I Attended a Kiddie Rave and Lived to Tell the Tale
Dance music, a nightclub, hundreds of children: what could possibly go wrong?
D, five, is close to tears. With his hands tight over his ears, he shouts:
‘It’s too loud!’
J, two, is attached limpet-like to my chest. I hold him with one arm, the other is busy gripping a beer almost as tightly as J does me.
As the MC suggests they fire the confetti guns, I ask N, my wife, if we should go back upstairs.
If you don’t know Shoreditch, it’s the sort of neighbourhood that has commissioned graffiti on the walls of architects’ offices. iPhone X banners hang from the side of apartment blocks containing £1 million studio flats. And it’s exactly the part of London you’d expect to find a kiddie rave.
What’s a kiddie rave? It’s a dance party in a nightclub. With kids.
The music comes from the dance scene of the late 80s/early 90s. Songs like this:
(It was a scene fuelled by drugs. In particular, E.)
Kids: from babies to teenagers. There to dance with their parents.
Months ago, I thought it sounded fun. One of the great tragedies of growing older is the diminishing opportunity to go dancing.
That I didn’t like rave music, and neither did N, seemed to be beside the point.
What was I thinking?
It was raining as we walked the backstreets of East London. We’d parked in a multi-storey where we’d used a car lift for the first time. N was reversing and looking terrified but D bounced in his booster seat, claiming it to be the best day ever.
When we’d parked up, I warned him not to get too excited about the rave.
‘It may be a disappointment,’ I said. ‘Clubs often are.’
He wasn’t listening. He was too busy practising dance moves.
‘Do you think there’ll be a queue?’ I asked N, as we followed Google Maps’ directions to the venue, past ‘Ravey Street’ — a missed opportunity by the organisers there.
‘No,’ she said.
She was wrong.
There are few things as frustrating as queueing for a club. Especially when you’d assumed it was something abandoned in your twenties, alongside smoking and busy jumpers. Ten years ago, we may have swigged from illicit bottles of spirits. Now we took polite sips from Styrofoam coffee cups.
The parents and children in line seemed happy enough, though. And, to my delight, nobody was wearing rave clothes. I’d been worrying that we’d be the only family not to be dressed in neon. In fact, the denim shirt and black jeans marked me out as someone who’d actually bothered to change out of Xmas sweatpants.
We had our hands stamped, even the two year old. I couldn’t imagine a situation whereby he’d later have to show this as proof of admission, especially as he wouldn’t be popping out for a cigarette, but he was pleased to get the same treatment as his older brother.
Having never experienced a club bouncer, D started a freestyle dance on the steps of the venue. The man in the black jacket and curly-wired earpiece was all smiles. Maybe too smiley.
And so I felt uneasy. And my back ached as I helped lift J’s buggy up the steps and through the entrance.
Inside was a bar. It was packed. Adults surrounded the beer pumps, obviously quick to the decision that the only way of surviving the afternoon was by getting pissed. Where the adults weren’t was an enormous soft play installation, a few cracks between cushions showing the wooden floorboards beneath.
There was a ball-pit. There were cushions shaped as oversized fruit. It was not rave themed. There were no huge foam E tablets.
Nicky parked up the buggy as I bought a beer, despite her judgmental eyebrows and refusal to have anything to drink herself.
Obviously, our kids were both desperate to throw their shoes to the wind and get involved in the soft play. We were here to dance, however, so we led them, protesting, with firm hands to the queue for the downstairs dancefloor. It was a tight staircase that prompted a few uneasy children to start crying before they’d even had a chance to be scared by the rave properly. I tried not to catch the eye of anyone and, instead, focused on putting one foot ahead of the other, avoiding the lost blankets and dummies that littered the steps.
The queue snaked around the corner at the bottom of the staircase. This opened out into a corridor leading to the dancefloor. There was a cloakroom and doors to toilets. There was also a family jumping up and down with glow sticks. They were grinning a little too desperately.
As we entered the rave, D reached for my hand. The club was Saturday night busy. As it was two o’clock in the afternoon and most parents were responsible adults, there was a lot of sober/awkward bobbing up and down as kids went crazy with dancing or crying.
The music, although not loud, made conversation only possible through shouting. Lasers cut through the dry ice and, briefly, my kids were enthralled by their own colour change. They had both turned blue like a kiddie Avatar.
This entertained them for about twenty seconds.
I tried putting J on the floor so I could drink my beer. As soon as his feet touched ground, he started crying.
