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By the looks of things, I’m not the only one who’s been a little busy this winter.

Shimmying through the door at Vision Quest’s cramped Roppongi office, I am met with clutter stacked almost to the low, paneled ceiling.

“Doc? Bashful?” I call out over the stack of boxes, parcels and furniture standing on end, inexplicably fearful for the famous Seven Dwarfs stools, which the Vision Quest planners use to brainstorm at crunch time.

“Sorry about the mess,” comes a familiar voice.

“Spring cleanup?”

“Come in. And don’t worry, we haven’t tossed out the Dwarfs.”

Behind the impermanent barricade, the office is abuzz with activity as half a dozen people work in the space of four to put the final touches on the Rising Phoenix party at Zepp Tokyo (March 6). It’s not messy at all, just cluttered in a busy sort of way that’s reassuring ahead of the weekend.

The familiar voice belongs to Vision Quest cofounder Tania Miller, and I’ve wrangled her away to talk about “The Gathering 2003,” VQ’s second DVD focused on their traditional summer-ending extravaganza (held Sept. 13-15 at Koumi Resort City RE-EX, in Nagano Prefecture).

Released Jan. 16, “2003” is enjoying encouraging sales both in Japan and overseas, via the Internet. It is bold, different — “Don’t take anything serious” flashes as the opening message — and not by accident a perfect companion to “Gathering 2002.”

“The Gathering 2003” is one wacky backstage antic after another, broken up with choice live tracks from ABA Structure, Skazi, Void, Juvenile, Bamboo Forest, Psysex, Zorba, Astrix, Infected Mushroom, “psy-clips” by Cosma and Bamboo, and Tania’s voice of reason. “2003” doesn’t come bundled with a CD this time, but you really don’t miss it.

Tania once again provides us with a monologue that serves not only to inspire but also to educate. Her message for the growing DVD viewing masses in “2003” looks a little less rehearsed but feels more genuine.

Perched on a stone pier in Odaiba with a backdrop of Tokyo skyscrapers and traffic moving over Rainbow Bridge, Tania’s body language and commentary on our evolving trance culture persuade you to believe that she believes, making it easy to rally behind her.

I’m hoping for the same inspired delivery as we finally get settled down for this interview, and she obliges in a way that absolutely overwhelms me with both speed and substance.

The Second Room: This year’s Gathering movie is a very different creation from the 2002 DVD. How did you approach this new format?

Tania Miller: “This movie is much more along the lines of MTV videos and much more focused on the specific live acts and the artists, not necessarily on the whole production or the building of The Gathering, because we did that in the first DVD. So I wanted this one to be much more on the actual acts, and there was an effort to try to match the music with the artists you see on the screen. . .

“Plus, I wanted it to be a little more silly. I wanted it to be more humorous. I wanted to give it more of a feeling of what really going on behind the scenes, and not so polished and professional-looking or cold or distant.

“The whole heart behind the party is what’s pumping backstage and it’s what’s the artists are doing and all the silly things that go on and all the laughter. It’s about bringing things down to being a bit more human — like, there’s your superstar DJ who’s also a real person and a fun partier.”

TSR: So, that whole thing on the bus and at the hotel?

(On the artist’s bus going to RE-EX, a camera follows a microphone-toting DJ Skazi through the aisles as he demands to see everyone’s bellies — including the Japanese relief bus driver. Later, at the hotel, a hilarious Dino Psaras takes over with his own special interview style, doing impersonations and invading other artist’s rooms and closets. The capper is when he pops the question to DJ Skazi: “Did anyone ever tell you [that] you look like Val Kilmer?”)

Tania: “Yeah, it was all spontaneous. Nothing was planned. I just told the two showboats, Dino and Skazi, to just go for it. And we had the camera follow them around wherever they went. . . But this is what these two guys are usually doing anyway, right. This is what’s constantly going on behind the scenes at the party, so we wanted to let the public see their DJs and see who they really are.”

TSR: Gathering 2004 is still six months away, but what have you got planned?

Tania: “For the next one, I want to film from the crowd’s point of view. I want to have the camera on two or three different groups of people, and film their journey before the party, to the party, going through the door. I want to capture their view of the party experience, from the crowd’s perspective.

“. . . In the third one I want to have the public meet the artists. I want to have a cameraman with one group of foreigners going to the party, and one with a group local Japanese and one with an out-of-Tokyo Japanese group. We’ll follow their journey and see how they interact and get set up, then bring them backstage so they can connect with the artists.

“So then we’ll have the three DVDs together to sort of complete the picture. One is the making, one is the artist and one is the public. And that hasn’t really been done before. We want to showcase the people who are coming to our parties and what they’re up to. And that makes it special for the people buying the DVD to be able to point out their friends.

