Lurking within the shadow of Mount Doom that is Snowdon, something new was born in a Welsh coast caravan park at Hafan Y Mor. With SFX Magazine having parted ways with the organiser’s Chic Festivals, this newly evolved (and renamed) Sci-Fi Weekender was back with a vengeance and something to prove.
For some, the weekend began on the Thursday with an early-starters day. Although no specific events were held, the caravan park was open for checking in, and the bar held a quiz night.
What became apparent was that there was barely any mobile reception at the site. This was tricky if you had planned on meeting friends who had already checked-in, and thus had your wrist-band and chalet keys with them! Credit must go to security and other staff who were both understanding and helpful in these matters.
The Sci Fi Weekender began properly on Friday with an opening ceremony, which included an amazing performance from the Area 51 performance group and set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
With the Sci Fi Weekender officially begun, the floodgates were opened for a deluge of panels, screenings, discussions, interviews and drinking. For some, this was a place where they could meet friends they had made from (and not seen since) the previous Sci Fi weekends. Everyone was always friendly, from the fellow attendees to the security and caravan park staff. It was very easy to find yourself in conversation with complete strangers, and if you happened to lose your friends you were never without new ones.
The ever-entertaining author Robert Rankin and publisher Dez Skin were both on top form throughout the weekend. Meanwhile Brian Blessed did not disappoint, being, as one would expect, both charmingly blunt and enthusiastic. Virginia Hey was a delight to talk to about her experiences on Mad Max 2 and Farscape. Various writers and artists were also there, including such luminaries as Paul Cornell, Glenn Fabry, Gav Thorpe and Stacia Kane.
Area 51 deserve special mention: without their tireless enthusiasm, the Sci-Fi Weekender would have lost the distinctly carnivalesque tone to the atmosphere. It is hard to resist a sense of wonder watching a trio of satyrs striding through the crowd, or finding two giant robots on the dance-floor.
Friday night saw the Imaginarium: a series of performances from the contortionists, illusionists and performers. However, it was Area 51 that stole the show with a pyrotechnic crescendo of fire breathing, angle-grinders, lasers, and steampunk smoke-guns; all performed to a pulse-pounding sound-track.
Saturday night, on the other hand, opened with steampunk hip-hop, courtesy of Professor Elemental. Lyrically amusing and inventive, Professor Elemental lacked a decent backing track, but was otherwise entertaining. The final slot of the weekend was Robert Rankin and Dez Skin facing off in a quiz-show. Whilst both nights were fun, Friday night had a grander conclusion and it would have made sense to swap the nights around.
Those who attended previous SFX Weekenders would no doubt have haunting memories of the accommodation being akin to soviet era gulags, or the descent into hunter-gathering due to the shops running out of food. Thankfully, that was not the case this year. Chalets were functional and food remained in constant supply.
The only thing that did run out was the drink. Yes, those assuming that a weekend spent celebrating the science-fiction genre would be a quiet and reserved affair were in for a surprise. The warm-up night witnessed the attendees drinking the bar dry! Never before was there a more mind-meltingly mental dance-floor than on Saturday night. Neither, for that matter, had there ever been more latex outside of a fetish club.
The weekend was not an entirely flawless affair, as some of the talks were marred with sound and technical issues. Also, a couple of the acts started to feel repetitive. That being said, these are comparatively minor complaints that did not overshadow what was an epically awesome event.
What I would like to see for next year is some additional elements for children to enjoy. Many who were present had families, and it would be fantastic if there were themed events for the kids to enjoy with their families.
Undoubtedly, I have missed something, as this is just a tip of the iceberg that was this year’s Sci Fi Weekender. Epic is a phrase frequently over-used in this day and age, yet, in this case, it is entirely appropriate. However, the critical question as always is this: would I go again? Let’s just say that next year’s Sci Fi Weekender has already been added to my diary, and leave it at that.