Maintaining the perfect blend of old skool rave and the finest contemporary leftfield sounds, as well as attracting one of dance music’s most passionate crowds, this year sees Bang Face celebrate its 10th anniversary. DJ Mag speaks to the club night’s key figures and plots the history of what may just be the final bastion of the acid house spirit..
At a time when dance music is reaching into places previously untouched by repetitive beats, many are voicing their concerns at the increasing size and sheer commercial force of the global EDM rebrand.
As veteran DJ Justin Robertson recently tweeted, “Whatever happened to the acid house spirit? [The] modern dance scene looks so ugly and bloated, not what we signed up for”. It’s easy to hanker for that original, seemingly all-inclusive rave spirit, but for those who believe it died long before Skrillex even picked up a dummy, let alone a copy of Ableton, it’s actually been thriving between the sweat-drenched walls of Bang Face.
“It’s almost like a self-contained rave scene all on its own with an excitement and friendliness that is the closest you will ever get to the old days of acid house,” says Altern 8’s Mark Archer, and what more could those yearning for dance music’s roots ask for than that?
Celebrating its 10th year in 2013, Bang Face is the brainchild of St. Acid, AKA James Bang Face, who masterminded the London club’s growth from small, free gatherings to themed, monthly, multi-room events complete with trademark inflatables that get lobbed around throughout the night by the fervent crowd, also known as the Hard Crew. Anything goes and there isn’t a stroked chin in sight.
“I had three gigs in three days and as a way of galvanising my mates to turn up, I sent out an email saying ‘Don’t miss Bang Face, the birth of Neo-Rave’,” says James of Bang Face’s roots. “It was just a joke that got out of hand quickly. The first parties were free and in a converted underground public toilet in Shoreditch. It then moved around various basement venues nearby until finding its home at the sprawling, industrial Electrowerkz.”
While artists from that rave heyday have peppered the line-up since the start, including Shut Up and Dance, 808 State, N-Joi, and SL2, Bang Face is not a nostalgia trip for ageing ravers. Yes, there may be people on both sides of the decks who were there back in the day, but Bang Face is more about maintaining that rave spirit. This takes in drum & bass, techno, acid, breakcore, gabba and happy hardcore, both from the old skool and from the experimental sonic cutting edge of today, and artists and DJs as varied as Chevron, Ed Rush, Beardyman, Plastician, Bong-Ra, Ceephax Acid Crew and Shitmat.
“The old skool acts give a sense of history and I’ve always tried to fill the gaps in-between the music styles to connect what’s happening now and what happened then,” says James. “Booking the artists has always been a gut feeling that they’ll step it up and smash it. I simply started by booking guys from my record collection, if the tune worked on the dancefloor then I figured the artist would too.”
The night’s success, guided by its motto Fragor Facies - Ludemus Una (Latin for ‘Bang Face - we play together’) soon had James thinking on a grander scale. “Within a couple of years I’d started to imagine Bang Face as a weekender, and Glade Festival 2006 was the first chance to see it on a large scale, and it was amazing, like three years of contained energy exploding in one night,” he says. “I started planning the first weekender, which was held in Camber Sands in 2008.”
Mark Archer, who gained masked notoriety and scored several rave hits as half of Altern 8 in the early '90s, remembers his first set at Bang Face in 2005 well.
“The theme of the night was ‘Revenge of the Synths’ and I remember thinking when we got there ‘We’re not going to go down well here’, as the music that was on before us was just pure mental,” says Mark, who now regularly lines up for Bang Face. “Little did we know about how open-minded the Bangface crew really are, and the place went off.”
Another Bang Face favourite is Germany’s The Panacea, who is famed for his metal teeth and, more importantly, his passionate, full-blooded sonic assaults on the crowd made up of contemporary happy hardcore, trap, breakneck drum & bass and gabba, all laced with hints of the original rave sound.
“I really had problems performing in London because I guess I was always a little too weird for the standard drum & bass crowd over there,” says The Panacea, whose real name is Mathis Mootz. “My friend showed me a load of pictures and what I saw was like a DJ's dream come true, with people jumping off the speakers and wearing crazy clothes.
“Nowadays, especially in a club context, there’s a lot of people that act cool or that try to be cool. It never really matters how cool you are at Bang Face, it’s actually much cooler if you’re like a total dork, if you roll up in a chicken costume! These are the people that I want to play for, because if you’ve ever seen me perform, I don’t try to act cool on stage; I look like a fucking lunatic on stage!”
Iconic Cornish musical maverick, Luke Vibert, was also quick to climb aboard once he heard about Bang Face.