“There are big productions like this [Gathering] everywhere in the world, but nothing is like Tokyo and nothing is like Japan, because the people are different and the crowd is different, so I’d like to focus on them and what’s going on inside the party.

TSR: This being your second time around on DVD, what kinds of “lessons-learned” did you apply to this production?

Tania: “I think the team was a lot more professional this time, we had fewer cameras because we knew exactly what we wanted to film. There was a lot more coordination involving the sound of the show and the DVD. . . .

“This time around we had a clear idea of what we wanted to do with it. It moved a lot smoother with a lot less people, just three cameramen instead of six. . . . It’s a learning process. Every time we learn a bit more, and as a producer it’s definitely interesting for me to bring this through from the planning stage until it’s born on the screen. . . . For the third one, I know exactly what I want and how I’m going to go about it.

“But you can’t plan everything, because trance is chaotic, it’s wild and crazy with a lot spontaneity behind it.

“For this DVD we also brought in a man from Germany named Gecko — he’s the brilliant man behind all the 3-D animated graphics. . . . I’m very pleased to have him on the team. He added a nice edge to the film.”

TSR: Unlike “2002,” “2003” isn’t the kind of movie that you sit down and watch like a feature film, but it plays great in the background. . . .

Tania: “Because of the MTV-style format, it is much more something that you can put on and then do whatever without having to really pay attention to it, or to be able to go straight to your favorite artist. . . . because that’s how our youths nowadays watch music.

“The generation coming up has grown up with MTV, and that’s how they’ve learned to relate to music. It’s a visual experience for them and that’s why I wanted to get that going in this movie.”

“The next one will be broken down into more sections, to make it easy to find your favorite artist or your favorite video.”

TSR: You’ve included two separate, incredible music videos in each Gathering movie. The synchronized party graphics are amazing. Any plans to put out a whole DVD full of these? Or just straight music videos?

Tania: “Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah! This year we’re not just gonna be doing The Gathering. We’ve been getting our feet wet in this medium. We will be releasing this year a collection of the best of our events and music videos for the artists. We want to be releasing two or three DVDs per year in different formats, and of course The Gathering DVD.”

“Plus, we’re coming up on our 10th birthday, and we’re going to look at videos like from our first outdoor party. . . . We have a lot of footage that nobody ever gets to see, and I have it, so why not put it out there, you know, like the first Skazi party ever or G.M.S. — all these things that people have forgotten about that was what made up the scene. We want to do series of them which will be a collection of the best events and a series of specifically music videos.

“Because we don’t get represented on MTV. . . . The DJs have never taken it upon themselves to make a product that you could air on MTV or anything else. So as the organizers, it’s sort of up to us to do that. . . We have to establish a visual connection to this sound. And we’re going that way.”

We spend the next several minutes discussing Vision Quest’s overall performance in 2003 — a year of both wild success and massive internal change.

Tania: “(2003) was a year of massive transition for a lot of things, and for me, as the Vision Quest organizer, it was a year of reassessment of what it is that I want to do and where we want to go on a business level.

“There’ve been a lot of new issues to deal with. Because trance is becoming more mainstream, there comes a negative side with it as well, which is the fights in the clubs, and complications for security, more of a police awareness about the events and the responsibilities that come with that. But these are things that the scene as a whole will shake out for itself.

“I think the scene is maturing in some ways. . . Now that we’re growing up as a scene that’s already been around for a decade, with it comes all the big problems that come with any big scene. It was definitely a year of a lot of changes for a lot of people, but I think we’ve managed to bring it back to a good place for the next year.”

Bringing in Mimon Biton for artist relations and music selection to shore up Tania’s efforts and setting up a strong back-office support structure not only kept Vision Quest on smooth pavement but allowed it to wind right through the gears last year. By Gathering, VQ was already in overdrive, foot glued to the floor, raising the bar with each new A-lister event.

Vision Quest clearly pulled ahead of the pack in calendar 2003, holding 18 parties, including two in Mexico and one in Thailand, with an estimated total attendance of around 42,000, and scored 12 album releases. The Mexico parties each brought in about 6,000 people, while The Gathering drew about 8,000.

By comparison, Solstice Music organized 10 parties, plus contributions to Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic, with an estimated total attendance of 13,100, not counting their countdown party, and launched 11 releases plus the “Solstice Music Festival” DVD, which also came with a CD compilation. Arcadia Music is showing at least seven major parties — three of them outdoors — and nine new releases.

