John Thorp heads to the Great British Seaside for an exhaustive (and exhausting) three night smasher of a festival at the hands of Bugged Out.
The concept of the British Festival Season is now a thing of the past. Even in austere times, the appetite amongst the British public for musical gatherings of all sorts has become more and more substantial, and no other country in the world dedicates as much time and money to the festival experience.
As such, it is now possible to find yourself at the arse end of January in a chalet in Bognor Regis, for the specific purpose of enjoying some of the finest DJs in the UK and beyond, with bonus waterslide opportunities. Not that any of us were complaining.
Arriving at Butlins Bognor Regis, the ‘flagship’ resort of the three after a lengthy drive down from Manchester and bonus fish and chips in a rather eerie Bognor town centre, we were checked in efficiently by a smiling host and settled into our generous accommodation. Whilst there was a lack of plugs and the bathroom had been designed to ensure that the user had to step in the shower to access the toilet, it was pretty decent overall – warm, comfortable and far away from the clichés of Butlins old. Regardless, it certainly beats camping.
Our first destination at Butlins was Jumpin’ Jaks bar, for perhaps the finest triple header of the whole weekend – Joy O, Julio Bashmore and a DJ set from the Netherlands’ Martyn. Unfortunately, SBTRKT had pulled out last minute, and sent his sincerest apologies, rather than somebody else wearing his trademark mask. Joy O (that’s Orbison, for those of you who recall his days of Hyph Myngo), is now of the most assured and surprisingly four to the floor DJs of the past few years. With the crowd in the palm of his hand, he unleashed a set of charismatic house and techno, including his increasing portfolio of unreleased tracks, which nonetheless were greeted with a warm and fist pumping reception by the savvy crowd.
Perhaps the leader of the current Bristol bass scene, Julio Bashmore followed with a somewhat more pitched down but still extremely fun set. Similar to the flawless set he played at Warehouse Project on New Year’s Day, the former store street resident mixed with his usual panache and variation, and even omitted his own anthemic ‘Battle For Middle You’ in front of a rapt and pleasingly rowdy crowd to no complaints. Next up was Martyn, performing a DJ set that covered tracks and remixes purged from his recent ‘Ghost People’ EP, as well as plenty of forward thinking bass selections.
After a quick trip up to a friend’s hotel room (not exciting as it sounds, although the hotel accommodation was very impressive), it was over to ‘Reds’ - named after the resorts’ titular ‘Redcoats’ hosts - and the largest venue of the three available for the weekend. A large, sticky carpeted showbar usually playing host to talent shows and Broadway medleys through the summer season, it was certainly one of the less conventional megaclubs I’d been to in recent times. It did however have two long and reasonably priced bars at either side, as well as a novelty gift shop. Fabric and The Warehouse Project are great and everything, but I’ve always thought that they lacked the opportunity to buy a man-size Bob The Builder costume or a set of three plastic spiders for just £2.
Arriving for The 2 Bears, we happened upon the last 20 minutes of Diplo’s set. Now one of the world’s premier dance producers, Diplo has come along way from his credentials as one of the most revered underground artists, and occasionally for the worse. Focusing on the rather plastic electro and dubstep he’s championed in recent years, the set suffered in comparison to some of the more forward thinking sounds on offer, with even a version of ‘We Are Your Friends’ getting an airing.
Still, revelry abounded and a carefree and genuinely fun atmosphere continued for over 90 minutes with The 2 Bears. Better known as Joe Goddard of Hot Chip fame and his pal Raf Daddy, the pair have recently released an early contender for this year’s best summer album, Be Strong, and the set covered classic and current house, pop and electro, as well as several of their own tracks, performed live with Raf Daddy offering a signature Bear Hug to all on the mic.
By the time Simian Mobile Disco’s Jas Shaw takes to the decks, a hard day of travel and an unprofessionally excessive night of drinking mean that I only caught 20 minutes or so of his assured set before retiring. I drunkenly stumbled home past an abandoned funfair and to sleep at my temporary abode in ‘Driftwood’, guiding myself by singing the Travis hit of the same name to remind me of where I’m headed, and get scowled at by a lad in a Chase and Status t-shirt.
