BOOMTOWN FAIR : PAGAN RIOT RELIEF
You hear a lot of talk of hypereality nowadays, of living in the end times and the death of history, that history has lost its meaning, its relevance, becoming just another aesthetic at the disposal of canny trend setters sliding glossy photos over tables in Shoreditch. People forget history is living, folk culture has gone digital, the drum and bass MC is a folklorist, part bard part druid. I suppose the music festival is like a continuation of the village fete and that's why at 3am on a Saturday in a field a few miles outside Winchester I’m confronted by three morris dancers selling acid. The festival is a continuation of great pagan traditions, well it feels pagan and the people are pagan, festival people that is, the ones with wrists covered in bands and sun bleached dreadlocks and an amateur interest in chemistry, praise be to Shulgin. I think the festival people normally reside in Bristol where the pagan summer fairs go underground for the winter, sheltered inside where they can keep their legs crossed and pass around the NOS like a Native American peace pipe.
So I arrive in the field some miles from Winchester on Wednesday night with three other brummies. Refugees, as we kept telling people, from the consumerist riots that had befallen that grey city wrapped in roads like tourniquets, fleeing to the countryside while the papers tried with ink and in vain to find some politics in amongst the aggravated shopping spree. Initially the guy who is guarding the field won’t let us in to sleep but after a quick conversation, serendipity shines through: the man in the hi-vis went to my school, and he lets us through telling me 'you should’ve said you went to Queensbridge in the first place,' as if naming a Birmingham comprehensive school is a viable and obvious opener when in discussions with a security guard in a field just after midnight.
We half set up the tent, roll inside and await the morning. We are the first outside the gates and the high metal walls at 9am on Thursday morning. The gates are meant to open at 10 but don’t, and a lengthy queue has formed behind us as the midday sun prepares to scald my neck. A big biker looking bloke comes out and reminds us for the third time that there are no drugs allowed in the festival and that we will be thoroughly searched and there are sniffer dogs awaiting us. Some of the crowd scare easy and mumble to each other while the festival veterans feel confident, there is a sort of unspoken agreement between the police and drug users, a bit like that law they have in the States about drinking outside that people get around by sticking liquor bottles in a brown paper bag. As the drug law goes, if you have the sense to ballbag your gear then you can keep it because there ain’t nothing we can do. We do all the usual stuff and by the time that’s finished I’ve drunk almost half the alcohol I’ve brought with me and we head off wandering around the ‘town’.
There is a crowd converging around the helter-skelter and a man dressed as a nun smokes a cigarette outside the inflatable church. It’s like someone had a free party in the backlot of a golden age Hollywood studio, but also kind of like a set from that trashy channel five post-apocalyptic soap ‘The Tribe.’ There is a hint of social commentary hidden amongst the caricature of an inner city high street: ‘crack converters’, and the ‘asbo disco’ amongst the esteemed establishments in Boomtown’s old town district. Peeking in one door we find a friend from Birmingham leafing through old pulp western novels while jive plays out a gramaphone, the pictures of famous jazz musicians and actresses vibrating with the music.
I eventually find one of the cinema tents that I intend to review, it’s located near the Bassline Circus that is already buzzing with buzzing people. The cinema tent isn’t really a tent in fact, it’s made up to look like a drive-in cinema from a 1950s American teen movie where they smash postboxes with baseball bats. I’ve always rather disliked tents as constructs and with the exception of shisha tents, tents at festivals fall short of matching the content in the presentation. Boom Town’s the first festival I’ve been to that delivers on aesthetic as well as content. It’s only Thursday so I’m not expecting much from the cinema tent but I find a pleasant number of people sat on the wooden boards on the floor watching the Moomins. I sit down with my girlfriend at the front and crack open a beer and as I begin to roll a cigarette, there is a slight breeze and a fresh 20 pound note blows into my girlfriends lap, a good omen if ever I saw one.
