Now in its sixth year, the annual Sci-Fi Weekender is quickly gaining a reputation for being a convention that is more than a convention. Although described as such by the organisers, the Sci-Fi Weekender is more akin to a festival, with something for everyone in its veritable smorgasbord of geekery.
If there is one thing to be said about the organisers of the Sci-Fi Weekender, is that they are unafraid to experiment. Whilst some changes may not always work, they should be applauded for refusing to rest on their laurels and for continuing to seek ways to improve their event.
This year was no exception, with the prog-rock festival Hard Rock Hell: Prog 3 sharing the same site as the Sci-Fi Weekender. They did not the have same venues however: the music festival was based in the site’s bar whilst the convention took over the central venue.
There was minimal interaction between the two events, but a consequence of the music festival was that there were fewer available venues for the Sci-Fi Weekender’s events, which was overcome by inventive site management. The author interviews (for which this author was roped in to assist with) were held in Starbucks, which worked surprisingly well despite their unconventional location, as it leant a relaxed vibe to the proceedings.
Some of the special guests attending the event included Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor from Doctor Who, and Radagast the Brown in The Hobbit trilogy) as well as James Cosmo (Jeor Mormont of the Black Watch from A Game of Thrones). Unfortunately, Garrett Wang (Star Trek: Voyager’s Harry Kim) was forced to cancel at the last minute, which left the final selection of special guests feeling somewhat sparse. However, the main appeal of the Sci-Fi Weekender has never been the guests, but coming together with like-minded friends in a celebration of shared geekery.
Nonetheless, Sylvester McCoy and James Cosmo were both engaging guests, offering fascinating commentary on their shows whilst taking the time to meet their fans – Sylvester even roamed the audience to better answer their questions.
The Opening Ceremony was a bombastic display of fire performers and pyrotechnics by Area 51, however their Imaginarium performance felt drawn-out. The opening and closing segment, with their awesome fire shows and angle-grinders were fantastic, but John Faust was too similar to Caspian who had just been on before him.
Saturday evening witnessed the Cosplay Competition, compèred as always by Robert Rankin, with only seven entries chosen out of the initial entrants for a smoother operation. Although Rincewind from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld was overlooked for the final three (a gross oversight), the winning team of Tim Burton characters (Edward Scissorhands and Corpse Bride) were ingenious, especially given their young age.
Also on Saturday night was Festival of the Spoken Nerd, a two hour performance that proved science nerdery can be cool, demonstrating how colours of the spectrum interact and predicting outcomes using data sets.
A disco followed each of these events, whilst the music varied from YMCA by the Village People to AC/DC’s Back in Black, some of the more cheesy elements (such as the Superman Song by Black Lace) was a misfire.
The sheer breadth and imagination demonstrated by cosplayers throughout the weekend was unparalleled, with costumes ranging from Black Cat to the Unikitty and Batman from The Lego Movie. Dancing through the night was a fantastical experience, where you could easily find yourself dancing next to aliens and robots. It is for this reason alone that makes the Sci-Fi Weekender such an amazing experience, as the atmosphere is out of this world.
The professional costuming group Galactic Knights deserve a special mention, not just for their impressively accurate costumes throughout the weekend, but that they ensured a series of children favourites – such as Tinkerbell and the gang from Scooby Doo – were present on Saturday when families were there.
Area 51 were only officially there for Friday, with their performers mingling throughout the day, some stayed behind for fire performances during Saturday’s disco. This alleviated the disappointment that there were no stilt-walkers on Saturday, which add a carnivalesque atmosphere to do the days proclivities.
The traders market also felt comparatively sparse and included some surprising traders. Whilst some such as Forbidden Planet, Rodney Matthews and even New Rock (everyone wears them in the future!) made sense, others selling band t-shirts and gothic jewellery seemed out of place. This was a consequence of Birmingham Comic Con and Cardiff Comic-Con clashing with the Sci-Fi Weekender, where some of the regular traders chose to cover the other conventions instead.
Despite this clash, the Sci-Fi Weekender remained a packed event, with the accommodation selling out well in advance of the event. Although Friday seemed quieter than usual, that was due to many people still arriving and the damp weather that plagued the day (fortunately the clouds were held at bay until the solar eclipse passed, although I was disappointed not to see anyone dressed as Riddick from Pitch Black). By Saturday the event was much busier, as everyone had arrived.
The Sci-Fi Weekender resides in a caravan park on the picturesque Welsh coast, rather than in a muddy field like most festivals. Accommodation was in the form of a series of caravans and apartments, which offered a comfortable respite from the convention’s hectic schedule.
In conclusion, the Sci-Fi Weekender is a testament to the maxim of “we arrive as strangers but leave as friends.”
All photos are by Peter Gatehouse and Vicky Caves, and are used with permission.