Back in 2009 I was invited with DJ Wired to a little alternative event taking place in the heart of the Forest of Dean, it was known as Boomtown. When I returned I was convinced that I would never relive something quite so incredible, you can read about that experience here. In 2010 I travelled to Buckinghamshire to a much bigger Boomtown where the roads of the city were starting to take form. When I returned I was convinced that I would never relive something quite so incredible AND you can read about that experience here.
One thing I remember about the last two Boomtown experiences was that it always felt like none of us were meant to be there, it felt like at any moment the officials would turn up and it would all be over and we’d all go to jail. This year was different, I don’t know if it was the Nazis they had working security (no offence to the nazis in this instance) or if it was the enormous fence around the hill complete with watch towers. This year it was like ‘Welcome to Wayward Pines’ – it felt like the fence wasn’t to keep people from getting in, but rather to stop us from getting out. A completely new feeling of almost terrifying trapness – but it was exciting, it was really fucking exciting and if it turned out that we couldn’t leave, oh well, big deal, I guess we’d all have to live there!
The Boomtown creators along with Comrade Josie and her army of mighty music loving minions had constructed something so vast, so breathtaking and so fucking upside-down bonkers that the entire experience is now burnt into my retinas. Whilst writing this I can close my eyes and I am still walking through Whistler’s Green, watching the hippies show the bass junkies how to make coat hooks out of recycled debt relief brochures! When my central heating comes on it sounds like dubstep, I’m waiting for something strange and wonderful to happen in the corner of my eye, but sadly I am back in my house – sat here, waiting for next year.
So let’s talk about Boomtown so that it can feel like I am still there…
This year I took three Boomtown virgins. Highly recommended if you’re a fan of studying people outside of their comfort zone. I took my sister, she represented the full-time mum who suddenly had four days to be whatever the fuck she wanted to be, I took my brother-in-law a former middle-class Karl Pilkington with absolutely no realisation that places and people like this existed and I took my super BFF who is a total party animal, up for anything, totally impressionable, likely to go missing and has incredible boobs. The combination of these unlikely counterparts made for an exceptionally interesting weekend and it turns out that sticking a former-middle class man who acts like Karl Pilkington into a forest full of hippies is absolutely FUCKING hilarious. He made SO many friends. Oh so many.
We were fortunate enough to be staying in The Meadow which was the family and disabled camping area. Although a fair distance from the central core of madness that was Boomtown it was quiet, secure and constantly manned. Jos the boss lady of the area was an absolute angel, I’m not too sure how she seemed to be awake all of the time but she was top notch! Her team were on hand to help you whenever you needed it, they also had a welfare tent where people could charge their mobility equipment and get assistance. We even had a lift into the campsite from the carpark with all of our equipment on their buggy, we lived the dream.
After we had pitched our tent and Pilkington had befriended all of our neighbours we set off to see what all of the fuss was about. Although we had a map (which was a life saver not only for us but for the dozens of people who somehow knew that I had a map) we decided to walk the long way around so that we could take in as much as we could.
To get into the city from The Meadow meant that we had to go through The Sunrise Festival. I’m glad we did because we would have probably missed it otherwise due to the sheer magnitude of THE HILL. Sunrise had been adopted by Boomtown as they fell on the same dates and what it had done was create this beautifully organic, down to earth happy-hippy outpost where you could chill right out, a little haven from the constant chaos of the city. In essence they had created a holiday camp for the residents of the city.
The Sunrise Festival was small, cosy, down to earth and a wonderful initiation into each festival day, kind of like the shower you have before you go swimming. A central fire pit attracted drum circles, dancing minotaurs who played banjos, a tree dressed as a man (or vice versa) people with flowers in their hair, people with hair in their flowers, it was a real raw hippy-fest and it was lush.
On the third night we took full advantage of the Shisha-tent where we lay back on cushions and bean bags and enjoyed cherry and melon smoke and watched all of the burnt out nutters retire to their tents.
