AS I look around FAC251, surrounded by a sweaty mass of people all dancing wildly to the classic house music that’s pumping through the place, I realise that this may well be the craziest party I’ve ever been to…
On the top floor, kids are getting their faces painted under the same roof from which Tony Wilson’s famous suspended table used to dangle
In front of me, a girl’s zealously shaking a maraca, her other hand waving freely in the air. To my right, there’s a guy gyrating up against an inflatable banana. And as I scan the crowds to the edge of the dancefloor, I can see that someone’s passed out yet somehow managed to keep a firm grip of their glow stick. This lot party hard.
Thing is, it’s not 3am on Sunday morning; it’s 3pm on Sunday afternoon. Peer behind the bar and you’ll notice that lined up alongside the beer bottles are a plethora of juice boxes. And I can guarantee that the only substance getting abused round here is sugar.
Because these weren’t common-a-garden partygoers – they were clubbing-loving kids, all throwing themselves into the first birthday celebration of Big Fish Little Fish, the award-winning family rave billed for '2-4 hour party people'.
2-4 Party People
First launched in London back in 2013, this all-ages party now has offshoots in cities all over the country, including Nottingham, Glasgow, Birmingham, Newcastle, Cardiff and, of course, Manchester. The local branch is run by Rachel Wilkinson, who moved up north from the capital a few years ago but soon found she couldn’t bear the thought of leaving BFLF behind.
“I missed Big Fish Little Fish, so I tweeted them to ask when they were coming to Manchester,” says Rachel, “and basically that’s how I got involved. Like lots of mums and dads of our generation, I spent my twenties going to gigs and festivals and clubs, and our events are a chance to recapture a bit of that. The Manchester ones have definitely had the biggest, most positive reaction of all, and they always sell out.”
They’ve been so popular, in fact, that getting tickets requires a speedy internet connection, a large dose of persistence and a good deal of nous. This, of course, guarantees that the lucky few who manage to make it in are determined to really get into proceedings, not shy about dressing up for the occasion, and very much up for showing their kids how it’s done on the dancefloor.
Parents concerned about the seemingly non-child-friendliness of places like FAC251 needn’t worry – they’re fully risk assessed, given a deep clean and meticulously inspected before the door opens. Plus the music, though still loud enough to provide that authentic club feel, is kept to a level suitable for little ears.
“The venue’s really key in terms of getting the right kind of atmosphere, but we do everything we can to make it safe for everyone,” says Rachel, “It’s about everyone getting together. Lots of the guest DJs have families themselves, so often it’s a case of them finally being able to say ‘come and see what daddy does for a job’, which they love.”
BFLF boasts a decked-out dancefloor, colouring walls, balloons, lights and face-painting
So what did my little family make of our first proper Big Fish Little Fish experience?
As we approached the club, carefully squeezing past the buggies lined up outside, I found myself thinking about the endless hours I spent just up the way, hanging round outside 5th Avenue with the rest of the mob, reluctant to head home just yet. Back then, I could never have imagined I’d be strapping my 16-month-old into a baby carrier to head into a darkened club when it was still light outside.
Inside, we find a decked-out dancefloor, colouring wall, balloons, lights and several people dressed up to suit the ‘Around the World’ fancy dress theme already bopping around to the set by electro DJs K-Klass (later, vocalist Bobbi Depasois will make a guest appearance to a colossal reception).
Upstairs there’s a baby and toddler area that’s very much like those you’d find in a soft play centre but with much better music, and a bar instead of a sad little snack counter (wahey!). Their take on a ‘chill out zone’ is a hidden corner with bench seating and board books, and the Our Kid ladies are representing with a bijoux little stall selling cakes, toys and costumes. Up on the top floor, kids are crafting and getting their faces painted under the same roof from which Tony Wilson’s famous suspended table used to dangle.
With excitable tots – and parents – greeting you at every turn, there’s an intense energy in the air that proves a bit much for some of the younger attendees and inevitably there are a few meltdowns and tantrums. But the vibe that overwhelms some causes the vast majority of kiddos here to thrive, giggling in glee (and perhaps finally relenting that mum and dad are kind of cool after all) as they discover a whole new way of having fun.
Big Fish Little Fish heads into its second year on a strong footing; DJ Dave Booth will be manning the decks at the Chorlton Irish Club on Sunday 22 January, and, for the grown-ups who were always more into their guitars than their synths, there’s an indie special coming up in March.
Long may they – and we – rave on.
Find out when the next Big Fish Little Fish rave is on next via their website