What happened when 250,000 ravers descended on Brighton Beach and changed British law

DJ Fatboy Slim gees up the crowd - Fatboy Slim/BMG
DJ Fatboy Slim gees up the crowd - Fatboy Slim/BMG

The year 2002 seems like a lifetime ago in Jak Hutchcraft’s excellent film about the last of the big free parties in Britain. Fatboy Slim’s Big Beach Boutique II was a shoreside dance party where the organisers expected about 50,000 people. That estimate was “not right,” says a policeman looking back.

It was very not right. More than a quarter of a million ravers descended on Brighton Beach to see the man who was at the time the world’s biggest DJ play some bangers. The story of the day was a simple one – 250,000, as the aerial cameras make abundantly clear, was far too many people. It could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t, because everyone behaved surprisingly well.

A disaster that might have been is a better outcome for humanity than a disaster that was, but it’s not as good a subject for a documentary film. Right Here, Right Now (Sky Documentaries) sits in the same debauch-umentary section as the two Fyre festival films from 2019 (Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud) and Netflix’s Woodstock ’99, but because things never descend in to proper seventh-circle-of-hell raft of the medusa-dom, it’s not as shocking. A lot of rubbish was left on Brighton Beach, it stank of urine for ages and the authorities learned vital lessons about the importance of infrastructure assessments for future mass events. There would be no more, free, unticketed parties in the UK. But basically, everything was okay. As such, Right Here, Right Now is a Titanic story devoid of an iceberg.

Whether it’s a story worthy of a feature-length film is therefore open to question. There is a sense that the film-makers are backfilling their allotted run-time with some historical ballast, including a chronicle of Brighton, a timeline of UK rave culture, the rise of Big Beat and the story of Norman Cook’s, aka Fatboy Slim, unlikely ascent from floppy-haired indie kid to superstar DJ.

To me that’s the kind of story I could watch on repeat, wearing my old Technics T-shirt with the Leftfield album on in the background, a can of Hooch in one hand and an airhorn in the other. But I imagine that to older, younger, wiser and just about anyone who wonders what all the fuss was about, it would just seem like padding.

Still, in an age where fun means £200 tickets to micro-managed events with corporate sponsors and about as much atmosphere as a knitwear convention, the site of 250,000 having it large on the beach is awe-inspiring. Not everyone is in it for the money.