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Ready or not, here comes the spectacular end of another amazing summer season.

Vision Quest Tokyo
presents “The Gathering 2005,” Sept. 23-25, returning to the spacious Palcall Tsumagoi ski resort in the mountains of Gunma Prefecture, less than 3 hours’ drive from central Tokyo. Advance ticket sales will end soon. Prices at the gate this year will be 14,000 yen, while parking will cost 4,000 yen.

Confirmed live acts include Alternative Control (Serbian duo newly signed by VQ), Astrix (adorns new double-compilation “Psychedelic Academy”), Dali, Dino, Infected Mushroom, Melicia, Psycraft, Shanti, the wildly popular Skazi, Space Cat (plus Alien vs. the Cat), Sub 6, S.U.N. Project (new album to be released Sept. 29) and Xerox & Illumination. Highlighting an awesome stable of DJs this year is John “00” Fleming of “God’s Kitchen” and “The Gallery” fame.

Last year’s event earned extremely marks all-around and Palcall easily accommodated 9,000 people. Vision Quest expects around 10,000 or more for 2005 — Friday, Sept. 23, is a public holiday to start a three-day weekend — and has changed the basic layout.

After reviewing customer and staff comments, the main stage and vendors’ lane have been moved down the slope, closer to the entrance level, eliminating last year’s stiff climb to the dance floor and making more space behind the hotel for tents. Additional toilets are also being added adjacent to the dance floor.

Rooms at the Palcall hotel for the event were sold out weeks ago. Check the VQ Web site for possible space at local pensions. (The menus are in katakana, but English pops up if you hold your mouse over the buttons. Look for “Hotel Plan.” An “x” means it’s full.) Hot-soak services have also been arranged with four nearby onsen during the event.

For those concerned about the shameful rise in tent burglaries at other events this summer, there are hundreds of lockers inside the main resort building to help protect your valuables. Vision Quest is planning for more lighting around the tent sites and round-the-clock security patrols.

Ultimately, though, the customer is responsible, just like it says on every flier. Past Gatherings have been virtually incident-free, and you can help keep this one that way by taking a few common sense precautions, like forming a “community watch” around your campsite, or physically locking your tent and making it appear occupied. (Mom’s old adage of “Don’t tempt a thief!” comes to mind.)

There will be a ticket system in place for most if not all beverage and food vendors. A lot of people find this to be an inconvenience, but it is a practical solution because it frees up staff at each booth from the responsibility of a cashbox and helps to regulate alcohol sales. There is no age restriction posted for this event.

Pack warm clothes for the night because it will get cold. And although the probability of rain is low (VQ actually researches these things), the dew can get really heavy during the night. Hats and sunscreen are a necessity during the day – Palcall is 1,400 meters above sea level.

Getting to Tsumagoi is a breeze. Vision Quest will be running bus shuttles between JR Karuizawa Station on the Nagano Shinkansen Line and the venue.

By car from Tokyo, take the Kanetsu expressway to 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.

What’s it all about?

“The Gathering” is Japan’s largest psychedelic trance showcase. Its position on the calendar and A-list lineup virtually guarantee a large turnout. This is the last hurrah in the dusk of summer and Vision Quest, the artists and the crowd all tend to let out the stops.

The artists all understand that they will be performing in a market noted for its voracious CD appetite. This is their opportunity to inscribe their name high on the shopping list for your next trip to the record store. This is where the best comes out. It’s going to be a killer show.

Although “Gathering” crowds have become younger, and hence less disciplined, incidents remain rare. The dance floor will be a pool of excitement just shy of rowdy. These kids know they can’t be on the next Gathering DVD if they get kicked out, but getting in the shot means cranking things up a notch.

For its part, Japan’s No. 1 organizer has crafted its signature open-air event into a big-stage production that no longer fits the customary definition of a party – “Gathering” has become a full-on concert with carnival overtones. The timetable is packed with 17 full-on A-list live acts and at least a dozen DJs, meaning that it will pump from beginning to end.

Although some lament Vision Quest’s mainstream approach, its success is undeniable in a national scene filled with risks and improbabilities.

(Pause here. Pundits like to jump on the word “mainstream” and make sensational claims that it’s going to be the death of the trance scene, when the facts bear out the opposite. Parties are still happening and there’s more music available than even before, especially in Tokyo. It’s important to keep two things in mind: this is the music business, and Japanese consumers are “fickle” defined. Oh yeah, this is Japan, where serious people with long memories still tend to frown on our psychedelic antics. Competing requires reaching out into a constantly fluctuating customer base that has been force-fed pop music and mayfly idols since childhood. Mainstream here in Japan means paying the bills on time, getting meetings with the right (serious) people, securing high-profile venues like Zepp Tokyo, billing acts like Skazi, Astrix, or GMS three times a year, new album releases and big showcase events like “The Gathering.” Isn’t this what we want? OK, back to the program.)

