Occupying the space between the social utopia of a festival and the aesthetics of a dystopian future, between the debauchery and spontaneity of a freeparty and the measured creativity of an arts show; Boomtown fair is a singular and unforgettable experience. The purpose built but transient city, complete with swanky uptown districts and downtown ghettos, appears like a mirage for one glorious weekend a year in the Matterly Bowl near Winchester and like all boom towns, is rapidly expanding, with an immigration level of 30,000 this time around. Luckily though, the event has managed to retain every ounce of its authenticity and soul, the perfect antidote to every sham heading the way of V. If you weren’t there then you should hang your head in shame and if you were, prepare to feel nostalgic, as we here at JAM present our Boomtown selection.

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Kicking off the Town Centre Stage The Popes Of Chillitown provided the perfect warm-up, getting the crowd up and dancing earlier than should be possible. More infectious than Ebola, it is almost impossible not to want to skank, jump, shake or wiggle when you listen to these guys. Heavy Ska that stops just short of becoming Ska-Punk, their horns are funky, their rhythm section is tighter than Tory welfare policy and their frontman is a man possessed. It is however their sheer enthusiasm that marks them out from many of their contemporaries, as the Popes’ seem to be having just as much fun onstage as their audience is off. 


The Mayfair district’s Bandstand Stage played host to The Flaming Chainsaw Experience who surely have to take the prize for THE Ronseal moniker of the music world. Imagine a band comprised of people who look like they should be prowling the dying embers of a west country rave, shredding Rock’n’Roll covers while the guitarists cut things to ribbons with the chainsaws (yes, actual chainsaws) strapped under their guitars and the lead singer plays with a flamethrower that shoots twenty foot mushroom clouds. Basically, one of the coolest, most entertaining performances JAM has ever witnessed.


A gigantic metal spider, rocking seriously impressive sound reinforcement, with articulating arms and aerial performers, that fires an inordinate amount of pyrotechnics into the night sky… the Arcadia Spectacular; what’s not to like?! As if that’s not enough, Arcadia also doubles as a stage and featured some of the cream of the world’s DJ talent including the legendary Zinc. Gracing the futuristic, parapet-like structure of the sound booth, for what became one of the standout shows, not just on Arcadia, but of the whole of Boomtown Fair, was Slamboree Soundsystem, once again demonstrating why they hold the title of JAM festival favourites.


From the first beat that Freear dropped and the first note let loose from Kathika Rabbit’s fearsome lungs, the audience didn’t cease to move. Stalking the gantries and podia of the Arcadia structure in a black and white catsuit, Kathika looks and carries herself like no other front woman going, with total confidence and control she unleashes anything from a soulful soar to a full-bore Ragga flow. Set to Freear’s filthy and inventive, mash-up DJ style, which included a wicked mix of Die Antwoord’s epic ‘Fatty Boom Boom’, it was as if Slamboree Soundsystem were designed specifically for that time and that place. Topped off by the inclusion of the Booty Skool Dropouts, gold lámé and charity shop bling clad goddesses of the well timed twerk, as well as the Happy Slap Boutique girls, done up to the nines in Mexican day of the dead costume, tearing the dance platforms to shreds, this was a truly special performance.

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Born from the pre-Rudy, New York squat scene, Crack-Rock pioneers Leftöver Crack were a surprising but very welcome addition to the Boomtown line-up. Although they are lacking many of the original members including the mighty Ezra, due to well-documented personal and artistic differences, the band none-the-less dominated Chinatown’s Devil Kicks Dancehall. Playing all their classics, most memorably ‘One Dead Cop’, as well as a few Choking Victim tunes to a rabid audience, any thoughts that frontman Stza might be looking a little long in the tooth were blown away when he took a running dive clear over the pit, landing squarely in the arms of the audience, to join the mass of crowd surfers.


One of Boomtown Fair’s biggest strengths is its diversity, accommodating in its semi-hidden, micro venues a wealth of creative talent that would be totally absent from most festivals. Happy Slap Boutique is a perfect example of this, starting life as a face painting and body art tent, they have since expanded to incorporate a bill of fantastic music, this time showcasing Wolfie and Ocelus amongst many others, as well as a range of Vaudevillian stage shows, running right through into the wee small hours. In a room draped with cloth to resemble a circus tent, under a massive, specially made chandelier of bones, the ‘Espectacular Esqueleto’ or ‘Skeleton Spectacular’ played out to a packed crowd each night. From burlesque to fire performance and most memorably (and disturbingly) a skit in which two living dolls, in day-of-the-dead garb, cut each other to pieces on stage! We here at JAM highly recommend you give these guys a try next year.

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Ultimately, the reason that Boomtown is one of the most impressive and immersive festivals that anyone is likely to experience is that the attention to detail paid to every aspect of Boomtown Fair is just plain staggering; at times it’s easy to feel as if you are a tourist in a strange town. The walk about acts seem to coalesce into a constant and colourful stream of street lunatics while many of the shop fronts that at first appear to be decorative façades are actually open for at least part of the day or night, housing everything from a grass wig barber’s shop to an actual leisure centre. The whole place simply feels alive. When combined with the kind of line-up some can only dream of, there really is NO reason not to get down to Boomtown 2014. You even have the best part of twelve months to get your shit together… so get on it!!!

Words: Benjamin Paul

Images: Benjamin Paul, Scott M Salt & Jody Hartley

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