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2 December 2015

Raving with my baby at the new “toddler raves“

The looming Hackney Wick warehouse had been filled with playdoh and glowsticks as dads danced to acid house. I wondered: what does it mean to re-live our youth through our children?

By Tom Gatti

In the days leading up to the toddler rave, every time my wife used the phrase “toddler rave” (as in: “I’ve booked our tickets to the toddler rave,” or, “Remember, we’re taking V to the toddler rave on Sunday”) I assumed it was her funny, knowing way of saying “children’s party”. I pictured balloons, cake and “Nellie the Elephant”: infants doing their weird stompy dancing, bubbles, tantrums and perhaps a village hall.

But when we arrived in Hackney Wick, a formerly industrial area of east London, at around 2pm, the venue turned out to be a looming warehouse covered in high-grade street art. Our group, which had dressed for the occasion, consisted of my two-year-old daughter, V, in pirate gear; her friend M (a dragon), whose second birthday was the main reason for our attendance, and S, a three-year-old witch, along with the relevant parents.

As we herded the children out of the early winter sun and into the gloom of the club, a woman appeared in front of us. She chirped: “The next synthesizer workshop starts in 15 minutes!”

The space was full of bodies. V, M and S were handed glowsticks. Behind the decks there were a man and a woman wearing luminescent glasses. The looped piano riff and squelching bass of Orbital’s 1990 single “Chime” was instantly recognisable. Citizens of Hackney, in their thirties and forties – wearing their best T-shirts and clasping tall cans of Japanese lager – were dancing with (or in eyesight of, or in search of) their children. Staring into the coloured lights, they seemed transported – as if Wayne and Garth had waved their arms and triggered a screen-dissolve back to the early Nineties.

The organisers, Big Fish Little Fish (boasting the neat strapline “2-4 hour party people”), have been putting on similar family events since 2013, drawing on their “experience as seasoned clubbers and parents”. For the big fish, there are “top DJs”; for the little fish, “babies-only chill-out spaces” and free “Happy Monkey” smoothies. The two strands combine cheekily in their logo: an infantile grinning face but also a tweaked version of the pharmaceutically induced smiley of the rave scene.

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There was stuff for the kids to do: V mashed Play-Doh into a broken plastic toy for a bit on the Play-Doh table, after which she and M played hide-and-seek in a Wendy house until overpopulation caused a sort of Wendy-housing crisis and they had to vacate. (We didn’t try the synthesizer workshop.) But, as the electro hip hop of “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force blasted out, it became increasingly clear that the whole affair was an excuse to lay the sins of the parents on their children. What’s cuter than watching your offspring having fun to the music that you love? Toddlers – literally raving. How cool is that?

It seems that my generation is extremely keen on imposing its musical obsessions upon its young. Listen to the BBC’s alternative music station 6 Music on a weekend morning and it won’t be long before someone texts in to tell the DJ how little Otto is dancing like crazy to Kraftwerk, or how five-year-old Aoife is already a Morrissey disciple.

On etsy.com, Mrs Bojingles sells meticulously handmade “Rock n Sole” baby shoes that allow you to “share your musical loves through your love’s little feet”. Our friend is a Teenage Fanclub devotee, so we bought his son slippers designed after the cover of their album Bandwagonesque. Shopping online, my wife couldn’t resist a miniature Blur T-shirt for our daughter (from Next, for God’s sake – what Next is doing selling Blur T-shirts at all, let alone toddler-sized ones, is a bigger question), even though V has shown no interest in Damon Albarn’s oeuvre. A few days after the toddler rave, I saw a post on social media from somebody compiling a selection of seven-inch records that would teach their nine-year-old the history of pop.

Did our parents behave in this way? Mine didn’t. As a child I was a fan of Michael Jackson’s Bad, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. I grew to love my father’s 1960s record collection, partly because it wasn’t forced on me: I discovered it myself in my teens, when I would spend weekends making tapes from his vinyl. At the age of 34, I’m still relying on my mother for classical music recommendations.

At the toddler rave, the decades contract. A five-year-old is dressed in retro silver hi-top trainers and a “Smooth Criminal” (1987) T-shirt. Dads jog around with small people on their shoulders to A Guy Called Gerald’s 1988 acid house classic “Voodoo Ray”.

Through our children we relive our youth. It seems harmless enough: they might even enjoy the ride. But I have a feeling that somehow, somewhere down the line, we will pay for it.

This article appears in the 25 Nov 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State