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There’s really nothing that can be put on paper that truly captures what it’s like to be at Boomtown. The aura of the festival—an infectious spirit of imagination radiating from its very fabric—it electrifies you. Gorged on a sensory overload of sonic treats, eye candy and abundant narcotics, the gaudy masses of beautiful freaks that constitute the patrons of this carnivalesque paradise riot, giddy like children, through its gypsy charms and crashing walls of sound, desperately trying to absorb the whole plethora of sublime decadence. Galvanized into blissful hysteria, every rave junky, spacehead and misfit in this beaming crowd is bouncing off the walls from dawn till dusk, with barely a moment wasted to catch their breath. I’ve honestly never seen people having so much fun in my life.
Boomtown is at the cutting edge of the explosion of unique festival culture we have been witness to over recent years. Breathtaking scenery—arranged like the psychedelic re-imagining of a science fiction film set, with each area themed and complete with ongoing, interlocking narratives—composes a surreal, mystical wonderland, bulging with outlandish curiosities and scrupulous attention to detail. This is an extreme edge of British eccentricity unbeaten by even its most demented festival contemporaries. The droll camp of Mayfair’s pseudo-posh 1920’s swankiness leads into the shiny oriental glam of Chinatown: kooky caricatures of urban luxury set in almost provocative contrast with the fresh fairytale groves of The Hidden Woods and Tribe Of Frog—bordering utopias of the futuristic and rustic, hippy-mystical. The majestically redesigned Lion’s Den, now a crumbling Aztec temple flanked by woodland beaches, is one-upped only by Arcadia - an enormous fire-spurting techno-spider fashioned from scrap metal. The visual aesthetics are just incredible - even if you emptied the site of music, performance art and street theatre, Boomtown would be worthy of considerable acclaim – how many other festivals can you say that of?
From this stunning dreamworld blasts an intense cocktail of party musics – ska, gypsy jazz, electroswing, psytrance, hip hop, drum & bass, jungle, reggae, dub, dancehall, breakcore, punk and psychobilly. Unlike the traditional music festival and much in the vein of Glastonbury’s themed after-hours areas, Boomtown’s lineup is selected to best aid a seamless synesthetic fusion with the themed wonderland it’s placed in – there is relatively little discussion of, or importance given to the ‘artistic genius’, and comparatively little budget seems to have been spent on monolithic headline acts. This shift in priority is emblematic of the new wave of British festivals - a direction the positivity of which is seen easily in comparison to hollow corporate bores such as Reading and Leeds. The strategy is also supported by the victories of some of the weekend’s smaller bands – who would’ve thought, for instance, that small-time gypsy swing kooks Biere De Luxe would have upstaged headliners Ozomatli?
The dizzying eclecticism of music would seem on paper occasionally to border on the goofy and counter-intuitive, and yet placed in this otherworldly context even the most contrasting artists seem to tap into the same vibe. In fact, this is symptomatic of a touch of genius on the part of the festival’s booking agents. Placing a band like flamboyant gypsy raconteurs Orkestra Del Sol on the same line-up as spiky hardcore punks The Casualties may seem strange and certainly results in some very baffled looking bands (The Casualties’ bewildered comments on the festival were nothing short of hilarious), but in placing them together the kindred spirit of their musics—that rebellious, outsider romanticism—is united in brotherhood. The same could be said of placing free party soundsystems next to reggae outlaws. Boomtown’s magic is being able to amplify the exoticism of these cultures; exposing their unique beauties in an equally unique way.

Another apparent contradiction is the proximity of ludicrous, off-the-wall humour and heavy, sore political complaint. While many bands have brought serious agendas to their sets—Citizen Fish, Leftover Crack and The Selecter being prime examples—the bustle of outrageous silliness in Boomtown’s streets (a motley crew of circus jesters, tricksters and magicians) provide these campaigners’ ultimate antithesis, collectively baring their arses in the face of any notion of sobriety or sensibleness. However, again this apparent conflict results in a strangely consonant relationship, and although it’s perhaps hard to imagine that many people are spending their weekend contemplating the virtues of, say, anarchism; Boomtown’s combination of hedonistic entertainment, imaginative frontier fiction and liberal propaganda works together to stitch the daydream of a volatile horizon where unbridled expressive freedom reaches, however temporarily, beyond the chains and codes of everyday life, and thus the political oratory is not wasted. Musical highlights of the weekend include a raucous and ludicrously upbeat set from two-tone legends Bad Manners, some thrillingly acrobatic wordplay from bespectacled Brighton rapper Dr Syntax (supported by the tighter-than-a-duck’s-arse live jam band Mouse Outfit), a unique edge on funky reggae and atmospheric dub provided by Backbeat Soundsystem, a blinding set by the reliably awesome drum & bass hero Mickey Finn and the incredible clout of hardcore ska-punk thrashers Random Hand.

The music finishes early on Sunday night, but it almost doesn’t matter. Lurching mobs of wild-eyed ravers, adrenaline-fierce and blissed-out—the cascading breaks of Zinc’s closing set still echoing in their ears—are in a fist-pumping, quasi-possessed frenzy. That the primal bellows and crashes of their own chanting and stomping are all that’s left to dance to bothers no-one, and the party churns on, the tribal drumming of steel bins galloping, hypnotic, through till dawn, when the melancholy of the festival’s last sunrise rises like a lump in our throats and we must accept that, alas, reality beckons.

Review by Lars Donohoe
Photos supplied by Offical Boomtown Fair

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