4,000 seasoned ravers, hordes of underground live acts and DJs, and surprise sunshine amidst forecasted greyness came together at Chepstow Racecourse for 2017’s Balter Festival, June 2 – 4.
It was the organiser’s fourth go at Balter Festival and this year brought three days of explicit, over 18s only, debauchery and entertainment complemented with ten stages of music spanning ska, gypsy, garage, disco, dub, drum and bass, hip hop, grime and everything inbetween.
The festival has grown substantially over the years, with only 700 people attending the first Balter Festival at Baskerville Hall in 2014. ‘Born in the woods of Devon, raised in the club nights of Bristol and finally maturing in the fields of Wales’, the festival hasn’t lost an iota of its friendly vibes, intimacy or potentially-unhinged atmosphere and goings-on.
While we expected the weekend to be heavy – and as seasoned festival goers we were pretty sure we could hack it – we didn’t quite expect how far from normality Balter would transport us; it truly is a haven for silliness with zero modesty, all nestled in the middle of a Welsh racecourse.
we didn’t quite expect how far from normality Balter would transport us; it truly is a haven for silliness, with zero modesty, all nestled in the middle of a Welsh racecourse
Within 10 minutes of pitching the Pitch tent on a wet Friday evening (ah, so that’s where our name comes from) we were dancing in an absolutely rammed disco tent – thank god for pop-up tents – that provided regular entertainment in the form of cheesy disco tunes, all the way through till morning. The festival location meant that the site was long and thin, instead of your standard circle that most festivals adhere to, which might seem like a minor point but it did make finding lost friends that much simpler – you simply looked left or right, and the stagger back to your tent was completed within minutes.
Getting into things at The Caravan, Balter’s main stage, on Friday night, The Baghdaddies took the headliner spot. The five-piece, off-beat, Balkan gypsy-ska-punkers are into their third decade of touring and are well-versed at starting parties, as they so efficiently proved.
Moving towards the Hex tent, Balter Festival had ingeniously utilised stacked hay bales to combat muddied sound quality coming from the close proximity of the stages. Entering the tents was almost a game of Russian roulette – it sounded as though the music emanating from each tent was coming through tinny laptop speakers until you stepped through the threshold where the chest-rattling bass lines revealed the magician behind whatever it was that was making your limbs move like that.
where the chest-rattling bass lines revealed the magician behind whatever it was that was making your limbs move like that
A.Skillz, the master of mixing old school samples with new school rhythms, gave Balter’s set-up a run for its money. Slicing, mashing and cutting an amalgamation of funk, soul and hiphop with DnB and breaks saw the entire crowd throwing shapes. From seeing A.Skillz live, it was obvious why he is one of the biggest breakbeat DJs in the UK.
Also on the bill at the Hex tent throughout the weekend was long-time Dr Syntax collaborator and hip hop beat maker Pete Cannon and DnB DJ and producer Aliz Perez.
A moment here to mention drink prices – completely out of left-field, you could pick up a cold can for £2.50 (pints £3.00), a stark contrast to the usual £4.50 at other festivals. And while all bars were lined with Buckfast, Balter made it clear that they were not sponsors of the festival – they just bloody love it. The festival’s independence was evidenced through the cheap beer and the organic, local food stalls – keeping Balter’s ravers’ stomachs and wallets satisfied.
Surprisingly fresh-faced, Saturday started with catching A-Bee at (the now understandably named) Buckyham Palace. Walking around, it was apparent that the festival was full of characters – infidels were getting getting hitched at Rey Shneider and the Band of Angels pop-up church; the intellectuals of Balter were battling it out on a giant wicker chess set; and there was even a field of mutilated bicycles where pedals were backwards and crashing was expected and celebrated. The obstacle course was one of our favourite things to do – being marked out of flamboyance, cunning and technical ability, it was surprisingly difficult.
Jman gathered a crowd at SIKA Studios, surrounded by a half-pipe and a number of hype men, with the DJ peering down from above, the dubstep-MC-turned-hip-hop-artist got everyone into the festival mood along with the well-received sunshine. Jman, who has MCd for acts such as Skream, Coki, and Distance, has some serious dubstep roots, but he’s also deep into the hip hop scene as his supporting checklist shows – Wu Tang Clan, Immortal Technique, DJ Premier, and Souls of Mischief, among others.
The rest of Saturday played out in much the same fashion; switching things up between tents and stages, and getting drawn to the centrally placed, riotous 24hr Garage Girls stage. The night ended with a silent disco, which we obviously couldn’t refuse.
The night ended with a silent disco, which we obviously couldn’t refuse
Gardna’s early doors Sunday set, was as usual, top-notch (he also joined in Sunday’s main attraction, the Sunday Soundclash, as part of junglists Born on Road’s team). Playing in the Irie Bingo tent with Kelvin 373, the pair were spinning jungle, hip hop and dub – perfect for the slightly more chilled Sunday daytime events; it was pretty clear Balter’s residents were feeling a bit worse for wear after such a rowdy Saturday.
The Caravan played host to Captain Hotknives with his guitar, banjo and comedic tracks such as I Skanked Me Nanna and I Hate Babies. While not complete fans of comedians with guitars, this Northerner got many a laugh from us and even more from the crowd who were in stitches. Turns out subjects like stealing weed from your nanna, hating babies and muffins on trains are hilarious, after all.
Balter shares many similarities with Boomtown, if on a smaller scale. You can find yourself dodging lasers in a Mission-Impossible-esque hall of mirrors one minute, and the next, shooting down a slip’n’slide. It’s this unpredictable nature and otherworldliness that makes you think of a mini Boomtown – and I haven’t even mentioned the effort that went into the stage design, as well as those life-changing hay bales.
Tickets were a grand total of £105, and for that you get a whole lot of experience for your money. The friendly vibes instantly made you feel part of the extended Balter family, and security were on the top of their game – lovely faces all round – which helped everyone keep to Balter’s adage of ‘don’t be a dick’.
as long as you’ve got a wacky side, find jumbo deckchairs consistently hilarious and are partial to a bit of ‘go hard or go home’
A festival full of misunderstood miscreants, whose spirits could not be dampened by the rain, Balter offered a welcome departure from reality; and if you’ve got a wacky side, find jumbo deckchairs consistently hilarious and are partial to a bit of ‘go hard or go home’ – then this is the festival for you.