Matterley Bowl, Winchester
11 - 14 August
With Boomtown Fair’s eighth instalment, the festival once again made a grab for the crown prize of festival production. Expanding to 60,000 capacity with a brand new eye-popping district, Winchester’s Matterley Bowl was transformed into a celebration of the most bizarre and adventurous elements of UK festival culture.
Every district and every stage conceived and designed by the Boomtown team is driven by a zany narrative with semi-serious political undertones: from the show-stopping grandeur of China Town, its nine-story high Bang Hai Palace and the sexy dystopia of DSTRKT 9, to Mayfair’s down-at-heel decadence and the wacky antics to be found in the Wild West. New stage Vamos draws on all things Mexicana to provide a technicolour backdrop for a revolutionary influx of house and techno, with sets from the likes of Jackmaster and Skream contributing some 4/4 into an otherwise bass-heavy line-up.
Deep in a previously unexplored bowl of the Matterley Basin, the Sector 6 cannot help but dominate the landscape: the sheer scale of this heavily industrial arena holds 12,000 ravers. An exuberant press officer told us that the increasingly power-mad leader of Boomtown (a Frieda Kahlo-esque Comrade Jose) rose to prominence on a wave of popular support and installed an industrial powerhouse complex to keep her electric city alight. However, her megalomaniac ways now face widespread discontent as revolutionary forces take over the Sector, and turn it into a rebel stronghold of their own. This provides a fantastic excuse for some of the best festival staging seen this side of Glastonbury. A sprawling complex of towers, turbines, pipelines and platforms, the stage makes for an impressive enough spectacle by day. And then night falls, and the creators reveal that practically every segment is a moving part that spits fire and lasers, while black-clad revolutionaries spray pyrotechnics and pirouette off the sides of the bloody thing in a style to rival infamous fire-breathing spider stage Arcadia.
Saturday night saw a grime and garage takeover that began with Newham Generals, and progressed to an enjoyably tight set from So Solid Crew that drew as much on current beats as it did on nostalgia. Sunday night’s musical order took it back to drums, climaxing with a heavy Hype b2b Hazard set (with GQ as master of ceremonies) sure to please both dedicated and casual fans of hi-octane drum ‘n’ bass.
The 250 LED screens emblazoned across Sector 6’s structure transition from an all-seeing, illuminati eye, to a cinematic close-up video of the so-called “masked man”, an unidentified revolutionary figure all in black intoning an encoded voice directly into the camera. With heavy nods to Anonymous mission statement videos, the common law rights of squatting, and anti-establishment sentiments, the defiant, rebellious antics of the faceless revolutionary figures as they strut across the Sector and spray sparks from hundreds of feet in the air took on an exciting anarchic atmosphere.
We’re lucky in the United Kingdom to have many festivals that champion enlightenment, mind expansion and political purpose – from the flamboyant playground that is Secret Garden Party, to the ethical attitude of Shambala’s meat and fish free food policy this year. But neither have that feel of having risen from the thriving underbelly of the underground in the way that Boomtown Fair has achieved, and long may it reign.