Although we happened to see a few people from Sunrise down in the city we didn’t happen across many native Boomtownians at Sunrise. We figured that it was probably too tame for a lot of the citizens or perhaps they had just been defeated by the hill. Either way, it was a beautiful addition and the fact that we got to sit in a giant fibreglass onion and hotbox it until the early hours of the morning made it all that much better!
The first realisation of the immense vastness of Boomtown was as we came over the hill…
Holy sweet fuck-balls, Boomtown is enormous! You could put 2009 Boomtown into it about 8 to 10 times and you could have put 2010 Boomtown into it maybe 5 or 6 times (these aren’t based on real measurements). I couldn’t believe how much the city had grown! The setup reminded me of Sin City in many respects, you had this scary, dangerous, unpredictable but grossly curious and tantalisingly seedy city sat right in the basin of a great valley. It wound off around in a horseshoe fashion so you couldn’t see the entire thing from any one place, this only exaggerated it’s sheer size and magnitude!
Our journey continued, past the viewing area with home made benches, tramponets that you could lie in, conversation pits, a 200 tonne fire breathing dragon (as standard) down towards Whistler’s Green.
Whistler’s Green was like walking into Fable2, it was the last rural settlement before you hit the city actual. A wonderful trading post that gave you the impression that it had been there for hundreds of years. Here was a place to buy wonderful home-made wears, items from recycled materials, metal work, beautifully sculpted hand made steam punk hats and more. It was the place to learn, to try your hand at circus skills (turns out Pilkington is amazing on the Diablo), always wanted to have a go at stone carving? You could. Ever wanted to challenge a blacksmith? Here you could. Turn your empty Nos canisters into a beautiful garden ornament? No problem. We could have easily spent three days there making things, it was wonderful. They even had a spa that you could go to with a sauna, showers, a steam room and I think a hot tub! All within a beautiful garden!
Boomtown city was, always has been and always will be the single most mental place on the planet. Nothing and I mean nothing can prepare you for it, everyone is whoever they want to be when they are in Boomtown. If you want to be a pirate all weekend you can go be a pirate, if you want to be a unicorn scientist that wears clothes made from old umbrellas then you can do that to. Judgement is left at the gate, you are now a citizen of Boomtown and nothing else exists.
It was at times impossible to tell who was an ‘acting’ and who were real people (if that makes any sense) none of the Boomtown ‘natives’ we’ll call them ever broke character, you were completely immersed and there was nothing you can do about it.
The detail of everything was unbelievable, there were no blank walls, every inch of every space was something, whether a shop front, a venue, a side-show or some unmarked door with a single gesturing finger enticing you into whatever awaited you.
Everything is twisted up and wrong, nothing is what it seems. The Post Office is a night club, the cinema is a disco, one moment you’re heading to the Church of The Sturdy Virgin to witness a funeral and the next minute you’re being arrested by a Boomtown Bobby, taken back to the police station (which was a venue) and imprisoned until you worked off your freedom by dancing.
On our last day we played pass the parcel that the Job Centre Office Party, I shit you not! They had a Christmas tree and shitty Christmas music to go with it.
The main stage, The Palace was overwhelming. An art deco extravaganza situated in the heart of the city. Comrade Jose’s terrifying messages of Totalatarianistic partying dominated enormous screens and wartime posters. At night this fierce monolith became insanely illuminated and pumping, dirty bass pumping up through your spine, your eyes vibrating to the pounding drum and bass as lights fly, lasers shoot up, pew pew and the fire shoots into the air. Filthy, beautiful, noisy, dangerous and above all fucking incredible.
Trenchtown was home to The Lion’s Den stage, an impossibly detailed aztec temple that looked like it had always been in Hampshire. When we saw Shy FX playing there you really got a feel for the sheer amount of people there, the hillside was nothing but heads bopping and bipping and everything in between. The sound was incredible (and from what I heard it was much louder than last year) and the lights were on form.
