I was sat watching Eclipse Theatre’s brilliant production of A Raisin in the Sun at the Albany Deptford earlier this year – it was a Friday night and families had dressed up for an evening out at the theatre. It was such a breath of fresh theatre air, to see kids at a show that wasn’t for them… and they were spellbound. Great chunks of subtext and politics would have been flying way over their heads, but that didn’t stop them being transfixed by the action and the emotion of the live performance. There was so much for them to be compelled by.
Student playwrights are often reminded to write for the most intelligent person in the audience: theatre-goers want to be challenged, surprised and kept on our toes… so shouldn’t children’s encounters with the arts be the same?
The cultural offer in the UK for families is tremendous, particularly in London. Weekends and holiday listings are packed with kids shows, museums stuffed with creative activities. There is much that is highly original and engaging, but as parents we all know there is plenty of atrocious, saccharine, lazy, patronising guff.
And it was the latter that tipped my existential wobble of new parenthood into a full blown crisis, and led me to establish Disco Loco – the ‘rave for folks with kids’ – ten years ago this month.
My daughter was six months old. I was all kinds of freaked out. But the freakiest of it all was the cultural shift: I’d spent 20 years of adult life seeking out the underground and cutting edge at every turn, only to find my cultural choices now limited to slit-your-wrist sing-songs of the most mawkish kind. It was a baby singing group that tipped me over the edge. I felt like I was the only one in the room who hated it, that as parents we had all shed our adult tastes and entered a world of Stepford parenthood. One size fits all.
With the help of friends I decided to create something, a place where you could be yourself with your kids and share with them what we loved. If my daughter squealed with delight when I danced around at home to the Ramones and Chicks on Speed, she would love it even more with disco lights and a big sound system… and so 10 years ago Disco Loco came crashing in on the lives of unsuspecting Hackney families. Little did we know we had sparked a new trend – the ‘baby rave’ (ugh) was born.
So last weekend we celebrated our 10th birthday and scores of people packed out or venue, Hackney Showroom to dance the afternoon away – sharing something truly magical with our babies and children – the same music and atmosphere that made our hairs stand on end at 4am at Turnmills (RIP), The End (RIP), The Key (RIP), The Cross (RIP and need I go on…?) before we had kids, and that Sophie Haewood described so tear jerkingly in her review of Disco Loco in Vice. Something surprising and downright beautiful always happens at Disco Loco, and on our 10th birthday we had the delight of introducing 10 year old Ella to the decks and she DJed the closing tracks on the main stage – and was sensational.
Disco Loco hosts monthly parties in the winter and four years ago we launched Disco Loco in the Park – a free festival of culture for families, in the beautiful surrounds of Springfield Park, Hackney each summer. All our events share the same, unique concept: a high quality & cutting edge artistic programme, engagement of adults and children simultaneously, steering clear of niche children’s activity, and an affordable, inclusive community vibe. And this vision is part of the charitable objectives of our charity New Future Collective which uses the arts, culture and creativity to enrich and embolden communities.
Last month we hosted a Rainbow Rave in partnership with And What? Queer Arts Festival. Visiting artist Eilidh McAskill had us creating our own spirit animals with rainbow fabrics, and every kind of family, queer, trans, 2.4… danced under the same disco ball in a haze of rainbow heaven.
Each year Disco Loco welcomes a new generation of babies to our dance floor and I find myself thinking hell, we’ve created a beast that will never end! But my co-director and I keep coming up with bonkers ideas – our next Disco Loco Under the Sea on 4 December features a special guest appearance from comedian Jayde Adams as our mermaid-in-residence – and once again I’m hooked. I see Chu-i on stage with kids literally dripping off him, I see families all around me dancing to Emily dropping something like Disco to Disco and I know I never want to be anywhere else.