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Pioneering family ravers celebrate a decade in the business, but won’t be growing up just yet
Determined not to let parenthood rob them of their raving days, ten years ago Hannah Saunders and Natasha Morabito had a revelation. Meeting in a parenting group, and finding themselves kindred spirits (ex-ravers always know each other, have you noticed?), they decided that no, they weren’t done with raving. They’d just have to do it differently.
“We got together when I had come up with the idea of BFLF and decided to tell everyone I knew about it – as a way to embarrass myself into getting it off the ground,” grins Hannah.
…parents, grandparents, and kids dance joyously until the sugar rush runs out
“Tash and I were both on a small private Mumsnet group because our children were born in the same month and we had gone through our pregnancies together online. Had never met in real life. I told this group, and Tash asked to meet up as she wanted to help me get it off the ground and we lived reasonably near. Her eldest child is 10 days younger than my eldest.”
So Big Fish Little Fish was created; the family rave for ‘two-to-four hour party people’. Parents, grandparents, and kids dance joyously until the sugar rush runs out, and the events are run throughout the UK and across Australia. It’s a phenomenal success and testament to anyone who always believed it was about the music, and not about the drugs.
I caught up with Hannah as Big Fish Little Fish (I always want to say cardboard box after) hits a remarkable decade.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Hannah Saunders and I created family raving! Afternoon clubbing and festival events for families with children aged 0-8 years. My company Big Fish Little Fish holds events all over the UK and Australia.
Tell us a bit about the events – what can one expect to happen?
First of all, great dance music is at the heart of what we do. We book DJ legends of the rave scene (Terry Francis, 2 Bad Mice, Mark XTC, Aphrodite, London Elektricity, Louise + 1 etc) and they play the set they would at a grown-up club night only at lower volumes and without any swears.
The venues we play range from pubs to state-of-the-art nightclubs (we’re the only all-ages event that has ever played fabric) to festivals to museums – taking in concrete floor warehouses, castles, breweries and even a cathedral. We particularly love taking BFLF outside – to Camp Bestival, Blue Dot, Glastonbury, and other festivals.
You can expect to see parents and grandparents dancing with their littlies in fancy dress, loads of balloons, foam and bubbles and some craft tables, a colouring mural, and face painters away from the dancefloor action. Also there’s always a bar.
…great dance music is at the heart of what we do. We book DJ legends of the rave scene and they play the set they would at a grown-up club night
Our raves are two hours long, and finish up with a giant parachute dance, inspired by going to Whirl-Y-Gig events in the 90s. Though we dance under ours and at the Whirly, people sit down.
Where did the concept originate?
I loved taking my kids to festivals. As a Bristolian, I’ve been to Glastonbury almost every year since the mid-90s and having a five-month-old baby wasn’t going to stop me. At Glastonbury I saw how my baby enjoyed the multi-sensory experience, while I too was enjoying the music as I always had done – it was a shared experience of joy.
While I was on maternity leave, I attended all the usual parent and baby groups, but none captured that sense of togetherness and fun that taking my young family to festivals did. When I returned to work (senior Whitehall civil servant!) I just didn’t enjoy the environment anymore, so I jacked it in.
At Glastonbury I saw how my baby enjoyed the multi-sensory experience
I then needed to do something for work and decided to set up my own business to create the thing I wanted to take my own family to. Something that gave me the fun and freedom of a festival but that I could do near my home and for a few hours at the weekend.
Who typically comes to the events?
We find more and more that people in their late 20s and 30s don’t just bring their babies; they bring their mums and dads too, who were the first-generation ravers. It’s always fantastic fun to see three generations raving together. Obviously with the raver’s ‘Summer of Love’ being in 1988, the people who were there then are now in their 50s and 60s – as are many of our DJs!
The BFLF dancefloor really is a joyful, bonding experience and I’ve had grandparents tell me they’ve always wanted to come to a rave and now they felt they had. BFLF does provide the essence of raving, in a family friendly way.
Do people come without kids? Or is that just an insane thought?!
