Artist Manager Describes Israeli Festival Massacre – Billboard
Written by GRB on 09/10/2023
An artist manager who had several acts scheduled to play the Paralello Universo festival in Re’im, Israel, near the Gaza Strip, and who was there during the attack on the festival, describes a scene of chaos and terror.
Gaster arrived on site at the festival event at approximately 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, with the party — which had started the night prior — meant to go until approximately 5 p.m. Saturday evening. An offshoot of the Paralello Universo festival brand started in Brazil nearly 20 years ago; the Israel event was called Supernova Sukkot Gathering after the Jewish holiday and was hosting several thousand attendees in a rural location near the Gaza Strip, with a lineup focused on the electronic psytrance genre.
Everything changed, though, when rockets and missiles launched from the Gaza Strip by Hamas starting landing on the site an hour later, part of a widespread attack on Israel.
“Around 6:30 in the morning we started hearing explosions,” Gaster says. “We went out of the backstage and we saw a full bombardment everywhere. It was hundreds of rockets and mortars flying from everywhere and explosions all around us.”
Gaster says that at this point, festival security advised everyone to get down on the floor and put their hands above their heads for protection. But after 5-10 minutes, Gaster says, “the policemen shouted in the microphones, ‘Okay, get in your cars and go.’”
“The moment the policemen said ‘go now,’ I ran,” Gaster recalls. “I didn’t wait, because we know it’s a rocket attack. You need to act quick.”
Because his car was parked near the stage very close to where he was standing, Gaster and three other men — including Universo Paralello co-founder Juarez Petrillo — were able to immediately get in Gaster’s car and drive out minutes later, after Gaster made sure the artists he works with were also in vehicles fleeing the site.
Gaster says he was “driving super fast, not stopping for anything, even when missiles are coming down. My instinct told me don’t stop for shelter, just drive… We drove so fast we didn’t even know what was happening.”
By the time Gaster and the others made it to a villa rented by the production team, located approximately 30 kilometers away from the festival, they had started getting texts and phone calls telling them that minutes after they drove away from the site, Hamas fighters had arrived “with machine guns, with RPGs, with grenades, and just slaughtered whoever they could.”
He says that these attackers arrived by motorcycles, quads and trucks approximately 20 minutes after missiles started landing.
Gaster and those he was with turned the villa into a command center, contacting IDF, other Israeli security services and “all of our friends that we know personally that have firearms that have connections that can go there.”
During this time he and the others were receiving messages from friends and colleagues still on site, who reported that the attackers were shooting attendees in their cars as they attempted to drive away. A friend of Gaster’s messaged to say that the driver of her car had been shot and that she and another friend were pretending to be dead to avoid being killed. He says these women ultimately played dead for five hours before being rescued. As of Sunday (Oct. 8), Israeli rescue service Zaka has reported at least 260 bodies at the site.
“People were hiding in ditches, hiding in bushes, hiding in the woods, hiding wherever you can think of,” says Gaster. “We were getting horrible messages from friends saying, ‘Please help us, they are shooting people next to us.’”
Gaster says it took IDF and special forces a few hours to arrive on site, with those who were there attempting to defend themselves in the meantime.
“At the party there was already a police force, like any licensed party,” Gaster says, “and they were the first ones to try to give assistance by fighting… We are Israelites, so most of us have military experience, and a few from the production managed to kill some terrorists with their bare hands and their weapons.”
Gaster says that the owner of the production company behind the festival, Nova Tribe, killed two of the attackers after taking their guns. Gaster says he and the team at the production villa were being sent on-site locations from various attendees and then sending these locations to the owner, who then went to help these attendees.
“It was 24 hours of working to find as many people as we could and get as many signs of life as we could,” says Gaster.
Universo Paralello was not origintally intended to take place at the Re’im site, with organizers moving it to this location only two days before it started, when another site in southern Israel fell through. The new site at Re’im featured a pair of stages, with the Israeli producer Artifex playing the mainstage when the attack started. Gaster was told that the attackers closed the road into the festival from both sides so attendees could not escape.
Other festival attendees have been abducted by Hamas. As a group of between 15-20 people gathered at the production villa, they, says Gaster, “started seeing videos on social media of hostages and people we know that are kidnapped and bodies we could recognize [as] our friends. Many friends are still missing, and we still don’t know where they are.”
He approximates that there are still 600-700 people missing from the party. All but one artist on the festival lineup has left Israel, with Gaster and others putting artists on any available flight into Europe as airlines canceled flights amid the attacks.
While Gaster had just arrived to his home in the north of Israel when Billboard spoke with him at around 1 a.m. local Israeli time (he says the IDF controls most of the area between where he was and where he lives, so he felt safe to drive home), he says that amid the chaos they are all “still trying to find any signs of life.”
“We are a peaceful community, we are a musical community, we do it for the creation of fun,” says Gaster. “We only wanted to dance and have a good time and enjoy music together, and it turned into a nightmare.”