All aboard for a life on the ocean rave

Music cruises are the latest fad for festival-fatigued rock fans with cash to burn. Just don't expect easy listening, says Chris Beanland

When Weezer take to the stage on the giant Carnival Destiny cruise ship in January, it will be a high watermark for the weird world of music cruises. The kooky US indie-rockers will be headlining Weezer Cruise, a five day Caribbean jaunt from Miami to Cozumel in Mexico, with support from Dinosaur Jr and Sebadoh – plus shuffleboard, bellyflop contests and bingo.

This latest festival fad has been mushrooming for the past couple of years in the United States, but it's the Weezer Cruise that has British music fans taking notice.

"The Weezer Cruise has definitely got a huge amount of positive attention," says Andy Levine, of promoters Sixthman. Levine smashed the champagne bottle on his first music cruise ten summers ago. "We had Sister Hazel, Barenaked Ladies and Lynyrd Skynyrd on that one," Levine says. Thirty five charters later, Sixthman now focusses solely on music cruises, offering music-and-sunbathing packages dedicated to Kid Rock among others. Earlier this month, they organised the Kiss Kruise – with live performances, quizzes and meet-and-greets with the Detroit glam metal band and 2,500 of their staunchest fans.

Why does the formula seem to be working? Levine says, "Being on a cruise ship provides the ultimate immersive fan experience – guests enjoy meals together, hang out by the pool, and rock out to their favourite bands together. You have little to no internet access or mobile phone reception so everyone can unplug for a few days."

Predictably, landlubbing promoters have gone potty for sea-related puns when naming their music cruises. There's a dance music cruise called Holy Ship – a maritime mash-up starring Fatboy Slim, A-Trak and Diplo. And also Bruise Cruise, headlined by The Soft Pack and Thee Oh Sees, which is redolent of All Tomorrow's Parties on water. In fact this whole movement borrows from ATP's very British mix of ironic 'nudge nudge wink wink' venues (like Butlins Minehead) blended with crisp curation.

"There's nothing better than dance music on a boat in the Caribbean," says Gary Richards, promoter of Holy Ship. "I went on a DJ-based cruise in 1997 and it was amazing." But what's it like for bands to play to fans whose attention might be strained by the distractions of pool parties, casinos and all-you-can-eat buffets? Jonas Stein used to play guitar in Be Your Own Pet, but now fronts his own garage band called Turbo Fruits. They played the inaugural Bruise Cruise earlier this year, alongside Vivian Girls and Black Lips. Stein argues that the ship enhances the whole experience of watching music. "You can get a massage or relax in the hot tub. You can grab yourself a Bahama Mama cocktail with your new friends. And after you've eaten steak and lobster, you can go to the club and enjoy a late night dance party."

Stein loves the idea so much he came on board as co-promoter of Bruise Cruise. "Since April 2010 we have not stopped working on this thing. It's an extreme undertaking, but when the Bruise Cruise sets sail, you realise why you did all of it." Stein's partner Michelle Cable adds: "We're trying to change the idea that music festivals have to be uncomfortable and exhausting. We want you to be able to enjoy rock'n'roll and also go home feeling like a million bucks – without having to spend anywhere near that much. The first Bruise Cruise was a novel experience in its own right because the majority were 'virgin cruisers' who were elated at every element of the cruise ship."

Isn't it all a bit expensive for the average UK-based music fan though? Weezer Cruise tickets work out about £500 per person – a price which has raised the ire of some fans online. "I love seeing Weezer play live," says Andy Malt, editor of the music trade magazine CMU, "but there is something a bit odd about loading all your fans onto a boat. Maybe it's just the cheesy image cruises have, or possibly it's not being able to escape. It's also a very expensive way to attend what's essentially a small festival."

He adds, "I'm not sure it would catch on in the UK. Possibly Muse could pull it off? Maybe someone could do a canal tour, or an acoustic yachting trip down the Norfolk Broads."

So will we see the trend float into British waters? "We would love to bring an event to life in Europe, and are exploring opportunities," says Levine. Holy Ship's Gary Edwards replies, "Maybe one day". But it looks like the hipster Bruise Cruise might be coming to shores near us first. Michelle Cable says: "Yes, we are working on organising Bruise Cruises from other continents."

Holy Ship ( 6 to 9 January; The Weezer Cruise (theweezercruise. com) 19 to 23 January; Bruise Cruise 2012 ( 10 to 13 February

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


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