Walking through the East gate of Boomtown on Friday night, I get the feeling of a pending festival apocalypse. Converging clouds, high blustery winds and spitting rain welcome me to my first UK festival.
To counter the rain I see punters in full rain gear – wellies, water proofs and tarps over their tents. It’s gonna get messy.
August has been a precarious month for English festivals – Boardmasters and Houghton festivals were cancelled due to high winds. Boomtown was certainly in the path of the storm, but other than a temporary closure of the main stage the event carried on, and very successfully at that.
Timing is essential so we take my first night of the festival (Friday) easy. Crap weather and weariness from travel means we chill in the camper van till the rain passes.
Chapter 11 of Boomtown
Since 2009, Boomtown has thrown a four-day music and art fair by and for the UK underground. Each year is considered a “chapter” (now in Chapter 11), reflecting the story line that is continued over from the years before.
Boomtown is a takeover of the Matterly Estate by the creative minds of its organizers and volunteers. Districts, streets and stages are based on theme or genre and are populated by hundreds of actors playing the role of inhabitants.
Old West structures, steam punk-inspired installations and miles of finely detailed paths through woodlands make up the grounds. It’s as much as a music festival as a giant walk through art installation.
Up, down and around
Just up the hill from crew camping is the Town Centre district, where you find the Old Town Square stage. Built like a Wild West town square, it was a mad place to find bands such as Bad Apple Circus making the crowd jump.
Great finds for our first day are psy trance, both at Tribe of Frog and Psychadelic Forest, two wooded escapes that live up to their names in the world of fast paced beats. Lots of movement here. Obvious mentions are Infected Mushroom and KillerWatts.
At first it’s hard to get your bearings, so Jason my guide is essential to getting me around Boomtown. After closing sets, we catch up with another mate in his camper van. We post up at his until the wee morning hours, drinking IRN-BRU, this potent energy drink from the Scottish highlands.
There is something very cozy and homey feeling about sitting in a camper van hearing the rain on the metal roof. Forget the tent – this is the only way to roll.
There were absolute moments of beauty at Boomtown – such as the first stroll down the peaceful hill of the Hippie Highway towards the madness of Downtown.
My favorite moment? Hearing the words “it would be a shame not to pass by Wrong Side of the Tracks”. It refers to a drum and bass club featuring massive DJs, top MCs as well as live dancers. The stage took the form of a derailed train. Fine examples are Eats Everything B2B Wonka & Limited B2B Saxxon B2B T>I feat. Inja
These small clubs take you instantly away from the festival feeling and plunge you into a more intimate club setting. Much easier to get to know people and party in a space that is perhaps overlooked by punters.
One fine example: Zodiac Disco! A real gem of a find that we keep sneaking back into. You are instantly transported back to the 70’s – no find like it.
Right out madness
A sea of blue, green and orange tents. Some more professional that others. We walk down a connecting path between camping areas and find a lone tent on the side of the road – one that had obviously been lifted from it’s original spot – peg it down!
If your tent didn’t travel, you certainly did. Coming to Boomtown means trekking and skanking across tens of kilometers of English countryside for days. Your poor legs.
Speaking of bodily pain – if you really ask for it, Boomtown will chew you up and spit you out. Emerging in the moody afternoon light on Saturday are the zombies of yesterday. Bleeding, limping, ragged vessels that were once normal human beings, sporting with splits, crutches and mystery bruises.
That said, Boomtown can be as extreme or chill as you want it to be.
While I did see the odd American and Scandinavian flag, Boomtown is a UK-dominated festival. Repping from Bristol, Birmingham, Southhampton, Leeds and London. Boomtown succeeds every year in building a nation of people that make up the UK underground.
English Boomtown punters are a rowdy bunch. With their screw faced expressions, fancy dress, neon colors, bobby hats and sling bags, they are certainly recognizable. Regardless how they dress, they are definitely appreciative when it comes to good jungle. DnB is very alive in the UK.
Aside from eating beef jerky and ginger biscuits as a main source of nutrition, I did manage to sample English food. Yorky stand sells Yorkshire pudding, which gets better and better smelling every time I walk by. I eventually dole out 9 quid for a pulled pork, mashed potato and gravy covered pudding bowl, topped with a splattering of applesauce.
Best I mention the mac and cheese from a very American-looking food stand. What I get is a monster of a meal. I go for the pulled pork version (again), however it proves too cheesy for me to handle and I suffer defeat by the American staple.
Drum & bass city
We stumble onto Relic, one of the three main stages. Reopened after the wind of Friday, this monster of a stage dominates the DnB lineups. Black Sun Empire, Calyx & Teebee, Chase and Status, Brockie, Benny L and more.
Favorite act of the festival? Dr. Meaker! This live drum and bass act are the real deal. A metallic sounding drum and a sharp tonality make for a refreshing change to playback DnB.
Why? Firstly they make it obvious to see the different elements it takes to produce DnB. Second you have a guy on the dials of the synthesizers who leads the band with absolutely ballistic wobbles. It’s hard to stand still as the crowd leaps with pure ecstasy.
The last day to skank. Two acts that really brought the light to Boomtown after a weekend of rain and darkness: UB40 and Ms. Lauryn Hill. In the distance behind the Lion’s Den, lasers shoot into the sky, marking where Amelie Lens is playing – extreme contrasts at this hardcore festival.
Variety is in the name– count acid techno stages, New Orleans Brass bands, afro pop groups too – enough to fill your alternative tastes for a whole weekend.
Reaching the last moments of this giant, living and breathing circus, we can’t shake the feeling – nobody wants to stop.
Punters are chasing the music wherever they can find it – at a bar or a coffee shop – before it’s unplugged for the midnight curfew.
These dickheads could continue through the whole week.
Words by: Luc John Claude