The word Balter means 'to dance artlessly without any real skill or grace but in enjoyment' and that is certainly a fitting name for this event, A true 'go hard or go home' style festival conceived in the farmlands of Devon, raised in the club scene of Bristol and now making waves in the beautiful countryside of South Wales. This was the events 5th year and my first experience of its glory
Beginning as a much smaller event of around 700 loyal to the cause ravers, its now at a capacity of 3500 and has taken up a new residence in Chepstow race track, a mere 20 minute drive from Bristol. Balter has made a name for itself as a 'mini Boomtown' and I can easily see why with its ten stages, variety of extra activities, crazy happenings, thumping sound systems and its vast array of debauchees. Contrary to popular belief Balter is not sponsored by Buckfast. It just sells a lot of the stuff, specialises in Bucky cocktails and has an arena named after the tonic wine, Buckyham Palace, Long story short Balter and Buckfast love each other.
From the moment we arrived on the Friday and threw up our tents, it was time to get stomping. Entry to the event was smooth and easy thanks to the brilliant work of the stewards and the security team (Event Safety Alliance) and it was a really nice bonus to be handed a site map and full set times on the way in. I was attending as a normal punter and received this like everyone else. Believe it or not sometimes even when I attend in a reviewer capacity I am expected to pay for this or at least have to settle for a print out from the organisers.
The layout of the event was pretty unique, opting for a long line of arenas and stalls down either side of the race track, rather than your typical circular layouts you see at most festivals. Clever use of hay bails allowed the levels within the arenas to be high whilst barely audible from outside, preventing the sound clashes you would normally find when you have this many systems crammed into a space of that size. It was a goal of the organisers to increase the sound levels in arena from last years event, without a raise in off site sound levels and they have achieved this beautifully. Well done guys!! Also considering number of stages and capacity of the event it was kinda surreal to be able to get from one place to anywhere else in the arenas or campsite in about 5 minutes.
Scattered amongst the stages, the usual array of wacky wild festival stalls selling all manner of cool goodies, experiences and some lovely grub. One of my personal favourites were the crazy bicycles where riding took some serious bad man skills. Some backwards peddle bikes, others where one pedal was off set higher on one side and many more whacked out cycling contraptions... An array of challenges for anybody who didn't mind probably falling over a lot. There was also Rev Shnider's travelling church where revellers were getting hitched or exorcised using the most funny props. I saw one couple marry over a Stella can. The church even had its own hymn especially for Balter. Wicked! Last but not least to mention here is Larry's Lounge, the acoustic tent complete with piano, mic, many other instruments, it's own bar serving munchies as well as booze, cosy chairs and rugs and most importantly such a lovely group of staff... More on these guys later.
There was an excellent variety of music at Balter, kicking off at 1pm Friday with the Sika Djs in the Sika arena and King Bolo in Irie Bingo. Buckyham palace saw a takeover from Gorilla tactics (Scratch Bandicoot smashed it) followed by Selecta Spinach and Phibes. All round this was a full day of skankin out hard in here alone. Meanwhile elsewhere there was something to be found whatever your tastes. For the bassline heads there was the 24 hour garage girls stage complete with a car and dancers. Womble and Ali Monsta having it large here on Friday. Emperor played a brilliant set in Jigsore as did Limewax later on. Katch Pyro, Mattycore and Stivs tackling the drawing room, whilst in the hex arena Dutty Moonshine, Dephicit and A.Skills kept everone on their toes bouncing until 2am. The headliners for the evening on the caravan stage, The Baghdaddies put on a great show as always and in the Balkanical Circus Johnny Kowalski and his Sexy Weirdos provided an interesting end to the nights proceedings.
I kinda wished I could divide myself up into several mes. There was just so much musical talent I wanted to see here and Saturday was no different, Must sees for me were Thorpey, Squire Of Gothos and Phatworld on the garage girls stage slipping of to catch Gypsy Unit in Sika and DJ Hybrid in The Drawing room. King Prawn was tonight's headliner at the Caravan. Gotta love King Prawn. The crowd certainly did. After King Prawn finished Spongebob Squarewave took to the decks in Jigsore attracting a good part of the masses, however I was now in for a rather different experience to what I was expecting as I headed to Dutty Disco and it's spinning disco ball DJ booth to catch Abba Gabba. Wow! What a show these guys put on. I don't like Abba or gabba and was expecting to be in and out (Id gone for the novelty), but I was intrigued, hooked and before long at the front of the large crowd that gathered to stamp it out hard style to Mama Mia, Super Trooper and Dancing queen. I had planned after this to catch Alix Perez in Hex and then decide between DJ Producer, Simply dread and Break. But this was not to be as after a quick trip back to Larry's to find friends, turned into a campsite run and then a pizza trip. Next thing I knew I was in Balkanical Circus in absolute awe of the band playing. Im not sure who they were, Gotta be Gypsies of Bohemia, I think. But they were a 7 or 8 piece live acoustic band playing what I can only describe as Pirate-tek at one point. Think this was my favourite set of the weekend bar the mayhem that would unfold in The Battleground on Sunday. I finished the evening back in the Dutty disco to see the latter half of Dephicit and Summer Bright. I love this pairing. Summer Bright's saxophone skills never cease to amaze. Following this I went to the silent disco in The Drawing Room where a variety of DJs and MCs kept the crowds bouncing till the early hours. It was funny in here at points. I remember the majority of the crowd was on one channel raving to jungletek whilst the few who were on channel 2 bouncing to bassline just seemed like they were out of sync and glitchy. On the out, off to bed, we took ten minutes to have a dance/scratching contest using our feet and a mini rig in the middle of the now wet chess board we'd seen earlier to create the scratches.
