It's Saturday afternoon and I'm spending money like it's going out of fashion. The croupier at the Black Jack table emits a wry chuckle as I give him my last note in exchange for some plastic chips. I have to keep believing. My luck might soon change and if it does the windfall I could win might propel me to the upper terrace of Paradise Heights. From here, I'll be able to look down on the sewer rat punters as they idly meander through the makeshift buildings of this new area of Boomtown (replacing Mayfair from last year). I'll be able to improve myself by getting lip enlargements from the plastic surgeons who roam the upper balconies. All of my aspirations can come true.
I go all in and stick on 18. The dealer twists until his cards count 19. I've lost my last dollar but perhaps it's for the best. I'm not sure I'd be very good as one of the elite.
Here we are at Boomtown again; the truly astonishing, immersive festival experience. With so much fresh creativity around every corner of the site, it's the playground of your dreams. Dare to suspend your well-grounded sense of reality and Boomtown becomes a town in which you can escape and take on alter-egos. You're a character in this epic role-playing game as you throw yourself into four days of hardcore partying. Chances are that you'll emerge on the other side a different person.
Photographer Phil and I arrive on Wednesday this year. We've been offered a camping space in the salubrious Boomtown Springs area. Just one mention of porcelain, flushing toilets was enough to persuade the both of us that we should take advantage of this upgrade. That was before we even knew about the multitude of hot showers, the pool parties and mansion house discos that would be exclusively used by the residents of the Springs.
As we approach Boomtown Springs, we're greeted by a welcome party of keep-fit enthusiasts. Like yellow-coats from Hi De Hi, these fizzing holiday reps, dressed in tight fitting white P.E. Kits, urge us to take a break whilst they hand out glasses of prosecco. We take full advantage of that and also don't complain when the very helpful holiday reps offer to carry our bags to our pitching point. "It's all part of the service", we're told.
People have paid a fair whack to either camp in this area or to upgrade to it. It's certainly pleasant to have the extra space and camping perks. The promised interactive bits seem to consist of an early(ish) wake-up call via a megaphone-wielding performer wanting us to partake in aerobics around the pool. I'm not sure that, on balance, the Boomtown Springs experience offered good value for money.
We do get to meet Adam at Boomtown Springs though. Pitching up his basic tent near to ours, we first catch him, just after a beer accident, frantically removing his pegs so that he can shake his ale-sodden groundsheet. Adam has travelled to his first Boomtown alone from Ireland. He's read loads about Boomtown and is desperate to see it for himself. It’s hard to tire of Boomtown yet as each year passes you’re able to get more of a handle on the proceedings. Nothing is quite like the first time and we can now live vicariously through Adam.
Last year, getting onto the site and pitching the tent had been far from simple. Reports this year indicate a much smoother entry so hats off to the organisers for overcoming that logistical issue. Catching up with friends by the Bad Apple bar, everyone seems calm, relaxed and yet excited for the weekend. A fair proportion decide to head downtown to the new ‘diss-order alley’ area to watch Idles do their thing. We mooch along for the ride. Adam’s jaw hits the floor as he begins to see the magnitude of what Boomtown is. He wants to rush off down every nook and cranny, explore behind every door. His curiosity will do him proud this weekend.
Idles are as fabulous as ever; perhaps even better than they’ve been in recent showings. They play in the earache factory, a canvas covered space that can surely host no more than 300 people. It gets quite squashy in the tent and before long the whole space becomes one massive mosh pit. The heat in here is stiflingly impressive and sweat begins to fall from the ceiling into our plastic pint glasses. I leave for a loo break and when I return I’m greeted by a wall of warmth, odour and perspiration. It must be ten degrees hotter in the tent than it is just outside.
When I first started to go to Boomtown, I’m not sure that I saw this many guitars. DJs ruled the roost from what I recall and the heavier end of the musical spectrum was barely accounted for. It was rarer to see punk, rock and metal bands than it is now. Perhaps this is reflective of a changing dynamic; positively received performances by both Limp Bizkit and Enter Shikari suggest that the kids of today are falling back in love with the angry and the aggressive. That’s before I even make mention of The Dead Kennedy’s being on the bill at the earache.
I’m up in the Whistlers Green area of Boomtown. From its vantage point high above the festival, it remains a fine place to head to wile away a few hours amidst communal campfires, metal and wood carving opportunities, saunas and local food. I’m here for a specific purpose though. I’d met the Easy Stride band earlier in the week in a lovely Dorset cider pub. Like me, they were using the time between Bestival and Boomtown and making a bit of a camping holiday of it all. We briefly talked and in my drunken haze I made a loose commitment to see their Boomtown set at the Floating Lotus tent. I’m thoroughly glad that I did. Soulful and sunny, this was a set full of smiles and positive energy. When they introduced a Portuguese hat juggler as their special guest, the crowd stood to their feet to boogie. Gentle and happy, this chance encounter set me up for the day.
