Boomtown – A Reflection. 1 of 2 parts

Art & Culture

Last weekend, we made the short trip down from the big smoke to the greener pastures of the Matterley Bowl estate in Winchester for Boomtown. No, not that heinous new show on BBC3, but what is probably the weirdest, quirkiest and messiest festival on the UK circuit.

Unfortunately the weekend got off to a disappointing start as Thursday night was marred by a sweep of robberies in the area in which we were camped, on the hill overlooking Downtown. From the start, this practically eliminated the trust that all festivals are so fundamentally dependent on and that makes these sorts of weekends such ultimately liberating experiences. But nonetheless, it was going to take a lot more than the shameless actions of a few degenerates to put a dampener on this festival.

Roaming the site during the day, we encountered all manner of ‘extra-curricular’ activities that demonstrated right away that Boomtown is less a festival centered around who is playing when, but rather what off-the-wall experiences you could witness and get involved in. The level of quirkiness was off the chart, from wheelchair and handstand racing in the Old Town, to the hilarious games in The Bank that involved girl-on-girl wrestling in a pool full of jelly and hairy blokes in harnesses battling to tear wax strips off each other whilst hoisted up in the air. 

The Bank

Perhaps the most hilarious (but unintentionally so) feature was The Magic Carpet, a glorified conveyor belt that carried people up a particularly steep side of the Bowl at the cost of a tenner. Until you see it for yourself, you honestly can’t know how funny it is to peek out of your tent and catch a glimpse of a man dressed as a transvestite dinosaur, stood still on an escalator in the middle of the countryside, as he is slowly propelled up the hill and out of sight. It was these kind of spectacles that made you realise that Boomtown is ultimately all about self-indulgent fun, and the whole environment is geared up to facilitate that. 

If anyone recognises this dapper-dan, tell him to get in touch! 
Bloody lovely.

Each night as the sun set on the beautiful Matterley Bowl site, Boomtown mutated into a wondrously freakish and debaucherous place, as the neon lights of the Booster, the enormous vertical-column speed ride that towers over the Downtown district, and the familiar fiery explosions of that stalwart of recent UK festivals, Arcadia, lit up the night sky. 

On the Friday night, we made our way Downtown to check out The Old School Garage, an intimate, gritty venue styled on a mechanics workshop, complete with tyres hanging from the ceiling, half of a Ford Mondeo sticking out the side of it, and banging out riddim after riddim of, you’ve guessed it, UKG. 

Fronted up by what has to be one of the best named collectives in the whole of clubland, the Merk Chicken residents kept the place bouncing with a slick selection of the thinking man’s garage. The venue quickly became one of our safehouses as the following night the legendary Sunship stepped up for a shamelessly hit-heavy set of classics, including his own banger Cheque One Two, which frankly tore the roof off.

The Old School Garage

Venturing deeper into the mayhem of Barrio Loco, we were met by a plethora of bustling venues, each characterised by their own expertly crafted gimmick. From the enormous stereo-styled stage of The Boombox, to the gymnasium-esque surroundings of The Leisure Centre where you could buy your very own matching Adidas tracksuits, there was something on offer for everyone, and it was genuinely difficult to keep track of where you had been due to the ease with which you could career from venue to venue.

The Boombox

In the midst of Downtown stood the magical Hidden Woods, a canopied clearing shrouded in shade, the ground layered with lovely soft beach sand. Loosely fashioned on a Thai Full Moon Party, the bar there offered magnificently potent Buckets of booze at 15 a pop. A couple of those and it didn’t take much to get you sand-skanking to the sunshine sounds that bounced gleefully off the arboreal enclosure. Our first foray into the woods was to see the fusion sound stylings of London-based Afro-electro collective, Afriquoi. Combining traditional instruments like the marimba and djembe with an infectious digitally produced backing track and a rambunctious energy, Afriquoi had the woods shaking to their unique blend of globally-facing dance music long before the sun had even set.

It was this kind of energy from the crowd that made Boomtown so distinctly fun, and spotting people dancing like it was 3am at midday wasn’t an uncommon sight. Another highlight in the woods came in the form of nine-piece reggae band The Drop, whose second set of the festival was our last of the weekend – and what a way to close off a perfect Sunday evening. Conjuring up a colourful concoction of reggae, ska and even a bit of prog rock, the band worked the crowd skilfully with their tight instrumentation, hyping us into a frenzy with their catchy hooks and monumental crescendoes.

I haven’t even mentioned venues like the The Lion’s Den, The Body Shop, or Tribe of Frog that a lot of people would have spent a lot of time at, but that’s really just a testament to how much there is to explore at Boomtown. Styling a festival so heavily on distinctive districts that are characterised by their cultural and musical penchant, it’s only natural that you’d spend more time in the spaces that most align with you, in the same way as you would in real, permanent towns and cities. But as towns go, Boomtown has got to be the craziest, most decadent place to inhabit in the whole of the UK. 

Adam Tiran