Boomtown 2019: Stormy and Sweet

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Arriving at the Matterley Estate, home to Boomtown Fair, it was impossible to not immediately be swept up into the festival feeling. Excitement was everywhere you looked; from the volunteers shepherding us inside in full costume (“It’s hard work being an arrow,” one woman pointing us inside said laughingly, bedecked in a giant arrow costume) to the masses of festivalgoers charging up the hill towards the gates.

Once inside, it wasn’t long before I found myself in the midst of the wildest party- swept Downtown, I explored countless venues where the range of different music stunned me. The diversity in the music we heard whilst wandering on our first night was immense; seeing the Spanish ska rock band Limando was a particular highlight, as their high energy set at the Bunker featured covers of Madness and The Specials. Hearing heavy beats blasting out of an ice cream van- Mr Whompy- was surreal but amusing, and seeing dub and reggae acts at the classic venue Tangled Roots was an unmissable Boomtown feature.

Dubtendo was also seemingly much busier than previous years, hosting sets from an array of big names in the scene- Benny Page, High Contrast, and Bou all staged sets here over the weekend, drawing crowds that spilt out into the surrounding area.

Yet this year it was not just mindless partying, but a community having fun with a conscience: Boomtown 2019 intended to not only increase awareness of the irreversible damages of climate change, but to do something about it. Everywhere you looked there was evidence of the effort towards change made by the festival- the compost loos, the three-bin recycling system, the ban on single-use plastics.

There was kindness and sense of compassion buzzing amongst the people of Boomtown which I had not seen anywhere else before; they genuinely cared for each other, the future of the festival and the environment, which was expressed through marches, the planting of a tree, and of course the incredible opening ceremony. Held at Lion’s Den on the Thursday, the show featured speaking meditation led by Rita Hraiz, and the announcement of the partnered Treesisters scheme by Claire Dubois. This was accompanied by an incredible coordinated dance performance on stage with full costumes, and what appeared to be a gigantic phoenix. Finally, Gentleman’s Dub Club took to the stage as the perfect opener to a festival full of good vibes.

It wasn’t just the music that contributed to the full Boomtown experience, either. Some of my favourite moments were during our explorations of the city- at the Hill Top in The Inconvenience Store, where we unwittingly allowed vinegar to be sprayed in our mouths and were doused with water guns upon entry. Villa Avarice, where my friends and I were forced to play a bizarre game in order to discover the area’s secrets. And who could forget having their data harvested by AMI, the city’s AI overlord, in an apparently legitimate electric chair?

However, the weekend was not all smooth sailing. Perhaps it was the crises that occurred that truly brought the people of Boomtown together: the near gale force winds flipping over tents, their inhabitants hiding shivering in the nearest bar; the early disaster at Relic Stage during Shy FX’s set, with the stage itself blowing apart into the crowd and causing the music to cease; the occasional sound system issues that caused the rapper Little Simz to refuse to come onstage.

With over 100 stages and venues across the city, it was impossible to not find music to fit your tastes, no matter how niche: I found myself in The People’s Front Room, a tiny hidden stage complete with armchairs and chintzy décor, listening to slam poetry over synth-y guitar. The day before I had stumbled upon the Scrapyard in the early hours of the morning, where hardcore partiers were dancing to a gabber music set, something which frankly scared me a little bit.

A favourite of mine was the forest parties spread across the site. Psy Forest was slightly vibier, but at Hidden Woods watching Daddy Freddy & Unit 137 was immensely entertaining, with the whole crowd enjoying the reggae beats.

Then, of course, there were the old classic acts. Big names returning to crowds who knew of their former glory. A more positive example was seeing Salt-n-Pepa in all their empowered female glory, storming onto the stage at Town Hall and delivering covers of 80s and 90s classic tunes, such as Michael Jackson hits; ‘This is not a show, this is a Salt n Pepa experience!’ they declared, whilst performing some slightly raunchy choreography to their most popular track ‘Shoop’.

Contrastingly, Mike Skinner performing as The Streets was somewhat painful to watch as he seemed worse for wear, though still managing to pull off hit songs supported by the crowd. Skinner wandered around the stage, rambling about the sea and how he wanted to get into people’s tents (baffling), constantly mentioning the waterfall on the side of the stage and eventually plunging himself into it, microphone and all.

On the final night, it was a set clash showdown between two behemoths in the Boomtown scene: the bulk of attendees were split between Amelie Lens at the Nucleus stage, or My Nu Leng at Relic. I chose the latter and was not disappointed: for almost two hours the bassline of their set raged out into the night, embodying the intense energy of the whole festival thus far. It was perfect spending my last night at Boomtown surrounded by tens of thousands of like-minded people, all hellbent on having a good time.

On a more personal note; thank you to everyone who made Boomtown so special for me, to my personal photographer Kelsey Raynor for the fit insta pics she provided, and to everyone who did their bit to make this year more environmentally minded than ever before.

See you next year!

Images by Kelsey Raynor

Press ticket provided by Neighborhood Ltd. / Boomtown 2019