...it's the Hacienda without the guns, punk without the gobbing,
Woodstock without the bloody hippies...
Now the Klaxons and Calvin Harris are not-bad art rock acts with a couple of catchy tunes, and I’m sure their mums love them very much, but they have ABSOLUTELY BUGGER ALL TO DO WITH RAVE. The Klaxons’ bossman only made up the term ‘nu-rave’ to confuse gullible NME journalists in the first place. Nu-rave is a sham, about as authentic as alcohol-free lager or that ‘techno’ record by 2 Unlimited that everyone tries to forget.
Neo-rave, on the other hand, is as close to the real deal as you dare imagine. It’s the brainchild of James ‘Saint Acid’ Gurney, the flame-haired patron saint of Bang Face, the now world-famous riotous assembly of acid, rave, jungle, techno, electro and breakcore.
Established in October 2003 and running on the second Friday of each month, Bang Face has progressed from a tiny underground converted toilet block in Spitalfields, East London, to three rooms of the Electrowerkz, the cavernous warehouse home of the long-running Slimelight goth/industrial/nu-metal club in Islington.
Bang Face’s strong visual identity, particularly the stark use of black-and-white and the iconic ‘face’ logo, is no accident (James has a Master’s degree in Image and Communication). The face has become so familiar that at least one person has gone so far as to get it tattooed and it’s even made a bizarre appearance in an episode of Channel 4’s Shameless. Such is the ubiquity of the BF face that one or two people have even claimed their face was “stolen” for the logo – except that its owner is none other than James’s younger brother. Fact.
But what really sets Bang Face apart from its contemporaries is the unashamed emphasis on fun. This is not a club for Nathan Barley types, sneering into their imported Mexican lagers, although the current venue does have a Chinstrokers’ Corner (as well as a handy Casualties’ Corner and a Voyeurs’ Corner plastered with rude pictures). It’s also not some glittering chrome playground for tarted-up disco dollies hoping to pull a footballer. Electrowerkz is reassuringly ‘down and dirty’, the way a real club ought to be.
Most of BF’s quirks – like the infamous ‘rave banners’ (highly risqué slogans printed on A3-sized signs, such as “I keep all my drugs up my girlfriend’s c**t”), the inflatable toys (especially blue dolphins and beach balls), dressing up for the Theme of the month, rave horns, ‘mash pits’ and of course the legendary ‘Hard Crew’ – have simply evolved over time, a happy side-effect of the anything-goes ethos.
The Bang Face Hard Crew moniker came from the second venue – a postage stamp sized basement in Shoreditch. James recalls: “You had about 150 people rammed in like sardines in this small basement and you’d have a queue up the stairs and out into the street, and the toilets for the basement were outside. So if you went to the toilet, you lost your space. The first person in the queue would take your space and you’d have to rejoin the queue.”
And that is why you had to be Hard Crew – because you had to keep your legs and other bits crossed so you could stay the whole night and not lose your place!
James says some of the ‘rave generals’ from that era regard those as the halcyon days of BangFace because it was in this era that the catchphrases began to emerge and the stars of the breakcore/mash-up scene – such as Ceephax, DMX Krew, Bong Ra and Shitmat – started to play.
But he is keen to dispel the myth that his night is only about breakcore and IDM (a term he dislikes), he’s been very much influenced by old-skool rave ever since he first heard Cubik by 808 State in 1990 and thought: “Shit, I’ve got to go to one of these.”
Old-skool rave acts always feature heavily in any BF line-up – Altern-8, Utah Saints, 808 State, Ratpack, A Guy Called Gerald, Phil Hartnoll (ex-Orbital). James has also built up an astounding array of contacts from the old rave scene and I’m dying to share with you some of the names that have been approached to step out of retirement – but have been sworn to secrecy. Let’s just say you definitely won’t be disappointed if they happen.
This emphasis on old rave acts isn't for everyone, especially the chinstrokers who think it’s “selling out” to let people actually have fun and throw themselves about in the mash pit. These people will probably piss their chips about having Chas n Dave playing a Cockney knees-up set at the Bang Face Weekender, a three-day festival at a Pontin's holiday camp on the Sussex coast. And let's not get started on that pool party...
At the other end of the scale, you get fresh-faced youngsters who wish they'd been born 20 years earlier so they could have experienced rave first time around.
Well, take it from someone who was there when rave was born and seen a few musical movements come and go. Bang Face is the Haçienda without the guns, it’s punk without the gobbing, Woodstock without the bloody hippies. Trust me, you’ve never had it so good.
20 April 2008. Words by Paul Gardner. Pictures by Saint Acid and Bang Face regulars.
© 2008 Paul Gardner and ravetalk
This is the first of two articles about Bang Face. Part 2 features a full, unabridged interview with James St Acid about his creation's past, present and future.