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Boomtown Fair Bang-hai Palace

"The UK's Maddest City": Boomtown Fair

Boomtown Fair returned to the Matterley Estate for another head-spinning weekend of debauchery and silliness.
Boomtown Fair

"You could quite easily have the time of your life at Boomtown without catching a single headliner"

It’s difficult to describe the overall atmosphere of Boomtown Fair. By far the most ambitious festival in the country, “the UK’s maddest city” is far from your usual five to six-stage affair. Split into nine districts with 22 main stages and perhaps 50 more mini-venues, I’ve been to Boomtown four years in a row and still don’t even feel like I’ve scratched the surface.

Boomtown Fair

 

One minute you could be calmly enjoying a cider and listening to reggae at the Lion’s Den stage, the next you could stumble into a frenzied breakneck-paced acid techno rave at the ludicrous Bodyshop venue. If I can lazily borrow the words of another publication, Ransom Note’s review of last year’s Boomtown Fair sums it up perfectly: “to re-use the popular saying 'there is something for everyone' would do the festival a huge disservice”. 

So where to start? The most immediately noticeable difference this year was the absence of Arcadia’s infamous 50-foot high mechanical spider stage, and its replacement with the excellently-named Bang-hai Palace. Replacing the Arcadia spider is a tall order, and somehow Boomtown’s team of incredibly talented designers and engineers pulled it off in spectacular fashion, with a ridiculously tall, vertigo-inducing Chinese palace that hosted the likes of Goldie, Squarepusher and Phil Hartnoll from Orbital.

Elsewhere, the new House in the Woods stage provided some much-needed smoothness in the musical proceedings, with sets from the 2 Bears and A Guy Called Gerald keeping us hypnotized for hours at a time. At the Lion’s Den, Stephen Marley and Alborosie were definite highlights, and Boomtown favourites Caravan Palace once again served up some tongue-in-cheek electro-swing absurdity in the Town Centre.

Having said all this, you could quite easily have the time of your life at Boomtown without catching a single headliner. A particularly memorable feature of the weekend was witnessing “Scubabianchi”, a comically small car filled with water that appears to be driven by a stony-faced man in scuba gear. Spectacular acrobatics acts wowed the crowd to a soundtrack of thumping beats at the Bassline Circus, and a conveniently-placed boxing ring in the Downtown area prompted me and a similarly foolhardy companion to act out a full-on WWF-style wrestling match, which drew a sizeable crowd and left me nursing horrendous bruises and an impressive limp after falling victim to a well-timed elbow drop from the top rope. I’m a very serious journalist.

Despite all the depravity, noise and boorish excess, Boomtown is still suitable for families, children, and those of a milder disposition. At the top of the hill, away from the pounding bass of Downtown and DSTRKT 5, Kidztown provides a youngster-friendly environment with circus acts, inflatables and comedy, and the Whistler’s Green district is a calm, soothing space where you can enjoy a spa, massage and saunas as well as attending workshops demonstrating everything from stained glass creation and classical Indian dancing to metalwork and shrunken head making.

The crowd at Boomtown, as you might expect, is incredibly varied, from young and excited teenagers to old hippies, via outlandish family groups and dreadlocked rave veterans. My faith in the honesty and good intentions of the Boomtown congregation, which needed no reinforcement to start with, was bolstered when our photographer’s eye-wateringly expensive camera was faithfully handed in to the lost-and-found tent at 3AM on Sunday morning after it went missing 2 days earlier in the Bassline Circus. Call me pessimistic, but I can’t imagine the same thing happening at any of the more “mainstream” festivals (that’ll remain unnamed) where fights, robberies and nasty attitudes are commonplace. So thanks again Boomtown for being not just the UK’s maddest city, but also one of its most welcoming, friendly and positive. If you haven’t been before, make sure you’re booked in for next year: you won’t believe your eyes.

 

Images - Credit Jesse Webb

 

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