Awaking on Saturday afternoon, there was only so much time to feel totally rotten before it was time to explore the rest of the rejuvenating facilities available at Butlins. Specially, the sub-tropical Splash Waterworld, a large, and mercifully undercover waterpark with slides, a wave machine and even a watercoaster known as the Master Blaster, on which recovering ravers were blasted on an inflatable raft around the facility, up hills and down drops. The waterpark was advertised as ‘The Dalston Riviera Pool Party’, with the disco loving likes of Hannah Holland behind the decks. Unfortunately, the acoustics didn’t exactly lend themselves well to the concept, but people were largely submerged anyway. The waterpark had one of the best atmospheres of the entire weekend, and almost certainly the most partial nudity.
Having had not near enough sleep and or nutrients, we eventually made our way back into the club action around 9PM on Saturday night, in time to catch a set from electro man and one half of Carte Blanche, Riton, in Reds. For what was fairly early on in what was to be a pretty marathon evening, Riton’s set of bangers and pop proved to be a little too heavy early at that stage, and to a crowd of likely less than a few hundred. Nonetheless, he was having as much fun as ever and it was great to hear him play some of his previous Medhi collaborations with a huge smile on his face, on what would have been his pal’s birthday.
Riton’s red poker warm up was in aid of one of Bugged Out’s staples, the much loved Erol Alkan. Immediately lowering the BPM to open with Crackboy’s excellent ‘Something For Your Mind’, Alkan’s penchant for records both weird and banging, often at once, made the first hour of his set one of the best of the weekend. Dedicating the second hour of his performance to what seemed entirely his own remixes and one would suspect his own unreleased productions (his drums are unmistakable), he took it up a notch as a fresh crowd, many of whom were local residents, began to flood into the venue for 2ManyDJs. Despite nearly causing a riot with his own failsafe ‘Lemonade’, he still found time to finish with the full 10 minutes of his oddball and emotional reworking of Conan Mockaskin’s ‘Forever Dolphin Love’.
Erol Alkan. Photo: Nathan Lucking / NILPhotography
Next up was Inner City, the 80s and 90s house staples responsible for such hits as ‘Good Life’ and ‘Big Fun’, here performing live, with house legend Kevin Saunderson back at the controls, live instrumental accompaniment and two singers. Certainly the act most suitable for the cabaret venue of the weekend, Inner City delivered an excellent PA, but the crowd seemed subdued for even the biggest hits, suggesting a crowd too young to fully appreciate their heritage. Such reigned in partying went quickly out of the window however, when 2ManyDJs took to the stage and seemed to have turned the room upside down with around 45 seconds. Keen for something different, and another dose of authentic Australian magic, we headed over to Jumpin’ Jaks to catch Glasgow’s Hudson Mohawke.
One of the most cutting-edge artists on the bill, Hudmo unfortunately failed to pull much of a crowd to his live set. Whilst this left plenty of room to drunkenly thrash around with no irony to his hypercolourful, heavy-hitting electronica, it did unfortunately blight the experience somewhat. The entire weekend had clearly been rather unsold, and whilst this was a blessing in disguise when it came to never having to wait for a drink or even a waterslide, it wasn’t necessarily the atmosphere you might be seeking in a club at 1AM. Similarly, whilst the locals who had sold the event out of day passes on the Saturday did bring up the numbers and the mood, they proved to be a very different and rather less sophisticated audience than the traditional Bugged Out crowd. Then again, if you lived in Bognor Regis and somebody had booked 2ManyDJs to play, and in January, you probably could justify the mass morphsuit hire.
Back over at Reds, many of the same crowd had turned it into tops off techno time for Green Velvet, the debonair and imposing techno and house master from Chicago, who was deep into treating the crowd to his iconic green mohican, his spoken word interjections and hits ranging from 1995’s still classic ‘Flash’ to last year’s irresistible ‘Millie Vanillie’. One of the unexpected high points of the whole shebang.
Green Velvet. Photo: Nathan Lucking / NILPhotography
Back over again to Jumpin’ Jaks (keep up), it was time for Jackmaster, one of the best DJs in the UK at the moment and one of the leaders of the Glasgow imprint Numbers, for which the whole evening in Jaks had acted as a showcase. Playing in a now much busier room, he opened to cheers with Brandy and Monica’s ‘The Boy Is Mine’ and even found the right moment to drop the traditional Greek dance number ‘Zorba’ later on. No novelty DJ though, Jack Revell’s set was otherwise a fast, furious and incredibly fun mix of upfront techno and house, sprinkled with a few classics and unknown airings. Testimony to his judgement as a selector - Revell doesn’t produce, incidentally - everyone felt completely carried away in whatever he happened to be playing. Followed by a short slice of L-Vis 1990 vs Bok Bok representing London’s Night Slugs, the atmosphere in Jaks had now really taken off and felt like a superb party. But with an already aching head and another full night of debauchery to go, it was time to head back to Driftwood. En-route to my weekend home, I passed an on-site security guard checking for trouble in the cold. When I asked if he’d had any, he passed compliment on the good vibe of the whole weekend, revealing he’d yet to see any, although has plenty to deal with at the Amateur Wrestling Weekends.
