Feature Interview: Clubbing for all the family at Mike Picketts' Raver Tots
“This is an open book, this is completely different. You know…you can’t beat this…” - DJ Nicky Blackmarket
Let me introduce you to dance promoter extraordinaire, born and bred Londoner, Mike Picketts and his most unique venture to date. With plenty of eye catching visuals, tenacious DJs and tantalisingly bumpy beats, I give you Raver Tots…
We’ve heard about raves popping up in London, organised in the morning time to shake hipsters awake, but we were curious to find out how hard it was to recreate a rave experience for all ages - a niche idea which has exploded into the fresh, family friendly scene currently sweeping the nation.
So how did you first get into the weird and wonderful world of music?
My first event was back in 2006, I took on a local venue on a weeknight, after a bank holiday. You couldnt have asked for a tougher date but you have to start somewhere! It was drum and bass and old skool event, which proved to be a real challenge! I actually didn't put on another event until 3 years later after that so it must have been exhausting for me to need a 3 year rest!
I ended up taking over an old 90s rave brand called Fusion, which at its peak sold out Wembley arena in 1996. The brand actually ceased trading back in 1999 – the owners decided they wanted to go and pursue other interests. I’d always wanted to resurrect an old rave brand, and Fusion's always something that I owned when I was a younger. So a few years later I got in touch with the original owners and we brought it back as a joint venture. It’s gone on to sell out shows all around the country with the original artists. Our shows for that usually sell out 3 months in advance, so, yeah, it’s been a really positive thing.
Raver tots came off the back of it because I’ve got a couple of young kids myself. I’ve got a 1 and a 3 year old – and I look after them. It’s been very difficult to be in work and be with the children but it’s something that I really enjoy and am passionate about.
So I found myself organising big birthday parties for them and, if I’m honest, I sometimes find them more stressful than organising a rave.
I actually heard about similar events going on around the country where you can take your kids and hear some decent music. And I looked into a few different things. There was actually a company that I’d heard of and I contacted them and asked if I could franchise it from them or invest some money and build it with them.
They actually turned me away, said they weren’t interested because they were doing their own thing and didn’t want to work with me. You know my ideas weren’t of any interest. So, I decided to go it alone.
I put my first event on at a venue in Aldershot last June and the footage from that went viral. Went on to be picked up by the BBC, we got one of our events featured on ITV This Morning earlier this week. It’s been on Ladbible and Reddit. So we’ve ended up getting over 10 million views over all of our videos since launching.
We are doing well over a hundred events per year. I think we’re on track to do 150 events in our first year.
How many tickets is that?
Ummm our target to sell 100,000 tickets. Yeah we’re well on track to doing that.
An amazing success story here but what problems have you come up against in organising a grownup event for kiddies?
We haven’t really had any problems.
Our events are fully risk assessed by a health and safety and a nebosh representative. And we make sure that we all get our DBS checks and we’re fully insured. We make sure that we run them with a lot of care and attention. Make sure that we also brief the venues on exactly what we’re bringing in and exactly what we’re doing. We make sure that the music is at safe levels and monitor play areas and stuff like that.
Do you encourage noise cancelling headphones?
Some parents choose to bring them because their children might enjoy the dancing but don’t particularly like – you know – noise, as much as other kids. But they don’t need them because the noise is kept in line with safety regulations and we monitor them regularly with decibel readers, so they’re not a necessity. But some parents choose to bring them at their own accord.
What kind of zany activities are you putting on?
Well the events typically take place in the afternoon and there’s a whole host of kid’s fun. There’s lots of memorable and enjoyable moments for kids, parents can then roll back the years and listen to some of the best music of their youth. I mean for the kids you’ll find things like face paint, big confetti explosions, big confetti blowers, parachute games, LED hoop dancers, colouring walls with big raver tot illustrations, huge dancefloors. Most of it is about the dancefloor and parents being with the kids - dancing together, releasing some endorphins, burning off some energy, and having a really good time.
So your main aim is to bring families together through raving?
Exactly. Its about them all being together. People being on a dancefloor and bonding to music. There are smaller areas too. Lots of visual things – you’ll see bubbles and lighting – its very much a multi-sensory experience which children can enjoy, stimulating all of their different senses. There are balloons as well. It’s very much a multi-sensory afternoon which engages children and parents equally, so they enjoy it together.
There are many aspects of festivals that translate to kids play as well aren’t there? Camp Bestival, for example, has the same layout as Bestival these days.
There seems to be a popular trend for festivals to have family days or specific family festivals; and actually that’s something that we’re heavily involved in. We’re running at least 3 of our own family festivals this year, which we’ll be announcing shortly. We’ve also already got confirmed stages Blackpool Festival and Winchestival.
Then we’re launching our own in a few different areas. We’ve got one in the north, one in the south and one in Essex, which we’ll be announcing in the next couple of weeks, so watch out!