Vision Quest places customer enjoyment very high in its priorities and it shows at their events. In their planning, they proactively eliminate potential sources of patron discontent and scheme up ways to put a smile on your face. This isn’t just fluff talk. VQ goes the extra mile whenever it can — at “2004” for example, the indoor restrooms were arranged to be completely cleaned every 30 minutes. It’s difficult to put in words the difference that made, for everyone. Extra guides were added at the peak hours. Wide stairs were built to better suit patrons loaded down with camp gear. The list goes on.

“You build up trust with your customers by accommodating them as much as possible, making them feel welcome and also secure– We want to know if we’ve overlooked something, so that we can fix it, if not immediately then for sure for the next event,” Vision Quest’s Mimon Bitton said in a recent interview. “If we’ve done things right, you are gonna’ be thinking about ‘2006’ before you pack up to go back home.”

Obviously I’m a big fan of “The Gathering,” have been since 2001, when I first started taking notes. It’s a three-day weekend that could cost you around 30,000 yen or more (transportation, ticket, food, drink), but it’s going to be one people will be talking about all the way until Countdown time.

But I don’t like big parties

Sure, I know. Something a bit closer to the ground, more tribal, say you? Got it!

Earthcore Japan and Psy16 present “Earth Energy — Earthcore Tour 3-Day Doof” (Sept. 23 to 25) at the Namesawa Campground in Yamanashi Prefecture. The gate opens at 4 p.m. and the music starts at 7 p.m. This is a well-shaded campground with lots of covered cabanas, some large bugs and no mobile phone reception.

Special guest live by Syzmix (PsyPneumatix Records), plus live by Theoreme (3D Vision), Slum (ex.PHI, Elf Music), Fine Diner (Zenon Records / Groove Zone), Gokufuto (Manas), Eldorado (El Dorado Sounds) and Saikariom (Manas).

DJs include Clive Frog, Batta (Manas), Kemix (Earthcore Japan/Psy16), Shed, Flying Kamoshika DJ Team (Matto & Coldring), Emiko Noso, Tsunami Devil, YK, Pedro (Psy16), PsySuke, Kato, Sickboy (Psy16) and AitchTee (Psy16).

Tickets at the gate will cost 3,500 yen. Parking is structured to encourage pooling – 1,000 yen for four people in a car, 2,000 yen for two people, or if you drive up alone, it’s 3,000 yen.

For more information, send e-mail to info@earthcore-japan.com

New Releases

“Satisfaction,” Blanka ( Dooflex, released in June )

It’s always nice when anticipation pays off. After teasing us with three Blanka tracks on his “Point of View” compilation, Dubi Elkayam follows through with a 10-track* journey through an imaginative mind. There are only nine tracks listed on the jacket, but Track 10 contains an “Easter Egg” – after about one minute of silence starts a cover version of the David Bowie classic “Let’s Dance.” Apparently, it got in there by accident. This one and the powerful “Flying Tepy” are tested floorkillers this summer. “Satisfaction” stands out among the summer’s releases because of the fun innovative twists Blanka incorporates into his tracks.

“Inverted,” Rev, ( Doof Records, released in July)

This is the debut album for Rev (Troy Leidich), a leading figure in Fungus of Light during the 90s and a regular in the tracklists of Doof’s compilations.

Rev sticks to his snarling tweaked acid-line but makes it funky enough for the deep of night. Place your mind in the desert to really enjoy Rev’s relentless basslines.

“Mind Games,” Doof Records (released in July)

This is a classic demonstration of the Doof sound — dark basslines, swishing acid sounds and high-energy psychedelic excursion in every track. Entropy, Double REL and ccl, familiar Doofers, head off this mind-bending compilation.

If you’re in need of some insane recklessness above 145 bpm, this is where to look. You’ll get a kick out of Hashyyyh’s “Chaly & Ervin.” As with Rev above, this is real desert psychedelia that longs to be played under a clear night sky.

“Mind Dala,” Mr. Peculiar ( Sonic Dragon Records, released in July)

When I first listened to Dustin Saalfield’s second album, I had it pegged for neo-full-on. The jury is still out.

“Mind Dala” is fast enough for a full-on sticker, but the tracks go deep but only hard enough to flirt with the full-on senses. The Melbourne, Australia, based Mr. Peculiar has been on the scene for 16 years involved with many different kinds of dance music. Here he blends the best of his experience into beautiful melodies and that carries the listener beyond boundaries.

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