Let’s get this out of the way first: if the Bugged Out Weekender has taught me anything, it’s never, ever, to holiday at Pontins. I’ll hand over to Trip Advisor for a taster of the Southport resort’s 702 zero-star reviews: “I thought we drove back in time to an Eastern bloc country”; “SORRY NO PHOTOS AS WE WANT TO FORGET THE STAY”; “descrasful to England” (sic). Those who had experienced last year’s comparative luxury at Butlins in Bognor were put out, basically.
But if anyone can transform what must be, surely, one of the grimmest holiday destinations in the UK into a non-stop party, it’s Bugged Out. Turning 20 this year, what began as a fledgling Manchester night in ‘94 has exploded into a legendary dance institution, and so it made sense for them to creep back closer to their birthplace. And in the end it doesn’t matter whether you’re sleeping on 100% Egyptian cotton or a load of bare steel springs – you won’t be getting a whole lot of shut-eye anyway. In Merseyside the sun was out, pints were as cheap as chips, and chips even cheaper. All was in place for an unforgettable knees-up.
Typically, most festivals revolve around all-day live music ‘n’ boozing, so the three-dayer is unique in that it feels more like three distinct club nights. Daytime activities consist of two pool parties, hosted by Thump and The 2 Bears on the Saturday, while Skream fails to show up to his one on Sunday (“due to RyanAir being c*nts”). Luckily, Liverpool clubnight Abandon Silence step in to provide a warming selection of disco-house, making Speedo-clad lads backflip off a giant inflatable crocodile.
Predominantly a house-centric fest, the weekender come nightfall boasts super melodic live sets from Ten Walls and Todd Terje, who showcases cuts from future classic ‘It’s Album Time’. Meanwhile DJ EZ is on form to rep UKG in his characteristically choppy fashion, turning Room 3 into a sweatbox by peppering DJ Pied Piper’s ‘Do U Really Like It’ with ‘Hackney Parrot’ wails. Raf Rundell and Joe Goddard lend their paws to some disco funk, reinforcing their “good vibration and badman sound” ethos as The 2 Bears while Waze & Odyssey spin a sleek brand of ‘80s house.
The heftier ends of the dance spectrum are represented, too. Boddika and Joy Orbison command Sunday night by laying down a smattering of their metallic ‘Sunklofaw’ collaborative effort. Paul Woolford also delivers a brilliantly gritty set, prompting this gem of a tweet from one audience member: “I’m pretty sure Paul Woolford has just played r2d2 having a wank in a biscuit tin.”
A round of applause goes to the organisers for transforming what wasn’t far off a prisoner of war camp into a top-of-the-range venue which boasts mind-boggling visuals and retina-burning strobes. With all three spaces separated only by a slightly sad-looking arcade that had seen better days, the beauty of Bugged Out is not having to make the nail-biting choice between Erol Alkan, Julio Bashmore and Funkineven. Don’t like Cyndi Lauper? Duck your head out of the Jackathon and go and catch Sasha’s set.
What makes the Bugged Out Weekender so special is the fact that it represents a melting pot of dance fans from all corners of the UK – a place where pristinely made-up Scousers knock hips with Bristol heavyweights. Memorable moments include Jackmaster dropping ‘You’ve Got The Love’, Skream and Eats Everything high-fiving each other to ‘Never Too Much’ by Luther Vandross, and a whole room in chorus to ‘Flowers’ by Sweet Female Attitude, as played by EZ.
Snobbery and chin stroking has no place here: instead you have someone fist-pumping a soft toy horse to Boddika’s set. It’s one big disco, and it’s great.
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Words: Felicity Martin
Photos: Tom Horton