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The festival that knows your number

With the festival mere days away, Olly de Salis is on the home straight – 12 hour days, seven days a week: “It’s all systems go here.”

121 Festival’s enigmatic co-founder is running on adrenaline – and a two-litre water canister.

“I’ve got the biggest Frank water bottle you can imagine.

“We’re two weeks out and feeling positive. It’s going to be good.”

It’s hard for de Salis not to feel fortunate in light of recent events.

Multiple concerts, festivals, and events further north have been cancelled in the wake of flooding and Cyclone Gabrielle.

The Sting concert, originally scheduled for next Saturday in Hawke’s Bay, is the latest casualty. It’s a lesser tragedy for sure, but still a blow.

But de Salis, and 121 co-founder Cameron Morris, aren’t used to getting a lucky bounce.

Twice now, the festival has been cancelled – last year only days out – due to covid-19 obstacles and restrictions.

As a result, this year’s festival is only the second since it debuted at Tauherenikau Racecourse in 2020, drawing in 3000 revellers. Anticipation has been high ever since, with last year’s ticket sales clocking 5000.

The main page of 121 Festival’s website sets the vibe: A reflective ring waving lazily above a sparkling sea. It’s woozy and playful, and is in keeping with the melange of home-grown and international acts and artist installations.

It’s clear de Salis is fizzing.

“I’m excited to see [New Zealand act] Avantdale Bowling Club. I saw them at a sold-out show in Wellington recently, and also I’m looking forward to Overmono, an electronic UK duo.

“But I’m really looking forward to it all.”

It certainly isn’t a party for de Salis though, who admits during the three days of the festival, he’ll be boosting around “like a maniac” complete with radio headset and bike.

“It’s basically 48 hours of non-stop work, filling all the holes that might crop up. It’s not like I can waltz around – I’m on a mountain bike cycling from one thing to the next.”

It’s faster and more eco-friendly, he says.

Eco-friendly is a huge part of de Salis’ ethos, and a pillar of the festival, resulting in the creation of Wasted Management, which involves organisers and attendees reducing waste first, and taking ownership of what does get produced.

“Outsourcing the problem means pollution.

“We will not outsource the problem – help manage it with us and dance with dignity.” is the rallying message to everyone from artists, staff, onsite traders, and volunteers – for whom there is currently a callout, de Salis says.

“Volunteers make festivals go round, and we’re looking to get locals on if we can.”

He says the volunteers would be helping with anything from recycling efforts and car parking, to working behind campsite bars, and even assisting with the wellness workshops – of which there are many.

“You can’t overemphasise the importance of volunteers and the local community efforts.”

And the best bit?

“Obviously, you get a free ticket and a whole lot of experience if you want to be in the events industry.”

There’s only one caveat: “You have to be 18 or over; but there’s no upper limit; we welcome all.”

De Salis says they’re currently about halfway to their goal of having 150 volunteers to help out pre-, during and post-festival.

But if locals prefer to get amongst the dance odyssey too, discounted tickets will be on offer from Monday.

“Wairarapa residents can get a ticket for the Saturday for $99, down from $139,” de Salis says.

It’s as simple as heading down to the iSites in Masterton or Martinborough.

“We’re facilitating other people having the best time ever. You get your peaks and troughs in the lead-up.

“Right now you’re a bit stressed, but then the euphoria comes, and you think: ‘This is why I do it.’”

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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