1997 Backyard Jam
Even as a biker in my 30s, I've little memory of the Backyard Jam series, a legendary creation from Stu Dawkins (of Seventies Distribution/Federal fame), starting in 1991 and running until 1997. They then picked up again in 2004 and continue to run to this day, although they look very different to those from the 90s.
Stuart King from the 1994 event, wild superman seatgrab. Photo from DIGBMX
Emerging from a mountain of motivation from a local scene in the UK, the crew invited a bunch of people to a field in Hastings to ride a ramp and jump some dirt, including the infamous chasm gap. By 1997, the event had reached peak popularity with approximately 4000 people turning up to witness the chaos and maxed out, the chaos became too much so the organisers pulled back. For example, it's rumoured that up to 17 dudes went to hospital after throwing glass bottles at each other over the Saturday night's (the event went over a full weekend) partying.
Anyway, there isn't a whole heap of information on the backyard jams, although there is enough to get a sense for the general atmosphere and the status, particularly when you have customs officials at the airport recognising the event due to a swathe of international BMX riders flying over to take part.
The purpose of this post is to showcase the video from the 1997 event, lifted from the wonderful records of the Mid School BMX Youtube channel. I recently happened upon the video, took a punt in clicking play and luckily so, it's stuck with me since I watched it and now here we are. I think at first watch, I was struck with the scale of the event. As mentioned, 4000 people showing up from all around the world, to ride a vert ramp and some sketchy dirt jumps is crazy, and likely not able to be achieved in a day and age when the sport has surely grown to a larger scale. Incredible.
I believe you'll find this clip in the below video at 0.40, it's a banger. Photo from Ride UK BMX
I'm not a BMX historian by any stretch, however it does seem likely that this particular event was one of the more rowdy versions we've seen, a likely contributor to its infamous popularity and probably why it was non-stop mayhem. What do you expect when you have a tonne of hyped up, alcohol fulled bikers. The level of riding was pretty nuts too, check out the section of the below video where the chasm features, being the last minute. So wild, and very, very similar to what you would see from the likes of Swampfest 25 years into the future.
Whoever put this video together did such a great job. It's basically a highlights reel of the 3 x events, backed with a couple instrumental tracks and over-dubbed live audio with the video footage muted. You get a sampling of non-riding footage, mixed with raw film footage, it looks proper good. It's actually really hard to describe what makes videos of this era look and feel so good, rather distinctive from anything you'd see contemporarily. I find this interesting when you note that the filming quality isn't that great, however the subtleties used in editing work magic.
Not sure who this is, nor which years event it was, but I can see that this is a huge-ass gap and that tailwhipping it is insane. Photo from Ride UK BMX
Anyway, I'll leave it at that. I hope that this video brings you the same positive feeling which I experienced, as well as a tiny insight into what BMX was like during the 90s. Wish I was there.