In so many ways, Boomtown is all about those chance encounters. Here I am sheltering from the drizzle under the canopy of a beer tent. I begin a conversation about the weather with Aiden from New Zealand. He's a saxophone player in a band from the Balkans who played last night and are due to play again in a few hours. From what I can tell he's had a fruitful life, travelling on the money he's able to earn by playing and teaching music. We hang around as more rain descends. Aiden doesn't grumble as his feet, covered with pretty rudimentary flip-flops, get caked in mud. We watch DJs in Copper County, the new Wild West area and ska-soul bands in the Hotel Paradiso tent. Aiden heads back to the Bandstand where his band are due to play and I resolve to see them a bit later. Maika are a revelation. Aiden had described them as Balkan punk pop. He'd also mentioned that two members of the band had been unable to get visas so the band have had to quickly prepare backing tapes. Maika are a lot of fun; fronted by two in-yer-face females in a bastardised version of their national costumes. They sing and pose from the top of speaker stacks; it's like if M.I.A. ever did the Eurovision. Skewed pop with singalong shouty choruses that instantly stick in your head. I curse myself that I'd not seen them the previous night as well.
M.I.A. headlined on the Lions Den last year and I missed her. Despite the rain making things a bit sloppy on the walk up to the Den I make sure that I catch two of the headliners this year. Gorillaz have learnt much about epic shows since their widely-panned (Contrary to the end, I loved it) Glastonbury top billing. At Boomtown, some argue that they're still far too dependent upon the boom and bluster of Damon Albarn but I'm watching something with tender tempo and bright beauty. Shaun Ryder takes to the stage when they launch into Dare and I can't help hoping that he fares better than Lou Reed and Mark E Smith (who special guested at Glastonbury).
Die Antwoord headline the redesigned Lions Den on the Sunday. They put on a show. It looks, from a distance as if the stage is set to resemble a township. An elaborate washing line is draped across part of the stage that's split into a few levels. I've seen them a couple of times before. There's no denying that their visual energy draws you in but I can't help wondering if the 'barbie girl gone wrong' music is actually that good. I stay for a while until the urge to leave becomes too great.
I should perhaps have been more adventurous this Boomtown. I'd seen quite a few of the bands I watch at Bestival the previous week. Elvana, the Elvis-fronted Nirvana act, had put on such a show a week earlier that I had to watch them again. At Boomtown, they give us an extra brain-melt by encoring with a David Bowie number. Kitty, Daisy and Lewis prove that their fine Bestival show wasn't a one-off and that they're always this good when they play the Old Mines. Photographer Phil recommends My Baby having seen them at Womad and I'm glad he does. Their mixing of blues rock and housey-dance is captivating. Ditto the charming Nadine Shah. I make a mental note to have a good listen to her Mercury-nominated album.
I'm watching Shpongle in the Psychedelic Forest. I say I'm watching them but it's pretty rammed in amongst the trees and I can't see that much through my squiffy eyes. The sound they make is great for my late Saturday night mood. Typically, I shy away from phrases like transcendental meditation yet if I wasn't such a cynic this is probably an experience akin to such feeling. I shut my eyes so that I can simply see rainbows within the lights and visuals. I allow my head to hop amongst the trees, to bounce between the makeshift platforms. Shpongle play for two hours and I am in my element.
Last year, I threw myself head first into the immersive maze that runs throughout Boomtown. The story is complicated, nuanced, full of twists and pretty hard for anyone new to the festival to understand. You get sent on undercover missions by various nefarious agencies. Nothing is that clear but you pick up snippets of information from the many actors that are playing roles around the site. This year, I dip in and out of the story. I wait in queues for an hour or two to enter the scientific headquarters of Bang Hai technologies. Whilst there, I get a guided tour and get an insight into the new life-enhancing products that are being developed for our pleasure. I visit the Ask A.M.I. tent after being instructed that this is my mission from the hacker's toolkit app. I meet undercover agents who tell me that the nervous scientist back in the scientific HQ has some information for me. A.M.I. (Artificial Machine Intelligence) knows your mind before you do. She's going to be launched by the Chief Executive of Bang Hai technologies at Sector 6 during the closing ceremony. Boomtown Fair's daily newspaper, the Daily Rag, hints at the return of Nickolas Boom, the rightful owner of this land. We all wait with bated breath.
"Are you going to sit down during all of this set?", I'm asked by a young chemistry teacher from Leeds. I'm at Sector 6, another incredible Boomtown stage where lights and sound mix to provide such a dazzling display. "I'm just resting my weary legs", I offer. "It's been a tiring weekend."
But I realise my excuse is frowned upon. This is the secret set; another headliner before we all get to see the final show and a glimpse into Boomtown's future and I ought to muster that last dose of energy. Andy C has been flown across from another gig in Spain at great expense. Apparently, it's a story of missed flights and desperate connections but the drum and bass kids seem delighted that he's now here. They go crazy as he mixes up some classics. He departs from the stage and a video-reel begins.
Unless you've immersed yourself in the story of Boomtown fair, the final show will surely have seemed random and confusing. Boomtown is a spectacle though and this is no different. A.M.I. seems to break whilst the Chief Executive of Banghai technologies has a breakdown. Nickolas Boom returns and pleads with all gathered that they respect the land on which Boomtown takes place. All are urged to leave no trace and to take their tents home. I've lost count of the number of messed-up scrotes who have urinated against trees when urinals are no more than ten metres away this weekend. Boomtown does right to focus upon respecting yourself, each other and your city before announcing that this storyline is drawing to a close, offering a glimpse into Chapter 11 - the radical city.
Everybody should go to Boomtown Fair at least once in their lives. If you do go once, you'd probably want to go again and again. Always evolving, it's a spectacle of the highest order. I chat to Americans who look to do one international festival each year. They confirm what I've always felt; that this is an internationally unique gathering. I get a sense that big changes are in store for chapter 11 as the town becomes a city. You run out of superlatives when describing this sprawling monster; simply, Boomtown continues to be the best.
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