Ten Years of
“It seemed like the whole of Bristol came to the first one. Roni Size, Krust and the Full Cycle crew were there asking for tune rewinds – it was a massive deal for us! We had a giant mirror ball and a 50ft tall ship sail that we strung up in the iron girders of a bridge, people ended up sleeping in it using it as a giant hammock at the end of the night. It was great.” Luke Turner and Tom Hodgson are reminiscing about their first of many open air events in the South West. As two of the six brains behind party collective Alfresco Disco, they’ve pretty much seen it all.
For 10 years the team behind Alfresco Disco has succeeded in planning, promoting and partying at a scale far beyond the usual parameters. The concept has remained simple: no line-up, no venue announcement, just the disclosure of a theme and a date. Details remain top secret until the 11th hour – Alfresco’s inner circle are famously, impenetrably tight-lipped, making it impossible to extract any solid info from the local gossip leading up to the event.
If the mantra is simple, the complexity lies in the organisation, with parties taking place in woods, quarries, fitness centres, car parks, country manors, music studios and old court rooms. Each one is tailored to the theme with no expense spared, whether that’s a room full of hammocks, an adult ball-pool, hot tubs, sauna or retro exercise bikes that generate visuals – it all adds to the thrill of out-of place mischief that exists at the core of the Alfresco experience, created by the team and award winning set designer Chris Faulds. Alfresco have forged a long term relationship with both BES Systems who provide their sound and lighting and Limbic Cinema who produce both their visual elements and more recently film for them. Providing the backdrop to their varied music policy, a free-spirited mix that centres on warm house, heady techno and unabashed classics, the likes of Eats Everything, Axel Boman, Session Victim, Brawther, Romare, Appleblim, October and Secretsundaze have graced the decks unannounced. It’s a potent party recipe.
Since its humble inception as a free party for friends, the institution has become a staple of Bristol clubbing culture due to its unpredictability, atmosphere, and the warm natured attitude of the crowd it pulls. It’s been a decade since the first, and Turner looks back fondly at its legacy. “Tom and I met at Buoyancy, the night I used to run with Justin Gettings and Frankie Mann. It was one of the only house nights in Bristol, back when house was practically a swear word,” he explains. “Justin Worland was the Buoyancy resident, while Victoria Holden joined and added her event expertise in 2011,” forming the entire team behind the operation. “Frankie had a job which involved looking at different sites, and one day he came back and told us, ‘I’ve found this place, we should do a party here.’ The site was underneath a railway bridge and became the first Alfresco Disco. It was around the time when there were quite a few free parties going on and some of the music and crowd could be quite gnarly, so we said we’d do it a little differently. We got a generator powerful enough to run a decent soundsystem and lighting rig, and tried to provide our own take on the free party soundtrack’.”
This off-the-grid mentality continued for a number of years as they began to build their reputation as premium party organisers by balancing the free party ethos with a vibrant but approachable atmosphere. One particular event in the Bristol suburb of Hanham was an example of the lengths the crew would go to. “The one we had in Hanham was mad,” Turner recalls. “We had to get the soundsystem there by boat as it was inaccessible by road. You could walk there but getting the system there would’ve been a nightmare. A friend of ours had a barge so we set them off at midday fully laden and they were there by 6 or 7.” Hodgson adds, “it had been chucking it down with rain all day and it was quite muddy and you could see all these girls walking round in their high-heels for 25 minutes to get to this party. It went on til about midday the next day, when the Police eventually walked down the towpath we were packing the equipment back on to the boat.”
With the parties continuing to gain a reputation for their approachable but epic spirit, innovative use of unconventional spaces and a committed, quality over profit ethos, the team looked to expand their horizons by hosting ticketed parties indoors. “We agreed we could do Alfresco Disco indoors,” Turner explains. “The first indoor one was at an old Coroners Court and it became this unbelievable party. There could have been nearly 2000 people in there at one point,” Hodgson recalls, “a queue running from the Coroners Courts for hundreds of metres into the road. None of those people got in. It was only five pounds on the door.” This was a watershed moment. Continuing to expand, the sheer ambition of their 2013 New Years Eve event turned the whole concept on its head: a 700-capacity Victorian themed soiree hosted by an eccentric antiques dealer in a 14-bedroom mansion. At the time we described the event, dubbed The House Of Curiosity, as: “the best party Crack has ever had the pleasure of attending.” It still is.
Their 2011 Castle Park event was also a pivotal moment, reigniting the secret location club culture in Bristol and paving the way for larger events like Love Saves The Day. “We worked with the Council and Police, and drove two vintage double decker buses into the park and created a kind of Notting Hill, Norman Jay/ Good Times style rave up,” Holden tells us. “It was a totally free event on the day of the Bristol riots on Stokes Croft, when things were kicking off, helicopters everywhere. We may have eventually got shut down if it wasn’t for the Police being so stretched with all the chaos that day.”
Although a recent back-to-basics outdoor effort didn’t turn out to be the secretive and intimate party it was intended to be, (a reckless online post from a potential attendee leading to a huge crowd being drawn and the party subsequently being shut down) that remains pretty much the only blip in Alfresco’s history. At this point, the New Years Eve events sell-out in 10 minutes, the themes continue to capture the imagination of the attendees and the attire of the clientele is a spectacle in itself. With an increase in ticketing prices comes streamlined production values and a determination to give the audience a once-in-a-lifetime experience, time and time again. “We want people to keep that feeling you get when you go to a secret location or free party,” Turner proclaims. “That excitement of stumbling across something totally new and different.”
Recounting another Alfresco tale Frankie divulges “We once had quite an unusual experience, when a large property developer took us to court for an event we did together. The unusual bit was the event in question was rather ironically held in a court itself! Suddenly they hit us with an ‘admin fee’ post event, doubling the hire fee saying we had 14 days to pay up or they’d take us to court. They wouldn’t really breakdown exactly what the additional fee was for. We thought it was a bit unfair as we’d done everything we needed to do, so we thought we’d fight it.
We had our day in court, represented ourselves and won, upholding the Alfresco name forever! It was one of those classic David vs. Goliath moments. For us it wasn’t about the money just what we thought was right. In fact the judge asked us if we had any fees we wanted to charge them for our time and loss of earnings, but that’s never really been us”.
Over a decade, the brand has expanded. Alpfresco saw the guys take their mentality to the slopes of Austria, while their record label arm has released artists closely connected with the night. For 10 years in the game, the team has many more plans up their sleeve. “In our 10th year we’re putting on three special parties that are all totally different,” Hodgson explains. “The first one is on the 25th of April, it’s outside of Bristol and we are transporting everyone en masse, in convoy, drawing on our influence of early rave culture. It’s going to be a 90s-style mega-rave, somewhere fitting. We’re also going to do a mini festival for 500-600 people in Cornwall in late July and a day time party in August.”
So as new spaces are sought and new ideas are generated, the mentality continues to hold it’s place in the hearts and minds of Bristol’s passionate clubbing community and beyond. Put simply by Tom, “it’s not always Alfresco in that it’s out in the open; it’s Alfresco in that it’s out of the ordinary.”