Given the achievements in their 18-year history as a club night, it's hard not to arrive at Bugged Out Weekender without some preconceptions. I mean, Daft Punk requested to play at their fourth birthday party. And Cajmere's first UK show? Jeff Mills' first Ibiza appearance? They might have the slogan "It’s Just A Big Disco," but looking back on everything they've done it feels like anything but. So given this history, how would its festival incarnation compare?
For starters, it felt more like a weekend of intensive clubbing than a festival per se. But if you're anything like me, a festival is only as strong as it's dance tent (I've never been one for spending the days sitting around while your mate gets his face painted like a lion or drinking tea with some dude in a pink wig waiting for Stanton Warriors to come on). The artists were spread across four main venues, and thankfully these were a short walk both from one another and from the accommodation, so there wasn't much reason to be standing in the bitter sea breeze, though a comprehensive search at the entrance to most venues combined with some crowding issues did lead to a few queues here and there.
While the crowd eagerly lined up for Disclosure's live show (one of the only live sets of the entire festival), I rushed over the road for Bicep in the Junk Department room, followed by Dusky and Huxley. The energy on the dance floor was high, with great visuals and sound that were typical of the weekend as a whole. The crowd proved themselves every bit the ardent house ravers you would expect, given they'd decided to mug off spending the first month of 2013 taking it easy.
My Saturday started with a standardly ground-shaking and genre-blending set from Ben UFO, before it was time to head to Urban Nerds for more of the bass-heavy house and techno that has defined the UK club scene over the past few years. With Jackmaster and Loefah still to come, the sub-bass showed no signs of easing off. Both label heads were on top form, keeping the rolling basslines of the evening flowing, and demonstrating the healthy disregard for pigeon-holed music that have made their imprints so popular.
On Sunday morning came the news of the festival's snow-related cancellations: Joy O and Dave Clarke (though luckily enough this meant the immense decision of Andrew Weatherall & Ivan Smagghe or Joy Orbison was made for us). In the Bugged Out room Justin Robertson showed a slightly empty floor exactly why he's been playing Bugged Out parties for so long, dishing out an apocalyptic set that would have left you wanting more, if it wasn't for the fact that Weatherall and Smagghe were next. As usual, their three-hour set felt like a lesson in how to build a solid foundation of devastatingly strong grooves. This made for a slightly awkward transition into Blawan's raw, uncompromising techno, though the set itself eventually pounded through and ended up being one of the best of the weekend.
If you can think of a better DJ to close your festival than Frankie Knuckles, then send your answers in on a postcard, but spoiler alert: you're wrong. It was with some trepidation that I walked into the room, having never seen him play before. It was easily the thing I was most excited about at the festival, and I was worried that the dream might be far superior than the reality. But I wasn't disappointed. He stayed firmly in the energetic house camp that he's known for, strings and piano stabs abound, leaving the crowd on a massive high.
In the end, there weren't really any big surprises to the festival. No new discoveries or crazy acts that weren't already on the radar. Just a group of great DJs delivering great sets. Maybe it is "Just A Big Disco" after all. But that's by no means a bad thing.