Overall Report @ Boomtown Fair, Winchester, GB (Aug. 7th -11th 2014)

Immerse Yourself in a Whole New World at the UK’s Boomtown Fair
Overall Report “Immerse Yourself in a Whole New World” @ Boomtown Fair, Winchester, GB 2014.08.07-11

Boomtown Fair
The summer festival season in the UK offers a huge array of acts big and small for music fans to enjoy. With long-term giants like Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds dominating the festival calendar, it’s refreshing to find something a little smaller, a little less mainstream and a whole lot weirder to galavant about in. Always up for an adventure, it was with some curiosity that I headed down to the Boomtown Fair near Winchester for a weekend of music, theatrics and not a little bit of mud.

Sitting within and atop a natural punch bowl in the rolling countryside just outside of Winchester, Boomtown Fair eschews the standard festival setup of stages, stages, stages and camping, and instead goes for an immersive experience; one which encourages a sense of community by delineating city areas, each with its’ own distinct character. China Town and Barrio Loco in the Downtown district display a seedy charm in evocative building facades and small venues playing punk, ska and latin. Meanwhile Uptown’s Mayfair and Wild West channel 1920s burnished glitz and swing music in addition to dodgy saloon bars and country. Dotted within, about, and above them are small copses of trees, seemingly innocuous until the bass thrum of an in-wood rave punches through the foliage and kicks you in the aural gut.Boomtown Fair In Downtown we came across the Police Rave Unit, a converted police van with DJs and sub-woofers replacing sirens, whilst in Uptown the nostalgic childhood tintinnabulations of the local ice cream van had been swapped for lights and bass in the bastardized form of Mr. Whompy, who dished out cones of sonic delight instead of soft-whip ice cream.

Within the city are a colourful cast of characters, some part of the festival crew, some just Boomtown citizens bringing their fancy dress boxes along with them for the fair – geisha, cowboys, flappers, Day of the Dead inspired get ups, and the more than occasional worrying throwback to the 80s in the form of shell-suit jackets which may, or may not, have been laced with a sprinkling of irony.

Boomtown FairWithin each area a plethora of other things could be found to do if one wasn’t particularly enamoured with the musical line-up on the various stages. Dank Parish performed daily burials and exorcisms; photo booths allowed you to dress up and pose; and when the weather was really becoming apocryphal cinema tents provided respite from the deluge outside. In Mayfair, the “Gentleman’s Club” proved to be a highlight of Friday afternoon with a series of silly games involving giant inflatable boxing rings, oversized boxing gloves and bungee chords, and some jolly good jousting, all overseen by a duo of brilliantly sharp and potty-mouthed comperes and a DJ with a grin like the Cheshire Cat.

Night-time meanderings in search of a dry seat found us nervously ducking our heads through some beaded curtains, only to be pleasantly surprised by a room full of doilies, beaded lampshades and some slovenly yet welcoming sofas – the overall effect settling somewhere between retirement home and crack den chic. Taking a seat, there was a moment of calm before the owner of the room, Grandma, came out from behind a dresser in her wig, balancing a cigarette on her lip, and cranked up Rick James’ “Superfreak”, setting off a torrent of grinding and gyrating from the room’s inhabitants whilst she and her geriatric friend puffed on fags and oscillated in their rocking chairs. It was all getting somewhat akin to an unwanted lap dance during Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” when a group of girls strolled in and walked into the wardrobe. A doorway to Narnia or hell, perhaps? Either way, it was all a bit too much by this point and I made a swift exit to continue hunting down an Austrian Ukrainian thrash-funk-polka band. As you do.

Boomtown FairDespite all the myriad distractions available, the weekend is one built around music, and there was plenty on offer – ska, punk, reggae, house, drum ‘n bass, folk, skiffle, and the questionable “pirate-core”. Freddie Notes, The Skatalites and The Wailers all provided some old-school reggae and ska earlier in the day, while other bands like Molotov Jukebox and Electric Swing Circus brought high-energy, eclecticism and exoticism. Hayseed Dixie, meanwhile, provided a great dose of rockgrass covers of songs you may know in other guises, as well as the best guitar poses of the weekend.

Boomtown FairMost anticipated and probably the most divisive of the weekend were the headliners on Friday and Saturday. As evidenced by the conversations emanating from every tent we passed, reggae dancehall singer Shaggy was the talk of Boomtown, with many of the crowd being of the age for the singer to be something of a nostalgic goodtime act. Unfortunately, the death throes of Hurricane Bertha whipped across The UK in the afternoon and by the time Shaggy took to the stage, the crowd was inches deep in mud, cold, wet and getting slightly impatient. Backed by a cracking band of musicians, Shaggy’s opening songs engaged the audience pretty well, but later on the first grumblings could be heard as technical issues on the weather-beaten stage killed the mood, and perhaps for some crowd members the reality didn’t live up to expectations. Despite that, a great number of people stuck through the torrential rain until the set finished early and came away happy.

Boomtown FairPunk legends NOFX headlined the Town Centre stage on Saturday night, a break in the weather making for an enthusiastic and packed crowd who devotedly lasted through the 90 minute set. The band ran through a crowd-pleasing set of pretty much every NOFX song you’d want to hear and even chucked in a encore for good measure.

Boomtown FairOther acts of the weekend which deserve a mention are Austrian-based thrash/jazz/polka terrors Russkaja whose Saturday set got rained on hard but who soldiered on regardless. English folk singer Beans on Toast played the tiny bandstand at last year’s Boomtown, but this time rounded off Sunday afternoon with a packed show at the much larger Old Mines stage that had people hanging off fences and lurking in the bushes of the adjacent footpath in a bid to get closer to the charmingly witty folkist who sings about sex, drugs and politics. Dragging up a random beat boxer from the crowd mid-set was a wonderful stroke of genius, and even more so keeping quiet about Rockney legends Chas and Dave performing on a nearby stage.

Boomtown FairSwing, reggae, folk and polka aside, Boomtown caters to the dance crowd as well, and features one of the trippiest dance experiences I’ve ever had – dancing at midnight, in mud, in the rain, under a giant spider shooting massive fireballs into the night sky. Known as Arcadia, the mammoth construction towers above revellers, creating a 360-degree outdoor sound experience and light show. The midnight show saw the articulated arms of the giant arachnid blowing smoke into the air, as lasers cut through the rain and the shriek of gas jets puncturing the night sky echoed across the festival site. One of the most spectacular festival experiences I’ve had.

Boomtown FairBoomtown Fair is only in its 6th year and every year something else gets added in. Clearly put together by a group of very artistic and creative people, Boomtown offers something a little different from the bigger festivals, and seems to have a clear vision of the kind of place it wants to be. If you’re in England next summer, the dates are already in place (August 6th-9th 2015). Don’t forget your glitter.

Take a stroll around the festival with the full photo report here.

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Laura Cooper
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Laura Cooper's Works

Laura Cooper
Web Site / Twitter / Facebook
Laura Cooper's Works

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