We don’t let any lone adult groups (or lone children!) come to Big Fish Little Fish, but if they are a child-free aunt, uncle, or friend and want to come in a group with people with kids then that’s fine. We try not to have groups of more than four adults to one child, as we like to keep the right balance of big and small people.
Do the kids ever get freaked out by the loud music, lights etc?
Depending on the venue we try to ensure there are quieter spaces, and even baby chill areas. Music is played at lower levels than at an adult club (in fact I have recorded higher levels of noise at large soft play centres) and there are no strobes, just colour changing and moving lights.
Rather than the music and lighting, it can be the size of the crowd (each event has 400 – 1,000 attendees) that I think some children – and parents – find daunting. We make it very clear in our publicity that the events are busy and loud, often more from children’s excited squeals than music), and that they are a ‘proper’ clubbing experience. So it’s not for everyone, but the families who do love it, really love it.
We are very aware of kids with additional needs and want to make it as inclusive as possible
We are very aware of kids with additional needs and want to make it as inclusive as possible – so, say there’s a family with an autistic child – we can let them into the venue a few minutes before everyone else to give them time to acclimatise before the crowds arrive. This way we can help to make sure they know where to go if they need a breather from the action.
Drugs – one would hope people are responsible if they’re there with kids, but have you observed people taking dancing ‘enhancements’?
I have been running these events for 10 years, and BFLF has played to around 800,000 people and it’s never come up.
If you are responsible for young children, you just don’t consider it. BFLF is a place where you celebrate being a family, and delight in it together. Drugs are a complete no-no.
I’ve just had a look at the line-up of events. That’s a phenomenal output! Who handles all the management and bookings etc? There must be quite a team of you.
We recently had a TikTok that went viral in the US so I’m talking to some interested people over there
Thank you! Yes, there is a team of lovely people (all of them parents and ex-clubbers) who run Big Fish Little Fish in their areas. We cover the whole of the UK and the big cities in Australia.
We recently had a TikTok that went viral in the US and had over three million views, so I’m talking to some interested people over there about launching BFLF in the US and Canada.
You’ve got some big names playing too. Has it been tough to get them to play or are they right up for it?
You have to find the right people, people who fundamentally ‘get’ what we do. Most of our DJs are parents themselves and bring their kids along to show them what mum or dad does for work.
DJs love playing us, often seeing BFLF as the true carriers of the rave flame to pass on through the generations – and will recommend us to their DJing mates.
You’re at some festivals this summer. Where is best to catch BFLF?
We are doing a tour with Camp Bestival ahead of the festivals in Dorset and Shropshire – and other festivals you can see us at include Elderflower Fields, Blue Dot, Beautiful Days, Geronimo, Festival 14, Milton Keynes, We Out Here, and many others yet to be announced.
The festival events – do you take your own tent, etc? Tell us a bit about how that works.
We take our own tents to sleep in! Otherwise we will play wherever in the festival we’ve been programmed to play – sometimes there is a big stage with an open air crowd, sometimes it’s in a big tent like the Bollywood at Camp Bestival. Unlike a lot of performers we usually slum it in camping, and take our kids too. We LOVE a festival – it’s what inspired BFLF after all.
It’s your tenth anniversary this year – what plans have you got for the future?
World domination baby! Hopefully we will get BFLF North America up and running (plus some new cities in Europe), stay true to our ethos of being proper old ravers, and work with lots of lovely people and make lots of families very, very happy.
What’s the best thing about BFLF?
Making families happy. When you become a parent, you can feel like you have said goodbye to your carefree youth and these events give people a bit of that back. It lets them know that it isn’t finger food and nap schedules forever. You’re still in there and you don’t have to cut part of yourself off to be a great parent.
So much parenting is about saying ‘no’, ‘stop that’ or ‘don’t do that’. So when children see their parents happy and smiling at our events they respond in kind and it’s a virtuous circle of happiness – a rave hug! BFLF is a great way for parents to role model how to have fun with others.
Will there be a tenth anniversary party?!
Oh yes – quite a few! Hopefully a big one at Ally Pally this summer. You heard it here first!
Buy tickets for the Ally Pally event here
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