When we look at the musical aspect you’ve got some varied big names in Dance music. You’ve also got scope to grow into other genres right?
We have a few different brands if you like.
We have a 90s night which is typically headed up by DJ Slipmatt. And we have our drum and bass parties – Nicky Blackmarket is our main resident for that and we get in an array of different guests: MCs such as Skibbadee, IC3, Shabba D. Yeh they’re all involved in our parties.
Brandon block then does our house raves.
And garage. We’re doing a collaboration with garage nation which we’re touring round the country at the moment and our garage artists, well.. we’re working with The Godfathers Of Garage: Norris Da Boss, Windross and MC Creed; also, Artful Dodger, the most commercially successful of all time. And Pied Piper and MC DT still. Those are the 3 main areas we tend to cover. But we do bring in a lot of different special guests, you can see a lot more of them on the website.
Have you thought about exploring lots of other genres and seeing how far you can push this?
I mean look, we tend to angle it as a celebration of British Rave Culture. We have done a night with an indie brit pop promoter called Star Shaped, who has a very successful brand and festival. Their music typically features things like Blur and Oasis, Suede, Happy Mondays, ummmmm, Stone Roses. So we have gone slightly left field of the rave scene and gone onto different areas. Like indie music. We’re open to all sorts of different ideas really.
Our core crowd is very much the rave scene – dance music is what we go for – if you look at all elements of dance music. It’s accessible enough that anybody coming in off the high street and has enjoyed any kind of dance music for the last 20 years, they would feel at home. Yeh they’d have a really good time listening to the things that are being played.
So anything that harks back to that nostalgic feeling really?
Now I know this project roots itself very much in the charity world. Can you tell me a little bit about how you chose these causes?
Yeh yeh. Well through Brandon I got introduced to someone called doctor Rachel Gowan who founded a charity called Nutritious Minds – we’re actually doing a lot of charity work for her, supporting lower income families with children with behavioural differences, for example, children that are affected by conditions like ADHD and autism. Through Brandon we’ve been connected with other charities. We’ve given a lot to ADHD charities and the National Autistic Society as well. We’ve raised £7000 for them over the last few months which has been really positive and rewarding – to try and give something back and support people.
I think they’re such good charities to support because of the core nature of adhd.
Exactly. Blowing off energy is a great thing to do – I mean channelling your energy and your focus into something positive like dancing
How are you picking your venues?
We have a venue spec for what we look for in a venue. So we obviously want to make sure it’s the right size and it’s fits the bill for the right atmosphere we’re looking for; The right kind of location – the right set up for us. Once we’ve found the venues that we think will work, then we put them on.
So at the moment we’ve been quite fortunate – we’ve had a lot of venues approach us and say they want to work with us. We can’t always accommodate every venue so we’ve had to respectfully decline on many occasions but we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been able to grow it so quickly. We are in over 30 cities now. I think we’re expecting that to grow significantly over the coming months.
Is your team pretty concrete or are you expanding that all the time?
It is. We’ve probably got over 20 people working for us now in different departments. But its been quite fast the pace of growth so we’ve had to make sure we’ve got all the right people for the right jobs. I’ve had to be very hands on. It’s a lot of work to get these events up and running in the way that we want it to make the experience perfect.
Is there a scene for this kind of thing?
Well I suppose we do have a typical demographic that attend our events. I mean the majority of them fall into certain age categories. Actually, that’s not strictly true because we do have different demographics. For example, we’re looking into having a night with raving nans because we get a lot of nans coming along who’ve never actually been to a rave before. So it’s an inclusive event where absolutely everyone’s welcome. Something that’s fun for the whole family.
And its very much an idea that people are buying into, it’s a very inclusive event.
And it’s not cheesy. It very much hasn’t got that feel of an under 18’s disco.
Yeh. We’re very sure to make the events very fun, and credible at the same time. We’re not there to recreate a cheap kinda disco with wedding music. It’s about credible dance music accompanied by fun entertainment.
I bet there’s strict searches for those extra troublesome toddlers on the way in as well right?
The majority of the events that we work at, they have different security measures in place. We adhere to the relevant checks we have to. It’s genuinely exactly the same as anywhere else.
Well. I think it’s an absolutely great idea Mike. You can imagine the kid on a Monday morning, ‘you’ll never guess what I did guys. I went to a rave over the weekend’.
I’m sure there’s a lot of word of mouth that gets about like that, definitely.
We’ve got a merchandise range and people see others wearing the shirt.
And people see videos on facebook. Its gone so far that it’s got to the news. It seems to be what everyones talking about at the moment.
I love your logo.
We do sell a lot of the hoodies, jumpers and most of all baby grows – things like that.
I’ll definitely be buying one myself...
Brilliant. I just hope we’ve got a baby grow big enough for ya.