The First Four Years of Bangface Weekender: An Overview
University of New Mexico (US)
Is Bangface Weekender a festival? The event’s categorisation as such is an object of contention among ravers in the UK. Its three-day duration (Friday afternoon to Monday morning) and the fact that all attendees sleep no more than half a kilometre from its main stage may warrant identifying the event as a festival. Yet this is not like most EDM festivals because it has no camping facilities, it is impossible for its approximately 3,000 attendees to purchase tickets on an individual basis and all of its stages are indoors.
With these characteristics at hand it is clear that the setting for Bangface Weekender is very peculiar. This “festival” takes place in a Pontins, a budget holiday resort. Establishments like Pontins are a prominent feature of British seaside towns, and they were for the most part built in the Postwar era to accommodate the needs of lower income families seeking a cheap break away on the seaside and only a few miles away from their homes (BBC 2011). These resorts typically feature easy access to the beach, self-catering and a main hall with several amenities. Bangface Weekender features a swimming pool, a game room and a bouncy castle.
It follows that this particular type of setting means that instead of camping, festivalgoers share a chalet over the weekend. Since the chalets can host between 4 and 8 people each, and the maximum capacity of the main stage does not exceed the maximum capacity of the chalets, a booth in the chalet is included in the ticket price, and tickets can only be purchased in groups of 4, 6 or 8 (Bangface 2011a). For some, this may be a somewhat constricting arrangement, yet it must be pointed out that, at £120–150 per ticket, which is slightly below the average ticket prices for UK festivals, what Bangface offers is considered by most good value for money.
However it needs to be pointed out that the type of accommodation offered is very basic. The standard chalet is no more than 50–60 square meters in total, and is comprised of a small bedroom with two beds, toilets, shower, and a small living room with kitchenette, basic kitchen utensils and a sofa-bed for the other two lodgers. Additionally, electricity for the chalet is not complimentary—it must be purchased at the resort shop. There is just enough space in those chalets for no more than 10–15 people to gather together, and enough space for some (not all!) of the chalet lodgers to sleep while others congregate.
This idea of maximised common space is no more evident than in how the chalets are stacked together, in two floors, and with all buildings facing each other in large piazza-style squares, which are typically composed of between 20 and 40 chalets each. It must also be said that, partly because of the peculiar numbering system adopted for the chalets, and partly because of how the squares seem to all resemble one another, it is really easy to get lost in this little grey-bricked beehive resort. Most Bangface Weekender ravers have at least one good story about getting lost and running in circles to find one’s chalet!
It is thus clear that, from the outset, even if this setup may be seen as good value for money, it is certain that by spending a weekend here enjoying the party, the music and the (optional) sunshine one certainly gets a taste of gritty, basic, English working class-type leisure. I have even heard some ravers call this a “working class festival”. More to the point, this no-frills accommodation allows for comfort combined with interaction, as the Pontins transforms itself into a ravers’ council estate, like a concrete madhouse for the young and reckless.https://www.youtube.com/embed/JFZioxlCOq8
Bangface Weekender has operated every year from 2008 to 2011 in the Pontins in Camber Sands, East Sussex. It is conveniently within two hours from London and less than an hour from Brighton. Although this festival has more of an indoor focus than most venues, the Pontins is in a truly beautiful natural setting, facing the rolling hills and marshlands of East Sussex and Kent on one side, and one of the biggest sand beaches in the South of England on the other.
So who organises Bangface Weekender? This is nothing but the biggest of the events created by the Bangface Hard Crew. They started out in 2003 by running a monthly nightclub event in London, at the Elektrowerkz club in Angel, and have branched out through the annual Weekender event as well as an annual boat party on the River Thames and, since 2010, a guest show at Glastonbury Festival (Bangface 2011b).
Bangface has been praised for throwing parties with a very particular atmosphere. All their events feature the distribution of inflatable objects (especially animals), trumpets, vuvuzelas and placards with comedic slogans among the crowd, as well as fancy dress themes. Among the slogans seen in the past, a few outstanding ones are “Hi mum I’m at a rave”, “I’ll bang your mum’s face”, “I’m not the messiah, I’m a very naughty boy”, “How’s my raving? Call 899 896 393”, “Camber Sands dogging society”, “I’m f***ing s***ting myself” and “I’ll suck for Doomcore”.
The desire of the organisers to throw a really special party, and to involve the crowd in this, is nowhere expressed as much as during the Weekenders. In 2008 the theme was “total meltdown” and guests were encouraged to dress in fluoro gear and boiler suits (Bangface, 2012a). In 2009 the theme was “lost in face” and people were asked to dress as “aliens, astronauts and space monkeys” (Bangface 2012b). Bangface Weekender 2010 had a “Juracid Park” theme to mark “the 65 millionth anniversary of the extinction of the dinosaurs” (Bangface 2012c). 2011 was called “The Amen” and had a horror theme (Bangface 2012d). For each of the Weekender events, a free chalet for the following year’s Weekender was offered to the person or group of people with the best costume (and, if anyone looks at the Bangface Archive pictures, they have had to judge some tough competition) (Bangface 2012 a,b,c,d).https://www.youtube.com/embed/8GxolG6-pyA
Every weekender has also made the best of the space offered by the Camber Sands Pontins: the “side activities” include a five-a-side football tournament, go-kart racing, a pool rave and use of the bouncy castle as the “Inflataland” room, where various people would fight to knock each other off the castle with large inflatable objects (Bangface 2012a, b, c, d). Additionally, ravers have been welcomed at the entrance every year by a 10 metre high, inflatable reproduction of Jabba the Hutt aptly named Gabba the Hutt. On top of this, every chalet receives a welcome pack upon arrival. In 2011 this welcome pack consisted of two cans of energy drink, a lollipop, a cereal bowl and a beach bucket and spade, all adorned with the Bangface black and white logo.https://www.youtube.com/embed/fE7jniEcbRw
Thus Bangface is a very unique party when it comes to aesthetics. However a similar argument should be made about the music played at the Weekenders. It is definitely an electronic music festival, however no genre seems to be dominant: the stage seems to be shared equally by breakcore, gabba, dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass, dubstep and different types of techno. Trance (both commercial and psy) is the only subgenre that is, for the most part, absent at Bangface. However Bangface isn’t exclusively electronica—a few comedy and acoustic acts are often thrown on at the 3rd stage for good measure.
