There's a bit more action by the trampolines. A queue has formed for the go-karts. Health & Safety can fuck off, indeed. Outside the pub, the smoking area is thick with day drinkers and people up from the night before. I desperately need a pint. Guinness has been the life force this weekend. I enter the fug. Wakefield's CUN7 is playing a gabber version of Bomfunk MC's' "Freestyler"—neither the first nor last time I'll hear this—which has the modest dance floor whipped into a frenzy. I station myself along the sidelines and watch the afternoon unfold.
The dance floor ebbs with ravers in various states of cohesion. The music yo-yos from happy hardcore and bassline to jungle, hard drum & bass and back again. Rarely does it dip below the upper-most echelons of beats per minute. I look around at the waifs who've gathered here. Everyone wears a Cheshire Cat grin. There's not a sad soul in the place. Even the guy who's taking five, slumped over himself in a corner, is smiling from ear to ear. And the bar staff, who surely should be over it by now, are sporting oversized four-leaf-clover hats, cheerily serving the constant stream of punters. Why? Because it's Bangface: The Happiest Rave On Earth, a hedonist's Narnia forgotten by time and sensible clubbing, a haven for all the misfits with a taste for something hard or harder. And it felt good.
For those who don't know Bangface: shame. But as honorary Hard Crew—everyone who's been to Bangface is honorary Hard Crew—I would say that. For once you go Bangface, you never go back. My first time was back in 2008. It was the inaugural Weekender at Pontins in Camber Sands. Squarepusher headlined. (He did again this year, which is very Bangface. Artists want to return as much as we do.) The whole programme was ridiculous for any IDM, breakcore, Warp or Planet Mu fan. There were a few curveballs in the mix as well. Juan Atkins and "Mad" Mike Banks were billed for Model 500's first-ever live UK show. Dub legend Aba Shanti-I was also there. And Chas & Dave, the "rabbit, rabbit, rabbit" pub-pop duo. I'd also heard there was a pool party. What more could you want from a festival? The Weekenders have taken place every year since—except for 2013, when it was cancelled, and in 2014, when Bangface went to Belgium and Holland instead. But the Weekenders are only one part of a long and looping story that begins much, much earlier, in an old public toilet in London, over 10 years ago.
The first Bangface party took place on October 17, 2003, and was christened The Birth of Neo-Rave. We know this because each one has been painstakingly documented in the Bangface archives, evidence that, despite the glaring uncouthness, there was a plan and a vision from the start. Flicking through the album, it doesn't look too far off a messy house party. There are the odd rave props—horns, "Bang Face" sweatbands and the now iconic screaming face logo looming in the background—but nothing of the inflatable and fancy dress onslaught that have come to define events since. The first few were free, and word quickly spread that they were, at their core, a bit of a laugh.
These were the primordial years of Bangface, brainchild of James "St Acid" Gurney—DJ, promoter and rave aficionado. "Neo-rave" was the strapline, meaning rave for the next generation, marrying old sentiment and '90s sounds (acid, jungle and hardcore included), with new styles, all melded chaotically together. It meant parties were volatile and eclectic—they still are—and predictable in their unpredictability. You knew what you were going to get from a Bangface party without knowing exactly what.
Bangface went through a few small venue changes—one, Trafik: Basement, an underground sardine can, was where the Hard Crew thing first came into being—before settling into the mammoth Electrowerkz space, where it still resides. "It felt more like a social club," says Gurney on the pre-Electrowerkz years. "So I get why people loved those days. There certainly was a special connection between everyone there and the music." He fondly recalls live acid sets from Ceephax Acid Crew and Mike Dred "on tables with everyone crowded round" as some of his favourite memories from this period.
The likes of Bong Ra, Ed DMX and Shitmat quickly joined the roster of regulars. And on September 9, 2005, Bangface threw their first Electrowerkz party, The 303 Musketeers—"in honour of Cardinal Richelieu's birthday in 1585," allegedly. There was a distinct acid theme, with A Guy Called Gerald, Baby Ford and Luke Vibert all billed, plus some live breakcore from Peace Off and Ad Noiseam duo Society Suckers to disrupt the flow. "It was Andy [Ceephax] who said, 'You got to come down and get on the bill,'" reflects Luke Vibert, a fierce advocate for the brand. "'It's like old raves. They're kids, young kids, but it's like being back in '92,' he said. This was about ten years ago and at that point rave had really disappeared. It was lush just to play old shitty music again, and it's kind of stuck since then. I always play some old stuff now. It was really Bangface that started that for me."
Vibert isn't the only artist who cites Bangface as a lasting influence. Mark Archer credits the support of Gurney and Bangface as being key to the continuation of his career. When things turned sour between him and Chris Peat, his partner in the the group Altern-8, Archer was no longer allowed to perform under the name. "I lost that many gigs, I lost my house and all the rest of it because it got that bad," he says. "But James stood by me all the way."
Archer wasn't convinced the first time he played. "The night was that weird I didn't really take in who the people were or anything. It was just, 'Christ, what the hell is this?'" he recalls. "When we finished I thought we'd never hear from these guys again." A few weeks later they got a call inviting them to play the 2006 Bangface takeover at Glade Festival. "I was just as shocked to be asked back as I was playing that first night. I honestly thought we'd never hear from them again. But James is so passionate about certain things he likes, certain things that he wants at the nights, and he goes all out for it." It turned out to be a landmark gig. "Technically, it was one of the worst sets we'd ever played," he says. "But it just worked. The crowd went absolutely ballistic."
