Not so long ago, in a field far, far away…
Episode 5: A New Crust.
The rebel alliance made up of the (mostly) southwest UK’s
Hard-tek, punk, and manic music crews assemble for an eclectic
weekend of rinsing counter cultural blasting bass, fun and
frolicked debauchery; dancing under the watchful gaze of the
empire’s local bastion of resource generation: the race course
grand stand. However, unbeknownst to the empire at large,
the race course owners have secretly aligned themselves with
the rebel cause and so hid the rebel revellers safely
within the bosom of the bastion walls. But wait, that’s all a
star wars re-hashed story - what the hell actually happened?!
Turning up at a surprisingly reasonable time on Friday morning, your intrepid reporters and supporters with a roof crushing, pasty-looking bell tent and a car resembling a Toyota Millennium Falcon that was so full of personal belongings that the windows had popped out; were all woke out of their morning bleariness by the smiling grins of the Balter crew on the gates. One of the rebel alliance gate commanders – the friendly Ganga strode over to us; chats were had, secret society rebel alliance pinkie promise shakes were made (so that they realised we were not a part of the empire) and stunningly hilarious free programmes were shown to your reporter’s hands. Unfortunately I think that your reporters were so woke by the shining radiance by the enlightened being Balter crew that they forgot to ask for more than one programme. It was either that or the compulsively excitement induced salivating that seemed to suddenly be induced after glancing at the lineup.
The programmes themselves are worth going into detail on as they really did epitomise what Balter was all about; a glossy comic book style published by ‘ROTFL’ with issue NO. PSYTRANCE bordered THE VAULT OF BALTER titled booklet with beautifully graphic and debaucherous cartoon drawings by Jak M.C.S. depicting a desert landscape with caravan, truck and wacky racer / mad max-esque convoy vehicles circling an encampment of ravers, musicians, rigs and tents like the old cow-boy wagon circles of the wild west – doubtless in time programmes like this will become true memorabilia of the age of musical change we are currently living in.
As we entered into the inner circle of the race course so did the encampment of Balter appear as an almost antithesis community nestled in the bosom of the white oval horse rail back-dropped by enormous cliffs and forest lit up by the stunningly hot sunshine as it did in every successful spaghetti western flick. Little did we realise what wild west action we were all in to witness…
Kicking things off in the blistering heat of Friday’s (although we couldn’t tell which day was which in the programme as they’d be missed out of each page! But then again, time doesn’t exist in woke beings consciousness…) noonday sun were the military skate-park (with a full half-pipe) styled Sika Studio’s wake and bake crew vs Castrum playing on the Irie Bingo’s equally netted den stage. Your intrepid reporters stamped some earth in front of each of these two opening acts and noted no notable soundclash which is quite a testament to the sound engineers who’d spent the previous week getting their angles just right. It paid off as these two stages flanked the entrance march of the crusted baying Balter masses as the gates opened before the next major stage kicked off with Danni and A-Bee on the 24 Hour Garage Girls stage.
In fact it was notable this year that the layout of Balter festival hadn’t just grown in numbers to a now 5,000 strong capacity but also in its shape and form with a much more open space between 10 very different stages with numerous and unique stalls, interactive experiences such as the OT-Tek psychedelic laser obstacle course (more on that later!). The central lynchpin to the spread out oval shape was the new Disco Ball stage comprised of 4 stacks and a massive laser lit glitterball that spun and sparkled all night long.
All of these elements gave an overall feeling of truly returning to Balter’s original feel and shape back at it’s first incarnation in the Baskerville Hotel. That feel was a back to grassroots free party / anything goes vibe which, musically and culturally is what Baltering is all about; to ‘Balter’ [verb], (intransitive); to tumble; dance clumsily. To become tangled or matted. To tread down in a clumsy manner. Pick any of these definitions and you’ll be getting a miniscule glimpse of what Balter Festival was like throughout the entire weekend!
The residing membership of folk who found their way through the entrance gate came from all over the country (yours truly met Glaswegians, East Anglians, Cornish and even hard-tek crews from as far afield as France and Spain; who came over to rep hard as reptilian rep-tards!) to experience one of the UK undergound’s leading ensembles of musicians, DJs, MCs and artists of many differing forms. Balter definitely seemed to have landed itself firmly onto the (pirate) map of the more mainstream munters following the VICE article published a couple of years back.
