LONDON – The bass is pumping, the lights are low and the dance floor of the club is heaving. It’s the weekend and the young man is enjoying himself — until someone steals his balloon.
Dressed in a Spider-Man outfit, the 4-year-old boy runs to his dad by the bar to complain, before receiving a glow-stick in consolation.
Such are the highs and lows of family raving, a new craze fueled by London’s ex-clubbers who still want to go dancing but now have kids in tow.
“What a genius idea — beer, raving, children. What more could you want?” says Paul Crawley, 34, swaying slowly on the dance floor carrying his baby daughter Camille in a sling.
“The worst thing is I was invited out last night, but I said no, I’ve got to stay sober for this party.”
This dingy bar in south London is normally the venue for all-night raves, but for 2½ hours on a Saturday afternoon, it is transformed into a playgroup with a difference.
In the chillout area, mothers breastfeed on low leather sofas to a soundtrack of soft rock, while older children paint and draw at a well-equipped craft table under moving projected images.
The bar is well stocked and next door, professional DJs play chilled house music, funk and drum ‘n’ bass at a surprisingly loud volume, although organizers insist it is safe for babies’ ears.
The undisputed king of the dance floor is Caelan, a fleet-footed 5-year-old wearing impeccable white sneakers.
“Keep to the beat!” urges his dad, Michael Edie, while a little girl in a princess outfit looks on admiringly.
Caelan has been taking dance lessons since he was 3 and this is a good place for him to get some practice in, offering a bit more space than at home.
Edie, a DJ with London urban music radio station Rinse FM, is happy to stay seated, however. “You won’t see me dancing. I’m no way as good as him,” he says with a laugh.
The toddlers staggering around in the half-light look disturbingly like small, drunk adults, while the waft of stale beer lends the party an authentic feel.
It is a little too authentic for Jody Bullough, a 43-year-old from Burnley in northern England who is here with her 6-year-old daughter Jasmine.
“It’s a scuzzy (grimy) venue. It’s really dirty,” says Bullough, who runs a manufacturing business, noting Jasmine’s filthy hands after playing on the floor.
Family discos and raves are increasingly common across London, as the clubbers who once packed world-famous venues such as Ministry of Sound get older and have children.
“We haven’t stopped being people with our own interests,” says Hannah Saunders, a 45-year-old former civil servant who organized this party.
Her events company, Big Fish Little Fish, is aimed at — and the pun is intended — “two-to-four-hour party people” who like to strut their stuff before getting home for bedtime.
Saunders used to spend her weekends at clubs and warehouse parties and her holidays in Ibiza.
Now with two children under 4, she found no shortage of family-friendly musical events but despaired at the chart-topping pop tunes that they played.
“My kids are happy listening to my favorite drum ‘n’ bass tracks, so I knew it would be fine,” she said.
Given the nature of the dance music scene, many of the parents here are likely to have indulged in recreational drugs in the past.
But the only sign of nefarious behavior is a group of children in a corner silently trading sparkly ribbons from the glitter cannon.
By the end of the party there are empty plastic pint glasses piled up on tables, but most people are sober, fully aware of their responsibilities as parents.
“The toxins we were pouring into our bodies (when we were younger) were neither here nor there — actually we still like music and dancing, and we can still do that,” Saunders says