The DJ was up in his booth and looking less healthy than he’d done in the promotional picture used by the event’s Facebook page. He was big in the 90s club scene, which, inevitably, means he’s now a recovering addict.
A sudden MC instructed us to sit down. Kids are used to this, so followed his order more or less immediately. The song being played, some dance music vaguely recognisable as something I’d decided I didn’t like back when I wasn’t much older than my kids now, was rewound with the reverse chipmunk sound popular twenty years ago when DJs used vinyl.
The adults followed their offspring’s lead and sat down too. We were then told to stand up and scream (‘Anything!’) on the count of four. We did this twice because the first time around we weren’t loud enough. Everybody got involved, even those queuing at the bar.
D was smiling. J wasn’t crying. For a brief moment, I thought the afternoon might work out well after all. But then the music started up again and D put his hands over his ears and when N bent down to ask what was wrong, he shouted:
‘It’s too loud!’
We returned upstairs, to a soft play area. Our sons dived in. There was more kid than rubber and the scene looked like an ant-hill covered in angry ants. Parents stood in a ring around their softly violent children, offering the occasional:
‘Not his face, Amelia!’
I bought another beer.
Within five minutes, our youngest had crawled back, complaining of a ‘bump bump’ on his head. We got his shoes back on, then signalled to D to come off. He raced over, unprotesting. Why? Because he thought we were going home. When we explained that we’d be returning to the rave, he collapsed prone on the floor, kicking his shoe-less feet in protest.
‘I think there may be sweets and we could stand where the music was quiet?’ I offered.
D didn’t stand but his feet did stop kicking.
‘I think I saw a bubble machine,’ said my wife.
This did the trick. D stood up.
‘Ten minutes,’ he said.
The dancefloor had thinned out. There were more crying infants. Faces contorted, they were lifted off and away. After their initial sugar high, they were crashing hard. Mothers mouthed gratitude as fathers rolled eyes.
Music pumped. Synth cords and a female vocalist.
D gestured for me to bend over, which was easier said than done for me when carrying his brother.
‘I still don’t like it,’ he said.
I nodded. Conscious, however, that I’d paid a fair whack for the family to attend the rave, I didn’t lead us back up the stairs to the (relative) calm of the soft play. Instead, we followed a long and winding road to the rear of the club where there didn’t look to be any speakers hanging from the walls.
‘Shall we get the parachute out again?’ said the MC, his voice noticeably frayed.
Above the rave music and sobbing children came a few ‘yeahs’ from middle-aged mums with Prodigy t-shirts. They pointed to the ceiling. They chanted ‘ooh, ooh.’ The multi-coloured canvas dully came out, amplifying the anxiety of children overwhelmed by the coloured lights and banging music. It also worked to trap the heat in this basement club. I felt sweat soaking under my armpits.
D, however, perked up when presented with the edge of the parachute. He lifted it and dropped it in time to the music. He briefly smiled.
It’s the curse of human existence that all joy is necessarily transient, though. D learnt this when the parachute was reeled back in.
‘Is it ten minutes yet?’ he asked, no longer smiling.
‘But your brother’s enjoying himself.’
We looked to J. Held tight under my arm, his bottom lip wobbled.
N was already walking out.
Leaving was easier said than done. By shoving tables and chairs against a wall, a dining area had been converted into a temporary buggy park. It had also been claimed by half-a-dozen breastfeeders, who suckled while checking their social media.
We weren’t the only family leaving early. We queued to get in, so we queued to get out. Not only that, but when it was my turn to retrieve a buggy, the task became some awful hand/eye coordination event that hairless contestants from the East Midlands are forced to complete in budget Saturday afternoon TV shows.
The key to successful extraction was collapsing the fucker. I did this, apologising as I went, without too much collateral damage. Even in its reduced state, however, the buggy’s handles, unlike us desperate not to leave, caught against other buggies, bag straps, strangers’ coats.
I apologised, I swore, I apologised, I swore.
When I’d finally managed to get back to the soft play, where we’d arranged to met, N asked why I’d taken so long.
Outside, it rained heavily. I was wearing my ‘cool’ bomber jacket, so was quickly wet through.
‘Shall we go to a pub? Or the market?’ I asked.
Driving home, we asked D if he’d enjoyed himself.
‘Yes,’ he said.
N and I exchanged looks.
‘For real,’ he said — using a phrase he’d learnt from YouTube, ‘the car lift was awesome.’
‘And what about the party?’
‘I didn’t like that.’
There’s Brit Pop version coming to London soon. Maybe D would enjoy that. I’ll let N take him, though. I can stay at home with J.