There is a selection of music videos playing swinging between lo-fi youtube efforts and flirtations with professional quality productions. After a pleasant hour or so we decide to make use of the 20 quid and venture off to see what the rest of the festival has to offer and the night descends into a series of satisfying spirals. There are ups and downs and the makings of a bad morning, and as is usual with first nights at festivals more than is intended of the supplies is splurged.
There are few things worse than waking up with a hangover in an almost melting tent. In the bare light of the morning a ket-zombie struggles with the zip of his tent, giving up after crashing to the ground with a trio of thuds. There is a chorus of whippets and the hair of the dog is calling so we abscond to the shadows of the main bar and purge ourselves with warm cider. The ritual of reawakening our muscles and senses takes a couple of hours by which time the music has started and a whole host of recognisable faces descend on downtown Boom Town. The main stages are spread around the festival punctuated by smaller tents each with its own special feature: there is a junglist ball pool, a roller disco and a bouncy castle. There is talk of a casino and a gentlemen’s club but they’ll have to wait for later in the weekend, we’re all in agreement that a good serving of bass is needed.
The whistle of whippets is constant and the walk down the main drag reminds me of pushers alley in Cristiana. There are street performers, a fire breathing mechanical horse and a man who plays a piano that is somehow attached to a bicycle that he manages to skilfully traverse the crowded street with. There is another cinema tent run by Grannies Cafe, a well-known attraction for festival regulars. You can get tea and toast for cheap-ish and at last year's Shambala I spent a very a long time crashed in the pillows watching Disney films. Tea and feel-good propaganda are an equally vital alternative to more drink and more drugs, but I suppose it depends on stamina. I find festivals to be more a marathon where as others clearly find it a sprint, an emotion that’s always clear in the eyes of those still awake and alert come midday Monday, imploring time and the other festivalgoers not to give up the ghost, not to abandon them stranded in the party, alone.
The festival delivers full on party vibes as the night descends and I’m as contorted and celebratory as anyone else, hopping from dive to dive still feeling like we’ve squatted the set of a post-apocalyptic dogma film. One shop front contains TVs playing a strange montage of video static, dancing its way through the internet and DIY video culture, similar to but better than a video I recently produced; I never did find out who made it… To be accurate in time and place from this point on would be dishonest, the ride became more about colour and emotion as items and money were lost and found and there was a rizla and tobacco famine.
All wrapped up in the drone of whippets whistling. I see bands with double basses playing to crowds of punks shined and spiked like aliens in a room that resembles a haunted house, and find warmth and comfort in the Lion's Den gently bending my legs and extending my tendons to reggae. Thinking we’d successfully escaped the riots and the rooms certain friends had locked themselves in, the TV split to show as many news reports as possible, the laptop hung on the blog that keeps them up to date with the rampant materialism of the rioters complemented by the skunk that keeps them prang and apathetic, we’ve imposed a ‘no talking about the riots’ rule. But we have not escaped the selfish theft that marked those latest capitalist subductions. People have been stealing from tents and as a result the security are getting all uppity and excited, cracking down on irrelevant symptoms of the festival. Two friends are picked up in the wee hours while trying to get into another friend's tent and security almost kick them out without any evidence. It’s one downside of the festival and its compacted size, the security are all over and clearly don’t get IT, whatever IT is.
We chase IT across the weekend ending up again at the drive-in cinema and lie there for a couple of hours resting our irises. The weekend is beaten and we are battered, we’re all out of everything but it’s ok we’ve had our fill and made Dionysius and Leary proud. The Monday morning blues sets in fast and we’ve got 7 brummies to find lifts for. I extricate myself from the situation and hitch a lift back to Worcester, where I manage to get a lift to a petrol station in Bromsgrove and then from there on to Birmingham and to my bed where my dreams play out in a psychedelic carnival in a field a couple of miles outside of Winchester.
By JOE COPPLESTONE