Review: BoomTown Fair @ Matterley Estate (Winchester, 10th to 13th August 2017)

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BoomTown Fair returned to Matterley Estate in Winchester from the 10th – 13th August for its much anticipated Chapter 9: Behind the Mask festival. A rather diverse crowd of 60,000 excited punters showed up to a surprisingly sunny weekend after days of rain, and to arguably one of the most imaginative and intricate festival sets that exists in the world right now.

World music enthusiasts might have festivals such as WOMAD or Shambala at the top of their go-to lists, but in fact BoomTown Fair offers a jaw-dropping selection of must-see artists: both rising stars and established heavyweights at the top of their game. I was seriously impressed by the scope of music that was available at the festival – however, it was literally impossible to see everyone on my list, due to the sheer size of the site. Moving through the festival is literally like moving through different worlds, catering for literally any festival experience you might be after. On one side, you have the festival Day-Glo “ravers” and old-school punks traversing the more hardcore world of Downtown BoomTown, and then you can be lost exploring drum ‘n’ bass, garage, jungle, ska and beyond in the immersive Chinatown and with the Bang Hai People. At the top of the hill, the green pastures of Whistlers Green, the sets of Old Town and the impressive Trenchtown offer a more.

I was seriously impressed by the scope of music that was available at the festival – however, it was literally impossible to see everyone on my list, due to the sheer size of the site. Moving through the festival is literally like moving through different worlds, catering for literally any festival experience you might be after. On one side, you have the festival Day-Glo “ravers” and old-school punks traversing the more hardcore world of Downtown BoomTown, and then you can be lost exploring drum ‘n’ bass, garage, jungle, ska and beyond in the immersive Chinatown and with the Bang Hai People. At the top of the hill, the green pastures of Whistlers Green, the sets of Old Town and the impressive Trenchtown offer a more rootsy experience, with also plenty of folk, world and reggae thrown in for good measure.

Many people who entered the festival on Thursday faced long queues and mucky fields after an unprecedented amount of rain hit the site in the run up to the event. However, the mood of the festival was decided at the colourful opening ceremony at the Lion’s Den where 20,000 people gathered to hear the legendary reggae group Toots and the Maytals perform a veritable ‘greatest hits’ in absolutely glorious weather, which lasted throughout the weekend and dried out the sodden site in what felt like a miracle. The band played old favourites such as: “Louie Louie”, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, “54-46 Was My Number” and “Pressure Drop” to a delighted crowd, and I was bowled over by Toots Hibbert’s vocals, which somehow manage to still retain the clarity and tone of his first recordings from the ‘60s.

After the concert, we were content to simply roam around the different city sets and take in the hundreds of dedicated actors and performers who make the city come alive. We walked through the rich Mayfair district, underneath a group of laughing bankers emptying “oil” and fake money onto our heads, before making our way over to the Wild West-inspired Old Town district, where two Amish-looking preachers helped us repent for our sins with a Bible and holy water, before sending us off on our way telling us piously – “Now, my child, you are free to sin again” (!)

I really can’t say enough good things about the level of creativity that BoomTown brings to the table – you really must see go and see it for yourself!

Whilst meandering our way through the woods, we found The Old Mines stage, where we were treated to an energetic set from the inimitable 47Soul, whose distinctive Shamstep sound drew a throng of dancing revellers. Next, it was back to Trenchtown to catch hip-hop royalty Cypress Hill, which provided a rather epic climax to Friday as the immense crowd sang along to classics like “Insane in the Membrane” at the Lion’s Den, whilst enjoying fireworks erupting from the stage.

Indeed, iconic bands were most certainly on the menu for the weekend – we managed to see The Specials the next day, again at the Lion’s Den (with a short but intense stopover at reggae-metal fusionists Skindred on the way!) Much like with Toots and the Maytals, the Specials drew a huge crowd of excited revellers, who all enjoyed a joyful skank to classics like “Ghost Town” and “A Message To You Rudy”, with the Specials sounding as enthusiastic and full of life as ever.

The final day of BoomTown treated us to yet more trips down memory lane thanks to influential hip-hop group Arrested Development, and thankfully more sun! Arrested Development continues to share their message of hope and diversity, and of course, played essential track “Everyday People”, to the delight of everyone who gathered to watch them in the Town Centre.

The weekend itself seemed to be one of huge progress for BoomTown – seeing the way that they are now dealing with the issue of drugs was inspiring. The festival provided pre-event drug awareness education on their website and employed trained drug welfare workers for the festival, and even brought in The Loop – a not for profit drug testing area that was also completely confidential. It would be a positive move to see other large UK festivals tackling issues like this head-on in the future.

BoomTown plans to return to Matterley Estate on the 16th-19th August 2018 for Chapter 10: The Machine Cannot Be Stopped, and you can be sure it will sell out again, thanks to the sheer level of hard work that goes into creating this immersive festival. I most certainly will be back to take in another selection of incredible international artists, and also to see what will become of the mysterious Bang Hai Industries and to again meet all of the weird and wonderful citizens of BoomTown Fair.




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