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In Extremis

A Rave Institution: James St Acid Of Bang Face Interviewed
Angus Finlayson , August 25th, 2010 09:37

Angus Finlayson - The Quietus's very own slave to the rave - talks to James St Acid about the legacy and lineage of Bang Face

On a balmy Friday evening in August, The Arches club near London Bridge played host to a very special event indeed. For nigh on ten hours, scores of partygoers - many dressed as Shakespearean characters - staggered between two rooms of jungle, breakcore, gabba, 'ardkore, dubstep and acid (and probably some other intense forms of dance music that were forgotten in the general melee). The walls were covered in bizarre posters and slogans, giant inflatables were handed out to the crowd, and the 1993 TV adaptation of Lady Chatterley's Lover was projected onto the wall next to the bar. This was the All-Stars party, a free event courtesy of Bang Face; London's watchword(s) for the terrifyingly extreme and supremely ridiculous world of rave culture.
For almost six years, the Capital's self-styled purveyor of 'Neo-Rave Armageddon' has been going from strength to strength - from humble beginnings in a converted public toilet in Shoreditch to this most recent free party, taking in monthly clubnights at various London venues, boat parties on the Thames, and most recently a (sadly cancelled) 24-hour rave in the Suffolk countryside. The biggest event on the Bang Face calendar, though, is the annual 'Weekender' festival at Pontins in Camber Sands; a rabidly-anticipated three day celebration of all things Bang Face, which attracts fanatics from across the globe.

The extent of Bang Face's growth has surpassed any prediction. It's somehow managed to burst out of the London club-going bubble and step onto an international stage without ever leaving the country and, in the process, has become something of an institution among consumers and producers of hardcore dance music. Yes, there will always be people who say it's not what it used to be - as with almost anything touched by human hand - but Bang Face has stayed admirably true to its ethos, and its founder and mastermind, James St. Acid, is a pleasingly unpretentious fellow (particularly given the pontifical implications of his pseudonym).

I spoke to James a few days after the All-Stars party to discuss the history of Bang Face, the definition of Hard Crew, and a few ground rules...

I gather the All-Stars Party was a replacement for the Bang Fest 24-hour rave in Suffolk?

James St. Acid: Yeah, the 24-hour party couldn't happen for reasons beyond our control, so we did this free thing instead.

I think it was a pretty fair replacement!

JSA: [Laughs] Yeah totally! I think particularly with it being an all-star lineup; those are some of the guys that have stuck it out and supported us since the start. They all played for free as well, so it was - as much as we could do - a genuine free party.

Is the move to The Arches (from Electrowerkz) permanent?

JSA: I don't know to be honest. I'm gonna see what the fallout is from their point of view, make the assessment from that. But yeah I liked it, it certainly worked well for the night.

The night itself seemed to have even more of a jungle/breakcore presence than the monthlies; particularly through Remarc, Bong-Ra and Bizzy B.

JSA: Well that hard breakbeat sound, and the way people approach it and get stuck into the chopped up beat, is definitely the backbone of a lot of the music that goes on at Bang Face. If anything I actually thought the free party was less breakcore-y than some of the monthlies. In terms of pure breakcore artists there weren't as many - even DJ Scotch Egg did a new live bass project as Devil Man, and Ebola's playing a lot of bassline stuff now. The whole scene seems to be changing, more towards a mixture of beats and basslines; perhaps because of the technology that's around these days.

Could you say a bit about the history of the night?

JSA: The Bang Face night is six years old next month. It started as a result of me having put on parties years ago then walking away from it, but then getting bored and frustrated with going out; a feeling that things had got a bit too serious basically. So I started DJing with friends, [and] we did a few warehouse parties around London. It was the first time I'd really done anything in London, and quite quickly I thought 'Oh, I'm enjoying this again, enjoying DJing again'. Coming back to my DJing, I'd built up a big record collection of loads of different styles and thought 'Why not throw them all together?', which I hadn't really done before; I'd either played rave music, or electronica, or acid or whatever. That's where the St. Acid thing came from. I DJed purely acid for a couple of years - maybe 1994-95 - and it was just a DJ name that everyone thought was funny, so it stuck.

So, because these warehouse parties were going well, I thought I'd arrange a night. It started off in Public Life in Shoreditch, which is an old underground toilet you could get about 100 people into. We only did three there and they were free entry and just for mates, but quickly word got out - just through our network of friends - that it was funny, and people started turning up. So we moved to another basement venue in Shoreditch called Traffic, and it was there for over a year. That's were it really started to get silly. We started getting professional artists to play; particularly the Rephlex lot, because I'd been to a lot of Rephlex nights and I knew those guys quite well. They were really into what we were doing, so they started to play more live sets and experimental sets that perhaps they hadn't done before - they felt the freedom to do that. That further snowballed the night's popularity, along with all the fun elements that were thrown in literally for a laugh like the banners and the toys, the stuff on the wall, the slogans and the costumes.

During that first year or so, did you feel like you were doing something separate from other nights in London?

JSA: [Thinks] I kind of stopped going to other nights when I started doing Bang Face, so yeah I guess I did really; we thought we were doing something different. I still think we are - trying to keep the real ethics of what a party should be, which is fundamentally just one big laugh, you know?

You went through a few more venue changes after that?

JSA: We went to Medicine Bar after Traffic. We left Traffic for various reasons, but mainly it was just too small. It wasn't an ideal venue anyway; none of those Shoreditch venues were. We just didn't know where to go and didn't wanna pitch to big clubs, so we found wherever would take us basically. We were only at Medicine for three nights; they didn't really get what we were doing and it was still oversubscribed, so we quickly moved to Electrowerkz, which had a reputation for supporting the underground. It really freed things up when we went there.