Much as I enjoyed Butlins Bognor, I’d be hard pushed to describe it as romantic or wistful, or thought provoking, but Bognor’s long stretch of beach, adjacent to the resort, was one of my most memorable experiences of the weekend, and felt really refreshing after two nights of sticky clubbing. After our group took a long walk out to the shore, we realised it was already time for several key acts as the music sensibly started and finished early on the Sunday, perhaps allowing those who needed to get back to work to do so.
Unfortunately, the quiet nature of the event meant that it was rather hard to get anyone dancing or even seemingly out of bed come Day #3 of the festival. Over the space of a strange few hours, I watched Dan Avery AKA, StopMakingMe, AKA, one of the best, smartest up and coming DJs and remixers in the UK, play to one lone, dancing Japanese 20-something called Alan. Alan danced all weekend. By the time Justin Robertson arrived to play some Sunday acid, the crowd had swelled to around 8. Unlike a traditional festival, where a tent can only be enjoyed and comfortable for so long, perhaps Butlins’ accommodation is a bit too comfortable after all.
Of course, Sunday-flagging at festivals is no unique phenomenon as people feel the results of overdoing their personal partying remit. However, Butlins seemed almost a little eerie at this point. In comparison to other festivals held at Butlins resorts, such as ATP and Bloc, Bugged Out Weekender lacked any real special touches or inventive programming or design. Whilst they are of course a straight-up dance institution, it would have been nice to see more live acts perhaps, or perhaps more one-off DJ sets or visual collaborations you might not be able to catch elsewhere on the clubbing circuit. Even for a dedicated dance music enthusiast such as myself and those I was with, the procession of blokes standing behind decks does become a little vanilla after a while.
Sunday evening saw us finally venture into the third arena, hosted by promoters In:Motion and primarily dedicated to dubstep, grime and DnB. The headliner that evening was to be Chase & Status, who I’m sure it’s fair to say haven’t played in a conference centre room for a while. Hyetal’s album ‘Broadcast’ was one of my favourites of last year, and his live set span it delicately in new direction that was both dancier and really explored his music to a small but appreciative audience.
Chase & Status. Photo: Nathan Lucking / NILPhotography
Our final trip to Reds’ before saying goodbye to its indoor hot dog cart forever, was to see Dirtybird head honcho, the bearded jolly man of house, Claude Von Stroke. Having not seen him for a couple of years, he ripped through a superb set, consisting mainly of various Dirtybird releases I’d really enjoyed in the time since, and mixed and selected with real precision. After all worrying we were going to struggle with another night on our feet and on the booze, we left grooving.
Rob Da Bank meanwhile was busy entertaining a quiet Jaks with a set that would have worked brilliantly at an Australian themed bar anywhere else in the world, but here seemed to mainly be Dad dance and the most predictable of bangers - Chemical Brothers and Prodigy’s biggest hits of the 90s territory. A strange set from a man known for his esoteric label and love of new music, and even stranger as a warm up to the venue’s big finale - three hours in the company of Andrew Weatherall and Ivan Smagghe.
Old sparring partners, and between them covering house, disco, techno, acid and pop, the most assured set of the weekend was delivered, keeping the first few rows joyous and dancing non-stop for the duration. Not a foot was put wrong, with a particular highlight being Weatherall ramping things up half way through with Todd Terje’s ‘Ragysh’, and the pair comfortably grooving along to each other’s selections with the crowd. Having been to many great editions of Bugged Out at Sankeys back in Manchester, the feeling of appreciation and togetherness I best associate with the brand felt strongest with the old hands in here on Sunday night, and I wish I could have bottled the atmosphere at several points.
The initial Bugged Out Weekender could certainly be heralded a success, with a great line-up, good people and an interesting thing to do at a time of year when traditionally there may be nothing. Whilst certainly not without room for improvement, the most important things are entirely right about the event, and I hope the word gets out to a wider community by 2013. See you there?
Words: John Thorp
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