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The inside story of 20 years of Fantazia Part 1

2011 is Fantazia 20th Anniversary.  From the beginning by the Fantazia Crew

It was the late 80’s. We were just about to go into our twenties. We had been involved in putting on night club events and also black tie balls which were trendy at the time. We became aware of the acid house dance music scene. It was the start of the M25 orbital parties. Mobile phones were the latest thing for the boy who wanted to be cool. And we wanted to be. With these phones you could get the invite to the latest party scene.

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Each weekend you would wait to get a call from a promoters like Genesis or Sunrise (run by Tony Colston-Hayter) telling you to meet somewhere and off you went. At that meeting point you were told where to go next and so on in massive convoys of ravers. This could go on for much of the night. These parties were illegal, held in warehouses that had no license, so the game was to avoid the police knowing where the parties was so that by the time they found out there were to many people to stop the event. If an event was found the organisers would often have a back up venue to divert you to.

The problem was as the parties got bigger the police got more informed and determined to stop them and got more and more successful. More dangerous were gangs moving in and taking over the events and running them as fronts for drug dealing, or just taking ticket money and not even trying to put a party on. It was a scary time as Wayne Anthony confirms in his book about his time running Genesis (which you can read on our site)

Paying out £20 to go to a party that never happens or sitting in your car all night was only going to hold so much appeal for a time. Besides, the rest of the country outside of London needed some where to go. Tony Colston-Hayter had started off doing balls for very rich kids who like to get drunk and outrageous. We had been doing them just for normal people but the organisation behind it was the same so it was an obvious step to start doing acid house parties of our own.

We started small in our home town of Cheltenham. Taking over a small nightclub we held a variety of nights in a 500 capacity club and called the nights Trance. They were an instant hit. We had white cargo netting hanging from the ceiling and smoke machines and some of the top DJ talent. Though as it was early days talent was still forming. DJs were still making their names. Recommendations came from mates of mates or seeing DJs at other promoters nights. Picking up a cool record from an indie store could really make a DJ career if no one else had it and they did. The genre was developing all the time. Soon our Trance events were selling out every week and drawing people from all over the South West.

In those early days there was a few of us involved. Most notably James (Fantazia), Chris Griffin (later Perception, Vision, Mythology, Devotion & Gatecrasher), Gideon Dawson ( later Obsession, Sound Dimension, Fantazia). Being young ambitious 20 year old promoters each of the partners wanted to hit the big time and go get bigger than the illegal promoters that were in decline.

Chris went off and formed Perception (backed with funding from the others) which had a meteoric rise following the success of the first party at the Brunel Centre, Bristol and a spectacular fall later on, but that's another story. Needless to say the others parted company due to money owed to them.

James & Gideon decide to hold their own event and Fantazia was born. Why it was called this is lost to me now, but the infamous Fantazia Smiley Face logo was the creation of the designer Jimmy who worked for the company and designed most of the flyers from the 1992 period (he now works for Superdry btw). It captured the acid house days and the cheek of Fantazia and became a ravers favourite then as it is now.

Fantazia’s first event was at the famous Eclipse club in Coventry. It was a great venue, one of the first in the country to have an all night license. Other people like Amnesia House and New Age were already holding events there, but since they were from the area already they effectively brought in the same crowds each week. With our fan base establish in the South West. but used to travelling, when Fantazia held its event there the atmosphere was fresh, new, exciting, something that Fantazia has continued to capture ever since. We always used new venues instead of the same ones time and again as other promoters did. This always made a night something special, it made our job harder and more expensive, but then we did not achieve our success and reputation by taking the easy route. The Eclipse night was a good start, but was only 3000 people. A far cry from what we were to be remembered for Nationwide in the following year.

Its funny but from bad things often come success. And our happy misfortune in the Summer of 1991 was to do a music festival in Cheltenham. 15 years ahead of our time, it did not work, acts that were due to become big the following year, like the Levellers, did not draw the expected people and the event lost a fortune wiping out all the past profits from raving. However at the event were some investors from London, impressed with the set up they offered to back Fantazia. With funding on the table and ambitions to put on rave events to rival any other promoter in the country we applied for a license for a new venue called the Westpoint Exhibition Centre outside of Exeter, an area we new we would have strong support.

Doing one off events in a big shed calls for massive upfront expense. Toilet, security, heating, air conditioning, lighting, sound, fencing the list goes on and on. But the biggest problem is getting the license in the first place. A venue that has not held events before does not have a fire capacity, traffic report, noise limit, escape plan etc all of which give councils easy ammunition to say no to an event that they don’t want in the first place. Our skill was to out gun them. In the early days the councils were arrogant and unprepared. They just said no and expect you to give up. We went in with masses of prepared reports from some of the countries top experts dealing with all the issues we could think that could be raised. When they still said no, which they often did, even when we had dismissed all their objections, we just took them to appeal armed with our reports and a barrister. They would lose as their objection were seen as groundless. It still took balls at 20 years of age to stand in front of a bunch of middle aged suits and give them the finger in the only way that would get through to them.

Fantazia New Year 1991 was a legendary event. The flyer featured a part face on a computer generated landscape (which was quite ground breaking back then). It was an iconic image and really captured the rave scene and Fantazia. The South West ravers not used to this scale of event before turned out to make this a sell out 8000 people event. The sets from that night were awesome. None better than the finishing set from Top Buzz at the end of the night that has some of the best tunes and MCing we have ever heard. The early 91/92 sound mix of anthems and underground is great and is still our favourite to this day. The CD still gets played in the office all the time. “who’s the wanker with the Arsenal t-shirt on” Mad P refers to in the crowd. I wonder how that guy felt hearing himself referred to blaring out of car stereos nationwide. Lol great fun. The line up DJ wise was pretty much set from these early days. Those that performed got repeat bookings. With the ability to listen to the sets afterwards and see which sold well in the shops we could see who the people liked best. It was the ravers choice that counted.

Flyers and imagery were always one of the most important things to ravers. They were collected in their millions by grown ups, teenagers and school kids alike. Even swapped in playgrounds like football cards. For our largest event Fantazia One Step Beyond in 1992 we did over 1 million. Flyers in the early days were A6 which were cheap to produce. As a promoter one of your main jobs each week would be to go to other events and stand around outside for the last 3 hours of the event handing out your forthcoming event flyer. Flyer companies were in their infancy then and only a foolish promoter would leave this important task to someone who might not turn up and could toss your flyers. These flyers slowly grew in size as time went on. First to A5 in 1990/91, then A4 91/92 then by 92/93 A3. It escalated as competition stiffened and people tried to get peoples attention. This all added to the cost to the promoter though. Its funny but the sizes have now gone down again, though this is now controlled by the flyer bag sizes given out at events. Shame really as the really big ones looked great on your wall without creases. We don’t miss having to stand in the cold every night handing them out!

Next time.... into 1992 and the biggest events ever, merchandise, the split, the media hype and the later consequences, unwanted attention, licensing trouble, Scotland, Australia, and a change of direction....

by Charlie Fantazia
This article first appeared in Ravin Eye Magazine in 2011

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