You've been there for quite a few years then?

JSA: Yep, we've been there for four years, so apart from the weekender, boat parties and things like that, the Arches party is the first move in a while. And that was purely because the Electrowerkz wasn't free on that night.

You mentioned that Rephlex were involved early on. When did external breakcore artists start getting involved?

JSA: I'd been playing breakcore before Bang Face in my DJ sets, but I didn't really know any of the artists. Then the Wrong Music lot started to come down and I got to know them, and Bong Ra supported us in the early days. He was the first artist that we flew over. I started to introduce more breakcore because I liked it basically, and it had that sort of attitude that suited what I thought Bang Face should be: underground but not caring, getting stuck in. There are purists who'll argue against the style that's played at Bang Face though. I think a lot of the artists that came started to rave up the tracks they were writing, rave up their sets. It doesn't really bother me though, that genre thing.

What about the Bang Face music policy. Is personal taste the sole dictator of what gets played?

JSA: No. I guess it was at the start, but now it's whatever the Hard Crew want to listen to. As long as it fits that category of being ravey, or being popular with them, then it's good with me. Some of the bassline stuff we started playing just through popular demand. With the old skool rave acts, once a few of them had played they told their mates, so a lot of people now ask to play, which is great.

The term 'Hard Crew' is almost synonymous with Bang Face. How would you define it?

JSA: Early on, it was an affectionate term that we used to describe the regulars. These days, you've got the guys that are getting the logo tattooed on them - that die hard attitude to it - then people who find it amusing, then people who come for the social angle. Personally, I think someone can be Hard Crew within one rave; just depends what you do! Some guys have become honorary Hard Crew instantly, whether it's by getting in a dinghy and diving off the stage, or doing chin-ups off the ceiling. I spoke to one guy who'd been to every single Bang Face for two years and he still didn't consider himself Hard Crew! For me, it's the people who come and enjoy it, that's it. It's always had a bit of a military overtone to it as well, I dunno why - 'Your rave needs you' kind of thing. But that's funny as well, I kind of like that.

We talked about how Bang Face started off in its own bubble. These days do you think there are any nights that are like-minded, or that you feel an affinity with?

JSA: I actually don't. I still go to gigs for acts that I like, but I don't really go to other clubnights, so I don't really know. I'm aware of nights that are now doing a similar thing, so that's cool, but it's just a question of getting the time; Bang Face has taken over my life basically! But anyone who's upholding the values of partying and that sense of freedom, then all power to them.

In mainstream culture recently the term 'rave' has experienced a renaissance (bringing with it an awful lot of neon and posing). Do you think Bang Face played a part in that?

JSA: I think so, certainly in London, but some people might dispute that. A few years ago there was the nu-rave thing which was basically indie music, but we got caught up in that because I'd called Bang Face 'Neo-Rave', just for a joke. That's gone now, but you're hearing all the different rave sounds throughout the whole of music.

It's difficult to know. I mean, the Weekender's pretty high-profile, and people do keep an eye on that. Radio 1 hassled me about doing shows from it, but it didn't feel right for Bang Face. [Another idea was for] A Bang Face TV satellite channel; a lot of people are asking for that! [laughs] But again, Normski [the BF TV compere] is cropping up in TV adverts now, so yeah. And people like Altern-8 weren't really doing anything before I got in touch with them and said 'You were my favourite rave act, can you come and play Bang Face!' and now they've gone through a full comeback.

Whilst public awareness of Bang Face is pretty high, your engagement with the press seems thin on the ground...

JSA: Well I did a few [interviews] in the early days and people misrepresented it as just a bunch of kids going wild on drugs, which is a real insult to all the hard work that's been put in. So I'm pretty wary of who i talk to; basically what I've tried to get across is there's no hidden agenda or conspiracy going on, I've only ever planned it like a party, you know?

In another interview from a couple of years ago you mentioned the possibility of things happening in the States or Japan?

JSA: Quite a few people have approached me over the years wanting to do tours, but there are a few ground rules with Bang Face. It wouldn't be a case of just booking a lineup, booking a venue and trusting someone over there; I'd have to go out there and see if it was alright, ask all the correct questions to the venue, and I'd have to play as well! [Laughs]. I spoke to one guy who wanted to do a big tour and he basically just wanted to use the name; he didn't even want me to play!

I'd still like to do it, but London's such an important city in the world that people travel there anyway. When the Weekender started I was more keen to go abroad, but looking at how far people have travelled for that, it's almost like it's touring in itself, but the other way round. Even from within about a year of Bang Face starting, I was getting emails from around the place. It's always felt like it's had an international presence without ever leaving the country. Certainly a lot of the artists who play are European, American, Japanese, so it makes sense that it'd have an international feel.

Are there any more big names lined up that we should look out for?

JSA: [Hesitates] There are people who I'd like to play; I've got a few ideas for the Weekender but I don't want to give anything away! The thing about the Weekender is that most people are committed to it before we even announce the lineup, which I think keeps the values of the event true. I've always wanted Bang Face not to be a lineup-driven event, and it is as much as it can be. Hopefully people go because they're going to have a good time with their mates, and the bonus is they get to see some really quality acts as well.

The next Bang Face night is on 27 August 2010 at Hidden, London SE11, featuring Luke Vibert, 2 Bad Mice, Bong Ra and more.