However the slightly increased mainstreaminess did not stop the silliness and fun that Balter has always represented for so many; water pistol squads ran through the crowds spraying each and anyone they could reach, mobility scooters dressed as some hybrid cross between unicorns and dinosaurs ran riot with near blindness induced strobes, and nakedness was actively encouraged and respected by many of the swaying masses in the crowd – a true return to the UK’s ancient and rich music and dance festival culture.
Friday’s standouts for the reviewing crew were the beats, rhymes and brass of Lazy Habits who smashed out a super-tight and body bouncing set over on the Caravan stage as the sun began to set, before that point, Aries b2b with Nicky Blackmarket on the Buckyham (in reference to the copious amounts of Buckfast that are traditionally consumed at Balter) Palace had our highlighted spot and so found the place of runner up act over Friday daytime with Audiogutter B2B Sample Junkie’s set a fractionally close 3rd. We really were spolit for choice! The Friday night antics then went on with Ecoli in the Drawing Room, Backbeat Soundsystem on The Caravan, Koan Sound in The Hex and finally the almighty Mandidextrous who was absolutely gunning it to the close of Friday, moving around like a (white) lightning possessed marmoset as the whole crowd flailed and flowed in quick-stamped beat and bounce to take the top-spot of Friday’s night with 3 Daft Monkeys in the Baltanical Circus a close second.
Friday shuddered into Saturday with the pre-dawn light already winking into existence in the distance across the sky as the bleary eyed masses attempted to stagger their way back to a tent. It didn’t have to be their tent, just a tent. Or one of the hammocks posted at the top of the campsite hill for those who wanted to chill and chat. As we walked around trying to piece together just what had hit our ear-drums, your reporting crew did notice that a central ‘post-party’ chilling spot was needed on the site; a place normally held by having a fire and benches to sit around and stare at the flames from whilst keeping warm against the witching hour chill. Although fires on a race course are doubtless not permitted perhaps a hanging fire being watched by a fire warden might be a good solution for this neanderthall must-have to meet and chat with other fellow staggering strangers.
Besides the dizzying array of stages and the ear-drum pounding sounds of everything from jungle-tek to garage to neurofunk to gypsy-ska to jumpup to sub-genres of dub and reggae; there were also the stall owners (big up to the Byzantium stall crew and the lovely lady who sold me my wedding ring! Note: our lead reviewer got stood up at the altar!) as well as the late-night venues which was where we headed to recover from the carnage. Special mentions go to Smokey Tentacles for providing some impressive late night refreshment in the form of halloumi wraps, gin and even strawberry shisha which they allowed your reviewers to sample free of charge (because they’re extremely kind souls like that!) whilst continuing the antics continued with some insane coffee-table dancing moves by one groovy goon…
Another special mention then goes to Stan Wright and the Larry’s Lounge crew of musicians, chefs, purveyors of silliness, support and saga – we wound in there as the sun began to rise to discover a duelling piano bar and an enclave of eclectically costumed up musicians playing a blindingly good acoustic version of Derude’s Sandstorm on the kazoo, cajon, guitar and the tinkling ivories with backing vocals from the crew and several of the relaxing cuddled bundles of resting festival creatures – including one girl who managed to convince everyone that she really was Spyro the dragon... Dawn became morning and Stan began blitzing out fruit smoothies and breakfast baps which sated all and sundry’s fairly starving stomachs ready for...
Saturday’s antics which, after a small rest, musically kicked off at midday across 6 of the stages, we felt in the need of a bit of beats and bars to start the day so off we trolled to the Irie Bingo stage in time to catch Frenchy’s opener which did just the trick. However before the end of the set, an array of Alice in Wonderland characters tiptoed past and so off we went to follow them and whence they went…
It turned out that these were to be one of the two walkabout acts which our intrepid reporting managed to bump into – all of whom spoke utter gibberish about how great tea was and weren’t we all having a truly spiffing time? Particularly the rabbit headed figure who wouldn’t stop grinning… Somehow managing to remain unperturbed by the weirdness of it all we marched on towards the Garage Girls stage.
Only, we didn’t quite get there because enroute we quickly bumped into the second walkabout act of the weekend – a 12ft long mechanical, pneumatic (I assume!) spider. Only it wasn’t just a spider, it was a mobile soundsystem too with speakers and sub bolted onto the back of it and a large steel geometric orb where spiders normally spin their webs, doubtless one of the Mutoid Waste crew had made this feat of engineering that must have required hours of dedication to pull off and create!
