Phil Bradley is delighted with the unusual world of Boomtown Fair
Overall – 9/10
Boomtown Fair is just the right size to have the best of times in the three or so days you choose to spend here. Boasting a magnitude of entertainment it’s full of profound and original ideas to stimulate the dullest of senses and divert one’s attention away from the mainstreams of normality.
There is an expansive collaboration of music and art from a boxing ring that holds drum and bass dance-off battles to Downtown Boomtown, a street with a leisure centre, a barber’s shop, a casino and a Launderette that the town’s rebels have taken over and turned into a string of underground clubs and venues playing cabaret, gypsy, folk, reggae, and dub.
Getting There And Back – 9/10
Held in a location that’s central to the south and the Midland, Boomtown Fair has to be one of the easiest festivals to get to and from. With simple access to major roads and motorways, a Boomtown Bus running from local train stations and a return coach service departing from both Brighton and Bristol, it is simple to get to even for the most awkward of travellers. It is advised to car share if you are driving as the traffic may cause disruption to the locals.
The Site – 10/10
Set at Stowe Landscape Gardens, a 16th century country garden estate in Buckinghamshire, the site is a spectacle adorned by lakes and temples and maintained by The National Trust. There are plenty of urinals and portable loos that are cleaned everyday and lots of drinking water throughout the site. There are also lots of places to buy food, drink and costume and there is a bar in most of the venues.
The venues themselves take us from The Town Centre, which is the main stage surrounded by walls of graffiti, past the Invisible Circus stage area and on through Downtown Boomtown. At the end of the winding, derelict street we find Devil’s Kicks, a rockabilly stage. At the back of the festival just in front of the campervan field is The Lion’s Den, a Roots, Dub and Reggae tent. All venues are just the right distance away from each other so you will always bump into your friends if you get lost.
Atmosphere – 10/10
The atmosphere has the perfect combination of debauchery and decadence. It rains on the first day as people are arriving but it doesn’t stop this life-loving rabble from donning their chemical overcoats forbidding the downpour to ruin the jubilations. The rain stops and everyone changes into their Boomtown costumes to take on the character of the festival. No egos, no agro, just good times with good friends.
Music – 7/10
The undeniable theme sound of the festival is reggae. If you don’t like reggae then there are many dub, dubstep and drum n bass DJs along with rockabilly, psychobilly, gypsy music and even country and western around too. Lots of brass on all the stages and every band and DJ has enough upbeat dance material to keep the crowd on their toes all weekend. This is essentially a reggae dance festival with the diversity to please all tastes, unless you prefer the mainstream.
Dub Pistols – 10/10
This band is a perfect festival outfit. With their blend of dub, dancehall, big beat and ska sounds and the jump up and down presence of the suited and booted band on stage, they send the crowd into a frenzied dance off throughout the performance.
Tragic Roundabout – 8/10
With about eight members on stage, playing ragged-up gypsy dance versions of songs like ‘What Shall We Do with The Drunken Sailor?’, this band turns The Devils Kicks Dancehall into a pirate shipped up shindig for a Sunday evening parade of lunacy, outrageous outfits and devilish dance steps.
Babyhead – 8/10
Opening their set in The Town Centre shouting: “You have now entered Baby Boomtown,” this is another band that fits perfectly in a festival such as this. They tell us they are “born out of love for Jamaican soundclash, forged through a do-it-your-self punk rock ethic and delivered with a raw hip hop swagger.” The unstoppable Babyhead sound is drawn from all quarters of the musical universe.
Rasta4eyes – 8/10
These young northerners play a blinding set in The Invisible Circus. With a mix of ska and reggae they keep the crowd jumping through every song. Lots of live brass and offbeats keeps this raw sound both laid back and jumped up. The musicianship on stage is effortless and virile; Rasta 4 Eyes seem too young to be as good as this.
Trojan Soundsystem – 8/10
Playing through a chilled sunny Sunday afternoon at The Lion’s Den this set finds its ideal time. If you have never seen this soundsystem before, they are a DJ with MCs and vocalists ripping up the dance floor and chilling out the outskirts with a Trojan Records back catalogue mixed nicely into dub, hip hop and reggae from around the world.
The whole of Downtown Boomtown is the most random event of the weekend with the derelict shops, stores and even a leisure centre that have been taken over by a faction of rebels and turned into clubs and venues such as the ASBO Disco. There is a back end of a car stuck out of a body shop. There are trees made from exhausts with smoke and fire bellowing out of the twisted tubes. There are dance offs in a boxing ring and a barbershop like a scene from Sweeney Todd with banging dubstep as the theme tune. The list goes on you’ll just have to experience it for yourself next year.