The Glade gigs—three in total, starting in 2006—would be a prelude to the Weekenders themselves. "I remember having to work really hard to convince them," says Ned Beckett from Little Big, programmers behind the Overkill tent, hosts of Bangface at Glade. "I didn't used to go to the parties all the time but I just loved how they did it, how dedicated they were. Promoters have this dream of creating the perfect rave—it's always their vision—but with Bangface it was a very specific, very special scenario. They needed full control of the production, the venue and everything to be able to do what they do."
This meant hundreds of inflatables, tens of thousands of glow sticks and signage with obnoxious catchphrases like "piss me quick," and "the only thing I am fucking tonight are my prospects," plus all the Roland puns imaginable—"pieces of 808," "page 303 girls" and "909 red balloons," to name a few. "The text banners developed around the idea of having motivational phrases on the dance floor," says Gurney. "Like the ravers being the MCs but without a mic." And it's the details that make Bangface what it is: a weird but considered party that goes the extra mile to create its own world every time. "They aren't in it for any commercial or financial reasons, really," says Beckett. "They're in it because they have this vision of creating this perfect moment, this perfect rave situation. So it's really unusual. You just have to think, what other event series are there like Bangface that have run for so long?"
Not many. Lineup-wise, Planet Mu's Ammunition parties were probably the closest thing going on back then—Planet Mu still features heavily at Bangface, with artists like Venetian Snares, Hellfish and The DJ Producer, Remarc and Bizzy B all on regular rotation—but these stopped in 2006. And they were two different beasts entirely. Where similar-sounding nights fell by the wayside as grime and dubstep descended upon London, Bangface thrived, bearing the torch for all the oddball genres that were no longer popular or trendy. It proved to be the antithesis to the serious music that felt prevalent in the capital at the time: a safe, friendly, fun-first party that wasn't afraid to get a little silly. Sometimes this meant groping for the lowest common denominator: cue Henry Collins, AKA Shitmat, and the Wrong Music crew.
"The first time Shitmat played it was a very significant moment. The energy and humour were spot on, and we had an instant connection," recalls Gurney. Collins became a Bangface staple early on, and when the Weekenders began, Wrong Music were assigned to the Bangface TV, or BFTV, station: 24-hour broadcasts of almost total nonsense to every chalet on site. There were homemade cartoons about blue shapes living in Skol cans who went on strange adventures. There were "adverts" and interviews, competitions and even a phone number to send in text messages, which would be read out by guest host Normski. There were films too, like Dave Skywalker's BFTV premier of The Story of Y—not for the feint-hearted—and, of course, the opportunity for anyone at Bangface to come down and perform.
Then there were the Wrong Music takeovers, or Wrong Disco, as they've been called. Past editions have included a full outing of the Countryside Alliance Crew—that's "rural" remakes of pop and dance tunes, better experienced than described—and Trong, the musical, a Wrong Music rendition of Tron. "Trying to do a modern, video-based overture theatre piece at a rave is the best way to explain it," says Collins. This year the reins were handed over to DJ Detweiler, famous for his "flute drop" remixes of everyone from Miley Cyrus and Daft Punk to DJ Hazard and Vangelis. This took place first thing on Saturday at the Queen Vic, beginning with a soundclash between DJ Detweiler and DJ Bus Replacement Service, with Queerhawk on the mic, followed by quick-fire sets of 15 minutes from the rest of the lineup. And it was booming.
You could call DJ Detweiler and his Chin Stroke clan the new blood of Bangface, filling in for Collins since he retired both the Shitmat alias and the whole Wrong Music shtick—it "was a joke that went on too long," he says. Love Love Records followed the addled mashups of EDM, urban, "Asian" and hardcore music with people like Anklepants delivering something just as crass—he wears an animatronic penis mask—albeit with a bit more depth to it.
There's certainly never a dull moment at Bangface, and that's just the music. This isn't passive festival consumerism, you're involved and engaged from the unpredictable opening ceremony—which to date has included record-breaking glow sticks, beheadings and flying—to the deplorable close. But has it changed much in "more than 10 years of banging"?
"I don't think it has really changed in the sense that people still go to have fun and it's always been about the bold music styles," says Gurney. "It's really important for me to keep the values the same. We've stayed true to the original spirit that the party always comes first. The Hard Crew are so loyal and always give a maximum effort. It's great for the artists to play for them and get such a positive response." It's why Gurney and his crew still do it, and why artists keep coming back to perform here.
"In 10 years it's just gotten bigger, wider and better," says Luke McMillan, AKA The DJ Producer. "The only real change I've seen is the 'traditional' ravers finally discovering it this year after me telling them about it for so long." Shows at Glastonbury and Dour Festival in Belgium have helped raise Bangface's profile, exposing them to a wider audience. "Seeing people's reactions was hilarious, like a baptism of fire," says Gurney on Bangface at Glastonbury. But in reality they have enough diehards by now to sell out a party in days. They recently announced that the next Weekender will return to Southport in April 2016. My advice? Well, as McMillan says: "Experience Bangface and you won't forget it. You'll come back. And you'll probably bring a friend."