Something was different this year, as I stood knee deep in the mud staring up at the fortified walls I felt a moment of hesitation. There has always been a peculiar romance going on between the neural links that register excitement and fear and I felt them flirting with each other once again shamelessly. Maybe it was the fact that as a Boomtown veteran I knew the levels of devilish debauchery that awaited us on the other side, maybe it was the fact that for the first year since inception we had an actual job to do or maybe it was just the fact that we hadn’t even gotten inside and I was already caked in mud and soaked through to my shivering core. It was perhaps a curious blend of all of this but as the water pooled in my hat and dripped down onto my nose a smile wracked my lips and we began wading to the gate, arms laden with our minimal supplies we waved goodbye to the battleground of reality and dived head first into the fuzzy fog of the Boomtown Fair.
If repeated venture to the fair have taught us nothing else it’s that upon arrival you must choose your pitch wisely. After we had smooth talked our way on site with far more prohibited goods than the meagre alcohol limit allowed for, we ventured to the other side of the grounds where only those arriving early would dare to explore whilst the fear of impossible over occupancy was far less of a risk. The ground was still putty in the hands of the rains embrace and it was no easy expedition. Stopping halfway for a brief rest amongst a rare forest of four postered beds nestled into a hillside, we began the four day raid on our own illicit supplies. Whiskey has profoundly curative effects on the legs of the weary and a cigarette still smouldering out of the corner of my mouth I soldiered on, we had a job to do after all.
I wake up caked in sweat the sun beating mercilessly against the claustrophobic prison of my tent. The tent had clearly been constructed hastily in the rain, I don’t recall the construction. The scars and warpaints daubed on the walls were recognisable from previous fairs though so I knew it was mine at least. I emerged, I washed, shat and dressed before the communal conveniences were too filthy a feasible option. We necked some coffee and set into town to get to work, someone had hired us to get to the bottom of the mystery of the masked hacker and we weren’t going to quit until we had answers, or at least, so we intended. Even the most iron of intent can often turn to molten sludge on the fiery forge of the fair in full swing. We head straight to Mayfair to look for clues, if there is an oozing rotten heart that pulses at the core of Boomtown’s den of sin, this is it. If anything is happening you can be sure the money will know about it and these fatcats will tell you anything you want to know if you offer the right brand of milk.
We scrape up a decent amount of the local currency that is literally lining the streets amongst the booming explosion that is the beginning of the fair. We try to find someone with a loose tongue and hungry pockets looking to sell us a lead but the entire district seems to be obsessed with spending currently and we wind up none the wiser. We decide we’ll come back at a later date and set our sights downtown for the time being. We check in at the Daily Rag before we do to see if they’ve got any tips for a fellow newshound. It’s about this time that rifling through my pockets I realise I must have misplaced my own phone.
“Urr… we may have a small problem.”
I stop in my tracks; hands hanging loose by my hips after checking every available pocket frantically. My illustrator turns to me and raises an eyebrow. We’ve done many fairs together at the point and easily slip into an easy routine as we patrol the grounds. We’re both dressed in ridiculous fashion, a curious blend of costume and uniform that allows us to blend seamlessly into the fairs more feral nature. We decided early on that we had to become part of the citizenry in order to properly understand what was on offer and so he lifts his goggles and fiddles with his cape as he asks what’s wrong.
“I’ve lost my phone, where were we last night?”
“Oh, good, it can’t be far then.”
“I’ll ring it.”
He punches in my number and then hands his phone to me. Someone picks up and I don’t recognise the voice, “Hello…”
“Do I know you friend?”
“Hi? Sorry I can’t hear you. If you can hear me, we found your phone at the crew bar last night. We’ll take it back there tonight at around midnight. Collect it from the bar.”
It’s clearly a trap. Why would someone I don’t even know be at all inclined to do me a favour? Admittedly them knowing me would more than likely decrease their level of goodwill towards me but being perfect strangers still makes it a fairly unlikely situation. The phone has all of my contacts and the acquired instructions for tracking down this mysterious hacker; without it the task is made infinitely more complicated. We ask The Daily Rag if they have any leads and they direct us downtown to look for a red door. It’s the best shot we have so we head off in that direction. The only instruction that I can recall from memory alone is that we are to look for people of potential interest and ask “do I know you friend?” so this is what we do.
There is a myriad of musical moments and a cavalcade of crazy characters between us and the Barrio Loco district. On the way we get split up, lost, refound, relost and generally ripped apart at the seams. Any serious journey through the Boomtown site will leave you feeling bedraggled. There is a constant stream of bodies going in every direction and even the shortest stop at any one venue or location will introduce you to a new group or energy. Staying focused or on task isn’t practically possible, there will always be some deviant offering a deviation. With us approaching and potentially befriending people deliberately along the way progress is incredibly slow. Whilst no one seems to actually be in on the hacker hunt we do get directed down various rabbit holes and dead ends none the less. With every door that closes behind us I am gradually getting fuzzier and fuzzier, it seems like the quest will never end and each stop along the way drives me further towards true abandon. We visit scrapyards, post offices, pirate ships and other oddities. Nothing gives us any clues as to where we are meant to be next but everywhere offers a sip of the various vittles proffered by the lunatics we encounter along the way.
