Festival Review: Boomtown 2017
‘boom town’ (also boomtown) noun: town undergoing rapid growth due to sudden prosperity’
Boomtown made headlines this year, and not for the right reasons. But did its widely appreciated attention to detail inside allow people to overturn their initial pessimism?
The festival had a rocky start for many festival goers. Boomtown hit the headlines when delays opening the gates led to queues outside of up to seven hours. Whilst excuses began to circulate from weather conditions to late-arriving sniffer dogs, nothing excuses leaving customers in 20+ degree sun with very limited water and complete lack of shade, causing some to be hospitalised. Once in, however, it was not long before the festival recovered from its disorganised beginning to show its true colours.
The festival functions as a microcosm, presenting a collection of historical and social platforms. From Uptown and Downtown through to the cowboys of the wild-west and the pirates sailing ships through the deep blue sea, there isn’t a moment when you won’t find yourself caught up in Boomtown’s very own complex society. Impressive attention to details are found in every nook and cranny of its large site, from the dreamy four-poster beds dotted about the hill with long white drapes, to its helium balloon rainbow in the sky, to its flags and signs and seats. Whilst most English festivals are famous for being conventionally pretty, features of a ‘Boomtown’ (a site in ‘rapid growth due to sudden prosperity) can be seen in many of the festivals spaces. This can be seen in the ‘Job Centre’, a beat out employment facility, with dark office spaces and miserable staff, which allows its audience to engage in a range of job seeking activities, such as job interviews and competitions, all in the hope of securing a job or attaining some of boomtown’s own currency. Other hard to find areas boast secret rooms and out of the ordinary experiences, such as a brothel style room round the back of a stage, laden with old photographs and red silk curtains. A library is also featured, where library cards are made by librarians and tired library books stack high for people to read and rent (I actually found some incredibly interesting reads). These areas highlight Boomtown as a live-in town with everyday functions, which goes above and beyond other festivals that limit themselves to a pretty facade which lack story.
Whilst Boomtown’s roots are grounded in Reggae, Ska and Dub, it accommodates many genres, which reflects its varied demographic. Whilst popular with youth, it is apparent that many age groups, from families to friends, come together to enjoy its magic. All of the festival’s stages had top of the range production, such as the fire coming out of Lions Den to the wheels turning at Sector 6 and the high stacked stages built into Banghai Palace, but many of the festivals best wonders were found in hidden spaces. This can be seen, for example, in the psychedelic woods, where projected butterflies dance in the trees, or down in the black and white disco room in the corner of Downtown, a dim-lit red room blaring Latin American and Dancehall. This is evident through attention to every detail at the ‘in between’ stages, such as the ‘Ballroom’, a smaller stage hidden amongst the infrastructure of Uptown. We entered during Indian Man’s set, the self-confessed ‘Prince of Bhangra Fusion’, who brought a unique mix of Dub and Garage with Bhangra, dancing on the tables.
Sector 6, a larger stage set back from the main town, received mixed reviews throughout the weekend for its volume fluctuations, which caused many popular acts to play to dwindling crowds, purely due to quiet speakers. Shy FX headlined the stage Sunday, and we arrived to find it packed out. Shy FX delivered with a range of genres and an MC who kept the crowd alive throughout the set, with many favourites from 80’s through to new releases. The most impressive of sets came from Toots and the Maytals, all of whom appeared to be in their 70’s, who had the younger audience dancing around to old classics such as ‘Monkey Man’. The crowd danced under the hot sun, which stayed for most the weekend.
The capitalist slant on this year’s storyline, ‘we want your soul’ is drilled in through actors, visuals and audio. This is emphasised through the dictator, who features throughout the festival, last seen standing above on the crowds at Banghai Palace in a smart black suit. Besides its enchanting storyline, the festival has a social and environmental conscience as well, from environmental education to welfare organisation and efficiency. Of particular interest was the Drug Testing Tent, a collaboration by ‘The Loop’ with VICE to provide a safe drugs testing space, run on donations. This allowed festival goers to have all their drugs tested within a couple of hours, to understand what is in their bags. This is the first I have seen at any festival, and enables drug use to at least be regulated to some extent.
Boomtown’s niche attention to all details through plot, actors, story, line-up, staging and sets allows it to be totally unique each year, which ensures many return for following years. Its ability to ensure everybody loses sense of reality for just a few days leaves you wanting more year after year, and reigns as a festival that will be remembered for a long time. If you haven’t had the chance to go, make sure you do before it’s too late.
For information about next year’s Boomtown, go here: http://www.boomtownfair.co.uk/
Boomtown review by Emilia Gill.