It’s just the sun rising – a new dawn of raving that’s family friendly

BFLF family raves

I can pin down the exact moment when I realised the family rave thing was more than just a novelty. I was DJing in a Brixton basement with my not-yet-two-year-old daughter on my shoulders waving her arms enthusiastically, and I dropped into Joe Smooth’s acid house era classic ‘Promised Land’. Immediately, across the dancefloor, several parents grabbed their babies and toddlers and started singing along to them the lyrics about ending violence and striving for a better world.

I could hear the singalong from the stage: “brothers, sisters, we’ll make it to the Promised Land”. I could see some people looking distinctly emotional, and I was getting full-tilt tingles down my spine. It was beautiful. And all this at four in the afternoon, with everyone more or less sober.

I was hearing things like ‘where’s your other shoe?’ and ‘stop eating glitter, Rory’

Like all rave moments, it was fleeting. Half an hour later, as we started clearing people out of the venue, rather than singing I was hearing things like “where’s your other shoe?” and “stop eating glitter, Rory” and “uh oh, Suzie’s pooed herself” (all eerily reminiscent of scenes from my days going to free parties in 90s Brighton, funnily enough). Nonetheless the memory remained, and as we as we came out into the crowd of people still milling around, grinning and trying to work out what they’d just experienced, I was absolutely sure that this was something very well worth doing.

This was early on in the life of Big Fish Little Fish. My wife Natasha had got involved with putting on the parties right at the beginning, after meeting BFLF founder Hannah Saunders in an online maternity group, as they’d both had their first babies in the same month. At first it all just seemed a bit crackers, but we got on with it in haphazard fashion with a sense of “well, why not?”

Big Fish Little Fish family raving

Big Fish Little Fish Manchester at the Birdcage

There wasn’t really much precedent, aside from one or two events that leaned more towards hippie festival vibes, and the rather more… basic… pleasures of “kiddie discos”, which seemed to be geared entirely around fairy wings, plastic glittery princess dresses and chart pop. But Hannah had a definite vision: she’d been a raver since ’88 and didn’t see why motherhood should stop that; she’d been taking her kids to Glastonbury since her eldest was born, and cherished those moments of just hanging out as a family, cut loose from the demands of everyday life – and she wanted to bring that experience home to the city.

Hannah had a definite vision: she’d been a raver since ’88 and didn’t see why motherhood should stop that

Five years on, and BFLF is big: even though there’s no grand plan beyond the desire to create more of those moments, it now throws parties in just about every major city in the UK and Australia, appears at festivals including Glastonbury itself, and has spawned several competitors to boot. I’ve had quite a few “Promised Land moments” now, and it never gets tired. It’s absolutely clear now that family raving is completely viable, and not only that, but it teaches us some pretty valuable lessons:

The idea that it’s “embarrassing” to have fun with your parents, or for parents and kids to be into the same thing, seems to be a particularly uptight British one. I’ve always looked with jealousy at friends with Irish or Caribbean families who liked to throw parties for all generations (and seemingly half the neighbourhood) at the drop of a hat. And there’s something really joyful about Spanish fiestas when kids are up til midnight, feasting, enjoying music with the adults and flinging fireworks around willy-nilly. Indeed a lot of musicians I know trace their love of performing or DJing to getting involved with the music at a very young age in just those kind of environments.

This is nothing against people who do like to alter their own consciousness. But parenting young kids and intoxication don’t mix well, so though BFLF generally has a bar it’s never about more than a beer or two in the afternoon. Yet people really cut loose – not in any kind of forced way, just really enjoying themselves. And why? Well that’s down to the next couple of factors.

Not just obvious rave classics with emotive lyrics, but a huge variety of music. Dance music is functional in the best possible sense: its patterns and tempos are hard wired to the physiology of the human body, and once you’ve got past the initial inhibition and started getting into it, it just works. BFLF has hosted everything from pop and disco to DJ SS’s full tilt junglism and Plex London’s dark techno, and they’ve all worked. Day or night, giddy or sober, adult or child, if a room full of people commit to the music, the soundsystem is good, and there’s a DJ who can read the reactions of the crowd, it works.

More than any other “family arts” event I’ve ever been to – and I’ve been to a lot – family raving brings people together, without awkwardness, snobbery or feeling forced. And that, of course, is because it’s just like “real” raving. Without wanting to be cheesy, music really does bring people together. Where other events have to work hard to “promote diversity”, throwing a great party is inclusive by its nature because… well, the best parties are always the one with the best mix of people. And, we’ve discovered, as well as crossing boundaries of gender, sexuality, race and class, that also includes having all ages on the dancefloor.

Big Fish Little Fish family raving

There’s been so much more than just the dancefloor, mind. BFLF has crafts, a baby chill-out and tents and tunnels to keep kids busy, and over the years has hosted interactive installations, storytellers, hula hoopers, synthesiser workshops, comedy shows, theatre, inflatable astrology dome, breakdancers and reptile and snake handling among many other things. But at the heart of it all is always the DJ, the decks, the sound system, the lights, lasers, bubbles, balloons and parachute of the dancefloor.

And most important of all, the dancers – mums, dads, carers, even grans and grandads, dancing up a storm with young kids. And whether they’re singing along to inspirational lyrics or just goofing around to the tunes, that remains a profoundly great thing.

Next Sussex BFLF event…
BRIGHTON ‘Flower Power’ family rave 21 April – DJ Ed Solo for a Jungle/Drum ‘n’ Bass special!
Stanmer House
Tickets HERE

About Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs spent almost the entirety of the 90s getting over excited to rave music in Brighton, and now makes a living writing about it for the likes of the Guardian, Mixmag, Resident Advisor and many more. He has compiled grime and dubstep records for Ninja Tune and Ministry, and once had an Egg McMuffin with The Aphex Twin