SFW lands for possibly its biggest and best event yet.
A new venue always causes challenges and technical issues, but these were all dealt with swiftly.
Sci Fi Weekender (SFW) is an event like no other. Less like a convention and more of a festival, SFW is the UK’s largest geek camp and there is literally nothing else like it in the UK.
The weekend-long geek-fest officially commenced on the Friday morning, with the opening ceremony where event organiser Jonni Davis offered a brief overview of the coming events, as well as welcoming new attendees to the family. And SFW is a family. Fans of SFW recognise the uniqueness of the event and atmosphere that the organisers curate. The shared community across the site that SFW kindles endures far longer than the weekend.
This year however, as a special treat, there was also the inaugural SFW Awards ceremony on the Thursday evening. These awards were an introspective review of the past decade of SFW, recognising the achievements of previous attendees. For example, Adrian Tchaikovsky was granted the literary award. These awards were interspersed with performances by the chap-hop artist Mr B and the comedian John Robertson of The Dark Room fame (who also won an award).
SFW is not your typical convention. Merchandise stalls and signing booths are present, but they are not the focus of the event. SFW’s emphasis is on the talks and panels by the guests, such as Gil Gerrard (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Emily Booth (Pervirella and Evil Aliens) and David Warner (The Omen and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier).
There is also a dedicated authors track, where genre authors like Ian Whates and Zen Cho discuss their experiences of being a writer, as well as hosting workshops where budding authors can learn various writing techniques.
Alongside this was the comic-strip club; a section of SFW dedicated to comic artists. Glenn Fabry and Simon Bisley, as well as Boo Cook and Tehani Farr, displayed and discussed their art and gave quite probably one of the most chaotically entertaining panels throughout the weekend, purely for their inability to remain on topic.
Also, unlike most conventions, SFW does not end when the sun goes down. In fact, many would argue that is when SFW really gets going. This SFW had to have had the most packed evening schedule yet. Some of the acts included the chap-hop extraordinaire Professor Elemental, the surprisingly impressive post-punk/goth band Flesh Tetris (who sent me back to my goth roots), and the cosmic prog-rock band Henge.
However, the highlight of the evening’s entertainment was The Dark Room, hosted by the human dynamo that is John Robertson. Inspired by the text-adventure games of the eighties, The Dark Room is a live-action recreation of these classic games. This time the game is narrated by an angry Australian screaming in your face. On paper this sounds a tad strange, but Robertson’s charisma and razor-sharp repartee made this a highpoint of SFW.
Equally great was The Elvis Dead; a mashup of Elvis Presley and The Evil Dead. Somehow, this actually does work; helped by the performer’s convincing Elvis vocals and his likeness to Bruce Campbell (who also played Elvis in Bubba Ho-Tep).
Area 51’s stilt walkers and performers mingled with attendees, further adding to the carnivalesque atmosphere from all the cosplayers.
With the amount of content available, often occurring in parallel, it is impossible to see everything. Time spent bouncing around to DJ Level Up Leroy’s set on Friday night invariably meant that Professor Elemental would be missed. But having this concurrent content meant that there was always something happening for attendees to be interested in. Furthermore, there was a retro gaming zone plus a surprisingly addictive Minecraft arena.
SFW-X was the first of these events to be held at the new venue of Vauxhall holiday park, in Great Yarmouth. The accommodation was much closer to the events than at their previous location, as well as there being a swimming pool for guests to enjoy (which was fantastic for recovering from the night before).
Some may have been concerned that the static caravans would be cold in November, but they were surprisingly comfortable and perfect for crashing in at the end of the night.
As with any event at a new venue, issues and technical challenges will arise, but for the most part these were dealt with quickly and efficiently. Those expecting a similar layout as past events would be disappointed, but what SFW have done is to take advantage of the venue’s potential. As further SFWs take place, it would not be surprising to see the layout evolve to ensure that the space is being used to its fullest.
The organisers of SFW have consistently refused to rest on their laurels and are known for continuously seeking to improve upon each event, by experimenting. Some ideas are successful, some are not, yet the results always feed back into SFW’s approach of enhancing the experience for the attendees. For this they should be applauded.
Ultimately, SFW was a weekend built on a shared love of geekery across the spectrum, and in this it ultimately succeeded, as everyone always leaves having made new friends. Throughout the weekend, there were badges proclaiming “It’s family, baby…” and it’s true. SFW is not a convention. It’s a family, and one that welcomes everyone.
All photos are by Peter Gatehouse and are used with permission.