Downing May Ball

SIMON BAJKOWSKI has an Olympian time, with only minor mess-ups.

chase and status darwin deez downing Olympus queue Simon Bajkowski



Tuesday 21st June 2011, £115


“Get your motherfucking groove on Cambridge!” So cried Darwin Deez midway through his memorable set and – and that’s exactly what the 2,000 at Downing last night did. The biennial nature of this ball raises expectations, but the Herculean efforts of the committee ensured it was a night memorable for the right reasons.

Starting with Deez, the American indie band were undoubtedly one of the highlights on the main stage, wowing an appreciative crowd with buckets of charisma and synchronized dance interludes. The group were often in conversation with the sound engineers though during the performance, and a blown speaker almost as soon as Chase & Status began left cries of “Louder” from the crowd.

Photographs by Nienke Boomsma

Giving the headline act an hour and a half was ambitious (“Take That standards”, one friend proclaimed), and the fact that the stage was less than half full by the end of the performance before refilling for the bizarre Gaga tribute act perhaps spoke as much for scheduling as it did for the blown speakers. Away from the main stage, the popularity of the rock-a-oke merited its inclusion, and the silent disco – despite lacking the cheese that many craved – did produce some forgotten classics to bop away to.

The ents budget was money well spent, especially the fairground rides. The inclusion of the faster and scarier “Meteorite” spinner with the more sedate “Waveswinger” brought an added adrenaline boost that I’d be surprised to find matched at other balls. Elsewhere, the massage room and hot tub went down well with plenty (although the “one-size fits all” bikini policy must have been decided by a man), while the games tent, outdoor films and chill-out tent were quirky but excellent ideas.

Variety and bold choices were an enduring characteristic of the ball. Having been to two balls before, I was delighted to find both the main bar and cocktail bar serving drinks to order. The cocktails were particularly tasty, and though so many were prepared on request the queues never got too long or tedious. The committee were eager to cater to all tastes too, with ales, lagers, and wines complimented with rum, gin, and vodka concoctions that only showed signs of drying up late into the morning. Special mention is deserved too for the espresso bar, providing a vital pick-me-up service for any flaggers as the night went on.

The espresso bar was part of the saving grace for food and drink. I felt almost as disgruntled as Cinderella half way through the ball, as it seemed that all the food had packed up and left after the clock struck midnight. The kebab stand stopped serving well before the time they would normally be eaten, the barbecue shut up shop, and the hog roast and cheese ran out criminally early. But, the second wave of coffee, porridge, and bacon butties as twilight turned to sunrise helped to shrug off any minor gripes, and the staple ball treats of candyfloss, popcorn, and chocolate fountains were also accompanied by more unsual finds of tagines and meze. Too much may have run out too early, but what was there was delicious and I certainly didn’t leave hungry.

Food running out was, unfortunately, one of a number of basic cock-ups that slightly took away from the enjoyment of the ball. It does not take a genius to figure out that three pigs will not last long among 2,000 scavenging students, the main stage shouldn’t really have been plagued by technical issues, and the programme had timing inaccuracies. Things didn’t start or end particularly well either. Many in the long queue snaking down Regent St resorted to buying Tyskie and Doritos from Dars Express as crowds were left waiting for longer than they perhaps should have done to get in, and the delay over the survivors photo and decision to bottleneck leavers by making everyone leave through the small gate seemed ridiculous and unnecessary.

However, all these issues are overridden by a much larger success. The committee deserve credit for pushing beyond the generic decadence of balls, and many other colleges would do well to pick up on the innovations displayed within the Greek-styled setting of Downing last night. Not everything was executed as well as it could have been, but the sheer volume and variety of attractions made this a triumph of a ball.

Food and Drink:

Wow Factor:

Value For Money:

Star Attraction: Fairground rides – should be the best of the week

Biggest Turn-off: Basic cock-ups, easy things neglected