I have been a fully fledged theme park enthusiast—a person practicing and exhibiting particular enthusiasm for the world of theme parks, also including amusement parks, funfairs, the London Dungeons, but in my case, not mini golf—for nearly twenty five years. Indeed, before I'd ever taken a pilgrimage to Fabric, the first club I ever got into was the European Coaster Club, which it's fair to say, is unlikely to have its license revoked for a drugs based investigation anytime soon.
However, despite having ridden over three hundred roller coasters worldwide—small change in the sphere of theme park enthusiasm, let me assure you—I have never ridden the Scenic Railway at Margate's Dreamland amusement park, which, as the oldest coaster in the UK, is something of a landmark. As the UK's leading theme park and dance music combo journalist, when Bugged Out! announced they were throwing an all day rave at the recently refurbished Dreamland, it was inevitable I'd have to drop by for a visit in order to preview the event. It was also inevitable that the Scenic Railway would be closed all day when I visited. "Awaiting a part" and breaking my heart.
Such sad news was foretold to me by Bugged Out resident and programmer, Lemmy Ashton, one of only two grown men I've met with a less than ironic appreciation of the theme park biz since I stopped attending forum meets. The revelation that the two of us had more in common than abusing the 'filter' function on a DJ mixer was a genuinely magical moment. I was excited to spend the day with Lemmy in our natural environment, especially since we hadn't had the opportunity since our visit to Thorpe Park, a whole four days earlier.
Recognizing we needed a fresh pair of less than jaded eyes while on park, we also invited Artwork along, before he plays the festival himself. The journey by rail from London Kings Cross to Margate takes just under an hour, and having seen that hilarious viral video in which Artwork successfully orders a pizza to a train, I was hoping that this particular Tuesday morning would result in similarly massive banter. However, as we sped through hot food delivery hotspots such as Ashford, Gravesend and Whitstable, he disappointingly only ate a breakfast pastry and spent some time rearranging a flight.
So, here's the deal with Dreamland; it's a retro, vintage amusement park, but in a pleasing way. The park has actually been around in some form or another since the 1860s, and just five years ago, it was beginning to look it. Unusually, the park was eventually purchased by the council, and after £18 million was found in public funding to restore the Scenic Railway, the park has been reworked to be "old fashioned, yet oh-so-fashionable," courtesy of acclaimed designers Hemingway. It's also lovingly rooted in music; even the racing slide is named after Underworld's timeless rave hit, "Born Slippy".
We began on the dodgems—just one of the outright classic rides at Dreamland. Each car is named after a legendary musical artist. I unwittingly scored "The Beatles," Lemmy shed a fresh tear in "Prince," whereas Artwork went for, er, "Cher." An honestly sensational time was had by all to the driving soundtrack of Blur's "Song 2." Artwork ended up in one corner, spinning his vehicle round repeatedly until the operator killed the power. Was he making an incisive comment on the chaos of contemporary DJing? Was he just stuck? Only he has the answers.
Vomit Caution Rating: 2
Moving on, another star attraction that you might wish to try before you start heavily drinking, is the infamous "Rotor." Inconspicuously designed as a small, thatched house, inside you'll find an uncompromising challenge to the human body and a true taste of NASA in Margate. Those standing inside the human sized bowl (in this case, myself and Lemmy, while Artwork shook his head in response to this twisted piece of vintage technology), are gradually spun so fast that they cling to the wall by gravity alone, while a man named Ian enthusiastically lowers the floor, leaving your limbs pinned for several minutes—as you wonder whether you'll make it through to see Jackmaster.
Vomit Caution Rating: 4
In need of some self actualization after the threat of The Phantom Express—a ghost train so terrifying that I can't even bring myself to revisit it—it was nice to get back to nature in the surprise hit of the day. Dreamland's very own animal house. Unfortunately, I suspect this attraction might be closed on the day itself, given that part of its appeal is the option to wear a massive snake around your neck, an activity I graciously declined, leaving Artwork to get stuck in as if he were a 1980s Vegas showgirl.
Vomit Caution Rating: 2 or 3 (dependent on how well you receive snakes)
The true ray of sunshine during our drizzly day at Dreamland was undoubtedly an unexpected appearance from Musical Ruth, the infamous singing Nun best known for riding around on a hybrid mobility scooter and bright white piano, armed with a library of jungle breaks and Chaka Khan samples. Currently based in Blackpool, Ruth has been a fixture of the theme park industry since the heyday of Chessington World of Adventures in the 1990s.
"I like house, nice, loud, jolly, happy house," Ruth, otherwise known as Matthew Hunt, tells us, citing 1994's "You Sure Do" by Strike as his all time favorite record. "For dance, that was my time, 1989 until 1996, when I lived in Brighton."
Indeed, before his complete immersion as Musical Ruth for an agreed fee, Hunt even produced his own club banger. "I did produce as a hobby," he reveals. "I had a single out—Hotbox, "Too Spicy." It had a sample taken from the Peperami 'Too Spicy For You' advert. I got a deal with Telstar Records. And the day before they were due to release it, they pulled it. Peperami were behind the whole thing, but they had Ant and Dec on their label at the time and their record sold really badly, so they pulled everything."
Despite decades of unfortunate decline, Margate is an up and coming town, and is regularly touted these days as an increasingly trendy alternative to London living. You'll therefore be able to think back fondly to the time you saw The Martinez Brothers when inevitably you end up visiting in ten years to see somebody's new conservatory. If you decide to take the train to Margate, give yourself a few extra hours to appreciate the psychedelic 'Shell Grotto' further down the promenade, not to mention the Only Fools and Horses exhibit, dedicated to the classic "Jolly Boy's Outing" episode set in the town—rather than say, the one where Del and Rodders meet that illegal immigrant who can only say "Gary".
Personally, while I won't be able to attend this personally definitive fusion of vintage coaster + Ben UFO set, you do have my full blessing and approval to have a good time. That said, please vomit discreetly and responsibly.