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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 17:08 GMT
Antarctica's coolest gig
Getting into the Icestock spirit (pic: Bill Meyer)
It's the coolest, most exclusive outdoor rock concert in the world, and this year for the first time, outsiders will be able to share in Icestock, Antarctica's annual New Year's gig, writes Kim Griggs in Wellington, New Zealand.

Mark Sabbatini, a reporter and webmaster for The Antarctic Sun - the weekly newspaper at the main US Antarctic base, McMurdo Station - recorded 2001's version of the world's southernmost music festival, and is putting it online.

"My decision to record Icestock and my preparations were somewhat spur-of-the-moment," he said.

"The sound quality should be better than your average bootleg, but won't be up to commercial standards. On the other hand it's free and part of an effort we're making to give our readers some multimedia content."

Bullhead (Bill Meyer)
Bullhead - one of the bands who performed
Thriving scene

McMurdo has a thriving music scene. Last year one enthusiast recorded many of the icebound musicians that perform over the summer season for a limited release CD.

Now Mr Sabbatini is putting MP3s of the show online.

"A little bit of everything is included: blues, rock, folk, techno jazz and comedy," he said.

Icestock has been held around New Year's Day every year since 1990.

Iowa inspiration

"The idea and the name of Icestock came from a construction labourer on our crew from the state of Iowa," says Dane Terry, who helped run and played in the early Icestock concerts.

"Apparently, the folks in this guy's small hometown have been holding an annual outdoor music festival called Cornstock in a local homage to Woodstock.

"It was his idea that such an event on the ice would bring a stronger feeling of community - along with permitting everyone the opportunity to blow off some steam," Terry said.

The crowd (Mark Sabbatini)
Keeping warm in the Antarctic (Mark Sabbatini)
Each year a temporary stage is built, typically a pair of flat bed trailers from the back of tractors. On top is perched part of an old military accommodation building, providing protection from the wind.

Frozen fingers

Dane Terry says the playing conditions, even though the concert is held in summer, were never the easiest.

"I'd have to say that the stage conditions were never conducive to great performances, what with frozen fingers and guitars not staying in tune," he said.

The real entertainment value came from the heroics involved with just being there for bands and audience alike."

This year the Antarctic bands ranged from Safety Second to the usually aptly named Coldfinger. In fact, this year, the bands played (on 30 December) in a balmy - and record high for McMurdo - temperature of 10C (51F).

For the performers, there is no financial gain - the album is published on a non-profit website - just the glory of their icebound music spreading past the Antarctic Circle.

"I'm sure the performers would love it if we had a bunch of downloads," Mr Sabbatini said.

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