We’re finally home safe, clean and recovered from our time spent wide eyed wandering around the Boomtown Fair 2015. It was another fantastic year filled with madness and music and whether you were living it up uptown enjoying the glamour and glitz of the high life, or trekking down that unforgettable hill and slumming it with the lowlifes in downtown Boomtown served up something sure to whet everyone’s appetites.
More of a decadent and indulgent interactive art piece as much as it is a festival Boomtown is just pure whimsy. You can choose to float along on the tendrils of it’s mad narratives or strike out on your own with a strict rota of bands, places and things to do. Either way there is more site and more sights than there are hours in the day and you will inevitably end the weekend kicking yourself for all the things you missed. This is a major part of the festivals charm and ensures you will be left coming back for more.
This year the Boomtown theme was revolution, and that sentiment could be felt all over the site. Alongside the increased capacity the festival was also boasting a little bit of a site re-jiggling. The most major change was that the Lions Den has moved across site to settle into a naturally occuring ampitheatre on site which had previously been unused. The new increased capacity for the stage meant it really stood out as the premier event at the festival. It was quite a pilgrimage out to the stage this year however, if you hadn’t had the forethought to camp out that way. With bands like The Skints (filling in for Barrington Levy), Stephen Marley and Natty it was worth the walk every time. The rest of the site only had slight variances from last year, however it meant that after a couple beers it was even easier to get lost down the distraction laden streets of Boomtown this year as our legs went to autopilot the site from years past.
As usual Thursday consisted of the arduous task of getting on site and setting up, which thankfully the Boomtown staff have made some improvements towards. The new layout and a multiple gate system meant the task of getting on and off site was a little more streamlined and easy. Once through the gates however you’re faced with the galling choice of where to camp for the weekend, with the ever looming presence of that heinous hill there really is a downtown/uptown divide. Taking a quick look at the line up and deciding where the majority of your time will be spent can really help save your legs for the far more important task of dancing. Once settled in, the only thing left to do is some minor orientation, a fair few beers and the odd band dotted around site. We managed to catch 7 Seconds Of Love, who with songs like ‘First Drink Of The Day’ and ‘Let’s Get Wasted’ really set up the mood for the rest of the festival.
Friday got off to a gloomy start, which was not ideal but it provided some with the needed impetus to get straight back to drinking due to the ever looming threat of rain. Mr Tea & The Minions took over The Ballroom stage with their unique brand of tight, genre defying folk. Their covers of ‘Inspector Gadget’ and ‘The Theme From Tetris’ brought me in, and their own songs such as ‘Mischief’ and ‘Whoops’ meant I stayed and danced for their entire set.
Walking outside afterwards we were confronted by the sounds of Papa Shango and the sight of their gorilla men bumming the guitarist over The Bandstand railings mid solo. We stayed and partied with these weirdos for the rest of their set, which was as enjoyable audially as it was disturbing visually. From here on out the festival devolved into a blur of frantic stage hopping and we’ll do our best to pick out some of the highlights and main stages of our weekend,
The Town Centre stage is a bit of a double edged blade at this point. Whilst the festivals growth is obviously a good thing, at this stage you really do feel overcrowded. In the past band’s like Ozomatli were able to get down into the crowd and interact with us in truly memorable ways, now however even though Gogol Bordello put on an amazing show, it did seem as if poor Eugene was a little claustrophobic on that stage, as he pushed himself forlornly, topless against the barrier. The bands are still capable of putting on a spectacular show, but the stage feels further and further away each year. That said the calibre of music on display does got quite a way to making up for this. Less Than Jake put together an incredibly raucous set of nostalgie and ska punk revelry and waking up to the Mouse Outfit on Saturday Morning was a treat with Dr Syntax and co. helping ease away the hangovers with lyricism and funky beats.. It\s an idea to arrive early if you plan to catch any of the headliners on this stage as even then you are likely to have to fight for a space and the wings of the stage can catch a bit of noise bleed from all the other music on site.
The Devil Kicks Dancehall remains the Yack stage of choice and we still can’t get over what a bloody incredible job The Last Gang In Town team do putting together the line up every year. The Creepshow put on a particularly spectacular show this year with Kenda Legaspi doing her very best to climb to the very top of the tent via the support beams, all the while the rest of the creeps were belting out horror pop classics. An enchanting act that left us confused as to whether we were more attracted to Legaspi’s petite frame and banshee like set of lungs or Sean ‘Sickboy’ McNab with his beautiful bushy beard and thumping, heart stopping double bass. Later that same day we patiently awaited the arrival of the Demented Scumcats which unfortunately didn’t go ahead as billed, luckily however Demented Are Go took to the stage as a stand in and treated the amassed crowd to an impromptu and unexpected set of psychobilly punk. The only man likely to have dedicated an entire song to “any epilectics out there”, Sparky has become a regular sight around the Devil Kicks both on and off stage and it wouldn’t have been Boomtown without him. Next up was Capdown playing a set just as explosive as it ever has been despite their impressive vintage, less rants and more music, the set was just as impressive and motivating as the countless other times I’ve seen this band. Putting Friday to bed was a transatlantic treat in the from of The Interrupters, coming from Hellcat Records pedigree label we expected them to be good, but what they were was phenomenal. With all the technicality and musicianship of Rancid, whilst simultaneously wielding the aggression and smoke riddled vocals of The Distillers they put on a punk spectacular that left the whole crowd nodding their heads.