“I'd been wanting to play for a while as there was, and remains, nothing quite like it anywhere else that I've played,” he says. “Ceephax, a good mate, had done it a few times and some mates had told me it was proper old skool style, which is right up my street. For me it's just the right mix of booming beats and bass, but with an underlying — and sometimes overriding — experimental vibe.”
Luke, also famed for his work under the Wagon Christ, Kerrier District and Plug guises, adds that Bang Face marked a switch in the musical perception of crowds.
“It seemed like a turning point really, with youngsters well up for hearing older, more analogue music,” he says. “Now kids all over seem pretty open-minded, compared with the '90s, when I'd usually get stick off someone if I wasn't playing brand-new shit.”
HARD CREW HEDONISM
Time and time again, the members of the Bang Face Hard Crew and their unpretentious, open-minded and hedonistic attitude are mentioned as a key part of what has made Bang Face so unique and ensured its enduring appeal. Willing to dress up and make banners in line with each night’s theme, whether it’s the anniversary of Beethoven’s death, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s birthday or the Great Fire of Rome in 64AD, Mark Archer calls the Hard Crew, “The nicest, friendliest but maddest bunch of nutters on the planet.”
James adds, “The Hard Crew are the dedicated faithful, prepared to go the extra mile when it comes to energy levels and effort in maintaining the atmosphere. I always list the Bang Face Hard Crew as an act on the flyers.”
The Panacea says that the Hard Crew are genuinely like no other crowd.
“It feels as if you’re playing to a bunch of equals. I’m not being treated like some sort of star or talent, I’m just one of them,” he says. “I don’t want to stand behind the DJ booth and act all cool: I’ve always been a raver and I will always be a raver. This is how I grew up and this is one of the very last places where I can be just that.”
The Hard Crew has even spawned its own DJ supergroup. Bang Face regulars Dave Skywalker, Demon Cabbage and Bassbin Terrorizer formed The Hard Crew Heroes and played their first set together at the 2012 weekender.
“We had over 3,000 people brocking out to us tearing the tunes out, mashing up everything from bassline to old skool rave to drum & bass, breakcore, and even happy hardcore,” the ‘Heroes remember. “We became some kind of weird bastard rave version of the Swedish House Mafia!”
Of their fellow Hard Crew members they say, “The Hard Crew are definitely the most open-minded, creative, hardened and dedicated of ravers. At some other nights you can tell people want to go for it but they’re holding back, people aren’t quite letting go, here people are brocking out from the moment they come through the door.”
The Hard Crew Heroes are proud to be part of the mayhem of the weekenders, that have seen many surreal moments involving Bez from the Happy Mondays, oom-pah bands playing acid house classics, Chas & Dave, bagpipe players and failed human pyramids.
“Normski [of '90s BBC programme, Dance Energy] once described it as ‘The biggest, craziest, most hyperactive kids' party you’ll host, except the kids are about 20 years older and it’s full of inflatable toys, glowsticks, masks, lasers, banners and the craziest music’,” say the Hard Crew Heroes. “That pretty much nails it.”
The Bang Face Weekender has now moved to Newquay in Cornwall, and it’s not just a UK concern either: almost half of the attendees travel in from Europe and beyond. This year the line-up includes live sets from LFO and a reunited Graham Massey (of 808 State) and A Guy Called Gerald, appearances from acid pioneers DJ Pierre and Phuture and a Planet Mu takeover featuring µ-Ziq, Ital, Boxcutter and Venetian Snares.
Few clubs manage to reach their 10th anniversary, so what is the secret to the longevity of Bang Face?
“I’ve always run Bang Face as a labour of love, and hopefully that shows,” says James. “The Hard Crew have done the rest, their dedication to keeping the event a great laugh but also remaining open-minded and welcoming to change and new people over the years has kept it going strong.”
Altern 8’s Mark Archer adds, “Bang Face has never tried to be something it’s not. They have stayed true to their vision and paid massive attention to the people who go there religiously, and they deliver, time and time again.”
The Panacea highlights the spirit that runs throughout Bang Face as its reason for thriving during the past decade.
“It’s the intensity of the experience, the passion of the people that go to these events,” he says. “It’s a haven for freaks and it’s just the right size.”
James reveals the future of Bang Face may include taking the mayhem further afield.
“I’d love to do some parties in Europe to honour the large European Hard Crew contingent,” he says. “I’m also planning a compilation album to celebrate 10 years, featuring exclusive tracks from the favourite artists, which should be ready in time for the weekender this year.”
Following a decade of unbridled partying, it looks like Bang Face will continue to be a hub of hedonism for many years to come, especially as more people are driven away from the commercialism of EDM and go in search of that original rave spirit. Carry on banging!