Sunday morning I awoke feeling slightly worse for ware so I headed down to Larry's lounge. It was throughout various points on Sunday I really got to know these guys properly. Starting with them serving me most delicious french toast I've ever tasted. A good conversation or 2 with the owner / staff, a proper giggle or 2 before another team member and long time friend of mine, Kirstie, glittered up my face, dressed me as an Native American and dragged me out to rave....No complaints there! For the fisrt couple of hours we bounced around from stage to stage catching the Kaotic Kartel, Els in Wonderland, Boundary and some of the Babylon all stars set. Then Shosh ft Stavros MC and Dert Baggins raised the (metaphorical roof) at the 24 hour garage girls stage. And a secret set here to today from Mindy Dyke Strap. BUZZING!! The Battleground took over the Jigsore stage at 4pm opening with the Chris vs Aaron Liberator, followed by Ed Cox vs E-coli. Proceeding onto what I think most would agree was the set to see... Vandal vs Mandidextrous! Top notch sets from all here but Vandal and Mandi really was tremendous. I was blown away by drop after drop of rolling breaks and jungletek wonderment. After this set their was Tanukichi vs Dr Looney and finally should have been Billx vs Matt Weasel Busters. Sadly Billx was unable to attend but this was no issue. A simple sign to say sorry stuck to the entrance of the arena and a filled slot from another act. The rave went on unhindered. Having exhausted myself at the first 3 battles, I went to get another pizza from down by the caravan stage and watched a bit of Kog and Zongo Brigade before heading to to hex for the latter half of the Sunday Soundclash between 'Rumble in the Jungle' and 'Born on Road'. We raved it out in here all the way until 12am. This was also when I noticed how the projections above the entrance were being created... From a box which you put your hands in and waved.... Naren Wilks is the owner of this wonderful piece of kit, that provided a good 45 minutes of fun and learning as me and a few other like minded people put it through it's paces. Much love goes out to Naren for this genius idea. So simple yet so effective. Finally at midnight it was over. The events license prevented any more generated music, so it was Larry's Lounge to the rescue again. Swear down these guys are like some festival gods of some kind. Now the tent was packed to the brim with a rather messy, sweaty and gleeful group of rebellious ravers, keen to keep going til Monday morning. An assortment of acoustic performances and general chit chat with some more of the Larry's lounge crew, one bar drank dry and me now half dead from lack of sleep curling myself up under a blanket supplied by my friend on the sheepskin rugs at the edge of the tent (to tired to walk the 3 minutes up to my tent, plus the heavens had opened). The perfect ending to an epic week. Awaking Monday midday to run up to my lift and head home.
So what can I say about Balter in conclusion.... Well its the only festival I have been to which has its own on site newsagents, selling everything you could possibly need from tobacco and rizla to four pints of milk, chocolate bars and magazines. But if I really wanted to sum Balter up to you guys this is the best way to put it. I have not reviewed an event in nearly a year, after a very negative experience at an event I wont name here. I attended Balter as a punter, payed the exceptionally good price of £105 for the final tier. I had no intentions of writing this article at all. But Balter was so good, so loud, raucous and full of life. So full of free party culture and unpredictability, from the apparent north vs south water fight on Saturday (I missed this but heard about it from a few peeps) to the random rig I saw pop up unannounced to play a set off sound cloud and then disappear again, it was crazy. So crazy it inspired me to go back to reviewing starting with this piece. I cant wait to be there next year and see what E-coli and the Balter crew do next.
Special shout outs to Iyona Windmill (Beautiful Mess Biodegradable Glitter) for excellent conversation, beautiful philosophies and telling me the meaning of Balter, to the poo crew for a job well done (I was amazed to find a nice clean portaloo Sunday afternoon) and to Stan the Man, Kirstie, Mad Si, Marc from the Park, Mig ale, Emily, Charily and to anyone else I haven't listed here from Larry's lounge. See you all soon
Published on 01 August 2017 by Keiran Dunne-Davidson