Daft Friday Interview/Review 16.12.11

As GUM arrives early in the night of Daft Friday, it is safe to say that the Glasgow University Union looks pretty damn good. Apart from the beautifully dressed crowd, with girls in their cocktail dresses and ball gowns and boys in suits or kilts, the whole union has been covered in some, to say the least, impressive artwork.

Those who have been to Daft Friday in previous years may expect to enter a parallel universe stepping through the doors of the union. Last year, that universe involved elves, hobbits and a rather famous ring. This year, we step into a whole new galaxy – Star Wars.

GUM caught up with the creative team behind this years’ Daft Friday artwork to find out just how much blood, sweat and fun it takes to transform a university union into a different world for one night.

“It is important to pick a theme that students will recognise”, head painter James South tells me. “If somebody comes in and they see something they don’t know well, they won’t get that “wow”-factor that we’re after. Star Wars is such a big and dramatic thing that I think it’s right for this environment”.

James came back to Daft Friday after a gap of a few years. “I thought that the artwork wasn’t what it used to be, we weren’t delivering like we used to”, he says. “People were walking around without really caring, we needed to make people open their eyes and really go “wow”.”

Last year when it was Lord of the Rings that covered the walls, the same idea of recognition was behind it. The artwork needs to be easily recognisable and it needs to be dramatic. So far, every year has also been film themed, the team tells me.

Creating this multiple floor piece of art is, not so surprisingly, a lengthy process. James starts with collecting material and finding iconic moments from the chosen story. It is important to get the scenes right, he explains, as the story of the films is told as you walk up the floors of the building. It starts at the bottom and walking up the stairs, one can follow the story right to the final scenes at the top.

Teamwork is always key, everyone tells me, and good ideas from everyone are taken onboard. All together there are thirteen builders and fifteen painters creating the finished piece. The builders help out when constructing certain pieces, such as a spaceship coming out of the wall or Han Solo, deep-frozen in a box of carbonite standing on the top floor. I’m assured that they do a good job – students need not to worry about having spacecrafts falling on their head leaving the Debates Chamber.

All together, the project takes about three months to finish. The team tells me that they meet every Wednesday evening and all day every Sunday – quite a commitment with uni work still on the side.

But the team assures me that it has all been worthwhile. “It will be difficult not doing it again” painter Lucy Pape says, “we have become a great team and you do miss it a lot when it is over.”

The team did not all know each other from before and they all agree it has been a great way of meeting new people.

Megan McEachern, who was on the Daft Friday committee last year as well, points out that all the art work gets hidden away in the Debates Chamber of the union until the very last week before the event. This means that not even the painters and builders see the full scale of the artwork right until the last minute.

“In the final week it all gets pulled out and put together”, James adds, “So obviously the last few days are really really busy.”

I ask the team if they’re all pretty tired and get a unanimous “yes” and some exhausted laughter.

Still, the whole team tells me that they are all very happy with the result.

So what’s the plan for future years?

“Actually, I’m hoping to retire” James confesses, “It’s something students should be doing. I only came in to get it back on track. I very much want someone else to take over. I don’t want to be stopping someone within the university getting the chance. I feel like I’ve made my contribution.”

The Daft Friday artwork has not been a part of the night for that long, but with some fresh talent and dedication it is a tradition that is bound to continue.

(The names of the people in the interview are James South (head painter), Lucy Pape, Ben Bradley, Dan Lowe, Jess Turnbull, Rob McMillan and Megan McEachern – big thanks to all of you!)

Surrounded by this impressive piece of art then (in a galaxy far, far away) Daft Friday takes place. What is now undoubtedly the biggest union party at the university, started off as a piano sing-along on the last day of first semester back in 1909. Over the years, it has evolved into a black tie ball, with several DJs, live bands and an all-night casino.

One of the best things about Daft Friday, a thing that is clear hearing about the work behind the art covering the walls, is the effort put into the night. For being a 12-hour event spread across several floors, featuring multiple live acts that need to be co-ordinated, it is very well organised.

As GUM arrives in the Dining Room around eleven, the queue to the bar is quite long but the bar staff are doing their best to keep up. Everyone is still looking their best, festively dressed up, but it looks like the floor has already had a rough night with quite a few spilled drinks. The room itself however is looking good decorated with a Christmas tree and the atmosphere is cheery.

Moving downstairs, Frightened Rabbit is delivering their show to a packed and screaming Debates Chamber. You can read our separate review of Frightened Rabbit in the post below. Delving deeper into the building, we find ourselves in Deep Six with a well-dressed DJ in black tie. A group of girls have taken to the tables for dancing already, dangerously balancing on high heels, whilst people come and go on the dance floor.

Whatever your taste in music, you’re bound to find something that floats your boat at Daft Friday. Whilst you can get your dose of hiphop down in Deep Six, Artwork from Magnetic Man is playing in the Hive. Together with two other dubstep producers and DJs, Benga and Skream, Artwork is a dubstep pioneer and the trio had a more commercial hit with “I Need Air” in 2010/11.

GUM got a few comments from Artwork in between him rapping sitting on the DJ booth and jumping around with a flame-thrower to get the crowd going. “Glasgow”, he says, “has got some of the best nights out”, however, at around 1am, he thought the crowd was a bit tamer than he was used to – perhaps no surprise when you’re used to playing to die hard dubstep fans. Still, the set features a wide range of music and at one point the whole Hive sings along to Gaynor’s old classic “I will survive.”

It’s easy to get excited over the biggest union party of the year. It may however be wise to keep in mind that a 12-hour night out can be hard to handle even for the toughest of party animals out there. GUM heads to the bar to see how people are coping with their drinks – let’s just say red bull sales are high tonight. “Daft Friday is lovely!” shouts one excited guest at the bar. “Frightened Rabbit was the best thing ever and the service here has been just lovely”, his friend agrees but reckons that the tickets could have been cheaper.

For anyone who gets tired of dancing, or who wants to win some of that ticket money back, the casino goes on throughout the night. It serves as a great place to chill out between dance floor sessions, even for the ones who don’t particularly take to gambling. In the Dining Room a swingband is playing for anyone who wants a break from the standard floor filler tunes downstairs, which tonight seems to be a large and happy crowd. “Such great music, I really enjoyed it!” one girl tells me, sitting exhausted on a sofa after a full swing session. Complete with Ceilidh in the Debates Chamber, it is again safe to say that everyone can find something they fancy a dance to at Daft Friday.

Throughout the night, the party picks up in Hive, which would have pleased Artwork had he not already left the venue. At 4.30am the place is bouncing, the glow sticks are out, Avicii’s “Levels” is playing and the crowd loves it. Still, there are hours left to go and the weak and tired will head for taxis, leaving only a bunch of brave Daft Friday troopers having breakfast at 8am.

All in all, Daft Friday is a great way to finish off first semester and celebrate end of exams. Featuring so many acts across such a large venue, there is a place for everyone both metaphorically and literally – even though it can sometimes get a bit chilly in the huge corridors. Some students also complain that the ticket price digs too big of a whole in their pockets, and perhaps it may be worth giving students a bigger saving on buying the double tickets. However, it remains a fun tradition at the university and let’s face it, how often do you as a student get a chance to attend a black tie ball, featuring a dupstep DJ, in a different galaxy?

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