Boomtown – the machine that won’t be stopped (2018 reviewed)

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We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Boomtown – we salute you!

[by John Bownas and Ali Ryland]

In a day and age where festivals are seemingly popped out of the same-old jelly moulds to a Jamie Oliver 30-minute recipe, Boomtown excels in delivering a dish of unknown pleasures that Heston himself would be proud of and that feels as if has been years in the planning.

So what if the weather was unkind for this chapter of the story…we stood in the biblical downpour and revelled in the majesty of Fishbone. We careered and cavorted as our clothes became saturated and stuck to our skins because we knew THIS was a special moment.

And when the sky stayed dry it chose its moments well.

Beans on Toast in the rain still ain’t bad – but in the absence of precipitation Jay comes into his own. The epitome of the alternative folk troubadour, his lyrics are deep but at the same time fragile – and importantly, even though he has a habit of forgetting them himself from time-to-time, they are visibly evident on the lips of the majority of fans in a crowd that fills the Old Mine stage to capacity.

Luckily, the torrents of rain cleared by late afternoon each day, which is just as well as Boomtown prefers to save the best to later in the night. Unfortunately, this did mean some brutal clashes, especially for those of us who were delighted to see some brutally heavy music make its debut at the new and gloriously named Earache Factory. We who straddle the alternative scene with no-shame mainstream music had to choose to either “Jumpdafuckup” to Max Cavalera’s eclectic metal project Soulfly, bask in the electrifying atmosphere at Gorillaz, or catch the playful antics of Enter Shikari on the Saturday night.

Those who decided upon the world-famous headliner were not disappointed, although the floating tunes somewhat lacked the visceral beat of packed sweaty bodies moving as one over at Earache. Either way, the stage managers of Earache Factory must be pretty chuffed with themselves; nearly every act, particularly in the evening, saw the stage crammed to the rafters. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to see the metal stage, and its line-up, become bigger and better at next year’s event – something we would greatly welcome.

Speaking of cruel clashes, Sunday night was no let-up from the onslaught of a fantastic line-up that divided friends and families in its inopportune timings. Leaving the spectacular fire show accompanying Die Antwoord’s hip hop beats at the Lion’s Den, one could catch the last of Billy Bragg’s soulful set. While Bragg focused more upon what he believed to be the crowds’ predilections by ending on One Love (Let’s Drop the Debt) in a tribute to the many Marley-loving fans the festival attracts, after this closer there were still voices in the crowd singing ‘World Turned Upside Down’ in protest of his dropping the more political songs from his set.

Limp Bizkit at the Town Centre were luckily still ongoing after Bragg, covering Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name Of’ in a radical move away from their merrier material. Those who wanted to Keep rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ afterwards were at a bit of a loss; Boomtown shuts the live music off at midnight on a Sunday.

There was however, just time for a quick pint at wee venue The Shamrock to see a bounding Irish punk band cover Flogging Molly before seeking bed – or the live bin show at the Hidden Woods that could be heard across the lower campsites until 5am. But that is completely in-keeping with the Boomtown spirit that incorporates an eclectic mixture of different music using a diverse range of instruments – even upside down bins.

And although Boomtown isn’t a dance festival, or a rock festival, or a punk festival, it still caters for all these genres and more. Its areas and arenas each attract their own tribe, and it pulls off a neat trick each year by not relying on one big main-stage lineup to sell out its highly prized (but reasonably priced) tickets.

The majestic Lions’ Den is a sight to behold (especially having been given a massive makeover for 2018) and sits neatly at the epicentre of a natural acoustic bowl – an organic amphitheater of audio delight (that perhaps, if we were being picky, could use an extra boost around the edges so the sounds matched the visuals for those at the back). But whilst it may be the crowning glory of the spectacular Boomtown production effort it operates meekly and democratically alongside the smallest hidden speakeasy bars when it comes time for the citizens of Boomtown to vote with their feet and find their place in this sprawling cataclysm of cultural references.

So how was Boomtown for you?

Did you rock out to Elvana as they mashed up the King with classic Nirvana riffs? As long as the joke doesn’t run thin Elvana are sure to be a regular slot-filler at festivals with this act.

Were you drawn to Rusty Spurs for the folk-rock prowess of Leylines? Genuine and heartfelt – this is the real deal.

Was it the carnival extravaganza of Slamboree that rocked your boat? The crazy-juice flows through every Slamboree show, and Boomtown is a perfect fit for their shocking excess.

When The Cheap Dates proved skiffle is alive and well were you dancing down at the front? We lapped up this hearty dose of good old-fashioned rock and roll.

Do you now agree that Dubioza Kollective are a force to truly be reckoned with? It’s hard to argue with the sheer force of their musical onslaught.

Have Wonk Unit persuaded you that punk has been reignited? These guys are, by their own admission, really quite good at what they do.

Did Dead Kennedys remind you punk has never been all that far away and remains timeless? No Jello – no problem – the Kennedys are as fast and furious as ever.

Quite simply, how good was The Undercover Hippy and did you get a swig of our wine down on the front row? We left this gig with many new friends and a huge smile. What more can you say?

If you made it to see Neck do you now finally understand what ‘psycho ceildh’ actually is? Neck deliver as powerful a punch as they ever have with their unique blend of North London Irish fire and are always a welcome addition to any festival bill.

So – Moscow Death Brigade – is this your new favourite act? These guys took us by surprise as they caught our ears and eyes – we’ll be back for more.

Did you make it to the Enter Shikari secret DJ set? Were you as delighted as we were?

Were you spellbound at the feet of Will Varley? On his own he’s a master, with a band he’s a genius. At Boomtown we got treated to both faces of this exceptional talent.

Did you progress with the storyline at Boomtown, interacting with actors to collect six hacker files from venues across the sites in order to take A.M.I for the good guys, or did you get bogged down in inconsequential side quests?

Did you let the boots do the talking at Oi Polloi? Their crusty hardcore d-beat was a real show-stopper compared to the more ska-infused anarcho-punk at Hangar 161.

Did you catch the surprise set from Doghouse, ex-frontman of techno punk band Sicknote, as he busted out the weirdest techno tune ‘Lazers in the Luggage Compartment’ ever to grace Buskers’ Wharf on the Sunday night?

Did you see New York subway stars Too Many Zooz tooting away at the bucolic Windmill Stage on top of Whistler’s Green as the sun was shining and the Strongbow flowing?

Elsewhere at Boomtown the Psy Forest pumped basslines as happy hippies danced barefoot in the sand between the majestic trees, and Sector Six created seismic waves whose echoes are still rolling across the fields.

As the weekend drew to a close and we hauled our weary frames into the cold light of Monday’s looming normality we almost wept a little at the realisation of how much we’d missed. There just aren’t enough hours in the Boomtown day to take in everything. That is why its strength is also its despair.

But we revelled in the memories we did take away with us. The new friends we made and the new bands we discovered…plus the old favourites who it felt had been added to the bill for our personal delight.

If we have one grumble it isn’t the festival – but it is that minority who still think it’s cool to treat tents as single-use items of disposable trash. Guys seriously, it’s not cool to leave your gear behind – take ten minutes to pack it away to use another day.


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