It’s a well-known myth that the first pancake is never good. It’s mainly there as a practice run. You never know how much oil to use, if the pan is warm enough, if you’re using enough batter. And after you either burn it completely, or soak it up, it usually ends up in the bin. Brighton’s first attempt at the dance festival, Party at the Races, was a perfect example of a first pancake. It started with the choice of date which was not weather friendly, continued with major organisational problems, lack of musical and thematic focus and all-round feeling of “who the hell is running this show?”

The premise of Party at the Races was to combine Brighton’s racing tracks with a dance festival, which spans over one Saturday, from noon to early morning. The idea seemed intriguing. Festival goers were encouraged to put on their finest fancy-wear or jockey outfits, sip on cocktails, and bet on virtual horse races, while sweating it out to DJ sets, spread over four different stages. With Basement Jaxx as the headliner, and the beautiful view of countryside Brighton, what can go wrong? Quite a lot, apparently.

“Something feels a little off”, one girl said. “Yeah, the atmosphere is really weird”, another agreed. “You know what it is?” the third suggested, “It’s like an office Christmas party!” Those where most of the comparisons overheard in toilet queues and drink lines – that awkward high school party, where everyone is too shy to dance. Or a wedding where that old uncle is embarrassing everyone with his moves. While the music started promptly at 1PM, it seemed like the crowd was reluctant to get going. Next to every stage were four or five people, swaying from side to side, but mainly, they were just standing around, somewhat confused. The main stage showed the virtual horse races, alongside the DJ sets, with a live announcer reading over the music. Whoever came up with that idea, didn’t seem to think it through, as it just made the music fade into the background, for every act until 6PM. I couldn’t tell you what Zac Samuel, Camelphat or Apexape sounded like, but I can probably name some of the winning horses.

Inside, while the appropriately named Vague Recollection was dropping the beats, a young dance crew took over the other side of the space. This, again, created that very odd feeling off disconnect. One side of the room was dark, and very few people were dancing to repetitive rhythms, whereas on the other the light was glaring, and teenagers were preforming acrobatics to a circle of people taking pictures (I was one of them). At the very edge of the room, a booth offered 8-pound glitter treatments. Nothing about this festival seemed thought out of put together. In fact, it looked like the organisers just booked whoever and whatever was free that day.

One of the biggest fails was the Source stage. As advertised in the festival website, it was aimed to showcase Brighton’s local talent, but unfortunately, did that very poorly. First of all, the stage itself was placed at the very edge of the venue. Very few people ventured that far, which resulted with every gig having no more than 30 viewers. Second, it was outside, on a very chilly, mostly rainy day. Third, the music didn’t seem to really mash with the rest of the festival. It was somewhat rock-pop, which is not a bad thing at itself, but this was Party at the Races. Most people were not there for up-and-coming rock. And lastly, the timetable was completely off.

Modern Strangers were supposed to go up at 5:50PM, and ended up going head to head with Basement Jaxx, resulting with a crowd of five people, which was so disappointing, for them and for the crowd. And Youngr was scheduled to perform on the main stage, but somehow got bumped to the Source, which was the festival’s biggest mistake. This young artist (no pun intended), managed to rock an audience of 30 people, harder than anyone else this entire event. Full of charisma and creativity, he took well known tracks and made them his own, using drum machines, guitars and vocals. Even his original songs, which were unknown to most, were so well performed, that you couldn’t help but dance. One person in the audience best said it at the end of the set – “can more people make music around here?”

After Youngr, things did seem to pick up a bit. The virtual races where over, and Jonas Blue took the main stage, who was a great crowd pleaser playing fun, well known hits. Finally, people finally agreed to come out of hiding and dance in the rain. Basement Jaxx went on straight after, and produced a mellower set, but it grew stronger and sweatier towards the end. At 10PM, it seemed like the Party was pretty much leaving the Races. Most people were they for the headliner, and figured they can get their drinks much cheaper, somewhere else. Maybe the second pancake, which comes out in April, 2017, will turn out better.

Party at the Races – Brighton (1st Oct 2016)

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