Pilkington’s favourite place in the city was the Psychedelic Forest, a beautiful hideaway in the woods made up of chunky timber benches, conversation pits, fire pit areas, peculiar sculptures that doubled as musical instruments, incredibly elaborate seating (we sat on an intricate metal bench and as you sat down two long claws holding illuminating spheres lowered in front of you so you could roll your ‘cigarettes’ in the dark)
The whole place was illuminated in different colours and there were glowing insects and giant butterflies, it was wonderful. We spent a long time in the woods and spoke to a LOT of people and Pilkington made even more friends.
The variety of food was endless from garlic bread to vegan curry there was something for everyone and more. As with all festivals there is quite a mark up on food but you could get a decent latte for around £2.50 and we had beautiful fish and chips one day at £7.50 a pop. You also got a lot of food for your money so all in all it wasn’t bad.
There were plenty of stalls you could go to where you could buy virtually anything. Vintage clothes, home made stuff, hemp satchels, it was all there. There were plenty of charging stations for your phones and other electronic devices and plenty of general supply shops as well. Including one who specifically sold ‘shit cameras’ and consequently sold out of ‘shit cameras’.
There were a lot of places to camp and everyone had the option of what district they chose to camp in. Each district had its own theme and focus of musical genre, this was a clever idea because it kept the music from clashing, the crowds from clashing and it kept things very interesting. Distrikt 5 reminded me of 2010 Boomtown when it was just starting to take form, although now Distrikt 5 was huge. If you wanted to be an alien or a robot sex slave then Distrikt 5 was the place to be. The Spaceport was teeming with cyberpunkesque people with all tubes coming off them when I walked by, it looked rocking!
I was glad to see Devil Kicks still going strong there, they were pumping out some mean ass Psychobilly billy and Rockabilly.
Where else can you find dozens of multi-coloured four poster beds out on a hill for you to relax on whilst you enjoy the beasty sounds of Mr. Wompy the neighbourhood ice-cream and and sick beat purveyor? Nowhere that’s where.
If you fancied yourself as a cowboy, a prospector a drunkard or a fiend then you could go and stay in Minetown, the Wild West District! It was here that a doctor proposed cutting off my face and replacing it with Cilla Black’s because I looked too mental. Sadly I didn’t get to my appointment in time and so I still have the same face.
There was far more variety in terms of music this time around which can only be a positive. It adds to the variety of people there and gives you more of a choice of what to listen to when you arrive. With over 70 venues not including all the weird and wonderful little musical events that were taking place there was more than enough to get around!
We failed the Boomtown Passport challenge miserably but we met one person who had the Town Centre stamp and all he had to do was undergo the services of a dominatrix until he pledged his allegiance to Boomtown.
I will now however have to mention some things that may detract from the unblemished magic that I have just described to you, but rest assured fellow Shonk readers that this should in no means ever put you off going to Boomtown.
Issues with the number and the conditions of the toilets have been a long established irk for festival goers, not just Boomtown specifically although it did take them a little while to refine. Everyone understands that festival toilets are always gross but with the introduction of the Compost Loos the change arounds of the toilets were much faster meaning that they were cleaned and emptied a lot quicker. Although the smell was just as revolting as always and I cannot fathom how people were camping within a six foot radius to the toilets!
This year Boomtown commissioned Specialized Security to be on site. Specialized Secuirty specialise in two things;
1) Spelling specialized the American way and;
2) Being absolute fucking cunts.
The security at the gate for FAMILY AND DISABLED were rude, pushy and inconsistent. We had accidentally bought two crates of beer in bottles instead of cans so we couldn’t bring them in. One security officer told us that we could take them back to the car (which a number of people were allowed to do) but another office told us otherwise and we had them confiscated. They searched through my friend’s bag and threatened to confiscate her prescription medication despite the fact that I had evidence of her disability. The only reason they calmed down at our gate was because the Commissioner of Hampshire Police turned up to witness what was going on.
