“Are we there yet?”
A chunky raindrop punched the windscreen. Another. Another.
As we opened the car door and stepped on the grass, the clouds parted. The Boomtown gods had spoken. The weatherman, no match. We lugged our stuff across the land, wrapped in raincoats, dripping with sweat, until finally, we arrived home – the district of Barrio Loco.
Dance-off stages, massive circus tents, street parties, all with a splash of Latino vibes. We were smack bang in the middle of the ghetto, surrounded by riff raff, feeling right at home. But red windows glowed in the distance, silhouette figures moved, so we headed towards our neighbouring district – Downtown. Wandering past whirring fairground rides, vibrating venue walls and glitter-drowned chicks, we felt our adventure teetering on the edges of its beginning.
“Rrrrrratatatatat!” Came a megaphone voice.
A long line of beautifully extravagant whores looked down on us from the balcony of the Red Rash Inn, hooking their fish-netted legs over the railings. We became transfixed by the lip licks from the ladies in the windows, a light mist of rain freshening the dirty streets of the Downtown district. A gimp in a cage was pulled out onto the street.
Suddenly, we were in the middle of the Hidden Woods. Drum ‘n’ bass and jungle tunes from Gold Dubs blasted grinning, grinding ravers in the face and echoed through the trees. The night thumped and simmered.
Daylight. Stephen Marley stood proudly in a gargantuan bowl of a field – the reggae-laden Lion’s Den in Trenchtown. The huge stage mirrored the crowd, every weird and wonderful gob singing Bob’s music back at him. Rain poured, we turned our faces to the sky. A lady lifted upwards a stick with Beer Can and Balloon attached to the end.
We passed a sumo suit wrestling ring. Two-storey bikes. A lady carving a huge loveheart out of wood. A man standing up straight on the shoulders of another, playing a simple tune on the trumpet. He looked serious. We kept moving.
Glowing psychedelic flowers garnished the leafy roof of Tribe of Frog. We smashed out some moves to gabba tunes from Dr. G, eventually finding the beautiful Tangled Roots stage hidden on the edge of the upper class Mayfair. Sound system stacks towered above us and blasted Godzilla bass into our chests.
A guy with a top hat, trench coat and steampunk glasses took a staggered stance directly in front of the speakers and stayed there. We stayed there. We stayed there in that haven, below the trees with sand at our feet, and we danced to the roots reggae sounds of Kibir La Amlak, barely able to peel ourselves away.
“But peel away we must,” we declared. And it was onwards, past the belting folk-hop of Honeyfeet in the Wandering Word to the dizzying, wobbly chaos of Nottingham’s Tumble Audio in the Downtown Leisure Centre.
Then, towards Chinatown’s Bang Hai Palace. We passed a poster reading: ‘One Vision. One Leader.’ Comrade Jose’s painted eyes bore holes into souls from the page. Turning the corner, I looked up. Yes, the palace had risen.
“Such strength, such vision.” I involuntarily muttered, quickly shaking my head in shock at myself.
The six-storey monster of a building beat out beams of light while Squarepusher gathered momentum, rubbed our faces in the filthiest electronic tunes of every calibre, and united the crowds in a mission to skank. Fire sprouted from the roof of the palace on beat as wide eyes cowered in flabbergast. Boomtown was swelling in unity, and I began to wonder whether our leader was to thank for this at all. I had heard Comrade Jose, the mayor of Boomtown, was gathering troops at the Town Hall to carry out tasks in order to prove their loyalty.
But I had seen the Town Hall up at Mayfair. I had seen the bankers dining finely and teasing the paupers with money on fishing rods, retracting it just before it could be gripped. I was growing weary of how much we were worshipping this balls-out display, stuffing yet more money in the back pockets of rich men and women while we struggled in the ghettos of Barrio Loco. We had to leave the palace. Perhaps we would find more sceptics in the Oldtown district. But we had to be careful. We couldn’t be sure who was listening.
We popped our head into Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe singing opera to a room of five while bubbles fell from the ceiling. An incredibly moving performance. Weaving through the streets, we stumbled across a place tucked into a corner, manned by a beautiful lady, who opened the door to a tiny musical living room with vintage cloth lamps and a deep house DJ clad in a feather boa. Now was not the time for political debate. Now was the time to dance.
photo: Andy McEwan
The terror of Comrade Jose’s reign rang out like the tinnitus in our ears, it seeped into our skin and we needed sanctuary. The Boomtique Village was not too far afoot. It was time to see how the other half lived – we wanted a slice of oasis, so we soaked up the wood-fired water from the hot tubs and sweated it back out into the sauna among the naked. Were we enjoying ourselves a bit too much?
“What of our people? We cannot forget them.”
And so we returned to our roots and headed Downtown, to watch a chunk of Mr Scruff and Norman Jay’s five-hour jazzy hip hop set in the sunshine-sprinkled Boom Box stage before heading back to the Lion’s Den, to sing Mungo’s Hi-Fi’s Herbalist at the top of our lungs. On the way back towards our blessed Tangled Roots stage, a man ran with his plastic stegosaurus on a lead, unable to control its wayward nature. Gorgon Sound took over with the heaviest dubplates and sent waves through a busting crowd of screwfaces. The earth stopped spinning.
