The word 'Balter' means 'to dance artlessly without any….' and so on and so forth. After six years of amazing mayhem and madness, the word 'Balter' should be firmly ingrained into your pyche by now. If not, bypass the dictionary, go straight to the website and get yourself a ticket as soon as they're available. You won't regret it.
Born in Devon and bred in the folds of the Bristol club scene, Balter Festival landed kicking and screaming on Chepstow Racecourse for it's fourth year on the site. The line up this year saw yet another tranche of class bookings including (but far from limited to); Lazy Habits; Pas De Probleme; Ed Rush; 3 Daft Monkeys, Koan Sound, and JFB. In the five years the festival has been running, the crowd has grown from a modest 700 to around 3,500 attendees and never fails to disappoint.
We arrived early Thursday evening and made a beeline for the far end of the campsite (not a long walk even with tents and bags). After setting up our tents, we noticed a small gazebo had popped up just down the way with a large square area cordoned off in front. We assumed it was some early birds being precious about reserving space but as Friday rolled around, it became clear that the attractions and curiosities of Balter weren't just confined to the main arena.
The Crusts obstacle course had us bent over double and clutching our sides in hysterics as passing festival goers staggered over, seemingly out of curiosity initially, to the gazebo where they were challenged to compete, dipping, ducking and weaving around the course, the ending of which was marked by contenders frantically crawling through a play tunnel (affectionately nick-named 'the K-hole') in an attempt to catch the over-sized zip-lock bag filled with an unknown white powder, being dangled like a carrot in front of them (any similarities to contests of the canine variety were, of course, entirely coincidental).
After watching some 'crusties' stack it for a while, we wandered down to the main arena, which consisted of 10 stages including Buckyham Palace (despite popular belief, Balter is not sponsored by Buckfast, they just can't get enough of the stuff!), Ire Bingo, Balkanical Circus, Jigsore and Hex host to a wide range of artists spanning genres from drum and bass to gypsy folk to hip hop and spanning multiple genres between. The stages are laid out either side of a walkway with stalls and bars scattered in between. Drinks are cheap at around £3 per can with a range of affordable cocktails for non-beer/cider drinkers. The layout makes it incredibly easy to navigate and there's little pressure to stay glued to your group for fear of losing them for the rest of the festival. With 10 stages and around 3-4,000 attendees it was nice being able to dip in and out of venues and wonder off then bump back into your mates again.
Saturday rolled around and we made our way down to the Caravan Stage (quite literally a stage in the shape of a huge hollowed out caravan) where Devvo was setting up. And by 'setting up' I mean he plugged in his iPod. A legend in his own right, there was a fair size crowd gathered to see the Donny Solider and he had everyone singing along to anthems including 'Yorkshire Till I Die' and 'Summertime Gash'.
Abba Gabba (the clue's in the name) took to the Disco Stage, which this year, was set up slap bang in the middle of the walkway crowned with a huge disco ball reflecting light and lasers back at the crowd.
I spent most of Saturday night in the Jigsore tent watching Ruby My Dear and The Satan play. Ruby My Dear played a flawless set borrowing from a vast range of styles. Baroque strings, elements of metal music torn apart with bursts of breakcore and drums. The Satan, came out dressed head to toe in a bright red, scaly devil mask/suit (no idea how he didn't melt, guess it's pretty hot in hell), delivered a stomping set of relentless hardcore/breakcore to close the stage that evening.
Meanwhile, a slightly less hectic, yet from what I'm told equally enjoyable act, were performing over in the Balkanical Circus stage. Henge (who I'm slightly gutted to have missed) got some rave reviews from a lot of people I bumped into over the weekend. Described as 'an intergalactic experience of weird and wonderful' I'm truly looking forward to their gig in Bristol in November at the Old Market Assembly Rooms.
Sunday brought the Miss Balter competition, judged by Captain Hotknives on the Caravan stage. This year, the contest was more popular than ever with a whole gaggle of contestants including Benjamina MissDemeanor and Willow Glitterballs. The Balter crew may have to re-think the contest next year to properly showcase such unbridled talent effectively!
Broken Note closed the festival Sunday night and what a way to end an amazing weekend. 'Well-crafted' doesn't even come close to describing this guy's music; multi-instrumentalist, Boken Note fuses mental, drum and base, and dubstep, in a way that sees him pretty much design his own genre. His unique blend of earth shattering bass, insane production skills, and unforgiving drums beat the audience to a bloody pulp and brought the festival screeching to a close, with many clinging onto the weekend with both hands.
Balter succeeds where many fail in creating a truly inclusive atmosphere where munted is marvelous and anything goes. Thanks Balter, same again next year please!
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