After being mildly spun out by the spider, we then worked out way over towards the 24 Hour Garage Girls stage. Only we got distracted by the need for water. This was when we did encounter one of the shortcomings of Balter Festival over the weekend; the scorching weather on the Saturday meant that the music festivals water supply was piping hot except during the pre-dawn early hours! So we filled our water bottles up with hot water, gave praise to Jah that at least we had water and the started to skip off over towards the Garage Girls stage…
Except then enroute past Buckyham Palace, we noticed a secret door which opened into a den beneath a seat overlooking the crowd and so, into the secret door we went… And there we found a living room away in the (highly appreciated) shade with sofas, cushions, lamps where I then met my future wife; future as in 2 hours later. We met, chatted briefly and then decided that we would make the big leap together and get hitched at Schneider’s Travelling Church (see last year’s review for who these beautiful and crazy creatures are!), before we then went off for our honey moon in sound engineer Jarrod’s van. Only, Jarrod’s van had been converted into a psychedelic barrage of colour, shape and sound which could only be summarised up by the van’s main feature; the fact he had a converted the middle of his van into a ball pool!
Overall the big day was a great one and shout-out to for being such a great sport and a fantastic festival wife who, along with her ensemble of bridesmaids and my own best men who then bounced around some other astonishing acts including (but definitely not limited to) The Ket Shop Boys, Rukus, and then… MC Devvo.
MC Devvo who appeared on the caravan stage in time for the early evening needs a serious mention after claiming what was probably the most entertaining performance of Balter to that point in the weekend so far with him belting out “summer is ere’ an it’s f***in f***in buzzin...”, “listen to what I’m sezzin cos all the girls are ‘lezzin…” to which the whole crowd shouts “SHOW US YER M**F!!!”. It was evident that the bucky-bridade who were out in force during the performance were doing their job splendidly by dolling out the high-strength vino and the crowd were swaying and skanking along to Devvo’s bars and beats. This seemed to culminate in one of the crowd standing completely upright (somehow) on their mate’s shoulder wearing nothing but a Burberry knock off hat, dark sunglasses, a white bowtie, a vibrant red mankini and an 18” long double ended dildo! Devvo ripped into the mullet wearing geezer for stealing not only the show, but Devvo’s next door mum’s virginity. In many ways that description sums up Balter!
The rest of Saturday night’s antics were spent at the Disco Ball stage in the centre of the arena area where Abba Gabba got up and mangled all nine pits of hell out of Abba classics through what were initially the 4 stacks but sadly quickly became 1 as they blew 3 of the stack’s that Void Acoustics had provided Balter with, probably due more to excitement than anything else! Everyone then piled around the remaining stack with one loon donning a white towl running in front of the Glitterball DK Booth screaming “MERCY! NO MORE! I SURRENDER!” however his pleas were ignored and didn’t stop the twistedly melodic bass and tonal sounds of Take A Chance, money, money, money and finally (of course!) Dancing Queen’s ‘thank you for the music’.
Everything got a little blurry after this as your intrepid reporters bumped into a big bloke donning a lampshade as a hat, red fairy lights draped around his shoulders with a rather large but soggy cigarette hanging out of his mouth that was curved beautifully upwards into the biggest smile witnessed all weekend; “JIGSORE’S KICKIN’ OFF!” was all he said. So off we went!
The last bit of the night rather blew my mind musically as my ears intercepted sounds that it had never knew were possible (for at least the 2nd time that weekend!) as we entered the dark pit of DJipe’s set in the Jigsore den. Sweat pored from almost everyone and manic grins were donned in the multi-coloured flashing lazers and lights of the set which seemed to pass by in a blindingly blurred flash – only for our newly formed and gaggled crew to somehow find themselves teleported 200m across the arena and straight into the front pit of Spongebob Squarewave’s 1am closing set in The Drawing Room. I think my poor mind wasn’t able to comprehend just what it was experiencing before and halfway through needed a breath of fresh air so dived outside to grab some.
