BoomTown Fair

August 13th-16th, 2015
Hampshire, UK

by Ella Jean

BoomTown Festival took place last weekend in Winchester.  It’s hailed as being one of the most unique and entertaining festivals in the UK.  Being a festival for kind-hearted weirdos, Loose Lips sent me to cover it.

When I watched the trailer for BoomTown’s 2015 Festival, it looked too good to be true, but I can say firsthand that BoomTown really fulfilled every expectation it laid out.  Aside from being a music festival that showcases the fantastic world of anything-but-mainstream, it’s also an immersive theatre experience and quasi Live-Action-Role-Play scenario.

I learned that the organisers of the festival spent hours and hours over the past year working out the “storyline” of BoomTown.  The city is divided into 11 different boroughs, each with their own culture; different DJs, performers, sets, even food and drink.  To think of a common theme amongst them all is a difficult challenge, but they all fit somewhere in both a geographical and musical triangle of house music, gypsy-folk and reggae.  If you like anything within those three, BoomTown is your place to be.

BoomTown Map

The layout of the town was perfect for the party dynamic of its festival goers as well.  The more laid back or family friendly areas were at the top of a hill, but as you travelled into the valley, the music was more intense (and the other festival goers became a bit more likely to fall on top of you).  The geography and the storyline of BoomTown, whether or not you were conscious enough to appreciate, was what made the whole festival so enjoyable.

The performers that roamed around the festival were exotic and joyful – and how could they not be?  My first encounter was with a top-hatted man in Mayfair who ran up and threw money at me for dancing.  What a great job.  The degree to which festival goers dressed up sometimes made it hard to distinguish between audience and crew.  Walking around DSTRKT 5 I saw what looked like a girl falling over a garbage bin.  Some people rushed to help, and it wasn’t until I turned around and saw a cyber-zombie walking towards me with a trash-covered outfit that I realised the whole thing was staged, and they were both totally sober actresses.

steampunk with gas mask

The only drawback of the whole festival was the program.  It was nearly impossible to find out when any act you wanted to see was playing.  Their website has no search bar, and with so many venues you’d literally have to peruse pages and pages for one area to find an act.  When I got to the festival I thought the physical program would perhaps be more useful, but it wasn’t so.  Programs were £5 for a book and £7 for a lanyard, and you had to buy or borrow one as the staff in information tents had no clue.  I bought a program only to find out that I’d missed two acts (one of which was slotted as the wrong time), with no pertaining info posted on the “amendment boards”.

On the bright side, wandering aimlessly around the festival was still good fun.  The acts I found were so good, I decided to create my own awards for each of them.

Best On-Stage Banter goes to The Eskies, an Irish folk band.  If Mumford and Sons were less shite and more quirky and up-beat, they’d be The Eskies.

Most Original Use Of Beatboxing goes to Ushti Baba who delightfully describe themselves as “Turbo Folkstep”.  They have a beatboxer amongst horn and string instrumentation.  He fits so well into the band its hard to tell it’s him not drums on some of their recordings (until you think, why is that drum breathing?).

Most Original Use of Vinyl goes to Scarecrow. Scarecrow are a dark bluesy pop band that features a dobro and a turntable in equal parts.  Though they came out to a cold and empty audience on Saturday afternoon, the audience grew from about 10 to 100 before they’d finished their second song.  

Best Place To Chill was the Wandering Word stage (hosted by Sally Jenkinson).  When the nights left festival goers bleary-eyed and in need of some relaxed, thoughtful entertainment, the little alcove stage dedicated to poetry was the perfect sanctuary.

Best Live Band had to be Natty Congeroo and the Flames of Rhythm. With more energy than any other live band, they put on a proper show that launched the audience of The Ballroom back into the dirty thirties.

Best DJ was without a doubt DJ Don Mescal of Montreal.  His electro-swing mixes were so tight, he summed up the true essence of BoomTown in his solo Friday night performance.

Best of the Best was, as many anticipated, Caravan Palace. It says something about a festival when their big headlining act is still on the fringes of mainstream.  Caravan Palace brought a massive crowd on Saturday night and gave a fun, hopping performance.  Being the pioneers of electro-swing is one thing, but to scat and swing dance live on stage brings another level of energy to a performance.

BoomTown succeeded in making their participants really feel like they’ve stepped into another world.  When I finally got to a Winchester Costa I wondered if it was all one crazy anachronistic dream.  Then I saw my reflection, and the glitter and dirt covering me head to toe was the only sure sign it definitely happened.

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