Oh, Boomtown. Even now, three weeks after the festival weekend, I still get flashes of the brilliance of you in my head; I still remember with massive fondness the highlights of you; and I still remember the fun and energy with which you lived that four days.
As you might be able to tell from that over-romanticised opening paragraph, we here at The Punk Archive really bloody like Boomtown. This was our Editor Dan and film guru Jonnie’s fifth year on the bounce (so we sort of see ourselves at semi-veterans…and we just keep coming back every year), and as ever it stacked up well when compared to previous years’.
Now without sounding insensitive, we were exceptionally fortunate to not have been caught in the queues to enter this year’s festival. Clearly there were issues which resulted in a number of people waiting for extended periods to get in, on which we won’t comment. What we can say, though, is that once those people were in the festival, it was as ever really very worth it.
So, the Thursday for us consisted of setting up camp in our standard location (that’s Old Town camping, for anyone who wants to hang out next year!), and watching as the festival came to life. As always, making friends with neighbours at Boomtown was an exceptionally easy thing to do, and many beers later, we set about exploring the now-familiar town.
We found ourselves in the Ballroom in the Town Centre. Who was playing, I can’t tell you; but what I can say is that several happy hours were spent dancing away and eagerly anticipating what was to come across the rest of the weekend.
Friday started, as always, at Lion’s Den. Always one of my favourite stages, the bowl is just such an easy place to start a hard day’s festival. With Solo Banton on compere duties as always, the opening ceremony was an impressive carnival beginning. It was swiftly followed by Toots And The Maytals, a genuinely seminal band with some genuinely seminal songs.
While this wasn’t their finest ever set, the huge singalongs from the crowd more than made up for what Toots now lacks in vocal ability. It was a solid start to the weekend.
As ever with Boomtown, I found that despite having best intentions to see as much music as I could, I was distracted by the myriad of things going on around me on an incredibly regular basis. However, we found ourselves at one of the hidden gems shortly after this, catching La Inedita at The Old Mines. Having chilled out in the woods with some beers beforehand, the Peruvian band were exactly what we needed. Energy was pouring from the stage as their Jamaica-influenced Cumbia got every single person dancing and jigging around. That energy soon began coursing through our own veins and set us up very nicely for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Some further exploration followed: we ended up in the Psy Forest on a handful of occasions, as well as around Rusty Spurs. Consistently excellent shanties were heard from the latter stage, and one which we encountered a good few times more across the weekend.
Next for us, though, was one of the weekend’s highlights: the mighty Protoje. I had never seen him before, and was exceptionally excited to do so. He didn’t let us down at all, delivering a set filled with some of his biggest and best songs alongside some newer content.
The crowd was also exceptional: the small amount of rain which fell during his set did not dampen any spirits in the slightest. As to be expected, Who Knows was met with huge enthusiasm, but for me the slightly lesser-known album tracks were the highlights of his hour-long set. Sudden Flight was delivered with note-perfect accuracy and more bounce than a trampoline; while Protection was as murky as the track on the record. A really brilliant set from Protoje.
It was then followed by another classic set from Cypress Hill, a band famous for the seminal and much copied Insane In The Brain. Despite some slight sound issues, theirs was a brilliant hour and a half. With such a vast discography, it must be tricky to be able to select which songs to play, but their choices were met with absolute delight from the crowd at the Lion’s Den.
Our night then consisted of dashing between many of the huge, extravagant creations Boomtown calls stages: Bang-Hai Towers, Sector 6 and many, many more.
Saturday dawned fresher than a lot of the festivalgoers, but that didn’t deter us and we were pleased to have made it to the Lion’s Den for Earl Gateshead, Dawn Penn and Soom T. Or, at least, we thought we should have been pleased.
