BoomTown 2014 – creative and still refreshingly non-commercial

Boomtown Fireworks - Scott M Salt / Daisy B Photography

Once a year the Matterly Estate near Winchester is transformed into a vibrant metropolis of music and madness. BoomTown fair, now in its sixth year, is a festival like no other. Divided into nine districts, each themed to a particular style of music, BoomTown comes seasoned with a wide variety of flavours. Just like the tagine I bought from the Moroccan food stall there, it manages to harmonise them perfectly.

It is the nooks and crannies of BoomTown’s districts which give the festival an exciting edge. During the day, you can pop into Oldtown’s Job Centre for a silly interview, or drown your hangover in the dusty saloons of the Wild West. As late afternoon arrives the streets come alive, and you can immerse yourself in the seedy establishments of DownTown, or head to a lantern-lit alley in Chinatown to sample a slice of ska-punk. In this sense, BoomTown is a lot like a theme park, except without the roller coasters, and a lot more mud, mud and music.

We were camped some way up the hill between the festival’s two main areas, Uptown and DownTown, which meant that everything was only a brisk walk away. Lion’s Den, the 40ft tall Aztec themed stage, could arguably be considered the festival’s ‘main’ stage with some of the largest acts performing there, but there was such a variety on offer that to call one stage ‘main’ would be a disservice to the others.

The Wailers at The Lion's Den (Credit: Jody Hartley)

The Wailers at The Lion’s Den (Credit: Jody Hartley)

Highlights at the Lion’s Den included The Wailers (who performed a set worthy of one love certification), Macka B and the Roots Ragga Band, Dawn Penn, Congo Natty with UK all-stars, and Mungo’s Hi-Fi (who featured two emcees with similar sounding names, Charlie P and Parly B). The biggest disappointment was Shaggy, who was late to perform and underwhelming to say the least. It may have been due to the light rain shower, or the fact that he had to stretch his only three songs over an hour set, but I found myself leaving very near the beginning. Either way, I’m sure Shaggy denied all responsibility for his lacklustre display.

no record is complete without a bit of “drinking, cheating, killing, and hell”

Uptown’s answer to the Lion’s Den was the precariously built Town Center, which hosted some of the weekends most loved acts. Rockgrass mentalists Hayseed Dixie made sure that everyone knew what the four elements of a good song were from the start; obviously no record is complete without a bit of “drinking, cheating, killing, and hell”. The Skatellites and Molotov Jukebox (of Harry Potter Tonks fame) both had red-letter appearances amongst an alphabet of great acts, but the performance sans pareil came courtesy of The Cat Empire, whose uplifting blend of ska and jazz rejuvinated the crowd after three days of hedonism.

Hedonism, which well and truly climaxed at night. The gargantuan, fire breathing behemoth Arcadia was like a Tripod out of War of the Worlds on drugs; a spider shaped stage which entranced the human populace below, making them dance like puppets. Poco Loco, Bassline Circus and the Devil Kicks Dancehall made up the majority of Downtown’s other large venues, the last of which hosted my band of the festival. I had never heard of Spanish gypsy/ska/punk outfit Sonido Vegetal before drunkenly ambling into the Devil Kicks Dancehall, but their high octane Gogol Bordello-esque performance thoroughly chewed and spat me out, groaning and clutching a bruised stomach.

The Jolly Dodger (Credit: Scott M Salt)

The Jolly Dodger (Credit: Scott M Salt)

Other delights amongst the festivals 106 venues included the Raveyard, BoomTown’s techno graveyard (which proved a bit much at 4AM), and the Jolly Dodger stage, a giant pirate ship which characterised the detail that went into the theming of the weekend (my friend Rich even thought it was a real ship). The Ballroom was the go-to place for anything electro-swing, and there were several such acts over the course of the weekend which really impressed, including Italian e-swing exponents The Sweet Life Society. BoomTown is great at giving niche and up and coming genres the spotlight, making it stand out from other rock, indie or house music festivals. It has also managed to mostly avoid the commercialisation which plagues other events, successfully holding onto its authenticity and starting ideals at a time when everyone else is shedding them in favour of big sponsors.

The weather could have been the only downer on what was otherwise a fantastic weekend, yet despite forgetting a raincoat, the thunder wasn’t enough to quell the vibes. It is a richness of colour, creativity and silliness that pumps through the arteries of BoomTown, and it would have been difficult for a little bit of rain to spoil the show.

If you’re into reggae, ska, stage props, world music, dub, fancy dress, techno, silliness, pyrotechnics, jungle, hammocks, UK garage, sumo wrestling, jelly fighting, table tennis, orientalist theming, fruit parties, pirates, gypsy rhythms, funfair rides, alcohol, raving, hip-hop, marijuana, samba, the welfare state, aliens, cowboys, roller skating, camping or poetry, then its worth pencilling next years dates into your calendar. If you’re not into any of those things, then you ought to liven up and go get some vibes anyway.

Roll on 2015.

• BoomTown Fair will take place from the 6th-9th of August 2015 at the Matterly Estate near Winchester. Tickets will be avaliable from November 1st here.

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