On Saturday we caught the Bar Stool Preachers. We knew the guitarist James Tetley through his old band Mash Attack and were stoked to see him and his new band on the line up this year. The Bar Stool Preachers construct a wall of sound with minimal presence on stage. It is very hard to believe that they don’t actually have a horn section, they create an extremely large and full sound and songs like the self titular ‘Bar Stool Preacher’ and ‘One Fool Down’ are anthemic enough that they dig out a space in your brain and settle in, definitely a band to keep an eye out for. When we rejoined the DKD tent SubHumans were already well into a furious set. Poignant lyrics and paralysing intensity being somewhat of their speciality, the amassed crowd were treated to a face melting show. The stage was closed by King Prawn, who made this the second time they have stolen the Boomtown crown, putting on an unforgettable set that left the crowd panting and begging for more. Their relatively recent reformation seems to be old news at this point, the band seem to be tighter than ever and still more than capable of delivering explosively.
The Wandering Word stage offers a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the festival, but is also host to some incredible wordsmiths and we made it our mission to pop along whenever we could after catching Paul See’s on the opening day, delivering thought provoking poems about ranting not listening, waterboarding the waterboard and shit soundmen at shows. We made it back to bask in the majestic simplicity of Adam & Kuth. Kuth makes hooky kooky beats and Adam raps. It’s a beautiful combination and it works oh so well, we caught these guys at a previous Boomtown and couldn’t wait to get back to them this year. It was an intimate show and Adam being the showman he is had the crowd in the palm of his hand. When he isn’t making music Adam performs poetry and this is reflected in the lyricism on display. Same stage but later on Chester P put on a hip hop ministry, proving precisely why he is UK rap royalty. The Task Force founding member put on an unforgettable show on the small stage to a bustling crowd. On Sunday the stage was dominated by the Wandering Word slam, words flew like bullets in a gun blazing battle of wit, charm and eloquence but standing atop the heaped pile of prose at the end of it was Lagan ‘Legski’ Purdy who we very much look forward to seeing in his own slot next year.
I had been quite excited about the hip hop on offer at this year’s Boomtown but I can’t not mention what a bad experience I had in the Poco Loco tent every time I tried to make an appearance. Throughout the High Focus showcase the sound quality was tinny, the vocals were incredibly hard to pick out and only the really veteran or experienced MC’s like Fliptrix & Verb T and the majority of The Four Owls headline slot were individual lyrics discernible at all. Returning on the Saturday to catch Akala‘s headline slot I arrived to a heaving crowd and no sign of the man himself, he made it on stage eventually but again the sound was all over the place. I unfortunately decided to head back to catch King Prawn in their entireity which is a shame as I’m sure Akala put on an incredible show regardless.
We greeted Sunday with Will Tun & The Wasters who tickled the daystart with jangling guitars and bawdy folk for the morning folk. We spent most of the rest of the day catching up on all the festival we had missed. We still didn’t even visit half of what we could have.
The John Butler Trio on the Old Mines stage treated the crowd to a genuine taste of true southern hospitality (as in Australia), they took to stage thanking the attending crowd for choosing them over the other great artists on at the same time. The band swapped sound as often as they did instruments. Riffs soared over the crowd in what felt almost like a spiritual experience. ‘Ocean’ remains a highlight of the weekend for me, ‘Zebra’ a close second. The fact is the entire set was filled with passion, honesty and technical proficiency.
Boomtown is a festival as unforgettable as it is impossible to remember. It is a special place removed from reality and for as long as it runs we will be happy to call those mad streets home. Last year we were worried the increased capacity would oversaturate the festival but with the expertly deployed shake up of the festival layout and spacing it was very rare indeed that you felt just how well attended the festival has become. Boomtown goes from strength to strength and we cannot wait to become part of the Revolution next year.
Honourable mentions go out to the Jack Ratts, Graveyard Johnny’s, Akala & Kate Tempest all of whom we were desperate to pop along and see but due to clashes and confusion never made it. Such is Boomtown, hopefully we’ll catch them all next year, we cannot wait to go back.
Words by Matt Miles