Unfortunately, Earl Gateshead himself was one of the most irritating on-stage musicians I have ever seen. His consistent and out-of-tone “yeahah” was littered so regularly across his set that a lot of the people around us in the crowd were consistently laughing ironically and shouting it at any opportunity. Even Dawn Penn (who was, as ever, excellent) began her seminal “You Don’t Love Me” with “yeah, yeah, yeah” instead of the typical “no, no, no”. What was also a shame was Soom T’s non-appearance: while we didn’t stay until the very last minute, for 55 of the 60-minute set she didn’t make it.
This didn’t deter us, though, and we found our way to the Town Centre to catch the end of The Sugar Hill Gang: in perfect time for Apache. What an incredible moment this was: in five years I’ve never seen the Town Centre stage be as packed as it was for this. The whole crowd, and I mean the whole crowd (as well as those spilling out beyond the stage’s limits) were bouncing and dancing along: it’s these sort of moments which make the craziness of Boomtown something people keep returning to.
And it was just after this that I lost myself in a true Boomtown experience. Despite wishing to go and see U Roy and Big Youth at The Lion’s Den, I found myself in the Boomtown Bank, completely caught up in the fictional maelstrom of needing to make Boomtown ‘money’. The experience genuinely cannot be fully explained: you need to go yourself to actually be able to decipher what happens; but overall I emerged from the Bank after a good hour and a half with a massive smile and a decent slab of ‘money’.
It may have been the case that I missed a good amount of music on the Saturday this year: but Boomtown is about so much more than just the music. It’s about getting involved in the chaos around you, revelling in the madness.
We certainly didn’t miss The Specials, though. Having only seen the band once beforehand at Glastonbury in 2009, this was going to be something (excuse the pun) special. That certainly proved to be the case.
A set absolutely ram-packed with classic songs followed, so many that it’s nigh-on impossible to pick a highlight. How can you when a band has just got so much incredible content? Ghost Town, of course, was incredible; while Too Much Too Young also sticks out as amazing. As with last year’s Madness headline on the Saturday night, clearly ska-headliners at Boomtown are the way to go!
Saturday night went much the same as Friday, although it felt like we covered even more distance dashing between stages. Vamos was also taken in, as well as a number of fairground rides, before a 6am bedtime felt like enough partying for one night.
So, to the closing day. Sunday begun with further exploration of the area around Rusty Spurs. We caught Hodmadoddery and Hightown Circus, and both (while sounding perhaps a bit similar to eachother) delivered high-tempo sets. While there, we also saw the carnival parading energetically through the streets of Old Town: again, something you need to see to believe. It really was sensory overload.
A different kind of party came next: we went to see The Wurzels on the Town Centre stage. How could we not? They were absolutely brilliant: the mood at the stage was completely perfect for their old-school sound; the crowd was so, so involved with each and every song, and the pure comedy of the whole situation meant it was impossible to keep still. Who really thought that I’ve Got A Brand New Combine Harvester was such a classic…
Mr Scruff came next, delivering a solid set of easily accessible dance music. We then trekked all the way up to The Windmill stage for another of the weekend’s highlights: the incredible Dub FX. Having never either seen or heard any of his music before, I didn’t really know what to expect. However, his mix of reggae, hip-hop and drum and bass was brilliant, building incredible energy in a massive crowd tired from a weekend of late nights. He’s certainly one to check out if you can.
Our Boomtown ended with one strong performance, and one poor one. Gentleman’s Dub Club as always were brilliant. Basically a house band for the festival now, they ripped through their classics, as well as throwing in some solid album tracks. Having Parly B and Eva Lazarus alongside them was also a really good thing, and despite some sound issues, theirs was another good set.
MIA‘s, however, wasn’t so good. There were further sound issues by this point, and her delivery was exceptionally messy. For us, not huge fans and being aware of maybe one or two songs, she didn’t hold our attention at all, and we were soon tempted to head back into the festival and experience one more night of dashing between stages.
Overall, this was another brilliant Boomtown. Although the festival has changed since we first started attending in 2012, it still has this most unique charm and community feel to it. It’s a place where you can truly escape from the outside world, and throw yourself in to whatever aspects of it you want. Boomtown? We’ll be back.