The ultimate escapism of Boomtown Fair

Other | Thursday 14th September 2017 | Phil

If one festival in the UK can truly be described as a giant playground for adults, many would certainly say it is the festival affectionately known as Boomtown Fair.

With twelve distinct areas in which you can choose to spend your time, Boomtown is a festival truly proud of its eclectic identity, paying homage and supporting the vast majority of musical genres whilst maintaining a vividly British spine made strong by reggae and drum and bass.  

Once chosen by General Eisenhower to address the Allied troops prior to The D-Day landings, The Matterley Bowl and Estate has now over the recent years played host to numerous festivals including Homelands, Slammin’ Vinyl and Glade, though Boomtown has easily been its most successful and most well organised festival, deserving of its now global status as a must do bucketlist festival.

Not only making use of Matterley Bowl as the festival’s ‘Downtown’ area, the Boomtown site also encompasses the giant hill next to it otherwise known as ‘Uptown’, home to Sector 6, the most imposing tower stage of UK bass music in the country along with the amphitheatre-like spectacle that is the reggae dominated Lions Den.

With last year's Boomtown having been a resounding success with its all round magnificent production and non-stop sunshine, it was looking rather bleak for the 9th installment of the this full-on fun fest. A fortnight filled with bad weather and heavy downpours nearly turned the site into an enormous mud bath before it had even started. Allegedly rumours had started to circulate in the week leading up to the festival's opening that they were thinking of calling the whole thing off.

However, if the wonderful stage builds, fantastic organisation and pure quality of sound last year was anything to go by, the planners and production team would be able to pull it off. And, safe to say, by the time the gates to Boomtown eventually opened to the public midday Thursday, all was ready in true fairground splendor for the eager campers.

The well publicised stress of early queuing troubles whereby many were waiting hours to get inside was resolved as quickly as possible, much to the pleasure of both the campers and the organisers.

With far too many acts to mention individually, Guestlist has chosen a selection of the biggest crowd drawers and most powerful performances that were on offer at this year's Boomtown.

The biggest act set to perform on Friday was the mighty Cypress Hill. The reefa smoking rap legends ran through a selection of their biggest hits that left the crowd begging for more, along with some fresh material from their forthcoming album. Celebrated UKG veterans Heartless Crew had the crowd at Banghai Towers popping off with a set filled with garage classics. From friday night into early Saturday morning, the High Focus Records takeover of the Poco Loco stage drew huge crowds, with The Four Owls and Ocean Wisdom raising the roof before the combined Dead Players X Problem Child set finished things off there with a rowdy 2hrs of lyrical skill and showmanship.

On Saturday Grooverider, FabioRandall and Ray Keith formed the core acts at Robotika, making sure the crowds were treated to a quality selection of dark, liquid and neurofunk styles from three of the genres most consummate professionals, getting the drum heads ready for Nicky Blackmarket’s early evening slot the following day (which he totally smashed in his own classic time honoured style) and of course Shy FX’s headline Sunday night set.

On Sunday, Ben UFO, Mr Scruff, and Joy Orbison individually performed storming sets before all going back to back to back to close the Vamos stage with the kind of one off set you might never see again. A rare UK appearance by Sublime with Rome made sure for a magical performance on the town centre stage. Uptown, while Gentleman's Dub Club and Eve Lazarus turned up the crowd a few notches with the penultimate set before Lion’s Den headliner M.I.A. At the forever imposing Sector 6, Shy FX hosted by MC Stamina rightly commanded a crowd larger in life if not in size too as the one watching M.I.A, who herself sparkled during her performance of ‘Paper Planes’ at the Lions Den. Shy dropped non stop bangers that set the crowd alight including a Sharp Shooter remix and Chase and Status’ No Problem. Black Sun Empire were given the honours of the closing set for Banghai Towers and did not disappoint.

BIG Shout Outs also go to - Loyle Carner, Solo Banton, Lutan Fyah, AJ Tracey, Inja, King Prawn, The Specials, Protoje, Toots & the Maytals, My Nu leng, Ed Cox, Booka Shade, Charlie 2na & Krafty Kuts, Ed Solo & Deekline, Friction, Spectrasoul.

