Live Report: Boomtown Fair 2023

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It has a reputation, doesn’t it, Boomtown. You know what I mean. For being a wee bit… lairy? A carnival of caners. A full-fat fiesta of fuckheadedness. It goes hard, essentially, is the general public perception of Boomtown. 

Is that fair to say? Absolutely. It’s spot on. Hands up, guv. But Boomtown is so much more besides.

Boomtown is also about ideas, man. Ideas like, for instance, duality. Duality is just one among many knotty notions explored in insane depth at Boomtown Chapter Two: The Twin Trail. The duality of man, the titanic struggle between opposing forces, yin and yang.

Take the music. For every Andy C or Mandidextrous blasting out ferocious enfilades of rotten, filthy bass, there’s a ton of trad stuff. Supple vituperative punk from Panic Shack (“I don’t want to hold your baby!”), or faultless fiddle-led Irish folk from the Lagan (“hello, you godless heathens!”) at gone 1am in The Shamrock, a cosy Irish boozer in Old Town flogging actual pints of Guinness. 

Also the storyline. The Boomtown storyline, if you don’t already know, is the most convoluted, byzantine rolling plot of any festival anywhere on earth. It goes back years. It’s nuts. There are whole sprawling online communities dedicated to unpicking the clues left at venues. There’s a fricking podcast about it, my very clever and committed friend tells me. 

So all day long, while the vast majority of punters are getting mightily eagled and raving to an outstanding roster of artists (Trav Cats at Foggers Mill were a great laugh, with dozens of Kevin-&-Perry-lookalikes dosey-doeing), the others are bimbling around solving nerdy riddles and chatting to an impressively drilled cast of actors.

Like, the level of detail and trouble Boomtown go to over this is dazzling. Humbling. My clever and committed friend had a full on to-do list. He had to take “evidence of an act of kindness” to the scientists at Area 404. He had an appointment to go and “make a memory”. A physician in the Dispensary – who I happened to grab a photo of skulling a cider – squirted a syringe of red goo into my gob, intoning “you look like you have issues, sir”. My pal was given a key, at some point, that I assume came in handy later. I lost him around that point.

The Postal Posse – situated in one of countless dark little rooms playing rampant, earsplitting tunes all day long – have a gimmick where you can just write a letter to anybody at the festival, and they’ll at least endeavour to deliver it. It works!

Late on at the Fool’s Leap – a splendid outdoor trad venue, with a kind of Art-Deco-meets-Mad-Max aesthetic – I got chatting to an off-duty bearded lady, who told me how a surprising amount of the story stuff is built from the ground up. Her own collective, called Clik Clik, basically pitch Boomtown what they want to do. Thus the mind bogglingly elaborate patchwork quilt of world building is constructed by the folks who manifest it. Cool huh.  

Again, duality tho. I tried to engage more in the story, but the sweet siren song of filthy d’n’b kept luring me astray. Everytime I set out to register for, say, the ‘Betterverse’ in the stunning sci-fi Metropolis zone – a sly, timely satire on tech bro culture, complete with sanitised ads and a Tim Cook-esque geezer in a polo neck – I felt drawn to the monstrous sounds vibrating from The Origin stage. You’ll have seen it in photos, Origin – a gigantic monolith of mock-stone and piercing lasers. Ket-henge, I overheard somebody call it.

I chatted to an older couple from Australia, who’d flown over just to do the plot, and weren’t especially bothered about the music at all. They’d seen a poster to go and join the ‘Sweatshop’ and were on their way with a little worksheet I suspect they’d designed themselves at home. I should’ve followed them. Instead I got hypnotised by the rude rhythms pumping out of Acid Leak, another mad little venue playing hilarious, brain-melting nosebleed covers of ‘Cotton Eye Joe’, ‘Sail Away’ by Enya and ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac. Bonkers.

I’m not, by nature, much of an electronic music guy. I like guitars and pianos and stuff like that. But one of the key insights I’d say I acquired this weekend was that drum and bass, with all its clever little iterations and sub-genres, really is a superior form of art. When you’re ‘on one’, at least. 

Why? Because it dispenses with all the tiresome pleasantries we put up with unquestioningly as fans of oldshcool ‘handmade’ music. Stopping to applause between songs at a rock show kills the vibe a bit, non? Begging ‘encore’ at the end of the night is kind of lame, innit? Electronic guys and girls just crack the fuck on. It’s better. Leaner. More fun.

Special mentions! Captain Flatcap at Little Pharma, playing absolutely sick flute over some grimy-ass turntabling. At one point he segued Eminem into the Cantina Band theme from Star Wars, and all with tremendous charisma. Full marks. 

Mr Bruce at the Engine House – impeccably tailored, agile flows, spellbinding ninja music. The absolute goddess singer of my My Baby Dutch holding one note for literally an entire, haunting minute. Sudan Archives, just off the plane from Texas, toying with this “trippy-ass” crowd. China Shop Bull, honking horns and punk-metal heat from a frontman with the angriest mullet I’ve ever seen. 

I encourage you to go to Boomtown, if you never have. It’s not like other festivals. I spent half an hour bantering with an in-character bellhop at the splendidly sleazy Hotel Paradiso. I could’ve spent the whole weekend skanking to weird alien shit at the wooded hilltop Tribe Of Frog. And that’s the ultimate duality! This ravishing masterpiece of stagecraft – an ambitious, fully-fleshed-out alternative reality with the most dazzling set design on the entire festival circuit – ingeniously peopled by 66 thousand ravers getting cunted.

Words: Andy Hill
Image Credits: Sian Herbert, Lucas Sinclair, Boomtown Fair