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Dance Festival - The Gathering 2000
Siobhan Coleman - 21/1/00

The Gathering - scenery straight out of a story book
The Gathering - scenery straight out of a story book
Photo source Siobhan Coleman
Self-declared "the most famous outdoor party in Aotearoa", the place to be last New Year's Eve was, arguably, The Gathering, where I was among 10,000 other Gatherers who danced up a millennium storm at the top of Takaka Hill. Determined by the beats' first and final pump, this year's popular dance event ran from midday 31 December 1999 to midday 2 January 2000.

Nestled in amongst the valleys of remote Canaan Downs, fellow Gatherers found themselves surrounded by bush, paddock, forest - and later, miles and miles of mud.

Since its debut in 1996, the Gathering has remarkably established a top spot in New Zealand's New Year celebrations, continuing to lure a wide range of people from all over the globe. Organizer Murray Kingi was astonished as tickets for the R16 three day dance festival were snapped up and sold out three months before the event. Tickets originally sold for $105, before moving up to $125 or more, depending on the purchaser's source.

Two compilation CDs featuring work by Gathering artists, and a successful 97/98 documentary have been released to market the festival. A special Gathering 100.2 FM ran red hot on the wireless, from December 30 to January 2, updating general information and featuring work from the party's lineup.

Enduring a snail paced eight hour traffic delay on the jam-packed one way Canaan Road, and being haunted by rumours of a skinhead massacre, my friends and I set foot on Gathering soil, ready for three days of sun, sights, sounds and sin.

The campsite
The campsite
Photo source Siobhan Coleman
Having pitched our dodgy tent (complete with hippie curtains) at 4 am, in a paddock littered with sheep dung, we left one of the many camping zones and flocked to this so called "festival of freedom, dance, music and participation".

Equipped with a huge food marque, various food stalls, general store, notice board, a fire pit and portaloos - hundreds of portaloos - the Gathering was civilization squeezed into scenery straight out of a story book.

Walk in Movies screened New Zealand short films and documentaries on Black/Asian music and culture. Red Cross, doctors, and a SHE team (Safe Health for Everyone) were also on site.

The rain had kept us company since we'd arrived, and come New Years Eve, we Gatherers counted down to 2000 ten minutes late, as heavy rain had tampered with the screens, christening in the new year.

"Murray's Midnight Surprise" involved graceful fire dancers (one naked) ablaze in the firepit, whilst fireworks spread their glories over Takaka Hill.

Dancing in the rain...
Dancing in the rain...
Photo source Siobhan Coleman
The choice of six dance zones - trance, tribal, happy hardcore, house and more - hosted a whopping 176 DJs, 72 live acts and 40 VJs, in the festival's largest lineup yet. Such a diverse range no doubt satisfied the electronica appetite of all 10,000 Gathering goers, who grooved well into the early hours of 2000.

The Gatherers spread out over the various zones, dancing into the black morning, or hanging out in the food marque, and although sloppy in the mud, spirits were by no means dampened by the cold and constant rain. A personal favourite was local Christchurch DJ OB1 who kept all bodies moving from 2 - 4 am. Earlier, groovesters Salmonella Dub had performed to a welcoming crowd in the Drum and Bass tent.

There was no sign of Y2K, only a certain G2K in an amazing, uplifting atmosphere, which overwhelmed the depressing weather. The community spirit and positive atmosphere was definitely one of the best aspects surrounding the Gathering, making it worthy of "the biggest dance party in the world" status. Something was in the air, all right.

With three saturated sleeping bags, a bucket leaking tent that was close to collapsing, and our gear either soaking wet or caked with mud, I guess it was safe to say that we had certainly had enough.

After being advised to bring our own, initially my friends and I thought our biggest problem would be lack of water, but two days of endless "torrential rain" had turned out that we had more than enough. We, like many others, packed up and left the Gathering a day early, arriving home to watch the next night's news scream "Breaking News".

Concerns over drug use and availability in the Gathering have been raised over the past few years, but this time headlines of a "Gathering Emergency" informed us that many Gatherers were suffering from hypothermia. All those wet and sick were shipped out (almost literally) to Motueka, where The Salvation Army had set up an emergency centre, providing warm, dry gear and hot soup. Organizers had even considered closing the festival early, due to the shocking weather and worsening of camp ground conditions.

I had survived the Gathering 2000 - barely.

Visit The Gathering Web site for heaps more information on the festival, the CDs, and some great photos....

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