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After dozens of hours of copious, nail-biting research, I have deduced that there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between Respect for the Aged Day and the ending date for Gathering 2004, except that vigorous dancing has been medically proven to reverse the aging process.

OK, so there is no hard evidence of that. Nonetheless, spending the third Monday of every September dancing high up a mountain somewhere with 9,000-plus young people seems like a groovy yet ironic way to celebrate the end of another open air party season. And to think we scoffed at Nagata-cho when they cooked up the “Happy Monday” scheme.

And so it goes. The seventh incarnation of The Gathering is set for Sept. 18-20 at the spacious Palcall Tsumagoi ski resort in the mountains of Gunma Prefecture. Advance tickets are on sale now for 11,000 yen. About 4,000 tickets will be sold online.

This being Vision Quest’s 10-year anniversary, Japan’s No. 1 organizer has put together a big, beautiful monster of a party that will, according VQ’s Mimon Biton, remain true to the roots of the first Gathering in 1997 and reach out to embrace new sounds and even a new segment of crowd.

The lineup

Headlining the 2004 bill are perennial favorites Infected Mushroom, Space Cat (new album released Aug. 12, see below), Dino Psaras, Tsuyoshi, Mitsumoto and DJ Miko from the early days (Miko was actually the very first), plus Skazi, Astrix, Exaile, Void, Shanti and VQ resident DJ Ami.

Most notably missing is G.M.S., who just played at Fuji Rock and are booked for a Solstice Music overnighter on Sept. 4-5. (Riktam & Bansi also kick off a four-country tour starting in Israel on Sept. 29.) Joti, a personal favorite from Gatherings past, will also be missed. The absence of live act Xerox & Illumination will be likely more than offset by prolific play of their tracks from 2004’s best album (so far) “Temporary Insanity.”

Of around 10 new acts joining the Gathering lineup this year, the France-based ensemble Hilight Tribe is literally the biggest, with six members (and quite literally tons of equipment) who bring together modern culture and the ethnic sounds of the didgeridoo, djembe, guitar, conga, drumset, bass and more. This will be their first time back in Japan since their 2001-02 tour here. (The psytrance bulletin boards have been buzzing with excitement about these guys, as well as DJs Mack and Feio from Brazil.)

Among the others: Sub-6 is wildly entertaining and also has a new album out (watch their “Ra he’ya” video clip at HOM-mega; Psycraft (Hom-Mega) rates a mind-blowing “do not miss”; Star-X (Vision Quest) is brand-new but reportedly very hot; Dynamo (also VQ) is the 2004 union of Dynamic (Shay Elmakies & Ben Avital of Phonokol) and Eskimo (DJ Junya); scattered good reports on Delirious (Hom-Mega) and Four Carry Nuts (who are Tim Schuldt & Detlef Funder).

The sound of Gathering 2004 will revolve around the very best of major trance labels HomMega, Chemical Crew and Vision Quest itself. It will be mostly fast, full-on and while a bit more focused than Gatherings past, it will be far from tedious. If you enjoyed 2003, then expect 2004 to take your head clean off.

There won’t be a second stage, but there will be a chill-out area where you can relax under a healing vibe, according to Mimon. “We did consider (a second stage), but we decided that the focus should really be on the main stage.”

The venue — Palcall Tsumagoi

Any outdoor event not involving the Chuo Expressway in or out of Tokyo gets extra credit in my book. The Kan-Etsu is a beautiful stretch of highway. The turnoff at Fujioka IC comes quickly and soon you’ll be winding your way through some of Japan’s best mountain scenery. (The route from Osaka and Nagoya is a bit more twisted.)

The biggest trouble with holding summer parties at ski resorts is that, even in the case of popular facilities like Palcall Tsumagoi, most — if not all — the available imagery and information is associated with snow-covered everything, and reliable weather forecasts cease when the slopes turn green.

We get lucky with Palcall, because weather on Mount Baragi is updated regularly at this Snow Japan page.

A smallish “ski-jo” like Palcall, however, still makes for a nice-size party venue. It’s also designed for massive, short-term influxes of people and traffic. As seen in this graphic from Palcall’s Web site, the main parking area holds 2,100 cars in the winter, has two restaurants, a hotel and other conveniences. (Parking is 3,000 yen by advance ticket order, or 4,000 yen on the day.)

A huge difference this year will be the general availability of hotel rooms (about 250 rooms inside the Gathering venue) and local pension space for about 800 people within walking distance.

“We hear from so many people, ‘I really want to come, but I don’t really get into camping out,’ ” says Mimon. “For these people especially, now they have the option to stay at the hotel, or at one of the pensions, and still come and enjoy the party.”

At the Vision Quest Web site, click on “Events” and then “Hotel Plan” (in katakana) for information and phone numbers. If the column on the far right is empty, it should mean that space is available, but take note of the update date on the top right of the page and reserve early.

