Midday Friday, with the scorching sun rotting our already hideous campsite, we stumbled down to the Town Centre to catch Bison, the first band of the day. With the energy of the village seeping through to the stage, the crowd were already warmed up and without so much as a second’s consideration started hopping around to Bison’s rootsy acoustic fervour. We spent a large section of the day skanking to sun-kissed ska in the Old Town Theatre – highlights included the classic 2 tone covers of The Communicators and the flaming energy of King Porter Stomp, whose rolling lyrical flow set over tense dubby riddims, manic ska and Fela Kuti-style afrobeat was an early treat.
Throughout the day the beats got heavier and the bands more eccentric, and with a clean run of amazing acts all evening at the Town Centre, we moved on to the day’s early peak with the drum-smashing skank of London’s Dub Pistols. With true rude boy swagger, politically conscious lyrics and massive, infectious beats, these guys smashed any trace of the lazy or laid back out from their mostly Jamaican influences, looping killer riffs with gritty determination and inner city attitude. Directly after we were treated with 2 tone legends The Beat, whose larger-than-life toaster Ranking Roger was still as full of bounce as ever. Next up were NY-based Israeli genre-hoppers Balkan Beat Box, whose funked out blend of electronica, ragga, hip hop and world musics had all the raggedy exoticism and festival energy of a Gogol Bordello show. Finally, with the crowd swelling, ska-punk crowd pleasers Reel Big Fish got on stage. Despite having looked forward to one of my adolescent favourites headlining, I was a little disappointed by how juvenile their poppy choruses sounded to my no-longer-adolescent ears, and seeing how the band themselves had aged gave me a momentary age crisis. That said, Reel Big Fish could hardly be accused of being a band to take themselves seriously, and their self-deprecating irony made up for any cheese.
After another night of flat out partying in Boomtown’s after hours clubs (mostly spent in the Old School Garage, where the DJ’s spin, you guessed it, old school garage!), I breakfasted on some very strong acid and spent most of the day watching the trees in the Hidden Woods consume each other while reggae bands bounced the sandy ground. As the evening emerged I found it difficult to decide between the Town Centre and the Lion’s Den, and found myself darting about between the two like an overexcited child. The highlight of the night for me was the fantastic Macka B with his latest project The Roots Ragga Band, whose Prince Far-I style toasting over a lively concoction of roots, ska and dancehall spread positive messages of gender equality, self respect, ganja legalisation and anti-racism to an enthusiastic audience. Other than Babyhead, whose predictable rhyme patterns and over-the-top swagger could have done with cooling down a bit, the night was a sublime yet high-octane fiesta, with Asian Dub Foundation and self-proclaimed ‘king of the dancehall’ Beenie Man packing excellent headline sets.
Feeling a little worse for wear after three days with almost no sleep, I could have easily missed the early day bands on Sunday had it not been for the fact that kicking off the show were Jamaican legends The Skatalites. The mellow instrumental ska was a perfect warm up for the day, with jazz and latin flavours adding an exotic edge to their buoyant, memorable grooves. After a quick break it was back to the Town Centre for the Calypso-swayed trad ska of The Slackers, followed by the totally unique skacore explosion of another of my teenage favourites,Capdown.Only recently reformed and stumbling around in a drunken stupor, the set sounded a little loose, but the raw punk energy still whipped the crowd into a circle pit frenzy that even my five facial fractures couldn’t hold me back from.
Rumours of the secret headline act had been circulating all weekend, and with expectations of either Rancid or Fat Freddy’s Drop we were all surprised and elated to find roots legend Jimmy Cliff manning the Town Centre stage for a heart-warming African-flavoured set of crowd-swaying classics. Later at Bassline Circus, Dub Phizix and his crew of electrifying MC’s pulled off a set of truly original drum and bass: minimal and full of unusual metallic sounds. I had wanted to stick around for D&B legend DJ Hype, but found myself instead at Lion’s Den, where Italy’s one and only internationally recognized reggae artists Alborosie finished off the night with one of the most distinctive reggae sets of the weekend.
For anyone looking for an antidote to the mainstream festival’s habit of blowing budget on titanic headliners and leaving the rest of the entertainment to take care of itself, I couldn’t recommend Boomtown enough. The music was excellent from start to finish, but what really made the weekend was the galvanizing atmosphere, the colour, the time and effort put into everything from the sets to the costumes, and the inclusiveness of it all – the punks going nuts in the jungle raves, the hippies tripping out in the psychobilly tent, and every nook and cranny of the site infected with the same anarchic theme of screw loose debauchery that makes it so unique.Review by Lars Donohoe