It's 4 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon and you're on an inflatable rubber ring in the indoor pool at a British family holiday camp. Looking up, you can see Fatboy Slim on the decks while a bouncy crowd chucks beach balls around, lifeguards shuffling in unison. A greying rave couple to your right are holding teddy bears up at Norman Cook in his flowery shirt. It's like a surreal kid's birthday party, only the entertainment is a UK big beat legend. This could only be the Bugged Out Weekender, which this year is back in the seaside town of Bognor Regis.
There's a degree of apprehension in going to a festival that ends on Blue Monday – supposedly the most depressing day of the year. What about the annual detox? But the organisers (quite sensibly) take the view that you should start the year off on the right foot: by catching some of the finest names in house, techno and disco.
In the cold glare of January, and with its boarded-up dodgems and helter-skelter, Butlins is no utopia – yet in comparison to last March at the Southport Pontins it feels like paradise. The chalets are cosy, and the hotels (ours, curiously, plays the same Jungle song in the lobby day-in, day-out, leading you to question the sanity of both yourself and its staff) have Freeview and some truly great showers – the sort of stuff you'd only expect if you were one of the headliners.
We divide our time between three venues – Centre Stage, Reds and The Escape – individually backed by XOYOLoves, The Hydra and various other party starters. In each, there's always enough people to make it feel busy but you never get that rib-crushing sense of terror that festivals can sometimes induce. Even at The Chemical Brothers, who draw a hefty crowd at Centre, there's always space for vigorous move-busting, even at the end when they close euphorically with 'Swoon'. Switching between them is easy, too – we drop into Leon Vynehall on Friday to catch what was one of the best tracks of last year, ‘It’s Just (House of Dupree)’, before sampling the slick Swedish house of Jonas Rathsman.
Never one to disappoint, the always-unpredictable Four Tet brings a giddy and high energy set. He peaks on Saturday with Floating Points' 'Nuits Sonores' and the Kaytranada edit of Teedra Moses, before the eight hands of his, Ben UFO's, Optimo's and Jackmaster's get entangled for a mammoth B2B set. Fatboy Slim is announced as the secret guest at Sunday's pool party – making the waterslides tremble with Crookers' 'Knobbers' and the Dimitri From Paris edit of Prince's 'I Wanna Be Your Lover'. He plays a full hour and a half later that night for those that aren't feeling the water, so we get our second fix.
And for all the people who appreciate the jungle/grime/garage splinters of the electronic branch as much as the stricter four-to-the-floor portion, Mike Skinner brings a taste of the former to his pool party on Saturday. Wrestling some digital dancehall into Sweet Female Attitude and Wildchild, he's come on immensely as a DJ since the last time we saw him struggle at The Nest.
Down to the fine details, the weekender is incredibly well thought-out. The bars are wide enough to easily get served, and there are daytime activities (if you're not bedbound from hitting it too hard) in the form of rave karaoke, a pub quiz and arcade games, which are open to play 24/7 (we take advantage of the "astro canyon" simulator midway through Erol Alkan's set). We also follow Artwork's survival advice of "pretending to be a participant in the crystal maze" by making use of the resort's indoor adventure playground when things on the last night wind down.
What makes the Bugged Out Weekender, ultimately, are its little surprises. Mixmag throw an immense secret party, doling out free neon-pink slushies while hosting the likes of Jackmaster, Artwork and B.Traits. Todd Terje has his disco-heavy set rudely interrupted by a fire alarm, but it doesn't manage to flatten the party's flames that are fed by Musumeci's 'VI' and, naturally, 'Inspector Norse'. At Reds, “SUCK MY DECK” flashes up on screens over a sea of people dressed as pirates, dinosaurs and unicorns, and during TEED's performance man like Jonny Banger hops on the mic.
Hedonistic to the max, the 2015 instalment of this rite of passage for dance lovers manages to excel itself yet again. It's nice to see a few walking sticks in with the shades and Aztec print tank tops, and everyone's so nice – including the security. So f*ck the detox – let's dance (though we might need another week to recover).
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Words: Felicity Martin
Photos: Tom Horton