There will also be at least two onsens within reach, operating on extended hours for us this year — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Last year, for example, onsen service was available only during the afternoon music break, or roughly six hours. You had to choose between “sleep now, or wait to soak.”)

Camping conditions & getting there

Ski resorts are not campgrounds, that’s a given. They are generally higher in altitude, more remote, less flat and without the shaded comfort of a forest canopy.

If you went to Gathering 2003, expect roughly the same weather conditions as we had at Re-Ex: COLD during the night, scorching sun with few clouds during the day and the possibility of rain showers anytime (most likely 10 minutes before you can get your tent set up and your gear stowed inside). The tent space at Palcall, which is about 1,400 meters above sea level, is reportedly much flatter than that of last year’s venue, but no more shady. (Read: sunscreen & stocking caps!)

Last month during Arcadia’s Summer Arcade festival, FOMA cell phone users became a victim of their own technological leaps as service for their newfangled “keitai” was unavailable around Mount Hotaka. But no such problem apparently exists at Palcall. (Nonetheless, you can check with NTT about the possibility of using your older, Mova model phone for just this type of situation.)

Getting to Tsumagoi should be a breeze. By train, Vision Quest will be running bus shuttles between Karuizawa Station — on the Nagano Shinkansen Line — and the venue.

By car from the Joshinetsu expressway, exit at the Uedasugadaira Interchange and then follow Route 144 north for about 40 km, keeping an eye open for Palcall signs. (Alternatively, you could exit the Kan-Etsu at Shibukawaikaho IC and follow the JR Agatsuma Line to where it ends at Omae Station via routes 353, 145 and 144, but anything you saved on tolls looks to make itself up on antifreeze, brake pads and Dramamine.)

Prologue

You probably get tired of hearing “this will be the best Gathering ever” year after year, but having followed Vision Quest closely for some time, this is a statement you can bank on. They listen to the crowd and pride themselves on enhancements. That will be especially true this year.

As reported in a previous interview with VQ co-founder Tania Miller, the angle of the planned Gathering 2004 movie will be from the crowd’s perspective. And they’ve hired professional filmmakers to give it the best possible advantage.

At least 10 of the live acts on this bill have played killer sets in Tokyo this year and put a handful of delicious releases on the deck. Miss this at the risk of getting a year older.

NEW RELEASES

“Mechanical Dream,” Space Cat (Vision Quest Records, released Aug. 12)

I have been a Space Cat fan since the days of those killer Joypolis parties down in that basement-level amusement center next to Tokyo Dome. (Boy, oh boy, remember those? Heh, heh, heh!) Which is to say that I’ve been Space Cat-conscious for less than half of Avi Algranati’s brilliant career and he’s never let me down.

“Mechanical Dream” is Avi’s fourth solo Space Cat album, coming two years after his last solo release and right on the heels of his surprise project with Ari Linker, “Alien vs. The Cat Space Jam.” But that’s another story and another sound.

This new Space Cat is emotional, powerful and displays the maturity of this respected veteran (and new father), while remaining true to what is uniquely Space Cat.

The first three tracks, “Sleep Walker,” “Emotions” and “Electro Shock,” form a dramatic buildup to “2004,” an updated version of the collaborative track “Cat on Mushroom” (with Duvdev & Erez). It’s at this point where all genius breaks loose.

If this release has a weak point, it would have to be the inclusion of an identical version of “Tranceformer,” which must be approaching a record for the number of times it has been released: “Gathering 2002” video clip, “Magnet” compilation, twice on the “b Trance” double CD, and “Best of Vision Quest.”

The remaining tracks, especially the title piece, “Mechanical Dream,” push strong, beautiful melodies against pumping basslines to create a true masterpiece.

After enjoying this one on headphones for the past week, I just can’t wait to get this sound outdoors.

“Best of Vision Quest,” compiled by Tania (Vision Quest Records)

Sure, right up front, this is a vanity project. But then, so what? And why not? Tania, Mimon, Shimon and the Vision Quest troopers are certainly entitled to a tribute album to commemorate their first decade.

From the opening chilling melody of “Spirit Walker” (ABA Structure), every track in this collection is certain to conjure up its own special Vision Quest memory.

On the second track, “Fragile,” by Zorba, the compilation starts building in energy, offering the timeless “Electro Panic,” the deep funky vibe of “Mysteria,” and the memorable “Tranceformer” that illustrated our backroad climb up to Gathering 2002 in VQ’s first DVD.

By track 6, Skazi’s chilluh’ “XTC,” we are thumpin’ at 145 bpm, but don’t expect to stay there for long. Shanti’s Juvenile track, “Smells Like Victory,” highlighted in “The Gathering 2003,” clocks in at 146 and is followed by the rapid bouncing melody of “Datura,” riding along at 148.

