Review: Boomtown pushes boundaries
Boomtown works hard to push the boundaries of conventional festivities. Its ambiance beats other festivals in leading a drive for change.
From the moment you enter Boomtown you become quickly submerged in its magical world. It incorporates all you would expect from a festival; good music, food and activities, and then takes it an extra mile. Boomtown has a real sense of having created its own society, with ancient towns, judicial systems, economic and political systems, uniforms, and much more. The festival is spread out over the hilly Matterley estate filled with bright cornfields and deep woods, and this year was filled with 60,000 people.
Saturday was spent at the Lion’s Den stage, a large stone boulder-style stage with draped waterfalls either side. By midday it was packed, with crowds of people drinking and dancing to Ed Solo and Mungo’s High Fi’s. Sunday was another hot day, spent walking around the festival, dipping in and out of spoken word and live music, as well as tuning into a mass dance off under the scorching sun. The dusky evening was spent singing and dancing to Damien Marley, whose set mixed Bob Marley classics with his own new material, ending with ‘Welcome to Jam Rock’.
The festival hosts more than just music, with a key aspect of the festival centering around the revolutionary back-story. ‘The divide between rich and poor has become ever greater, discontent and unrest have spread throughout the barrios and districts of Boomtown. The once great Mayor Comrade Jose, elected by the people, for the people, has been brainwashed and become ever more detached from reality, as her allies dwindle, she introduces new military conscription and her propaganda machine goes into overdrive in a bid to retain control.’ (Boomtown Website).
This capitalist Uptown-Downtown divide is clear between the bourgeoisie uptown population, endorsed with swanky casinos and banks, and the grovelling proletariat peasants found downtown. Made realistic through a population of actors, the filthy urban shantytown feel of Chinatown and Downtown architecture contrasts with the glamorous feel of the high-stacked casinos and velour lined hotels of Uptown, which makes this staged revolution feel incredibly real.
This capitalist theme runs into other areas of the festival, for example the Wild West, a wooden town with dance halls, whiskey bars and shootout arenas. The Sheriff tours the town as cowboys wander the streets and outlaws cause disorder.
The courtroom of the Wild West was particularly imaginative and amusing, with judges, barristers and officers holding trials to resolve festivalgoers weekend disputes, resulting in the guilty party being punished in public.
With the majority of funding being pumped into the production and set up of the festival, there is no surprise that Boomtown knocks out all other festivals in its jaw-dropping execution of staging, seating and presentation of the festival. Each area had its own unique theme, for example the impressive Mexican style set at Barrio Loco. The set was built from graffitied aluminium, shanty style rooftops, as well as detailed accessories such as the scruffy antique umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, which was designed by performance design students Esme Callaghan and Mathilda Eldon McCaig. Other area, such as China Town, had perfected the authenticity of its set, going as far as sprinkling fortune cookies over the crowds passing through, with unique messages within.
The last night was spent dancing in the Wandering Woods, a psychedelic mini world hidden in the forest, with fluttering butterflies being projected into the trees and Side Trance blaring from the stage. Bright luminous strobes bounced off the trees and lit up the forest in time with the music.
The Vamos stage was popular too, hosting House and Techno DJs such as Skream, Shadow Child, MJ Cole and B Traits. The high stage, with projections of running cartoon characters enhancing the stage’s ambiance, with the help of live MC’s and light shows. Part of the magic of Boomtown is the hidden stages and tents that pop up, looking like underground London clubs and sweaty raves in the suburbs. Exploring Downtown we found a walkway paved with black and white pin up posters, which led into a sweaty UV den, with a DJ playing a set high above the crowd. Sweat dripped from the low hanging ceilings.
The festival’s final blow out was staged at the oriental themed Bang Hai Palace stage, reminiscent of old style China, the main Drum and Bass stage. Its impressive nine-story high setup featured built-in screens, pyrotechnics and platforms for performers. The festival ended with a firework finale and the revolution overturning Mayor Jose was finally completed.
I would highly recommend Boomtown, whether a fan of Drum and Bass or not. The festival is impeccably set up, and each detail is flawless. You become immersed in the world of Boomtown and feel connected as a citizen of an unusually enjoyable dystopian world, making it hard to leave.
Catch Boomtown before the increasingly expanding capacity dampens its unique charm and charisma. You will be truly astounded by its mystical world.
Words and pictures by Emilia Gill.