All aboard for a life on the ocean rave

Music cruises are the new fad for festival-fatigued rock fans. Just don't expect easy listening
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The Independent Online

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

This latest festival fad has been mushrooming for the past couple of years in the US, but it's the Weezer Cruise that has British music fans taking notice. "It has definitely got a huge amount of positive attention," says Andy Levine, of promoter Sixthman. Levine smashed the champagne bottle on his first music cruise 10 summers ago. "We had Sister Hazel, Barenaked Ladies and Lynyrd Skynyrd on that one," he says. Thirty-five charters later, Sixthman now focuses solely on music cruises, with music-and-sunbathing packages dedicated to Kid Rock among others. This month, they organised a 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 work? 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 or no internet access or phone reception so everyone unplugs for a few days."

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

"There's nothing better than dance music on a boat in the Caribbean," says Gary Richards, 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 may 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, Turbo Fruits. They played the inaugural Bruise Cruise this year, with 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 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. It's an extreme undertaking, but when the Bruise Cruise sets sail, you realise why you did it all."

Stein's partner Michelle Cable adds: "We're trying to change the idea that festivals have to be uncomfortable and exhausting. We want you to be able to enjoy rock'n'roll and also go home feeling like $1m, 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 fan, though? Weezer Cruise tickets work out about £500 per person – a price which roused the ire of some fans. "I love seeing Weezer play live," says Andy Malt, editor of music trade magazine CMU, "but there is something a bit odd about loading all your fans on to 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."

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

       

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

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