Amongst the artists which have been featured at BFW are old school acts such as The Orb and Atari Teenage Riot; big names of the present such as Squarepusher, Venetian Snares, and Dillinja; top mashup artists such as Luna C and Shitmat, as well as plainly unusual performers, such as politically incorrect comedy singer Kunt and the Gang and The Countryside Alliance Crew, a drum ‘n’ bass/hip hop sound system that does “countryside themed” and West Country accented remixes of famous songs, with all crew-members performing on stage with the classic tweed farmer look.https://www.youtube.com/embed/jhgxOC-VAhE
Thus, this is an especially eclectic musical mix for an especially eclectic party. And this has not gone unrecognised in the UK raving scene, as testified by Time Out London saying that the 2009 Weekender would “make Bestival look like F***ing Question Time” (Lawrence 2008). It has even won the attention of the international press (a quite rare form of positive publicity for the raving scene), with the New York Times’ interview of the Bangface main organiser, who goes by the nickname of James St. Acid, which was published in 2007 and was used to promote the first Weekender party (Knight 2007).
On the whole, this is not a party for the faint-hearted. The type of electronica that is played here is of the dark, heavy sort. At the same time the overall eclecticism of this party means that most versatile electronica fans will not leave unhappy. The party theme is in tune with the often irreverent spirit of many raves in the UK, where there is a marked popularity of colourful and eclectic fancy dress, often combined with sometimes morbid and often politically incorrect humour.
It is clear that Bangface Weekender’s popularity—it has sold out each one of its four editions—owes as much to the creativity of the organisers as it does to their ability to cater to the aesthetic and comedic tastes of UK ravers. And the special setting of the Camber Sands Pontins allows for extra and extended interaction whilst making the best of the amenities of the resort.
The time has come now to turn my attention to the most important part of Bangface Weekender: the party people. First of all, a few clarifications: this is not a family friendly festival—only over 18s are admitted. The crowd is generally fairly homogenous in terms of age, and thus is formed mostly of 20 somethings with a few people also in their 30s and late teens.
However, this festival has other types of diversity to offer. Compared to other festivals in the UK, which tend to be composed by over 90% British residents, this party attracts many visitors from abroad, who travel specifically for this. There’s French, Dutch, Germans and Belgians by the hundreds; plus Danes, Swedes, Italians, Spaniards and Poles by the dozens. It’s interesting how hundreds of youths from around Europe all congregate on these shores, which are a stone’s throw from where the decisive battle was won during the last successful foreign invasion of England, back almost a thousand years ago, in 1066.
Indeed, the determination of all festivalgoers, present company included, is outstanding and has been sometimes even rewarded by the organisers. In 2010, a group of Sicilians were given a free chalet the following year as a reward for their determination. During the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption, undeterred by the cancellation of their flights, they decided to drive the entire 5,000 kilometres to Camber Sands and back. At last year’s edition, having mentioned I’d flown straight from New Mexico to attend, I was given an extra welcome pack. https://www.youtube.com/embed/QEi_8glbTV4
This irreverent solidarity runs across nationality and cultural lines. But it also rests on some forms of breaking the conventional rules and laws. Every year the festival has a few gatecrashers, who are usually able to jump the fence that separates the Pontins from the outside. They have to settle for partying in the chalets as rigorous wristband checks prevent them from going into the arena. However they usually are helped in their efforts to get away from security by other festival-goers.
The predominant logic here is that, with the festival turning in good profits and selling out, a few intruders who could not afford their tickets are more than welcome. Furthermore, it has often been the case that one year’s gatecrashers have become paying ravers by the following year, as well as vice-versa.
Additionally, the possibility of playing your own music in the chalets creates the opportunity to throw small improvised parties. More enterprising ravers will also decorate their own chalets in the quirky ways to attract attention. The improvisation and organisation can take various forms and extents. My two most vivid memories of this are showing up to a chalet which had set up its own rig and sound system—the noise was making the walls and windows tremble—and attending a late night all-men “no tops” party, organised by a group of very loud and boisterous Scottish ravers.
On a final note, this festival sees the DIY spirit of UK raving interact with a visually and musically eclectic party in a classic British working class setting. Bangface is in so many ways as much a party as a multi-faceted cultural phenomenon. This phenomenon is facing a big change in 2012, as the festival moves to Newquay in Cornwall, in pursuit of a bigger site with camping options available (Bangface 2012e). Thus, the format is undergoing changes, but hopefully its spirit won’t.