After that spinal-cord sensation is a powerful dose of Astrix & Atomic Pulse with “Scientific Reality” (“There’s some disco fans in here tonight!”) before finally settling down in Bamboo Forest’s haunting vocal groove on “Breath.”

To be certain, you’ve heard all these tracks before, and that’s the point. (And yes, you may even already own them, scattered across several different albums, but that’s not the point.) Having these classics all mastered on one CD at least rates a “Happy birthday, Vision Quest!” Along with thanks for the memories!

“XXL” and “Phase 2,” various artists (released Aug. 18, SOLMC-036 and -037)

There’s something about this formula that just seems too familiar. It may have worked last time around, but not this time.

Solstice Music has once again released two compilations on the same day, with one very Spun — lots of GMS — and the other very outdoorsy, south-of-the-equator, from Etnica.net: Wrecked Machines, Etnica, Droidlock, Pleidians.

Last October it was “Zero-1” and “Eclipse” — both excellent, just a little late for the summer party season. Ten months later it’s “XXL” and “Phase 2” — here in plenty of time, although not nearly as sharp.

But then, it is getting more and more difficult to tell. I was clearly whining last year about trying to evaluate CDs with sample tracks cut to less than 5:20 when I should have been thankful. The samples are a scant 4 minutes each on “XXL” and even less on “Phase 2,” where they come in at a puny 3 minutes each.

I went out and bought those CDs last October — money well spent I still feel — but I can’t say the same this time around.

With the exception of a Pixel & Domestic remix of the GMS smash “Tweakers,” very little about this duo stands out enough to make me want to learn more.

The Third Eye Party Radar

Aug. 20-22:

Triple-X & Gene presents Open Air Summer Festival 2004 at the Ibukiyama Ski Area in Shiga Prefecture.

When I first saw the listing on this one, I remember thinking, “Thank the maker!”

Then I realized how far out of Tokyo this place actually is: close to Lake Biwa between Sekigahara and Santo. (The nearest station is Ominogaoka on the JR Tokaido Line, connecting to the Tokaido shinkansen at Maibara Station.)

But the Nagoya crowd needs their fun and this sounds like a major blast! (Of course I’m still scheming to get in on this fun!)

Live acts Orion, Psysex, Xerox & Illumination, Rinkadink, 40%, Dali and Drap Drop.

And if you’re not too dizzy already, DJs Paul Taylor, Jean Borelli, Goblin, Omi, Dali, Tokage and E-L5.

This one starts at 10 p.m. tonight and goes to Sunday afternoon.

Tickets are 10,000 yen at the gate. Write kokitriplex@hotmail.com for information or check www.eternalgreen.jp/ or the Triple-X message board.

Friday, Aug. 20:

Club Matrix (Yokohama) presents: Psychedelic Trance Summer Session feat. Arcadia-Music

Special guest DJ Mael (a.k.a. Nomad), plus Ilija, Seven and Nori.

Starts at 11 p.m. No price listed.

Saturday, Aug. 21:

Club Spiral (Roppongi) presents: Psychedelic Trance Summer Session feat. Arcadia-Music

Special guest DJ Mael (a.k.a. Nomad), plus Ilija, Seven, Nori, Shingo, Yu-Ta and Bosch.

Monday, Aug. 23:

Free party at Spiral in Roppongi!

DJs Ilija, Hassy, Nori and Shingo.

Did I mention “free party?” So what if it’s Monday night — suck it up! Spiral has really climbed up in The Second Room’s rankings since the start of the year. The flyer I’m holding says there is a free party “every 2nd & 4th Monday.” Just be sure to take Exit 4 at Roppongi Station to avoid the flesh market at the crossing and you’ll be fine!

Sept. 4 & 5:

Solstice Music presents: The Archaic Revival 2004 at Kurobane Springs in Tochigi Prefecture.

Live acts GMS, Etnica, Wrecked Machines and Bio-Tonic, plus DJs Dimitri D.K.N., Riktam & Bansi, Max & Maurizio, Gabriel, Xavier Morel, Kay Nakayama, Ryo and Igor.

Everything about this event says, “GO!” GMS and Wrecked Machines open air are reason enough. But having never witnessed the wonders of Tochigi Prefecture first-hand, I defer to the “distance-cost-lineup-duration” meter, which says:

“This might be a good opportunity to consider the official bus tour (17,200 yen) instead of driving all night up the Tohoku Expressway.” Or perhaps the train (minimum 2,940 yen from Tokyo to Kuroiso, according to the Zone81 travel calculator)1:16 PM 8/19/2004 and a local bus, taxi, or 15 km hike from Kuroiso Station to Kurobane Springs. (Hey, I’ve seen people walk farther for a party — sanity is another issue.)

The gate for this overnighter opens at 9 a.m. (Saturday) and the party starts at noon.

Advance tickets are 8,500 yen, or 10,000 yen at the gate. Parking will be 1,500 yen.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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