Event Review & Gallery: Boomtown Chapter One – The Gathering @ Matterley Estate (Winchester; Wednesday 10th to Sunday 14th August 2022)

One of the world’s most eclectic parties returns post covid with a re-launched ethos, providing a party more popular than ever. 

We are all familiar with the conceptual storyline that follows each year of Boomtown, this time focusing on the idea of coming together and ‘gathering’ after a great time apart, in order to celebrate and revolt.

The curators had taken a few bold moves: not announcing the headlining line up until a few days before the festival, saying that they wanted to spread the copious amounts of money one major headliner can take across the many smaller acts and stages.

This was met with mixed emotions, however, the result I think was positive. A lot of people bought tickets on faith of the festival’s legacy, and no one seemed majorly let down.

Furthermore the organisers decided to minimise the festival from its huge spatial span of up and down town and multiple stages to perhaps half of its total size, keeping the whole festival in the realms of downtown, and reshaping the boroughs and stages.

The changes were met with various responses, however once party goers found themselves in the belly of the bowl, the beating heart of the festival, it seems convivial joy overwhelmed most people’s experiences. Partying through a mist of dust, kicked up by dancers during the hottest weekend in UK history.

The stages were as artistic and dramatic as ever and the favourites still stood: The Job Centre being a particular people’s favourite always with a long one-in, one-out queue. The Lions Den merged into a new larger than life main stage Grand Central: hosting the very best of contemporary dub: Gentleman’s Dub ClubThe Skints, as well as classic mega hiphop such as Arrested Development (in which their ‘Everyday People’ felt like a “moment” with an emotional crowd), and the pioneering De La Soul, that perhaps had one of the largest audiences of the weekend. A personal favourite of mine was seeing South African amapiano artist Moonchild Sanelly, who held a close relationship with the audience throughout her catchy and fun lyrics.

Alongside Grand Central stood the towering Origin stage (5 storeys high with a waterfall), which featured some of the best D’n’B that I’ve ever seen live, boasting mega names (regardless of the line up secrecy), and mega light shows that literally shone as a highlight of the festival. Whilst watching Born on Road the entire crowd was completely submerged in the largest light show I’ve ever seen.Worthy of a point of its own: something that truly makes the boomtown experience a huge part of its aesthetics –  is the lighting technicians and their shows. The entire bowl alight with crazy performances of pyrotechnics, strobes reaching from one side of the site to the other, entire stages being submerged in atmospheric lighting shows, they really spared no expense in putting on a visual show, experiences rarely. Every pathway was alight with colourful lights, every direction an immersive show for your eyes.

Regardless of the belated announcement, the main stages ensured the names they had booked demanded the same anticipation and drama felt in the lead up to previous years, which is a large part of the excitement, feeling a communal ambience.

The smaller stages had a fantastic display of legendary talent too, a personal favourite being The Engine House, complete with its own life size train, hosted the weird and wonderful and worldly: Henge, and BCUC, which had huge audiences dancing wildly. The Vault, built in the middle of the beautiful ‘Botanics’ district was seeing the Indian legend in blue Pav4n perform his unique and pioneering style of hiphop and electronic music.

As always with Boomtown, there’s a plethora of hidden tiny stages tucked away in sets, boroughs, forests etc… one of my favourite random performances was a 7 piece band called Ruby Confue’s Seven Deadly Sins –  whilst packed small, Ruby had one of the hugest, most soulful voices of the weekend, notably moving the audience’s emotions a few times and backed by an amazingly talented band including some next level beatboxing.

As with many new beginnings, a few issues ensued. Mainly, the sheer distance the majority of citizens had to travel from the camping to the main festival bowl, sometimes walking for over an hour to get to one’s tent.

Unfortunately an old ghost re-emerged from the fateful year their bar staff subcontractors treated their staff inhumanely, causing an outrage that was far away from their “ethos” put forward by the festival. Sadly  in 2022 it seems they were unable to cater any protection for their subcontracted staff once again: even during the festival there were rumours everywhere of bar staff having a horrible time. Something that Boomtown will have to respond to, and disappointing to everyone who assumed they would have learned from previous years, if they can’t control how their staff are treated I think there will be a big backlash moving forward.

On the other hand of challenges: they did deal very well with the fact the festival landed on the hottest weekend in British history, by power jetting the audiences, hosing punters down often, providing extra water points, spraying the dusty floors with water throughout the festival and providing more welfare tents. The heat was a very notable component to the festival, with many, many citizens taking breaks in the shade for the first time in the festival’s career.

Overall, the energy, the decoration, the music, everything: seemed an extra labour of love, managed in such challenging times and weather really rather well.

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Photos ©: Sophie Darling