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Review: Boomtown Fair

Jack Rayner attempts the nigh-on impossible task of to effectively condense the Boomtown experience into an easily digestible article

"I’ve yet to scratch the surface."

As countless soulless, facsimile festivals pop up across the UK’s summer calendar, it’s both uplifting and inspiring to witness an event that puts as much heart and soul into the proceedings as Boomtown continues to do, now in its eighth ‘chapter’ and continuing to outdo itself year on year.


Attempting to effectively condense the Boomtown experience into an easily digestible article is nigh-on impossible, so vast and eclectic are the stages, lineups, areas and opportunities for adventure.


The sizeable Hampshire site is split into 9 districts, each with its own distinct theme, décor and personality. Mayfair is presented as the hub of high society, with aristocratic actors throwing around wads of cash and the nostalgic bounce of live swing bands providing the soundtrack; Barrio Loco is a Latino carnival, Wild West is an illicit hangout for self-styled cowboys, bandits and bounty hunters, and Sector 6 is an anarchic power plant, with chimneys belching smoke and hard-edged bass music pumping from the speakers. If this sounds unlikely, bizarre and disorientating, then I’ve got my point across.

You could quite easily have the time of your life at Boomtown without catching a single headline act or even knowing the lineup, but that’s not to say that the team don’t pull out all the stops anyway. Madness, Damian Marley and OX favourites Fat Freddy’s Drop were the biggest draws at the colossal stone temple stage Lion’s Den, and elsewhere around the site there were genius bookings left, right and centre from all areas of the musical spectrum, from the stunning 9-piece Submotion Orchestra to incomparable techno innovator Derrick May, via electro-swing pioneer Parov Stelar and ska punk favourites Sonic Boom Six. There are very little tastes or genres that aren’t catered for, which brings not only a wealth of acts to see but an all-encompassing sense of community that’s very difficult to find at any other event.

As a shameless and committed glutton, the quality of food at a festival means a lot to me, and Boomtown has certainly followed the trend in recent years of providing attendees with genuinely delicious meals. Ostrich burgers, rotisserie chicken, Argentinian barbecue, vegetarian curry and French pastry all fought for my attention, with dangerously juicy salt beef bagels a particular highlight. With your stomach suitably lined, the best way to get stuck into Boomtown is to visit one of the innumerable mini-stages, venues and nonsensical buildings, the most hilarious of which was the Inconvenience Store, where you are soundly pelted with potatoes on entry, then talked into believing that you have robbed the potatoes and asked to pay for your stolen goods like a bizarre fever dream whilst signs advertise Xbox 360s on sale for 300% off. The attention to detail put into these silly diversions is beyond astounding – how the actors putting these ridiculous mini-stories into practice keep a straight face is perhaps the most impressive part of the entire proceedings.

I’ve now managed to attend Boomtown for six years in a row, and it still feels like I’ve yet to scratch the surface. Despite the intense peculiarity and non-stop assault on the senses, the festival remains child-friendly, with the more serene Kidztown and Whistler’s Green districts placed far enough away from the fierce action of the rest of the festival to allow families to keep their kids entertained without sacrificing their own good times: chill-out areas, arts and crafts workshops, education spaces and interactive music performances will leave youngsters just as spellbound as the older visitors, and tai chi and morning yoga sessions mean that you’re more than capable of restoring your energy if you indulge in the evening’s proceedings a little too hard.

As I reluctantly returned back to OXHQ on the Monday morning with the sound of Alan Fitzpatrick’s joyous closing set still ringing in my ears, it was quite clear that this year had been another resounding success for the Boomtown team – the only challenge is how to top it once again in 2017. I can’t wait.

- Jack Rayner


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