Event Review: Boomtown Fair @ Matterley Estate (Winchester; Wednesday 7th to Sunday 11th August 2019)

Going to Boomtown for the first time and solo, the levels of anticipation and nerves were extraordinarily immense. Was I really prepared for what many of my peers perceive as a non-stop, excessive party zone? Upon pitching my tent on Thursday evening and exploring as many of the fourteen districts to be shared with 60,000 others over the next few days as possible, misconceptions went out the window and I immediately felt at home.

Each district covered a different aesthetic, ethos and genre specialism, with jazz, folk and even metal rubbing shoulders with the more electronic offerings, so there was plenty to be distracted by. Splashes of social commentary, in the form of pseudo advertisements, pop-up shops and walkabout actors, with whom you could interact, could also be found as part of the overarching storyline Boomtown has been building for the past ten years. From the flamboyant cyber city Metropolis (where Little Gay Brother were seen strutting their stuff) and carnival-esque Barrio Loco, to the more natural Hidden Woods and medieval themed Oldtown (witnessing the intriguing French group La P’tite Fumée), one could immediately grasp the great lengths the production team had gone to in order to create a truly immersive cocoon.

This year’s theme was “A Radical City”, in which citizens were asked to be more mindful of the impact they would be leaving on the environment throughout the festival, as part of Boomtown’s Green Mission. With an increase in available bins, portable toilets feeding into compost heaps and slogans, such as “Our Future in Your Hands” and “Leave No Trace”, signposted across the landscape, the message was loud and clear. Reportedly, the waste left behind after this year’s Fair was down by 70%, so evidently the message was effective too.

Barrio Loco – Boomtown Fair 2019 © Scott Salt

Friday kicked off in the Psychedelic Forest as I stumbled upon Grouch in Dub (formed by New Zealand producer Oscar Allison), who cooked up an interesting stew of flavours, ranging from drum and bass and dubstep, to hip hop, to trance, with a band of string and brass instrumentalists.

Afterwards, I caught Ms Dynamite at the Lion’s Den, the largest stage with waterfalls flowing either side, performing a short but sweet set with tunes we could all recognise and bop along to.

Psychedelic Forest – Boomtown Fair 2019 © Scott Salt

Later that evening, I visited the newly installed Nucleus stage – a futuristic display accompanied with strobe lights, pyrotechnics and screens that often depicted dystopian sequences. A back-to-back of Mall Grab and Four Tet enthralled the audience with their spellbinding mixes. There was a sudden feeling that this could not possibly be equalled or topped, but thankfully The Nucleus re-immerged triumphant on Saturday night. Eats Everything and Carl Cox further showcased what sets great DJs apart from the rest by playing the role of master puppeteer, leaving the crowd surprised and excited by the twists and turns they would take next.

After three days of intermittent heavy showers and winds, the last day brought forth consistent sunshine, and with it came island sounds from two reggae and dancehall heavyweights. Marcia Griffiths took us on a trip down memory lane of reggae’s rich history, performing some of her old hits, as well as those from former collaborator Bob Marley. Tanya Stephens followed, endearing herself to the crowd with her unapologetic anecdotes about men, sex and relationships.

Salt’ N’ Pepa, Town Centre – Boomtown Fair 2019 © Lucas Sinclair

Picking up from where Stephens left off, Salt ‘N’ Pepa delivered a fun and energetic performance at the Town Centre, with an array of male backup dancers, reminding us of the ground this hip-hop group broke for women in the genre. One of these women, who has herself influenced a whole generation, is none other than Ms. Lauryn Hill, who helped end the festival on a powerful note, with montages of police brutality, protests and black musical icons played in the background. Her influence, she told us, has been downplayed by the media, portraying her as unhinged and unruly. Subsequently, the most touching part of her set was when the massive crowd voluntarily sang the chorus of “Killing Me Softly” in acapella – a testament to how rare it is for someone who has released relatively little material compared to her contemporaries to still command that much respect, love and attention over twenty years on. 

To those who believe that Boomtown isn’t for the faint-hearted, think again. With so much choice, any visitor can dictate the pace and intensity of their own experience without feeling that they have to fit into the out-of-control image with which this festival is often painted. So, on to next year and “New Beginnings” – the aptly titled theme for 2020 – which I am confident will not disappoint if this year is an accurate indicator.

Relic – Boomtown Fair 2019 © Ash Piper