A rave experience needn’t be about late nights and loads of drugs, writes Ellie O’Byrne, as she meets organisers and attendees at an event aimed at kids and parents.
THE rave generation, it has long been noted, is officially all grown up. To borrow from the line from Trainspotting, they chose life. That doesn’t mean they necessarily want to stop partying at the weekends; it’s just a different kind of partying.
During the summer, Conor and Caroline Hickey took their kids to a rave with them for the first time. The couple, who are parents to Georgia, 6, Daniel, 11, and 16-year old Sara, brought their two youngest to a daytime ‘family rave’ courtesy of events company Big Fish Little Fish.
Conor, 38, a clinical engineer based in Dublin, says their household has always been full of music and the kids have eclectic musical tastes in their home environment.
“I’ve always been a big fan of the rave music myself and still love to all the old dance classics. It’s great to see the kids starting to listen to some of the old-school dance tunes that I like.”
Big Fish Little Fish (BFLF) has been holding afternoon family raves in venues and at festivals including Glastonbury in the UK since 2013, and there’s also a BFLF Australia.
Providing “family fun for the post-rave generation of parents,” the company, who brand themselves the “2-4 hour party people,” have now launched in Ireland.
Playing on the colourful elements of rave culture, BFLF go all-out with foam canons, smoke machines, dayglo-clad dancers, glowsticks and temporary tattoos to keep children happy, include a licensed bar for parents, and pride themselves on booking top-class DJs; Altern 8’s Mark Archer presided over BFLF’s inaugural Irish event.
“It felt just like a good night out where the dance floor got busier as the gig rolled on,” Conor says.
“Our youngest loved the foam canon and smoke machines, especially during the big old classics played by Mark Archer, who kept the crowd going all day.”
Conor and Caroline haven’t brought their kids to festivals or big music events in the past. “This was the first proper gig we brought them to,” Conor says. “It seems to be becoming a lot more family friendly to bring kids along to gigs.”
While younger kids might be happy to dance with their parents, it sounds like every teen’s nightmare; BFLF don’t have fixed age limitations but they do say it’s unlikely to appeal to 12-year-olds and over. Conor and Caroline’s eldest, Sara, didn’t attend.
Caroline, 37, a bookkeeper, admits that although she’s always loved music and live gigs, she was more of a Britney Spears fan back in the day and didn’t know she was a fan of rave.
“Turns out I am, and so are my children,” she says. “When we arrived, I felt relaxed and comfortable knowing it perfectly safe for children. The atmosphere was fantastic and it was clear instantly that everyone was there for fun, family time. The main area was incredible. The music, lights, bubbles and dancers had the children captivated.
“We always had a great social life before we had kids and we still do, to be fair, but you just wouldn’t always think of bringing the kids. I’m not entirely sure that some of the festivals are really that family-friendly, but this experience really made me think about it and I’ll definitely go to other things now.”
Al Maher, Brian Kelly and Laura O’Donohue, a dance music loving trio who run Spektrum Radio, a Dublin-based internet dance radio station, are behind BFLF’s move into Ireland.
Al says he’s aware that the idea of raving with kids can sound a little “out there” to some people, but insists safety is tantamount and keeping everything child-friendly and genuinely enjoyable for everyone is the goal.
Modifications to the traditional club set-up have been made for mini-ravers: “We don’t have strobe lighting, and the volume of the music is much lower than a club. We have ten stewards, a total of between 20 to 25 staff on hand. It’s not just a big open space, everything is monitored. It’s not an opportunity for parents of kids to go on the session.”
Being adamant that there should be a licensed bar for parents caused, Maher says, a lot of difficulty with finding a venue to work with. “A lot of venues would talk about holding the event and then when you mentioned that you like to have a bar for the adults, it was a big no,” he says.
“We really had to work hard to find a good partner for this. And to get across the message that it’s not about drinking in any way, but parents should be allowed to choose to have a beer or two. It’s all about the kids, really, and for most of the parents, their biggest sense of enjoyment is introducing their kids to the music they loved when they were younger and watching them go mental to it.”
Al says that he’s aware that for some, rave will always have connotations of a sub-culture with definite drug connections. But that it’s completely possible to disentangle positive elements of the rave scene - colourful clothes, joyful dancing and a euphoric sense of bonding — and turn it into a family experience.
“When I’m trying to explain to people what it is and how it works, I nearly find it easier to just show someone a video of a past event,” he says.
As a DJ himself, spotting what tunes go down well with the kids is fascinating for Al, who finds that the ‘90s sound has a lot of appeal for kids as well as the nostalgia factor for adults. Snap’s ‘Rhythm Is A Dancer’ and SL2’s ‘On A Ragga Tip’ are guaranteed to get the dancefloor heaving.
“Techno nowadays has these quite complex, hammering, hard beats, but early rave was actually quite melodic and there’s lots of pianos and stuff,” he says. “A lot of nineties rave actually sampled things like cartoons. Kids always go crazy for ‘Charly’ by The Prodigy, and I think it’s because of the early rave sound.”
The Early New Year’s Eve rave takes place at Tramline in Dublin at 2pm on Sunday, December 29