Onto the script-stacked Wandering Word, and Adam The Rapper off Don’t Flop spat thick lyrics about leaving his troubles at the gate over Edwin Riley samples and soulful hip hop beats, all hashed out and spun by producer and DJ, Cuth. After a dance-off battle for a CD, it was onto undiscovered territory – the Wild West. A quick blast on a mechanical bull, and it was high-energy punky blues from Railroad Bill at the old Rusty Spurs. With about seven of us in the room, there was plenty of space for a dose of do-si-do.
photo: Andy McEwan
“I’m going to need some crowd participation now. From all both of you!” The leader singer cried, while bashing away on his washboard, the six-piece band swallowing the room with their energetic, skiffley antics. The Wild West was doing it for us, so we wandered down the district’s streets, stumbling across a mine shaft in one of the walls. Ducking our heads as we ventured further down, we emerged in a little cave kicking out disgracefully spacious dubstep tunes – The Dutty Inspectors in Bling Bar. Perhaps this was where Comrade Jose had set unsuspecting proles to work, to mine for her wealth.
The chill of her leadership was creeping up our spines once more, so we found some happy vibes from Hornman in Crazy Calamities. A six-piece amalgamation of emcee, singer, trombonist, saxophonist, guitarist and drummer, they blew our bleddy undercrackers off, creating an organic sound with upbeat, trip-hoppy melodies.
Onwards to locate DJ Yoda in Poco Loco, and we somehow found ourselves skanking out to classic, old school wobblers from Woz in the Bassline Circus tent – the real slums of our hometown. Some silly skanking later, and we were back in the Wandering Word for some wisdom from Chester P. With a bit of spoken word in the form of a flea allegory, some heartfelt messages about his missus, some moshing to Graff Da Bus Up and a bang-on performance from an up and coming crowd-poet (giz a shout), our sanity levels were topped up and we ready for a chill at the Floating Lotus stage.
There was a huge fire outside our destination with about thirty people sat around it, chattering about life and blowing fairy dust onto the flames, making them glow green and blue.
“Ooohhh!” We chorused.
Inside the huge yurt tent of Floating Lotus, people were laid on the floor in luxuriated absorption of Nottingham’s Pentatronix/Sabar Soundsystem. Delicate, plinky plonky steel sounds breezed over us as we watched the hypnotic eyeball communication between amazing electronic beatcrafter Si-Tew of One Bomb, dedicated musical director Mikey, and the rest of the drumming crew.
Suddenly, our mates Hornman from Crazy Calamaties showed up looking happy. As. Ever. And they somehow gave an even more energetic performance than when we first saw them. We peeled ourselves away from the floor to celebrate their return. In the form of dance!
Our final day of residency in the Boomtown kingdom had somehow loomed. Rebellion sat on thin sheets in the air. The Hollywood-style DOWNTOWN sign in the hills had been changed to DONUT. Something was coming, the winds had changed. As we made our way through Mayfair, we picked up a copy of the Daily Rag, hot off the press.
Weather: Sun’s out.
Footer: The whole of Boomtown due at Bang Hai Palace at 11.50pm
FREE B$300 IN EVERY COPY!
“Mayor Comrade Jose’s age of misinformation has come to an end.”
“Today, [Daily Rag] exposes the sordid truth behind the Boominati…they have been pulling our strings for far too long.”
“Aliens spotted in DSTRKT 5.”
“Economic Revolution – take this Boomtown cash, relish it, and demand that it be taken as legal tender at your nearest bar. This is our contribution to the revolution – the destabilization of the economy begins here.”
photo: Lucas Sinclair for Boomtown
Finally, I thought. The time has come. It was hard not to think about the impending revolution throughout the day. The truth was finally out. There was no need to be scared any more. So, as well as troops, we gathered strength with chicken and pesto, we boosted our adrenaline with unforgettably insane motorbike skill in the Demon’z Hall ring of death, and we practiced our revolutionary cackles while watching the faces of citizens braving a huge, suddenly-erected water slide.
On the way to catch some more roots reggae from Nottingham’s Adam Prescott at Tangled Roots, and we had to stop to dance to some funky UK garage from the Mr. Whompy ice cream van. In the middle of a massive pillow fight with lorry-loads of feathers. Bodies hugged, skanked and wrestled in the flurry. Freedom tasted delicious.
Back at the Wild West, and Songhoy Blues were donning The Old Mines stage with rocky hip hop to drink red wine in the trees to. Moving further through Mayfair and Oldtown, we joined a street party and boogied on the tables of a chicken shack. Catering to the mayor’s rules was no option any more.
Darkness began to blanket the town, so after having it out to old school soul classics from DJ Jukebox (literally a man inside a jukebox – “in a portaloo, on the ones and twos”) it was time to find the pirates. Nottingham’s Seas of Mirth had commandeered the Jolly Dodger in a sea shanty showcase before the Invisible Circus show of fireworks, trapeze swings and kidnappings, but we could only stay long enough to soak up a spray of the rebellious raucous. Time was gaining on us.
Back at The Palace, and we caught the ends of Goldie B2B Dillinja and SP:MC who were causing a rebellion of their own, dropping the grittiest molotovs of drum ‘n’ bass tunes until Comrade Jose’s closing speech.
Suddenly, The Masked Man appeared on screen. Fists were raised in the air. Quaking eyes looked at each other in confusion and… Audio’s absolutely despicable Collision was blasted across the arena. The Palace shook with illumination, fire and laser beams, becoming a living, breathing entity, dancing along to the music on its own. Yes. We had stripped Jose of her power. The Palace lives on – but now, it is in our name.
As the music turned down, hordes took to the Hidden Woods to celebrate until the morning light, drumming on upturned bins to create a sound that was at times a chaotic, tribal mess but, for the most part (thanks to a handful of pros), a chime of beautifully good times, a chorus of infatuation. And that was not at all unlike our whole adventure.
Boomtown Fair took place at Matterley Estate in Hampshire from Thursday 13 – Sunday 16 August.
Boomtown Fair website
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