‘Hard Crew You Were Warned’ – if you were the parent of a family heading down to Pontins for a weekend away and were confronted by this sign at the entrance, you may be tempted to throw your estate car into reverse and floor it back to whence you’d come. It was one of the first greetings we saw at the entrance to the Bang Face weekender, the ‘Neo-Rave Armageddon’ held within the inauspicious surroundings of Camber Sands. It’s only when you reach the gates of the holiday park that you realise everything is not quite what it seems. Small clues in the nearby village of Rye include a yellow smiley balloon gurning away in the sky. That and the dread heads, punks and ravers staggering around Budgens making desperate lunges for the cider. But when you land on site, the signs and the huge green inflatable ‘Gabba the Hutt’ make it abundantly clear. There’s a rave going on.
For the uninitiated, Bang Face is a bottomless cauldron of sights, sounds, looks and smells – the crowd ranges from all ages; from bog-eyed youths to those who may be wrinklier but just as equally as bog-eyed (and perhaps should know better). Unsurprisingly the music is resolutely ravey – but as hard as it is discerning – James Bang Face and his crew know their rave onions and it’s reflected in the cross section of electronic acts on the bill. The line up veers from the darker, twisted corners of gabba to the more contemporary aural flexing of the likes of Untold, Chris Clark, Martyn, Africa Hi-Tech and Rustie. Throw in a few mammoth headliners (in this year’s case Leftfield and Atari Teenage Riot) and you’ve got fun for all the family. As long as the whole family can indulge in a shared passion for dancing, staying up all night and waving signs saying “I love my life as a dickhead”.
Thankfully the four of us in our family chalet were all bent into a similar sort of shape, so all three nights were spent ‘having it large’ with a capital A.C.I.D over the various nooks and crannies of the ‘resort’. As a rave playground, Pontins is divided up into three areas; the Bang and Face rooms plus the Queen Vic boozer. In previous years the contrast of the holiday park setting/staff on the brink of retirement/hardcore acts and the audience was sharp, but this year the distinctions seemed blurred, perhaps as the park uses such events to remain afloat during times of economic hardship. Or perhaps they’re getting into it as much as the dedicated ‘Hard Crew’.
The musical highlights were many – Jeff Mills, one of the elder statesmen of Detroit, showed off his skills on the Friday eve with a coruscating set of sharp and bouncy techno – like the ‘Wizard’ himself, this form of dance came muscular and tense, without an inch of flab on it. The big man played 90 minutes of lean, mean, melodic techno before finishing himself and us off with a lacerating version of ‘The Bells’.
Atari Teenage Riot were the big draw on the Saturday eve – and, despite having been on this path of sonic anarchism for more than ten years, looked and sounded as if they were still really pissed off. The lights, noise and crowd were intense while the trio were on stage with Alec Empire leading the charge through thick layers of distortion and noise.
Elsewhere the vibe was just as hype but less chaotic. Adamski laid down some chunky house behemoths including a tripped out and satisfying lengthy trip through his mega-hit ‘Killer’ from behind a pair of shades and pork pie hat. Young pup Space Dimension Controller brought more intergalactic, yet still raw bleeps, house and techno stylings (including Thomas Bangalter’s ‘On Da Rocks’). Sheffield bass monsters The Squire of Gothos ensured the Queen Vic got a thorough drenching with niche aimed dance brandishing bare teeth and its top off. Out of all the sweat boxes we entered, their low-ceilinged room was one of the wettest we breached over the duration of our stay.
The final evening was owned by Leftfield These dinosaurs of nineties rave emerged amid some pure prehistoric bass terror, which was loud enough to sound as if the Grim Reaper himself had hacked up the earth underneath the stage to let them on – Either that or the lack of fodder consumed over the weekend was beginning to catch up with the attendees, bubbling over into one colossal stomach rumbling. These godfathers of British techno showed they may have grown older but they still know how to lay it down. Their tinnitus inducing bass slammed the baying hoards this way and that amid a sea of inflatable balloons and palm trees. ‘Song of Life’, ‘Release the Pressure’ and ‘Afrika Shox’ were hard enough for those still standing to totally lose themselves one last time before Bang Face TV host Normski and Saint Acid bashed everyone into submission for a suitably incendiary close.
The Bang Face line up is obviously one of the massive attractions of the festival for many of those who like to get their hands dirty in the three rave caves, but the fun doesn’t and won’t ever stop there. In between the main acts and after hours when the main emporiums of bass have shut their shops, the maze of chalets offer a warren of nefarious to-ings and fro-ings. All sorts of activity goes on but one of the best areas we found was a square with a huge rig blaring out jungle, gabba and Queen on the early Sunday afternoon. Staggering around the scorched earth with Madness’ ‘Our House’ blaring out in the sunshine could prove to be one of the highlights of our collective lives.
And when you’re physically unable to clamber from your chalet, the constant stream of Bang Face TV beamed from a tiny studio/rave chamber keeps your unhinged mind firmly ajar. Hosted by Medlo and Dance Energy presenter Normski, proceedings go from the sublime to the ridiculous with prostrate ravers encouraged to text in their ramblings and even visit their room to furnish them with gifts. “How do you turn Tim Burton into a curtain?” and “can someone wake Dom in chalet 587 up? He’s got all the room odouriser” were some of the missives that stand out. It’s like a contemporary take on classic ‘youth TV’ like the Word, yet one which hasn’t been to bed since at least Thursday. It also beams out the infamous pool party, which this year featured the Amen All Stars, including hardcore hero Bizzy B, rocking some seriously tough jungle to a swimming pool of ravers who should probably have grabbed some kip before donning the swimming costume and running for the slide. We’ve never made it due to the massive fear factor involved – but it looks suitably insane from the images broadcast into our pit. Men with dreads flaying around in water wings baring signs that read ’The only thing I’m fucking tonight is my prospects’ is an image that will stick with us. Maybe forever.
But that’s the Bang Face weekender for you; it manages to balance being a festival with the spirit of a free party, with a nostalgic love of all things rave with raw, new sounds – It’s a place where the Hard Crew are just as important asmany of the acts. By the time we crawled out the site on Monday afternoon clutching an inflatable skeleton called Brian and some unused teabags, we’d developed hacking coughs, small appetites and short-term memory loss. But this weekender had been perhaps their best party yet. The only problem is, it’s proving hard to readjust to normal life. Hard Crew 4 life!