An honorable mention has to go to the smaller outfits as well. Midsize organizer [True Trance,] for example, is showing 20 event flyers for 2003 on its Web site (many are for the more compact after-hours parties) and one CD release. Another, Zodiac Music, posted 15 mostly smaller-scale parties and two very hot compilation releases. This is just a sampling of our vibrant metropolitan scene. Rumor has it there’s also this whole other scene a few hours west by bullet train. For 2004, however, Vision Quest will be pulling back and widening out a bit — fewer, larger events from VQ and a spinoff unit that will try to cut new trails across Tokyo’s underground scene.

Just before the swirl of office activity pulls her back, Tania drops two more dizzying items on me: Vision Quest is working on an early summer outdoor party reminiscent of the Mount Fuji Spring Festival held two years ago. “We’re definitely pushing for it . . . we’re trying to get it together in the next month.”

And what’s on your calendar for next Halloween? A trance costume ball, perhaps? “I’ve wanted to do this for ages, but Halloween hasn’t fallen on the weekend. . . . So we’re reserving that and we’ll definitely make it worth people’s while.”

The flyer for Vision Quest’s next party should carry a warning label. Coming to Zepp Tokyo in Odaiba on April 23 (Friday party flag!) is Infected Mushroom, Astrix and Skazi playing live, with DJ sets by Ami and Dino Psaras.

Zepp is the well-maintained venue below that whopping Ferris wheel at Tokyo Telecom Station. It can easily absorb 2,000 people, has snack bars inside and outside the auditorium, plentiful lockers and escape routes on both sides of the dance floor.

This one’s gonna get hot — bring lots & lots of cool. Tickets for this mind-bender are 5,000 yen advance and 6,000 yen at the door.

New Releases

“Direct Out,” compiled by Onyx (Bionics Records BIOCD-04)

This killer compilation from Israeli unit Bionics Records has been on the shelf since Christmas, but tracks from it keep popping up on Tokyo dance floors.

“Direct Out” is DJ Yanniv Gold’s first release as Onyx, but his third overall at Bionics (www.bionics-records.com). He was in on two of the tracks: “Raves In Paradise,” a dark spacey mover at 145 bpm, and with PTX on “One For Eight,” a crazy 148-bpm full-on ride with guitar riffs that will put a smile on your face.

Born and paced on the dance floors last summer, “Direct Out” is something like a toolbox for DJs, Yanniv said in an e-mail interview with The Second Room, with each track chosen carefully to fit different parts of the party.

“Last summer, I found myself playing mostly only my friends’ music and my own. It just worked the best on the dance floor, and it was fresh and new. At some point, I decided to put some of it together into one crazy CD.”

“The goal was to deliver the party feeling and still make it comfortable for home listening — and to fit it into nine tracks. During parties, of course, I have more time and more tracks to play so my set sounds different.”

“These are just killer tracks that can bring the people up to a real craziness in parties. Played at the right time, those tracks are energetic, powerful and full of good emotion.”

Joining Onyx on “Direct Out” is Electrosphere, Bamboo Forest, Chain Reaction, Black & White, Experience X, Oforia and PTX, who added the insane floor-killer “POS 51,” which borrows soundbytes from the twisted Hollywood flick “Formula 51.”

Bionics Records has informed The Second Room that there is more magic coming our way by this summer. An Onyx album is also in the pipeline.

“Time S-t-r-e-t-c-h,” Space Tribe (released Feb. 25, SOLMC-030)

This one is not your usual Space Tribe (www.spacetribe.com/) album. It feels different. And there’s nothing really psychedelic on the cover. What have they done with Ollie Wisdom?

He’s in there. You may have to skip past the first two tracks to find him, though.

Ollie has always shown a particular talent with intertwining unique, off-the-beaten path vocal effects into his endless chasm of psychedelic magic. Nobody does it quite like him and he has always stayed ahead on that score. “Religious Experience” (released in 2000) really sets the benchmark here, although Ollie’s two albums since then — “Shapeshifter” and “Heartbeat” — were impressive and challenging.

So it was a bit of a jolt to encounter Buzz Lightyear’s nine-year-old battle cry on the first track, “Infinity and Beyond,” and the just-used, “All reality is virtual,” (“Animatrix,” G.M.S., “Zero-1”) vocal driving the second. If you’ve ever been trapped in close quarters with a small child and a talking Buzz Lightyear doll — like the family car on a long drive, for example — then you exactly what I’m talking about. The horror. Had these two been arranged at the end, I may not have noticed it as much, because they’re actually slick moving tracks.

The rest of “Time S-t-r-e-t-c-h” is a rapid, intelligent ride that actually starts to feel like Ollie about halfway through. He keeps the speed up — numbers 3 through 9 range from 145 to 148 bpm — as usual, but these tracks feel more “mixable,” which will get Space Tribe more dance floor play this year.

