Bangface Weekender 2018: Five key performances

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  • It's now par for the course at festivals that a WhatsApp group is set up between you and your mates, often months before the event. These can be used for preparations or for meeting up onsite, though mostly they're for expressing excitement and hyping each other up as the days and weeks tick down. My group for this year's Bangface, though, focussed on a very different emotion: trepidation, perhaps even fear, at the impending intensity of the weekend ahead. Having attended multiple times before, I knew what to expect: a mixed bill of old favourites and new curveballs, a carefree and fun-loving attitude, some of the most impressive soundsystems going and, of course, the (very) faded glory of a dilapidated British holiday park. Pontins Southport really is something else. Surrounded by barbed wire walls that slope inwards and filled with chalets in various states of ruin, it's easy to see why the venue's Tripadvisor page has an impressive 2,077 reports listed under "Terrible." But for a wild weekend of breakcore, techno, jungle and gabber, it remains the perfect setting. There were new surprises, too—the visuals, for example, had vastly improved—though mostly, the weather was absurd even for the UK. It was odd to think, looking out over the snow, ice and pond-sized puddles, that just three years ago I'd been in shorts dragging the sofa from our chalet onto the lawn outside. The freezing winds notwithstanding, Bangface 2018 was another vintage edition of one of the world's most outrageous raves. In the past decade, it's gone from an event attended largely by devotees into an unmissable date on the calendar for thousands of hardened partygoers from across the globe. I'd recommend every raver to go at least once. Aside from the music, it wears its silliness on its sleeve, which is hugely refreshing when you consider all the po-faced parties out there. There's simply nowhere else like it on Earth. Here are five key performances from across the weekend.
    Kane West PC Music's art school crowd and the white dreadlocks of Bangface might seem like an odd combination, but both camps find common ground in the music's fun-loving attitude and high-spec sound design. A number of years had passed since I'd first noticed Bangface hoodies popping up at PC Music showcases, but this was the first time any of the label's artists had been booked for the festival. (Previously, there had been some appearances on Chin Stroke Records' brilliant closed circuit channel, Bangface TV.) Spinee, GFOTY and Kane West opened the festival's main space, Bang Room, on Thursday night, which has always had a strong pop leaning (Vengaboys headlined in 2016). The room took a while to fill as Spinee played, though by the time West began there was enough of a crowd to have a great time. It takes a specific attitude to play house at Bangface and get away with it, and West was perfect for the job, with a jacking set featuring a large number of his own productions, as well as his band Kero Kero Bonito. One moment in particular exemplified why it worked—as he dropped his remix of Tiga Vs Audion's "Let's Go Dancing," the track's free jazz MIDI bass slaps had the crowd in hysterics one second and totally losing it the next.
    Hellfish With good reason, Hellfish has played Bangface every year for as long as I can remember. The UK hardcore pioneer is simply one of the best around in his style, and as he closed Bang Room on Friday night, I was reminded of why. His take on gabber borrows liberally from hip-hop, both in terms of the sampling and his DJ style, which is heavy on flair and smooth turntable tricks. His approach can sometimes feel a bit cheesy, but he pulls it off with passion, never going too far down the rabbit hole. It's tough, relentless music, though head-banging to one million mph kicks with a crowd of strangers on a huge soundsystem is also incredibly therapeutic. Around 20 minutes in, I realised that I'd left my ear plugs back in the chalet, but the brief flash of concern quickly turned to joy. If ever there was a moment to experience to the full, this was it. With hardcore and gabber recently reentering the dance music media consciousness, anyone who's curious about it should hear it done to this standard.
    Helena Hauff On the one hand, Helena Hauff is a perfect booking for Bangface. She leans heavily on electro and acid, sounds that have always been well represented at the festival, while her appeal as an artist is timeless. Still, the booking felt like a curveball, which might be because she's currently so in vogue, something that Bangface has never paid much attention to. Either way, I was excited to see how she'd be received. The answer, as I had expected, was brilliantly. Her set was firmly rooted in techno, which I was a little disappointed by, having had my fill at Paula Temple and Ansome the night before. But it was perfect for the crowd, and you really got the sense that she'd done her homework. Maybe given more time she could have stretched her legs a little more. Most sets over the weekend were only an hour long—a rule that makes sense for the more extreme acts on the bill, but that leaves techno DJs little room to manoeuvre. As her performance neared its end, an inflatable killer whale dived headfirst into my beer, sending it crashing to the floor. At that moment, though, nothing could have put me off my stride.
    DJ Gurl Power Of all the labels given airtime at Bangface, Sheffield's Off Me Nut Records is the most prominent. Various affiliated acts played at least once a day, as well as taking over the whole of Saturday's pool party. At 1 PM on Sunday, the man behind their latest release, DJ Gurl Power (AKA the bassline producer K-orse) opened The Queen Vic. For most of the weekend, the pub venue saw takeovers from different parts of the world—Bristol, Eastern Europe and a three-way Celtic celebration on St Patrick's day (Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall). These featured local DJs that play a big role in their regional free party and hard rave scenes, but on Sunday, the venue played host to a less-defined collective: Hard-Crew Heroes. Playing at lunchtime on Sunday is a serious ask at most festivals, and it was no different here. At first, the crowd was thin. DJ Gurl Power's set drew from the broader influences of his new sound, heavily leaning on '90s pop hits, such as "Keep On Moving" by 5ive, with a lot of CDJ trickery and tempo leaps as a way of tying in donk and happy hardcore. It worked well, especially as a kind of manifesto for the new alias, though the set really hit home when he played his original material, a sharp blend of all the above with a twisted and distorted take on footwork. Similar to the more extreme ends of PC Music, yet still totally original, the music was lapped up by the steadily filling room.
    Moving Shadow VS Formation VS Reinforced VS Suburban Base After a weekend of punishing tunes, the organic and natural grooves of early jungle and hardcore was exactly what I needed. Bangface had just the thing: a soundclash between four of the scene's most legendary labels. Several pioneers had been announced for the seven-and-a-half-hour session, easily making it the performance my friends and I were most looking forward to. No set times were announced beforehand. I made it down just after 7 PM, after catching Jerome Hill in Bang Room. Unfortunately, I'd already missed 2 Bad Mice, Barrington and Kaotic Chemistry, but there was still plenty more to get through. Though I was too young when this music first broke through, it was nevertheless hard not to get lost in the nostalgia for one of UK dance music's golden eras. Hearing all those vital bangers, delivered alongside some on-point MCing, was a great experience. Nookie's set, which leaned heavily on the techno pulse of his early releases, was a personal highlight. The party ended with Tekniq and Madcap playing 90 minutes of music by Tango, the hardcore jungle pioneer who sadly died earlier this year. (He'd originally been booked to play the reunion.) Onscreen, the visuals faded, until just the words "RIP TANGO" remained. Dozens of Tango's friends and peers flooded the stage. It was a beautiful send-off, and as meaningful a moment as I've experienced on the dance floor. Photo credit / Luke Cano - Lead Oliver Pooley - Kane West, Hellfish Robert Rodriguez - Helena Hauff Ellie Eadington - DJ Gurl Power Craigy T - Moving Shadow VS Formation VS Reinforced VS Suburban Base
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