The culture of British clubbing nightlife has changed drastically in the course of this decade. Whilst licensing restrictions are no more draconian than they were in the 90s, aggressive and culturally ignorant property developers- as well as the social impact of gentrification- has caused a shift in the way we rave. Some have argued we are witnessing a slump in nighttime activity. The reverberation of your mates saying ‘raves are shit now’ is louder and more accurate then it ever has been. I had felt the culture had gone stagnant for a few years. But then, just a couple weekends ago, the notorious Bangface held it’s 7th Weekender at Southport Pontins, and I remembered why exactly it was I loved raves in the first place.
Bangface has built a reputation for itself as a party somewhere between pastiche and homage. It takes its cues from the raves of the 80’s and 90’s, whilst also creating a unique atmosphere of carnage. Originally labeled ‘Neo-rave’, the first weekender at Camber Sands in 2008- launched on the back of Bangface’s successful monthly parties- was less a festival, more a social experiment into what would happen if rave fans from all over the UK and beyond had a bender in a dilapidated holiday park for a weekend. The answer for many was a life-changing religious experience. An event that that to this day carries the time honored ‘if you can remember it, you weren’t there’ quote.
8 years have passed since that first weekender during which Bangface has delivered countless monthly parties and festival takeovers, including packing them in at Glade, Glastonbury, and Dour festival in Belgium. The night has now simmered to a few parties a year at its spiritual home at the famous Electrowerkz, as well as still holding annual boat parties on the Thames, and throwing a few parties on the continent for good measure. Now in its 3rd venue, the weekender’s reputation of being the most debauched and unique event of its kind has created a cult like status across the festival scene. And one of the main factors for staying so relevant for so long is surely organiser James ‘St. Acid’ Gurney’s decision to let the loyal supporters (or ‘Bangface Hardcrew’ as they/we are formally known), curate a large part of the festival.
This year the event had 15 different Hardcrew takeovers on its lineup. There was the new look ‘Wrong Disco’, who brought the former undisputed breakcore champion, Shitmat out of retirement for one night only. Brighton’s all female Junglists ‘Amenstral’ spent a lot of their set spraying the audience with water pistols filled with Buckfast. Sheffield was represented by Bassline bruisers Off Me Nut. Essex crew Love Love provided one of the most progressive lineups of the weekend and probably one of the best sets from anti-imperialist, white hating grime prophet/MC Al-Zebadiah. There were UK Jungle pioneers Amen-tal and Jungle Syndicate who provided much welcomed afternoon Amens. Meanwhile superstar DJ, Bangface general, and all round top bloke Dave Skywalker organized Sunday’s ‘Hardcrew Heroes’ bill, made up entirely of the loyal punters that have attended the Bangface events for all these years.
It is this idea of the event going full circle and the clear mutual respect between St Acid and the Hardcrew that has created a relationship between organiser and punter that is both unique and successful.
But it’s not just the reason that all your mates are on the lineup that makes The Weekender so appealing. In terms of electronic music Bangface has always provided one of the most eclectic lineups of it kind in the world; combined with the perks of a proper bed in a chalet and decent quality sound systems and you’ve already got a unique festival experience. This probably goes some way to explaining the large international presence- the international attendance is usually almost 40% each year.
It has also become common for the Hardcrew to request a more novelty act, a tradition started after Chas N Dave played the Sunday in 2008. Previous years have included the likes of Kunt and The Gang, Tim Westwood and MC Devvo (who appeared again this year). For 2016 the Hardcrew had voted for camp Euro dance legends The Vengaboys warm up the proceedings on the Thursday night. Unsurprisingly it was a controversial decision that had left some dubious –but doubters were thin on the ground when the Venga Boys set turned into a mass singalong.
For the festivals opening ceremony, rave legend Mark Archer of Altern-8 cordially invited us all to attend his totally legally binding rave wedding ceremony. This involved a rendition of ‘Hymn 303’, a baptism for 2 born again ravers and a climax consisting of a tsunami of inflatable champagne bottles and glow sticks to a soundtrack of rave classics.
I’m fairly sure that there is no other festival can you stand in a pub and watch a preacher who ran for MP in his local constituency of Thanet pour dog’s blood over an audience member in a ceremonial denouncing of his white flesh, then walk a few yards to the main room where German techno legend ‘Miss Djax’is taking full advantage of the Funktion One to a room full of people who look like they’ve just walked out of Berghain. Other rarities on the lineup included Australian Speedcore maestro ‘Passenger of Shit’ playing his first UK show for nearly a decade, German Hardcore Techno originator ‘The Mover’ laying out the funkiest set that I had the pleasure of dancing too all weekend, and a very rare UK performance from cheesy, fire breathing, Dutch Gabber strip show Rotterdam Terror Corps. A blinding performance from DJ Godfather made me realise that I loved Booty house. There were also live sets from 808 State, D&B giants Noisia, and a live analogue set from Godfather of breakcore Venetian Snares.
If the hours of listening to relentlessly loud kick drums, synthesizers and multiple variations of the amen break on a loud chunky sound system whilst getting battered by a gurning girl with an inflatable dolphin gets a bit too much, there’s always the option of taking the party to one of the many dystopian chalet blocks of Pontins. Most Hardcrew will have an open door policy and sleeping isn’t really a priority. There’s a closed network Bangface TV channel that broadcasts to all chalets. Over the weekend it offered such high-brow programming as ‘Hat Heap Challenge’, ‘Come Down With Me’ and, of course, the obligatory karaoke bangers hour.
It is the community that Bangface has created that has made it such an institution for so many people. This weekender for me provided a similar religious experience that I had in 08. Back then it was the sense that I wanted to keep doing this for the rest of my life. Now almost a decade on and little more jaded it made me realise that by spending the entirety of my youth in this anarchic, utopia of debauchery I have been able to befriend and fall in love with a community of the most beautiful, funny, creative, sexy, kind, friendly and generous people I could ever possibly meet. And this year that community only got larger. There is no dogma to the Hardcrew. It doesn’t matter who or what you identify as, whether you’re an old-timer, neo raver, crusty, hippy or banker as long as you’re sound, you’re welcome. It is the perfect safe place for those who are liberal but never offended.
I, like apparently a lot of the rest of Britain have changed my weekly night time habits. I don’t rave that much anymore, partly because all the best places have closed down and also because the scene itself just seems in a bit of a mire. But whilst watching the stage invasion during St Acid and Dave Skywalker’s closing ceremony sets on the Sunday night whilst another blanket of inflatables and glow sticks came washing over me I turned to my new best friend that I had made just an hour before and declared ‘I fucking love it here’.
Whether it’s a matter of us getting older or the raves getting shitter what is clear is that Bangface has been able to tune into the next generation where other organisers have failed to do, and it’s done it by listening to it’s audience and giving it free rein in an environment of no rules but plenty of love and respect.