Housed within Chepstow Racecourse and curated by Bristol-based Balkan-tek producer and DJ E-Coli, Balter festival has become the perfect escape for those looking for a less relaxing break away from the 9-5. Known best for accommodating the wonderfully strange among us, Balter has definitely earned its reputation as the ‘mini-Boomtown’.
Although there’s a focus on the harder spectrum of music across bassline, drum and bass, techno, gypsycore and hardtek, you can also find a selection of disco, reggae and hip hop – particularly during the daylight hours – to bounce around to. But whichever your preference, Balter encourages its residents to fully let loose and be ‘whoever the fuck you want’ on this ultimately wacky weekend.
This wasn’t our first time at Balter, though last year I admit I was grossly unprepared for the delightful horrors that lay ahead
This wasn’t our first time at Balter, though last year I admit I was grossly unprepared for the delightful horrors that lay ahead. This festival is strictly over 18s and if you are willing to get down and dirty and embrace every off-kilter genre and activity, then you will no doubt be absorbed by its unique personality and return year after year looking to delve deeper into its ever-growing abstract core.
Now equipped with our Balter bearings, we eagerly packed up and headed across the bridge to face our fate. It might only be half an hour down the road, but that’s not the only reason for its huge Bristol patronage. Balter embraces every element of Bristol’s eccentric music scene, offering a platform for a huge selection of local talent alongside international names.
It might only be half an hour down the road, but that’s not the only reason for its huge Bristol patronage. Balter embraces every element of Bristol’s eccentric music scene
Arriving late on Friday night, we set up camp directly next to the 24hr Garage Girls stage, which we discovered the next day was a bloody good shout. The Bristol-based party collective have gone from strength to strength after their debut at Boomtown in 2013 and have become a Balter mainstay, hosting one of the biggest and most popular stages of the festival.
Over the course of the weekend, special guests on the 24hr Garage Girls stage included King Hydra, Dr Cryptic, Mikey B and Shaun Dean. Though, to be completely honest, the 24hr Garage Girls residents brought such a consistently great show that it didn’t really matter who was behind the decks at any given point.
No human carwash this year though? Guess health and safety must have got in the way. Nevertheless, the ladies were dancing all day long in some serious heat, keeping the crowd cool with their water guns, and I have all the respect for everything they delivered.
The biggest change I noticed at this year’s Balter Festival was over at The Disco Ball stage. Previously, the stage was located within a pretty low-key tent, but this year The Disco Ball stage was placed slap bang in the middle of the main stretch of the festival, giving the rotating decked-out disco ball the attention it deserved.
The Disco Ball stage was placed slap bang in the middle of the main stretch of the festival, giving the rotating decked-out disco ball the attention it deserved
We found ourselves here a lot. It was not only the perfect interlude whilst walking between stages, but the lineup itself offered far more than just your old skool disco bangers (though don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t love a classic). Newcomers The Ket Shop Boys and their ironic nostalgia kept everybody pumping, and DJ K-Hole, MC T-Total and Rob Ya Nan put on a ruddy good show. Gabba is most definitely not a subgenre I have come to enjoy, but we also couldn’t resist checking out Abba Gabba at The Disco Ball – the Balter-birthed DJ group that does exactly what it says on the tin.
Complete with their skate ramp, Bristol-based collective SIKA Studios kicked off their Saturday with a timetabled Wake N Bake, before hosting a selection of underground hip hop and grime artists from Bristol and beyond. One of my highlights over here was Snoopy Dubz, Jay 0117, Insepkta and Chucky. Jay0117 has been on our radar a lot recently, while he paves the way for a new generation of grime MCs coming out of Bristol and we thoroughly enjoyed his performance, especially when South West favourite JMan popped on stage to get involved as well.
Over at the Irie Bingo stage, No Ice Cream Sound offered a welcome break from the more intense BPMs going on around the festival. Here you could also find hype MC JMan doing what he does best and we certainly did not get bored of his face, with an uncanny ability to deliver different styles across different beats. The No Ice Cream Sound crew gave us the opportunity to dance to some more dubby beats, with a brilliant take on Dead Prez’s Hip Hop to finish.
Away from the music, there was a constant stream of weird and wonderful activities to keep you entertained
Away from the music, there was a constant stream of weird and wonderful activities to keep you entertained and if you were ever getting a bit too hot, you could be sure it was only a matter of time before you were shot by a cheeky water gun.
Value for money is great here too, as long as you are not averse to the mighty monk-made Buckfast, a drink the festival heavily endorses with a dedicated bar, Bucky Brigade walkabout troupe and Buckyham Palace stage.
On the live music front, you could find many intriguing bands over at The Caravan such as Nubiyan Twist, Popes of Chillitown, Pas De Probleme and more. It was also the place to find comedy act MC Devvo. After debuting in 2007, MC Devvo’s take on a chav has become one of the most famous avante-garde rap acts of the last decade. As you can imagine, the stage was packed, but feeling that if you’ve seen it once you’ve seen it all, after a cheeky five minutes to see if I was missing out, I decided to spend my time listening to a few acts I had never heard of before.
When the sun went down, the party moved over to The Hex and Jigsore stages
When the sun went down, the party moved over to The Hex and Jigsore stages. The Hex delivered a mighty lineup including headliners Koan Sound and Ed Rush, as well as a pretty busty helping of other acts including Critical Sound head honcho Kasra. Jigsore went down a bit more of a varied route with acid breakbeat, junglist and techno beats with Amen4Tekno’s founder Mandidextrous taking the headline spot on Saturday.
Although the music appeared to end at a respectable 2am, we quickly caught wind of the silent disco that would see us through to the very early morning
Although the music appeared to end at a respectable 2am, we quickly caught wind of the silent disco that would see us through to the very early morning. When I removed my headphones just before dawn, I was left only with the sound of those muttering, slightly worse for wear souls, who – like me – didn’t want this festival to end. I came back buzzing about this incredible weekend and there is no doubt in my mind that I will return next year.
Photos by Alex Blaby