I witnessed a group of boys purchase a bong from a stall at the festival and return to their camp only to have it confiscated within minutes by a security person even though they had just bought it and had not used it.
A chap we had met had been approached by what he referred to as ‘an under cover hippy’ at first he weren’t quite sure what he was getting at but further stories have confirmed that Hampshire police had undercover officers going around asking people if they wanted to buy any drugs. This is what is known as entrapment, which is illegal. What made this worse is that the uniformed officers generally seemed helpful, approachable and all round good guys. I saw a lot of people taking photos with them, I’ve seen videos of people having a laugh with them and I’ve seen first hand that they seemed to be more interested in keeping people safe which, was nice because all the security teams wanted to do was steal off people and issue abuse.
I am especially livid that they confiscated my grinder which I have not long brought back FROM SPAIN! As we were leaving one of the security grunts informed us that they had confiscated over 2000 laughing gas canisters, although based on the availability of the canisters once inside I think that they were re-selling them.
I understand that people will bring in things that they shouldn’t, I understand that if you get caught it’s your own doing but to be abusive, to steal and to have no consistent rules for anyone is just plain wrong. Here is the email address for Specialized Security: firstname.lastname@example.org – If you did have any issues with them I do hope that you let them know as The Shonk sure as hell will be.
I want you all to know though that Boomtown has such a beautiful energy to it, my sister my friend and Pilkington all had amazing times as did all of the wonderful people we met, we had some fantastic conversations, dances and experiences with people. We felt fully immersed, we didn’t want to leave and we wish that we were still there.
I cannot express how much I look forward to Chapter 8 and I can assure you that my photographic skills will have improved dramatically by then, failing that I will take an actual photographer with me.
There were numerous different charities working at the event and I will be doing reports on each one that I spoke to individually because this piece is coming up to 4000 words already!
There is so so much more that I wish I could tell you about but this review is coming up to 3000 words as it is, I’ve barely mentioned anything – that is the magnitude of this beautiful city. The last refuge or the open minded and the free spirited, the last place to exist as whoever you wish to be without judgement. If they refine the security issue for next year then it will truly be another beautiful event.
The Shonk would love to hear about your experiences of Boomtown if you would like to send them in! We hope to see you there next year and we are ever proud to be writing about this fantastic place for another year!
A selection of some of the many photographs that I took. I cannot emphasise enough that I am NOT a photographer!
Until then you beautiful people, keep Booming!
The Shonk would like to give a big shout out to some of the people we spoke to and witnessed, in no particular order here they are:
Jamie, James, Tom & Harry the Brighton Massive
The Liverpool hippies who live with Geraint the really welsh Landlord
Finn the Neon Cow from Aylesbury
David “I remembered my own name” from Bristol
The guy from the onion from Haverfordwest who we nicknamed Simon
Kelly the Health and Safety lady from ‘somewhere nearby’
Mavis – the first person to write in the Shonk story time book
Kieron and the Thursday night woodland gang including the gorgeous girl who was half Russian – big up your story skills
Captain Twat and your failed attempt at slip n’ slide
The woman on the gate who sorted our paperwork and looks like the Olsen twins!
The pair in the ‘free hugs’ T-shirts who did not fail to deliver
The lovely blonde chick who helped push me up the stairs when I was struggling
The comical old guy from the fire pit who spoke really quietly
Our next door neighbours of whom were all lovely, generous and down to earth, thank you for your wonderful help and generosity
The guy dressed as Spam, you truly made my weekend
Lak Mitchell – spotted you three times you illusive so and so!
The medical team who offered to remove my face
The French twins in the Tramp-o-net
The dragon people for letting my sister press the fire button
The guy that gave my friend the bandana that he had just bought
DukeofEarl – For The Shonk