I came to my senses again at midnight, I was downtown so I’d clearly made it most of the way. I’m slumped down against a wall and I slowly stand and lurch forward before turning around to check if I’d dropped anything. Behind me is a big red door. I’d clearly come across it and had the sense of mind to nap until sober enough to digest the information. I shrug my shoulders dust off my jacket and step forward to knock. Nothing. If this was the door we were looking for I had obviously arrived too late. I curse and spin round once again looking for other signs that might lead me to the underground hacker network I’m supposed to be uncovering. One window is lit with neon signage and some robo gogo dancers are on display and they spasm mechanically in something that vaguely resembles allure. I figure this kind of techno-hole should be precisely the right kind of locale and decide to explore further. Next door is a club of some sorts called the “Happy Slap Boutique”, I take a hit from my hipflask, shake out the sleep and head inside.
No man, or woman for that matter could have been prepared for what I came across inside. Once you pass the threshold of the Boutique you’re instantly enveloped in a wall of sound, the entire audience is throbbing as one, hands held aloft worshipping in the direction of the stage; this in itself is not particularly bizarre at any festival and especially not at the Boomtown Fair. I look forwards to behold the creature that has enraptured them to be met with the sight of three cyborg ladies seemingly constructed from the trash and debris found around the site. They are at once repulsive and enrapturing, distasteful and delightful. They work their way through a spasmodic and sensual routine that with every beat drives the crowd further into frenzy. They dance as if it is their sole purpose and it very well may be. I have become part of the undulating crowd and we mingle sweat, mud and experience; our gaze transfixed on the spectacle before us. The cyborg seductress have stopped, clutching at their guts. They spread their legs and from each a newborn descends an umbilical chord. The crowd and performers are equally surprised at the development and the funky fetus join in the dance swaying back and forth from their mothers. It’s about this time that my consciousness detaches completely and I watch from outer body as I approach the stage open mawed to receive some form of inebriation squirted direct into my mouth from the engorged teat of the stage.
Cut to finding myself again alone and confused in the midst of the Wild West district. Someone is shouting my name and I’m swept into the arms of friends sporting a giant inflatable banana on a stick as a means of navigation amongst the swarming fair. They steamroll over me and we dive into another doorway, quite appropriately it seems we have found our way into the Wild West’s lunatic asylum. No sooner than I had found my compatriots they are lost again as the screaming and mania of the asylum swallows us whole. You take a step forward and a door slams behind you. The maze is intricate and progression is disorientating. I catch my breath on the bed of an inmate who sits rocking in the corner of the room smiling benevolently. I can hear the whooping of a voice I think I recognise and dive back into the hallway to find myself hurried into a therapy room. A shrill and manic nurse sits me down and decides I am in dire need of music therapy, she sings a song out of key to the frantic strum of a detuned ukulele. The entire spectacle is observed by another fragile soul desperately fighting with his need to touch me and his equally strong urge to be on the opposite side of the room. The session slowly fills with fellows and fiends as we try to work on something resembling sanity from within the confines of this loony bin. It’s to little avail though and I’m kicked out the other end as quick as I arrived feeling queezy and lost.
Sleep won’t come easy and I balk at the very idea of it. I continue to follow the banana as it weaves a path of debauched bliss throughout the fair. All thoughts of trying to report this event through conventional means has abandoned us, the only thing to do is saddle up and ride the beast to the very end. We wander weary through the bleak roads of midnight spending moments buzzing around any lit flame that we come across. Illumination consumes us and we become addicts for neon nests and roaring speakers. The sound of silence is not one you will find during your stay at the Fair and after a day or two the sheer thought of it is terrifying. I remember stumbling back into the Wild West a few hours before the wrong side of dawn. One of the few remaining venues open was pulsing with a rhythm that beat in syncopation with my own erratic chest. I dart inside to be met with a warmth and embrace that had seemingly been lacking for a while. The band Route 2 Roots seemed limitless in both the number of them on stage and their ability to weave together as a single entity. As the MC’s deftly crossed over one another delicately dancing on top of a brass section that rocked you down to your nether the crowd morphed into an instrument itself moving as one in some unspoken unity. Band and crowd worked together to summon up something never experienced before and to never be had again. A moment of pure and holy bliss given heart on the skin of the drum and soul from the pursed lips of saxophonist and lyricist alike.
Boomtown Fair provides a state of stimulus overload, it’s easy to feel yourself coming undone as your every sense is frayed by the ongoing assault. We could tell you about the thrills and frills, the chills and spills, every band we saw and how well they performed. We could give you set lists and statistics, we could try to introduce each and every twist and turn of the journey. But it would be ultimately futile in trying to convey just what a magically manic affair awaits you. No two people will have something that even vaguely resembles a shared experience, every journey is unique and every person will come away changed in a different way but rest assured no one comes out the same as they went in.
Did we find the masked hacker? No. Did he even exist? It’s debatable. The Fair is a furious and frantic experience that rewards the inquisitive with an endless bounty of curiosities. You can begin your journey with a clear statement of intent, a mission that must be accomplished at all odds, along the way you will be twisted, tortured, teased and turned around and you would be foolish not to follow the proverbial rabbit as it pinballs from hole to hell and back again. The fair has grown and it would be ignorant to not acknowledge the evolution and the change in the landscape and even in those around you. As more and more people share the stories they’ve stomped into the mud of this Winchester estate more and more will come with clean feet looking to bury them in the dirt and debauchery. The fair is on the cusp of becoming too big to beat and with this comes a sense of disillusionment and a nostalgic lust for the way it was. Queues are now commonplace, movement between venue to venue has become torrential river that you can’t help but get swept up in and it’s harder and harder to swim against the current. We will though, time and time again because you never know what the Boomtown Fair is going to offer, it remains one of the most diverse and carefully curated in terms of artistry in both bands and stage design. Being lost in Boomtown beats being found almost anywhere else.
Words by Matt Miles
Illustration by Jasons Haggard Faces