Christ on a bike, Boomtown was hot. Mista Savona, an Australian if you please, confirmed as much around teatime on Saturday. “Guys,” he said. “Please look after one other. I’ve played all over the world, and this is really fucking hot. Please drink some water. Now.”
Searing. Baking. Infernal. Merciless, unfiltered solar radiation relentlessly roasting the martian earth. From the crack of dawn it was basically intolerable; hundreds, maybe thousands, forced from their tents early doors to seek whatever shade they could muster in the lee of fences, trees, desiccated bushes.
Were we bothered? Were we fuck. It was glorious. It’ll go down in history as ‘the sunny year’, and man alive were we here for it. It’s a party, first and foremost, Boomtown. A colossal, unhinged, mashup rave. It also happens to be a dazzlingly impressive living adventure game, with a gigantic cast of skilled actors in full costume, phenomenal set design, deep lore and a convoluted plot that goes back years. Like, you have to see it to believe it. It’s probably the world’s biggest escape room. Punchdrunk levels of intricacy. Secret Cinema, quite literally on acid.
The really cool thing, I think, is you can engage with all that stuff as much as you like. Bimble around the Job Centre, the Post Office, the Police Station collecting seeds and doing whatever nerdy little quests they set up months, years probably, in advance. I can’t stress enough how rich the storytelling is. How brilliant the actors are, or how luminously the sets sparkled in the afternoon sunshine.
Or, you can just get on it and rave. Which is what I did.
Beforehand there was lots of online sniping about the lineup. No big names, a pisstake for 250 quid, some said. Well balls to them. For me – not especially inclined towards electronic music – it was a feast of freshness, a banquet of thrilling new-minted sounds.
A very clever friend told me modern dance music sounds the way it does as an unexpected legacy of the smoking ban. Before that, in 2007, your ravers and your wreckheads merrily huffed endless tabs in sweaty basements. Afterwards, they had to go outside. So DJs who wanted to keep their crowds on the dancefloor had to up their game. Keep the interest coming, thick and fast, with regular stomach-churning drops and strange intoxicating wub-wub-wubbery.
The result? Awesome, alien music. Artists with mental, hilarious names, like Mandidextrous. Partiboi69. Daniel Avery.
Writing about music is a mugs game – dancing to architecture, right? – and as I say I’m a noob. But the richness and diversity in that scene was so striking to me. Gabber. Hard House. Nosebleed. God knows what else. All I know is it never let up. I never wanted it to. Every monumental space – Origin stage with its standing stones, Grand Central with its bold, bonkers 80s-futurist vibe – rattled with relentless inventiveness.
Yes, there were live bands. The best of which, for me, seamlessly integrated with that boom-ting aesthetic. Gentleman’s Dub Club – the keynote act here, perhaps – took on Grand Central with aplomb. Ed Cox and E-Coli smashed it late doors at The Fools Leap, with accordion and hard… I wanna say techno? Whatever. Bite me. I had fun.
Fabio & Grooverider and The Outlook Orchestra did a swell thing, a main-stage overview of the history of Jungle and Drum and Bass. We all pogoed, hard, to a harp! With an actual goddamn conductor! Brilliant stuff.
I happened upon loads of juicy nuggets. Hak Baker, on delirious form. Furious anarchy-punk from Bad Breeding at Hangar 161. Conscious reggae from Hempress Sativa. Deathless poetry from Kae Tempest. Psytrance I was way, way too far gone to make notes about.
I hear the designers scaled back on fire, wisely, this incendiary August. Still, I saw a shit-tonne of fire. Great flaming gouts raged from the sets, day and night, boiling away whatever moisture lingered in the parched air with a sickening ‘crump’. I had an eerie feeling the dystopian Boomtown plotline was somehow leaking into wider reality. Is this climate change, kiddoes? Really hope one of you gorgeous, gym-bodded party animals susses that out soon, once you’ve zig-zagged off this mad spangled ferris wheel. Else we’re screwed.
It’s a sexy festival, Boomtown. Not in a sleazy way, far from it, remarkably, considering how beautiful basically everybody is. But the story – again, something to do with seeds, whatever nerd, look it up – and its sub-games and artwork and vibe all ooze an unmistakable horniness. Nowhere moreso than Traumaville, a little sideshow burlesque thing. We watched agog while some wild goddess clamped her body with crocodile clips and swaddled her face in actual clingfilm: satanic doomcore bleeding from her sub. Christ on a bike – Boomtown was hot.
Words: Andy Hill