themselves Entrain. His involvement was mainly technical, managing the power generation, along with others who went on to become core members of The Gathering.
Entrain also had its core group - Uri, Leon, Fee, Rick and Jamie - but unlike The Gathering parties, it was strictly about one form of music. And until about 1995, Murray too was "very much a trance kid - playing and listening to Goa trance and that was pretty much it."
"When I started going to other parties, my eyes opened to the other aspects of the NZ dance scene and after the last Entrain at Golden Downs on New Year's Eve 1995-96, I decided there had to be a better way of doing a party which didn't exclude those other sections of the dance community. The Entrain posse weren't really interested in doing anything else apart from trance, so I conceptualised the idea of different zones within the one party and it just grew from there."
The first Gathering party took place at Canaan Downs on top of Takaka Hill over New Years Eve 1996-97.
"I don't know how we got away with it the first year. We only ended up losing about $300 on the whole event which is just incredibe. Organisationally, things were pretty loose as well - like 23 portaloos for 6000 people! That's what the the guy who supplied them told us we'd need! We had to get a guy to go around and stir the containers, and he's never been the same since!"
Around this time, web designer Alison Green became involved, and soon became central as core member and shareholder. Now, however, she's been completely frozen out of the party.
Following the final Entrain, Alison brought the group to Wellington to help out with the opening party of the 1996 Fringe Festival. She didn't attend the first Gathering, but when she ran into difficulties with her next Fringe party in early 1997, she was offered help by Murray and his crew.
"We realised we shared a similar vision. They brought all their people, their decorations and Murray's skills with production, and we worked really well together. From that I got to know them as people, and myself and Murray got together as individuals and began a relationship. Probably because of that, I got to know the people in the inner circle a lot quicker than I might otherwise have and got to have an input into things and help them out and just get to know them all as friends."
Alison's involvement grew from stage managing the trance zone at the Christchurch Gathering in mid-1997 and doing the same at the second Gathering, to organising deejays from the Wellington region, setting up the now defunct website, producing the highly successful Gathering documentary and co-directing The Gathering 98/99. She was given a 4% share in the organisation in early 1998, and in mid-1998 this was increased to 35%, about the time her relationship ended with Murray. [I've corrected this para a bit - WebEd]
Following the 1998-99 Gathering, Alison moved back to Wellington from Nelson. Shortly after this her involvement with the organisation was abruptly terminated. Neither Alison, Murray or Greg Shaw, [former] financial controller of the organisation, were willing to comment on the circumstances surrounding these events, but it has cast a cloud over what should have been the big one.
The overall concept behind the three Gathering parties, says Murray, has always been geared towards the millennium Gathering. "There are always new year's parties, but there's only ever going to be one where we begin a new millennium."
"I wanted it to be a free party to begin with - the idea being that the previous three would pay for it, but as it turned out none of them made any serious money. They just paid their bills. Then I got the shock of my life when ny suppliers said it was basically gonna be twice or three times as much for the same equipment, because it was the millennium."
The impact of a failed festival south of Auckland in January 1999 can't be underestimated either.
"Sweetwaters and its fallout has had a huge impact. People won't give me any gear unless it's 50% deposit blah blah blah. They all want cash up front. I've been saying that we've always paid our bills for the last three years but people have been saying "No - Sweetwaters."
"Daniel Keighley did us all a big disservice, but that's going for all new year's parties this year, not just us. Unfortunately, we pay for gear as the ticket money comes in over the lead-in period. As it stands now, I have to find a lot of cash to make this one happen."
Murray is adamant that the millennium party is going ahead. "Otherwise I'm going to have a lot of PA and about a gigawatt of power sitting up on the hill with nothing to do. And yes, I have been able to get portaloos! There's a rumour that all the portaloos in the country have been taken, but I've got them."
"The party will probably be scaled down. We had about 9000 at each of the last two parties, but the costs of last year were a hell of a lot higher. All the things I wasn't happy with on the 1997-98 party I decided to fix this last year which meant increased visual costs, increased art costs, and what really put us way out was the wages cost, which jumped from about $40,000 to about $170,000. All the workers were paid and we doubled the performer payments for 1998-99.
"I really wanted it to be a free party, but it's just not going to happen. At the moment I'm looking at maybe 6000 people and about $80 to $100 a ticket. It's the only way I can actually afford to do it."
And despite being involved in legal wrangles with The Gathering organisation, Alison Green is also keen to see the 1999 party go ahead.
"I know that The Gathering is the most important thing in Murray's life and that he has always had the dream and he's always carried it through. At the start, he was the one who really believed that it could be done when no-one else did and he was proved right. For something like The Gathering that relies so heavily on ticket sales, I think that situation (suppliers wanting cash upfront) could be a potentially huge problem. But I also know that if there's any way in the world that Murray can make The Gathering happen this year, then he will."
Murray's passion for the party hasn't dissipated either.
"The Gathering organisation is very much in flux at the moment. At this stage it's me and Greg, and we're looking at bringing some more help in, but it may end up just being me... I'm the only one left from the original crew of me, Jose, Grant Smithies, Tim Owens and the core of the technical crew. I want to do this one, I want The Gathering 1999 to happen - I can't think of any better place to see out the millennium."
POSTSCRIPT TO THIS STORY....
[The Gathering's a magical thing that weaves its own threads of wonderfulness... In the end, Ali got to play in the sandpit with the other kids again, the website came back online, and the rest, as they say, is history..... Murray and Ali made friends and Greg was no longer part of the organisation. G2K saw Murray as the director (G1) and main organiser. Hamish was G2 and Dianah G3. Ali was media liaison and publicity co-ordinator. See - this amazing event was always gonna be more important to us than anything else... yaaaayyy! WebEd]