“stereo electric,” Wizzy Noise (released Feb. 25, SOLMC-031)

Some very nice basslines on this one. Greek duet Wizzy Noise (www.wizzynoise.gr/), making music since 1998, keep things fast and fresh in “stereo electric.” Even their version of the G.M.S. track “Flashback” sounds like their own.

Each track plays with you on a slightly different level, but not radically so. The first three tracks alone — “No Results,” “Baby Helikon” and “Hentai” – will be enough to convince you. DJs will find this one too good of a bargain to pass up.

“Maximum Velocity,” Crunchy Punchy (released March 24, SOLMC-032)

Ari Linker and Jean Borelli seem to thrive off each other, creating their playful, spacey Crunchy Punchy sound. Expect “Maximum Velocity” to hit the dance floor running this spring.

Starting off with a new version of “Enjoy (2004),” these two straddle the line between Ari’s Alien Project and Jean’s Orion trademark sounds through to the end. The remake of “Stoned” is a pure delight. Some of these are gonna sound awesome outdoors around midnight. Head’s up, campers!

Third Eye Party Picks

Friday

“Turbulence” at Club Kao in Nishiazabu. DJs Joe, Yohei, Tepperin and a guest DJ set by Kemal (Zodiac). Starts at 10 p.m. At the door 2,500 yen (2,000 yen with flyer). Call (03) 3405-6118.

Saturday

Zodiac and CP Room present “Online” at Ark @ Studio Cube326 in Shibaura. Live sets by Posidon and Ippei. DJ sets by Kemal, s7e7v7e7n, Go and Mustik. Starts at 11 p.m. At the door 3,500 yen (3,000 with flyer). Call (03) 5439-9199.

Cube’s second floor has been refurbished to create more room to dance. The loft DJ booth has been cut away and the whole stage, big enough for live sets as well, is now just above eye level. Just in time for the following party!

April 9

G-moloch (www.gmoloch.com) presents “psyche 001” at Ark @ Studio Cube326. Special guest live set by Analog Pussy (AP Records/Germany). Guest DJ Ree.k (Hypnodisk/Japan) plus Oz and Mu. Starts at 11 p.m.

You have to appreciate G-moloch’s innovation: at the door it’s 3,500 yen for men, or 3,000 yen if you’re with a lady, who pays only 2,500 yen.

The Analog Pussy (www.analog-pussy.com/) live sets are legendary. Jiga & Jinno’s Web site has all you need to know!

April 10

“The Moon is Read.” Ree.k gets down for a second night in a row at Cube326. Live sets by Jihooka and Phi.

Opens at 11 p.m. It’s 3,000 yen at the door (2,500 yen with flyer). E-mail kiwamijiu@hotmail.com

April 11

Stick around at Cube326, or come on over for the after-hours party “Key Word,” by Zodiac. DJs Kemal, Go, s7e7v7e7n and Jeff (Xayla) Fast and full-on fun from 7 a.m. for 2,500 yen (2,000 yen with flyer).

April 16

Shiva Space Japan presents “Lights in Tokyo” at Spiral in Roppongi. Shiva Jorg plays a three-hour DJ set, backed up by So. Live sets by Intelibeam (Hom-mega) and Theoreme (Arcadia/3D Vision/Resonence). Starts at 11 p.m. Door price is 4,000 yen.

The new sound system surrounding Spiral’s main dance floor is something to behold. This is a good chance to experience it before the weather finally warms and the walls start to sweat.

Theoreme played a killer live set in that room for Arcadia Music this past Saturday and had the crowd off the ground. He knows what he’s doing.

April 17

“tranceprogression” at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Live sets by Hujaboy (Boo Reka/Hom-mega) and Orion (Solstice Music) and DJ sets by The Papuna (Phantasm rec./ Compact), Jean Borelli (Orion), Yu-ki and Sido. Starts at 10 p.m. Advance tickets are 4,000 yen (5,000 yen at the door). (www.tranceprogression.org)

April 24-25

“Messenger – 2004 Takeoff” at Umegadanino Mori Campsite in XXXX, Xxxxx. The first outdoor party flyer of the season! Sounds chilly but these little overnighters generate their own warmth. DJs Rikiya, Kuribow, Yoshi, Chabo, Ponno, Ko-chi and Nosuke. Tickets are 3,000 yen plus a 500 yen parking fee. See the Web site (www.mindtower.jp/me/) for details, maps and photos.

April 28

G-moloch presents Rinkadink & dj Shane Gobi at Club Matrix (www7.plala.or.jp/matrix23/) in Yokohama on their Alchemy Records tour. No other details available. Rinkadink’s live set is one insane ride after another.

May 7

G-moloch’s 2nd Anniversary Party at Spiral in Roppongi. Psyside and Domestic are booked; more details to come.

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