On the road: Have yourself a Rumpus
'Is my tail wonky?' I find myself staring at the behind of a man dressed as a tiger wearing the tail of a fox. I consider this for a moment. 'Wonky? Well, a little.' I make a slight adjustment and send the tiger fox on his way. I need to get back to the important matter of considering my own tail, before I end up with a serious case of tail envy. We're in the Tall Tail corner of a warehouse in London's Islington where you can buy yourself a tail to match your outfit for the night. But zebra or dragon? These are the sort of obscure questions you find yourself asking at Rumpus, probably one of the best roving parties in London right now.
I call it a roving party, because it doesn’t fall under the bracket of club night. “We think a good party is about more than cramming people onto a dance floor and playing music at them,” they say, and that they definitely do. With six rooms of different shenanigans they have music covering genres as diverse as gypsy folk to electro - even a DIY kazoo band (see below) - as well as performances of everything from contortionists to miracle-makers, all orchestrated at the breakneck pace of pandemonium. It is a Rumpus in the truest sense of the word. A fanciful commotion. It’s a ballyhoo and a bluster, a foofawar and a furore, a hoo-ha and a zoo. Literally a zoo this time, as the theme and dress code for the night is ‘Carnival of the Animals’.
As we wait in the queue three giant burlesque rabbits on stilts that look like a cross between Donnie Darko’s nemesis and Dita Von Teese stalk the line preparing you for the madness that awaits just beyond the door. A sign announces in big bold letters: ‘FUN TIMES. INSTANT ENJOYMENT.’ It’s silly, but it’s true.
As we walk in an aerial trapeze artist with feathers in her hair swings above our heads, and a band of alien animals are playing classical strings with a punk twist. The psychedelic giraffe is lost in concentration on the cello while the panda on keys looks terribly sad. Someone in Beetlejuice trousers is handing out candy floss and in the next room the crowds are dancing to the most hip-twitching rockabilly. It’s like walking in on the Animals of Raving Wood.
If you haven’t come dressed up you get charged an extra GBD 2 on the door from the usual price of GBP 17. It’s like a Fun Tax; you’re penalised for not letting loose. Costumes range from the miraculous to the makeshift. You get just as much recognition for a shark styled out of cardboard boxes as you would for transforming yourself into a unicorn. Some wonderfully pretty zebra princesses will paint your face or style your hair if you don’t feel the part. In the outside world you worry about looking silly, but once inside the only thing to worry about is not looking silly enough.
That’s the wonderful thing about this night. It’s about rediscovering an inner playfulness. It’s something that has been happening for years in England, which has seen the popularity of music festivals like Cambridgeshire’s Secret Garden Party and Isle of Wight’s Bestival soar. People want the opportunity to dress up and play. And it’s not just a few people; Rumpus alone attracts over 1000 - in October they are expanding to a 2000-capacity venue - and a music festival like Secret Garden Party has grown from 1000 people in 2004 to around 30,000 now selling out months in advance. Playfulness doesn’t necessarily mean harking back to childhood; just back to the lack of inhibitions that make it perfectly acceptable to sword fight using your animal tails like two cats chasing each other in circles. In centre of the electro room is a giant ball pit where the animals are going in two-by-two. This is where I find myself. Emerged up to my neck while throwing multi-coloured balls at a confused clown, safe in the knowledge this sort of behaviour is not just encouraged, but downright good fun.
Tickets are still available for Rumpus Vol. 10: A Very Royal Jubilee on June 1, after which they will be gallivanting around the UK festivals this summer.
Tyler@GuidePal in London