Basement Jaxx, Tom Middleton, Aphrodite, Alex Paterson, Slipmatt. They are already some of the most well-regarded DJs in the world. And now, having performed at Big Fish Little Fish events, they’ve reached a whole new generation – tiny dancers under eight years old.
“All sorts of brilliant people have played BFLF, and many have been involved from very early on,” enthuses Hannah Saunders, who started organising family raves as a means of sharing her life-long love of clubbing with her own children.
Taking to the dancefloor
“I didn’t have any events management background,” says Hannah, who spent two decades as a civil servant at the Home Office. After returning to work, following maternity leave, she found it was no longer something she wanted to do. “My kids were young and I was spending a lot of time with them going to various parenting groups,” she remembers. But, as a long-time clubber, she wanted to share her love of dancing with her children so, when her daughter was four months old, she took her to Glastonbury.
“I was enjoying all the things I always enjoyed before, and we had this amazing multi-sensory experience – it was such a contrast to the baby groups I’d been going to. They were really nice but, to be honest, a bit boring. That’s when I came up with the idea of a family rave.”
Hannah admits she had to learn how to do “literally everything”, but luckily has never been afraid of a challenge. “I started talking to my friends and they were amazing – they are in all sorts of fields and were able to offer advice.”
Motivated by a desire to create a space where she and her kids could come together on the dancefloor, she started phoning venues in the hope of finding a place to hold her event. “There hadn’t been anything like this before, so I would turn up at places and explain what it was I wanted to do. The Effra Social in Brixton was the first venue I approached that were willing to take a risk. They had just opened and I approached them a few weeks later.”
Party people in the place
That was in 2013 and, since then, a variety of venues have played host to BFLF over the years – from Fabric, one of the most renowned clubs in the world, to the Horniman Museum in southeast London. “Our strength is that we are a small independent organisation so we can be flexible, which means we can make all sorts of things fit,” says Hannah. “As long as there is the capacity we don’t have a list of specific requirements. Every venue offers a different atmosphere and a different experience.”
Inspired by the festival scene, BFLF have added activities to their experiential events. “We have a crafting area as well as play zones and chill-out spaces, and we introduce sensory elements with balloons and bubbles.” Past raves have featured comedy shows, pirate storytellers and drumming workshops, and dressing up is all part of the party atmosphere.
“We are always interested in working with unusual venues that you might not expect a rave in – like the National Gallery or the V&A. Similarly, you might not expect to see a family in Fabric. We’ve been going nearly seven years, and now venues approach us and I positively encourage that. I love a challenge, we always find a way to make it work!”
Assembling a crew
In addition to working with venues, BFLF has also been brought into festivals as a performer and, over the years, the number of people involved has grown. “Our events are run by crews – local families – in the UK and Ireland, and also Australia. Some people attend one of our events and love what we do so they ask if they can hold their own Big Fish Little Fish. I talk to them and, if I think it’s a good fit, then they run one locally.”
As Hannah says, it is not a franchise and it is not something you can buy into – the growth of BFLF has been more organic than that. Hannah’s partner David Round has played an increasingly significant role as company director and spends his time searching for venues and helping to support the crews outside of London. “We also have Natasha Morabito as director of communications who runs our social media accounts, as well as running the door at an actual event! We met online because she’s a local parent and has kids the same age as ours, when BFLF started out she became involved from early doors. She’s also a massive music fan.”
From teams of stewards to the managers of the venues where events take place, Hannah describes BFLF as “a large extended family with a small core crew – it’s a labour of love for everyone involved”.
As for marketing, the biggest selling point is the “brilliance of the parties themselves – BFLF has got the strongest word-of-mouth imaginable and people really enjoy it”. When it comes to promoting events, Hannah believes it’s important to always be extremely clear when communicating what to expect. “We don’t want people to come along thinking it’s a kid’s party – it’s a family rave.”
Offering an authentic club experience in a family-friendly way means catering to everyone involved and so safety and the safe running of BFLF events is at the top of Hannah’s agenda. Every year, she checks the latest World Health Organisation guidance on what is an appropriate level of sound so that everything is set and monitored to be within a safe level. “We ensure everything is risk assessed in advance and, over the years, we have developed a really professional approach – from guaranteeing there’s adequate adult supervision to making the most of a venue’s layout.”
When arranging a family-friendly event, Hannah says it’s important to put yourself in the position of both the parents and the children. “Our events have the authenticity of being designed with a family in mind – I have thought it all through (and often tested!) from the point of view of my own family,” she says.
This emphasis on the grown-ups having as good a time as the children has struck a chord with people from the beginning. Because, while family-friendly can often just mean that the children are being entertained, Hannah wanted everyone to enjoy her events together.
“Children may see their parents being grumpy or stressed out, but at BFLF they see their parents smiling and dancing – you actually see families bonding. Every year has brought along new opportunities, and I hope the roaring ‘20s will be no different!”
So, what are you waiting for? Take the leap and turn your passion into an event – get started with the Eventbrite Organiser app.