Live review: Boomtown festival
Electronic music is the main draw to ‘the UK’s maddest city’ but ska, punk and reggae get a look-in too
oomtown calls itself ‘the UK’s maddest city’. Well, for four days each August, this little pocket of delightful delirium is not just the UK’s maddest city but also its most fun. It takes in a rag-tag collective of electronic music that includes breaks, hip-hop, dubstep and more, and then makes it exist happily alongside ska, punk and reggae. This is music that not only exists together happily but encourages the ebullient existence that one hopes for at a festival. Well then, let the fun commence.
Let’s start by saying that, as with many festivals that last for more than three days, the first day’s organised music was slim – slim to non-existent. Not that this was of any concern. There is simply so much entertainment to lose oneself in that a 24-hour period of waiting was no wait whatsoever. Songwriting was treated to fairground rides, revellers riding around in a police jail rave unit and a series of freaks wandering around dressed as robotic insects.
As the sun seeped away and night washed over the festival there was music to be found in a series of tiny stalls, as well as in one of the new additions to this year’s festival, The Hidden Woods Stage. The Hidden Woods Stage played host to some engaging electronica which was the perfect end to a first day that had been illuminated by glorious sunshine.
So then, on to the music. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when Boomtown’s carnival atmosphere was given its soundtrack, Songwriting’s ears really perked up! Though Boomtown’s line-up is geared heavily towards the aforementioned electronic delights, there was plenty here to catch the ear. Ska-punk provided the festival-goers with ample excuse to throw their bodies wantonly around the dusty ground. Legends of the scene Reel Big Fish were one of the real big draws, with the skankers out en masse. Capdown also served up an excellent dose of ska-punk, one that drew me back to a misspent youth in which bouncing around in one’s bedroom figured prominently.
In addition to the ska-punk on show there were also some choice reggae acts to see. These included the excellent Natty, who had us all looking at him with Bedroom Eyes, the wonderful Tanya Stephens and Jamaica-based Italian reggae starAlborosie. There had been strong pre-festival rumours that the ‘secret headline act’ would be the wonderful Damian Marley, but sadly Marley was not to take this honour. The ‘secret’, whose identity was held under lock and key to such an extent that his name was printed on Boomtown’s official t-shirts (!), was the legendary Jimmy Cliff. Cliff took the stage as the sun began to morph into a delicious pink and was greeted by an audience so large that it could have been Marley Sr himself performing. His set was fitting for a headline act and provided one of the true highlights of Boomtown, with the crowd held in joyful unity by Cliff’s joyously unifying songs.
It wasn’t though any of these excellent acts that provided the highlight of this year’s festival. That honour falls, unexpectedly, to breakbeat veteran Elite Force, whose remix of Nirvana’s classic track Breed had this reviewer in raptures. When Monday’s sun broke through and illuminated the clutches of tired faces, what reflected back was the sense of joy that had been painted on to their faces for the last four days. This year’s Boomtown was on from 9 to 12 August and when the dates are in for next year’s festival you can consider them the centrepiece of my August calendar. Why would I want to be anywhere other than the UK’s maddest city when there’s so much fun to be had?
Words: Damien Girling