Two small bits of practical advice here…. Due to the size of the site, it's good to get there by latest friday morning and get your bearings in order to grasp the lie of the land. Also, if at all possible, it's good to decide which acts you really want to see early so you can manage your time between Uptown and Downtown. Walk to and from more than once or twice a day will be a strain on fitness freaks let alone city dwellers who aren't used to countryside hiking style walks.

But let's be real for one hot minute. When we tell you Boomtown was insane, we really, really mean it. At times, especially once pleasantly intoxicated, you might find yourself in the midst of a random conga line or surrounded by any one of a variety of theatrical acts that make up the underlying Boomtown theme as funded by the mega corporation that is Banghai Industries.

Anyone spending time at Boomtown would marvel at the ferocious production values and couldn't fail to notice the drum and bass and reggae that serves as the festivals spine. However, those with an affinity with rock, indie, and even jazz were all well served, making the four day festival accessible to all musical tastes.

Only true monsters of the festival circuit and campers who look after themselves thoroughly will still be feeling 100% by Sunday night. Walks between downtown and uptown sober you up a treat and help keep you on an even keel for socialising, even after spending a few hours getting trashed in the sunshine.

Attention to detail is second to none with all the builds and installations that make for mini towns such as Uptown’s Wild West and Downtown’s Chinatown, packed with actors and extras playing the part of locals, regularly engaging in bizarre dialogue with each other and party goers alike. The addition of the Sky Bar this year added another touch of class whereby you could view the majority of downtown whilst sipping on a glass of your favourite bubbly.

Highlights of the installations included the insane asylum, where we were psychoanalysed, thrown into a ball pit, a padded cell, spun around in an electro shock therapy chair, then sat down for a group therapy session where we witnessed patients make out and grind on clearly very uncomfortable security guards, and of course, ended up in a rave. Ironically it was an absolutely mental experience.

The MicroRave, literally a tiny rave in Dstrkt 5 about the size of a large living room where it was more than safe to say that everyone was completely off their nut. Not just like the usual festival off their nut but, volunteering for a skanking and footwork competition on a runway led by a northern MC in a waistcoat, top hat and steampunk goggles, off their nut. It’s always fun watching people so hyped to be competing in a dance off that they have to be asked to leave the stage. There was also the ASBO Disco but that's one we'll leave you lot to discover for yourselves next time.

The Loop, a drug testing service that has become a most welcome addition to many UK festivals over the last few years was as busy as it's ever been, ensuring that those wishing to make sure that the consumables they were in possession of were actually what they were meant to be. Festivals like Boomtown should be commended for encouraging safe drug use rather than persecuting festival goers for what is undoubtedly a part of the festival experience for the majority.

Along with The Loop testing service, general welfare services were also highly visible, offering not only free water, sun lotion, and condoms but also counselling for those unhappy festival goers in need of a shoulder to cry on.

To summarise, Boomtown Fair is not only a hugely immersive experience but a titanic assault on the senses that may leave you reeling at reality for at least a week afterwards. With so many heavily themed areas to explore in between venturing to hear your favourite Bass music DJs and bands, it is most unlikely that you will have a moment to spare at this insane funfest. A great festival for those seeking a more full on experience rather than the more chilled ethos of a Wilderness or Big Chill style gathering, it is also recommended by us at Guestlist as a great festival for first time festival goers, whether elders or youngers, especially for those who come from inner city areas, with Boomtown's huge DnB/reggae big dance aura sure to make them all feel right at home.

If all the footage you've seen here doesn't give you a taste for it, the party person within you may already perhaps be long lost. The celebrations for a decade of Boomtown Fair await at next year's Chapter 10 and we at Guestlist imagine that with no question whatsoever, it's going to be the 'must be at' UK festival of 2018.

For more footage check out the official Boomtown YouTube channel and follow @boomtownfairofficial on Instagram.

Special Thanks to our team members Amelia for going out and enjoying Boomtown for the first time and to OG Chin for sharing his thoughts on his experience there this year!