Only I walked straight back into the newly repaired (all 4 stacks were up and running at functional capacity again) Glitterball stage in the middle of the arena where Freear (Mike Freaar of Slamboree notoriety) was mixing and magicking an entire spectrum of colour and sound, light and dark out of the lord almighty himself probably knew not what on the decks upstairs in the Glitterball booth. In all honesty I’m not sure which shone brighter – the massive sparkling hyper-LED powered Glitterball itself or Mike’s hat and eyes. Needless to say that as much as I was loving Squarewave’s closing cacophony, it was Freear’s set that stole my attention as my legs threw themselves in opposing directions to my flailing arms and bouncing head. It’s little wonder that I didn’t manage to wind up in A&E during that final set of the Saturday night in Balter.
As the music wound down and crowds flowed into the middle arena like some tidal bore rolling up the River Severn nearby our newly formed crew made a B-Line for the hammock arena to sit and chat absolute frolics until the early hours of Sunday.
On the walk home making my way past the Welfare area at the edge of the campsite, I couldn’t help but notice and give a shout out to all of those inside who were caring and cuddling the lost, the hopeless and the abandoned; many of whom would likely find their way along to the annual and deeply prestigious Crusts (if you get to Balter next year DO NOT MISS THIS!!!) or perhaps even the beauties of Miss Balter competition presented and judged by none other than the almightily sexy Captain Hotknives himself on the Caravan Stage. All of the Welfare crew were there looking exhausted but contented as they tended to their charges of all shapes, sizes and detriments as soft music played to keep a chilled ambiance about.
However, there was one very distinct failing of Balter that relates closely to those suffering from various afflictions over the weekend: water. I’m not sure exactly where it was located, but the tank supplying the site’s entire water system seemed to be made of black, hyper-heat conductive material that exploded the water temperatures up to that of near solar showering proportions. Well ok, it wasn’t quite that bad but there was nothing below warm-hot temperature water during any of the days all weekend which is very clearly something that needs to change for next year really. It was slightly ironic that the ‘Posh Showers’ onsite closed before the gates opened on Friday – we’re not too sure why and was never able to figure that out however they stared at most of the campsite all weekend with a goading ‘come at me bro’ smile creeping across their face!
But even so, the Saturday standouts were a real treat and again, as all weekend we really were spoilt for choice with acts such as: Popes of Chilltown, Pas De Problem, Inflatable Fuhrer, Dr Cryptic, Devilman and Badness, Amen 4 Tek takeover (C3B smashed the pasty!) with Born On The Road playing straight after on Buckyham Palace performing to above expectation levels. Selector Spinach with C3B later on destroying the Drawing Room stood out from what we caught there whilst The Upbeats and Ed Rush in The Hex closed off Saturday with The Satan over in Jigsore doing the same. However for us it was The Roustabouts foot thumping and scream kicking the evening entertainment off in the Baltanikal Circus that were the standout performance – although many bigged up Henge the next day.
Which was…? Oh right yeah - SUNDAY!
Aka Funday – Rev Schneider’s Sunday Service began the dutiful proceedings of the day with some course words, spittle and firey brimstone astounding the enwatching hypnotised masses. Then, after raising a glass of buckfast as taught by our messiah, everyone scattered to the four winds of the festival.
Your reporting crew immediately headed over to the blasting noise of the 24 Hour Garage Girls stage for some dirty beats to dust out the used and destroyed braincells of the previous night. Chef-Bozwan stepped up to the plate who then proceeded to serve up a noonday sun stomping session in front of the newly altered stage: this year the 24 Hour Garage Girls had had a significant upgrade with a location right next to the main festival entrance, newly scrapped cars and trucks were strewn around on either side of it with plenty of rust and spikey metal bits for the Garage Girls dancers to twist themselves around as well as the DJ booth itself being made from the bonnet, front wheels and windscreen of a 50s Cadillac! The other major mention that we caught from this stage that day was Ali Monsta and Squire of Gothos who crippled the crowds with non-stop Bassline!
However over the course of the weekend, the best stage we discovered overall had to go to the Drawing Room crew being headed up by Lisa Murasaki’s relentless hard work and dedicated team hosting another phenomenal year of silent disco. The allotted standout acts we caught included Krimp and Squiffy, Algorhythmic, Figcake and General Waste all on the Sunday alone. The stacks were flanked by hay bails everywhere which damped the external sound and meant that levels felt like they could be pushed far higher than anywhere else.
Of course, all of that may have been a residue effect of the other Sunday experience: the magically mystical land of OTTOPIA.
