Coaster Kingdom

Chaos, British Fairs
Friday, February 23, 2007

Eee, when I was a lad, everything was brilliant. The sun would always shine, kids respected their elders, and chicken really tasted like chicken. We had some grand rides in those days too. I remember there was a ride called Chaos. An Afterburner, it was, and one of the best. In fact, I remember loving that ride so much I even wrote a review for a website called Coaster Kingdom (or something) and filled it with lines like "Let's not mince words here, Chaos is fantastic". Aye, thems was the days, laddie.

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, but I have found that it doesn't pay to revisit childhood haunts - and yet I never seem to learn my lesson. On various occasions I have scoured Ebay for the fondly-remembered video games of my youth, only to finally get my hands on it, and find it's nowhere near as good as I remember it. Likewise, I've stumbled on Carton Network showing come fondly remembered programme, switched it on, and found that what I found riveting at 5, now looks like utter crap.

Now, I'm quite happy to concede that rose tinted glasses have clouded my view on subjects like Chase HQ and Portland Bill, but there's one area where I am resolute. Chaos used to be a million times better than it is now. In fact, it used to be arguably the very finest example of a KMG Afterburner this side of Alpha Centuri.

The Afterburner is probably the prolific of a vast dynasty of rides that began with the Huss Frisbee. When this stunning ride debuted in the hands of Bremen showman Rudolph Robrahn, it wasn't long before other manufacturers showed an interest in copying the ride. Before long, Fabbri and SBF were touting versions that were good, but not a patch on the Huss ride. KMG, however, transformed the ride by doing away with the floor and using inverted-coaster style cars. Later, KMG would adapt the ride for parks (Thorpe Park's Vortex), Intamin would turn the seats to face outward (Drayton Manor's Maelstrom), and Huss and Mondial would then copy the Intamin ride themselves (Bobejaanland's Sledge Hammer and Tera Mitica's Synkope respectively). On the travelling scene, KMG adapted the travelling afterburner to create a mini-version (Freak Out), and a gigantic version (the 120ft XXL), while Technical Park also released their own mini-version, the Street Fighter. Phew!

Most notable on the travelling Afterburner is the incredible power behind the swinging motion, which feels far more forceful than any of the competitor rides, which combined with its high-speed spinning motion, making it probably the most intense of the many Frisbee variants currently available. And out of all the Afterburners in the world, Chaos was arguably the best.

What made Chaos so good? Well, it was simply one of those rides that had presence. You always knew when Chaos was in town because you would hear its relentless pounding hardcore dance music from half a mile away. The only respite from the music would be the frequent interruptions from an operator trying to whip riders into a frenzy, and encourage potential riders to open their wallets and join the queue.

Arrive at the fair, and you would soon be hot with one of the most striking rides you could ever see - a gleaming white structure, bedecked in lights, flinging 24 riders high into the sky. Almost inevitably, there would be a crowd admiring this spectacle, and more ready to hop straight into the seats as soon as the present riders vacated them.

If the mixture of the ride's wall of sound and immaculate visual presentation was successful in getting you to part with your money, and you would be rewarded with a long, intense ride, and one that you would remember for a long time to come. These days, a ride on Chaos is likely to involve paying the same amount of money for a far less enjoyable ride. Firstly, the average length of the ride seems much less than it the ride's glory days. Chaos seldom left people feeling short-changed, but these days the faces emerging from the ride simply aren't beaming the way they once did.

Secondly, the thing that made Chaos such a legend on the touring circuit was the atmosphere it generated. The lighting was impeccable, as was the interaction between operators and riders. Musically, the ride was probably the best in the UK. Not only was it loud and proud, the choice of music was always perfect. Only the finest in trance, hard house, and hardcore; all schematically designed to give the adrenal glands a thorough workout. Standing in front of Chaos was akin to going to see Fatboy Slim live, but without the worry of meeting Zoe Ball.

In other words, Chaos was simply the class of the field. Even against technically superior rides like Top Scans or Move It 32, Chaos held its own. It was the undisputed king of the swingers, and anyone who turned up on Chaos's patch touting a Frisbee, a Freak Out, or a Street Fighter knew that they may as well turn their lorries around and go home.

But that was then, and this is now.

Even if you knew nothing of the ride's former glory, the ride no longer stands out from the crowd. The lighting seems to have lost its shine, while the dramatic change in both the style and the volume of the music means that, rather than being unable to hear yourself think, you are now more than able to hear the always-worrying sound of the ride creaking overhead. It's almost like seeing a lively young friend degenerate into a frail old nonagenarian before his time.

The strange thing is that Chaos these days hasn't actually changed that much, and yet, the effect has been cataclysmic for the ride. One bugbear of mine when I visit a theme park (as opposed to a fair) is that often, a lot of time and money will be spent getting a ride to look good for opening day, but after that, the ride will be left to deteriorate ("Drayton Manoritis", I call it). Co-incidence or not, the decline of Chaos seems to have begun when the ride was incorporated into a sequence of "travelling theme park" events around the country. Seeing the ride at these events is akin to seeing magnificent lion emasculated and trapped in a tiny zoo cage. Sadly, when the ride is allowed back into its natural habitat, it still bears the scars of its forays into the dubious world of the pay-one-price wristband.

If you are going to ride Chaos, try to do so at one of the elite fairs, such as Nottingham Goose Fair. Here, at least, there is some semblance of the ride's heyday. Ride it at small or mid-size fairs, and frankly, the ride is pretty mediocre. Ride it at a travelling theme park event, and it is little more thrilling than the myriad of Freak Outs that are out there. To be honest, it shocks me that I should ever be finding myself writing that last sentence, given that comparing Chaos to a Freak Out always used to be like comparing a brand new Harley Davidson to a unicycle with a puncture.

If I force myself to ignore the past, then I have to semi-grudgingly admit that Chaos is still a decent ride. It's certainly a very different experience to Thorpe Park's Vortex, the larger, 32-seat model of the ride, or indeed any of the myriad of other Frisbee variants around Europe, and is worth riding for that reason alone. Just don't expect the ride to dominate the memories of your trip to the fair, as it no longer manages to stand out amid the variety of attractions offered at most large fairs.

As it stands, Chaos is in a strange limbo, where theme park purists will reject it for being too much of a fair ride, while fans of the travelling scene will see it as a shadow of its former self. The only ones with any affection for poor old Chaos seems to be those of us with long memories.

Good points:

  • Good looking ride
  • Very different to any similar rides

Bad points:

  • Lacks atmosphere
  • Can give very short rides
  • Lacks its former glory, both in presentation and operation

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