Now, if you’ve not ever heard of Ottopia – I advise you strongly to NOT read the next paragraph (just cover it with your hand; go on – you’ll love me for it!) as it is simply too good to go blasting personal expectations away on. Done it? Ok good.
Because we’re not going to go into detail anyway…! Instead we’re just going to say GO AND VISIT THEIR SHOW!! Only it’s kind’ve not a show, kind’ve not a show. Words can’t really describe it all to be fair haha!! However, the closest we could come up with to summarise the experience is an interactive two tone, black and white striped barrage of neurological psy-gaming…?!
Shout outs to all the strange and surreal creatures at Ottopia including Lee, Pete, Charlotte and Joe amongst the other Otterarians who magically merged the parallel lines of reality for all who dared enter their realm of randomness! They were kind enough to allow these two fairly hung over reviewers to pop their heads around the back to the ‘secret’ and witness it all! Just go and visit them. As soon as possible…!
Afterwards we couldn’t help but notice a load of printed posters pop up around site from the production and welfare teams – posters stating not to take Blue Punisher pills as there had been incidents over the weekend (around the country that is) which had seen serious health warnings being given. This was a first as far as our memories could serve and both felt it was a really important step for the on-going discussion about substance misuse or abuse and addiction; regardless of your perspective on the topic, it is a well-known fact of most festivals that people do take substances (whatever you wish to define that word to mean!) at music festivals and there are health risks and harm to individuals and those around. By raising awareness of the harm, the organisers made a clear step towards helping everyone remain as safe and healthy as we all can be. More music festivals should consider adopting approaches like this as precedence for their own.
Raising the points of health and safety leads neatly onto another very important, though often sadly controversial topic; that of the Security boys and girls at Balter being run by ESA Security. From both of our perspectives (and god only knows we’ve witnessed some serious issues with security at other events) we only ever witnessed professionalism, wit (which is a good thing – we are all at a festival afterall!) and well defined (and deserved) moments of assertiveness by ESA. I’ve seen their work at other events and for the most part have always done sterling work (Sunrise Celebration 2014 and Wonderfields in 2018 both stand out particularly in my mind). Sadly there was one incident in the early hours of Monday morning enacted out by a single member of the security team relating to the use of a Mini-Rig handheld speaker and a difference of opinions between this member of security and the speaker’s owner whilch culminated in that same security guard launching the speaker away and then storming off which was the last thing most folk needed at 6am of the final night/morning. However, the situation was consequently handled professional and diplomatically by ESA and the security guard in mention was reprimanded for his action.
Final Sunday act mentions go to Nubiyan Twist on the Caravan stage, Thorpey and Shosh winding the Garage Girls stage down, Ed Cox VS Ecoli preceding Nubiyan Twist on the Caravan Stage, Kuedon and Flash Harry in Sika Studios, F*ckrag Miginty (amazing name!), Busta Hymen (beaten?!) and Soup Kitchen Radio in the Disco Ball. The Balter Crew Sunday takeover was one of our major standouts for Sunday with Lemon Girl especially slaughtering sounds like a butcher with anger management issues…
…However it was The Hex’s Sunday serving of Tremor VS Rumble soundsystems that stole Sunday’s show! Kicking things off for the Tremor crew was JFB and some insane scratching, mashing and torturing the rig’s levels with Father Funk, Dutty Moonshine and Bear Twists from Tremor clinching a close run win despite Apprentice MC and the Pullup Collective crew from Rumble in the Jungle wrestling fully hard to hold onto the title that they won last year.
Finally, a big shoutout to the pirate popup stack ‘The Boys That Didn’t Get Laid’ stage and their extremely sexy dresses who were somehow magically running their rig on a single 12V socket to pump out a real eclectic mix of music ranging from hip-hop to breakbeat, ska and two tone to DnB, 80s electro to disco and heavy metal to funk. It really summed up Balter festival and the assembled dancers who mixed and matched, minced and mashed their way through it all as a kaleidoscope of all and Sundry that remained to see the festival through to its spangled (eco-li?!) glittery glory.
If you ever want to see where the UK’s SW free party scene turned legit and magnified with colours, hairy legs, cross-dressing and naughtiness of all flavours – Balter 2018 did not disappoint. Get your arse along when the shenanigans and baltering about continues in it’s 6th Episode:
“The Return of The Gurn…!”
Published on 08 August 2018 by Keiran Dunne-Davidson & Callum Drury