“COME ON” screamed Miles as he weaved down the hell-high stairs that somehow pose as a logical pathway between Downtown and Trenchtown camping, “WE’RE GOING TO MISS IT”. It was 11:30 on Sunday evening as we joined the swarm of ants rolling towards Banghai Palace, one of the biggest stages, with expertly timed lights, giant screens flashing trippy images by the second, and huge fireballs coming off it: the stage can be seen for miles around, the lights visible shining on the clouds and forest on the other side of the (not to be scoffed at) hill. From halfway down the stairs we could hear the beat drop and the sound of thousands of feet hitting the ground in time to The Upbeats. Half running, we joined the crowd and were warmed by every fireball shooting into the air all around us, synced painstakingly to the music. Fireworks shot out of the back of the stage, and the face of the leader of the revolution appeared close-up on the screens. The moon warmly shivered over the heat rising off the stage. Beneath the fireworks, members of the revolution, dressed in black, faces covered in dark bandages and steampunk goggles, swarmed the stage, hands held in the air in defiance, one anonymised bandaged figure flying in hanging from one arm over the crowd, before addressing us. Many fireworks, the beats suddenly hard and fast and everyone dancing and shouting and throwing their arms forwards, clutching at the sky, feet smacking on the ground, and boom. It was finally over.
THE PROPHETS OF BOOMTOWN
BoomTown, contrary to expectation, contained a wealth of sparkling prophesiers, knowledgeable of many of the finer details of the Fair: “Don’t go down the hill: you’ll have to go back up” a man told us through deep breaths, heaving his legs forwards one at a time, a slow frog’s waddle, as we headed towards Downtown. “Never don’t do drugs, if you see what I mean” pronounced another one, before tripping over his own feet and losing his baseball cap, a feature that hadn’t been on stably in the first place. The word of the weekend, in many senses, was “fire”, and the phrase was definitely “absolutely disgusting filthy drum and bass”, courtesy many a time of our friend Miles: “so we got choices, fam. Some shitty Simian Mobile Disco/Levellers/Madness/insert your choice of non-D’n’B band here – or some absolutely disgusting filthy drum and bass. What’ll it be?”. The protest that “Some of us like Simian Mobile Disco” did nothing.
THE RESTORATION OF ROSS
Despite the immense hike from North parking (at the bottom of the hill) to Trenchtown camping (you know, just over the top of the hill, then over another hill, and a bridge), our car load of friends were gratefully received: unbeknown to me, all the hash happened to be smuggled away in the bottom of a bag I was carrying. As I consumed several packets of crisps and a brioche (a premonition of every meal to come that weekend), there was a crash and the front of the tent cascaded in, knocking over a pint of cider, followed by Ross, who’d arrived at 5pm and finished a litre of vodka already. “I’m so sorry guys” he began, before making himself a comfy pillow out of our legs. Frank offered him some melba toast with French brie on it.
“Restorative” he pronounced, “Absolutely restorative. Shall we capoeira Frank?”, a tussle ending with Ross capoeira-ing himself to the ground with an extravagant roundhouse kick.
IF YOU’RE NOT GOING DOWN, YOU HAVE TO GO UP
We wandered down into the intricate city for a look around, despite it being almost the end of the music. One of the curses of the hill-based location is that as you walk, you can see everywhere you want to go – and hence it seems to take even longer to get to than if you hadn’t been noticing yourself gain on a certain tent at a glacial speed. Once you get into Downtown, it then becomes much more difficult to navigate, partially due to people out of their minds on various drugs and no longer being able to see your destination, and partially due to a maze-like array of distracting streets that all your friends are suddenly heading in different directions down. Short exploring done, I was already exhausted and prepared to turn in. As we walked along a valley through Sector 6, suddenly an enormous cheer, as though applauding some imaginary giant beast above us, rippled through the huge campsite, with people sticking their heads out of tents to discover that it was cheering for the sake of cheering. Of course, we joined in, although as it was quickly followed by the obligatory 2012 “Alan!”, we headed on back quickly enough.
Friday morning we caught the opening show of the Lion’s Den stage, a bizarre and unexpectedly hilarious (in my hungover state) performance, consisting of a giant lion’s head and a lot of bowing by some very enthusiastic dancers in full white body suits (which ultimately made Mungo’s Hi-Fi, who I’d mistaken for the dancers, a lot less interesting when they actually took to the stage). After a long debate, Frank and I decided to move my new car to a carpark closer to our camping; as we walked back in with our camping chairs, a thick plume of black smoke began to rise from the car park we’d just left. We stood near a group of security guards and listened in. We’d missed being part of the eighty car fire by approximately half an hour.
WALKING THE SCATTY FISH
The rest of that afternoon, and the majority of the evening, ended up being swallowed by a desperate need to consume more absolutely disgusting filthy drum and bass, and was spent mainly at the Robotica stage. A metallic corner cordoned off by shipping containers stacked two high, the repetitive beats rebounded off the walls, giving the effect of consistently hearing the music twice, only at minutely different times from in front and behind the crowd. After dancing here through the daylight until late at night, someone needed to see something or another at Sector 6, and thus began the daunting task of hustling the whole group around to the other side of the hill. Akin to herding a school of scatty fish in a storm, I can clearly picture a friend, Mike, ahead of me, a glow of fairy lights about him, shouting back over the noise of hundreds of feet trampling down to the stage: “Who are we missing now?!” – to which a random passerby heading up the other way responded with a deep note of solemnity: “You’re always missing someone, mate. Happens eevery time”. Limp from too much repetitive dancing in Robotica and the daunting truth of this statement, it wasn’t long until I peeled away from the group and began heading back for a (relatively) early night. The hill lay before me. I sighed. A guy behind me put it into words: “I’m here to get nutted and go dance, not climb a fucking mountain”.
ELECTRO-SWING ENRAGES SECURITY GUARD
The next day The Correspondents, as usual, were a fantastic live performance, with the front singer a ridiculous mix of noises and the most preposterous dance moves, the drummer absurdly quick and energetic, and the crowd writhing and absolutely plastered head to toe in glitter. They described us as “the most colourful crowd [they’d] ever seen”, and ended the set with a speech: “BoomTown – you know how to party like no other festival in the world”. During the one of their ear-poppingly fast scat sections, the lead singer suddenly stopped, said “Can you all come forwards? I’ve just got to get in there”, before diving into the crowd, much to the security guards’ disgruntlement. As he bippity-bopped and sailed around atop the sun beaten audience, the surge to reach him was a powerful force in the crowd, and as he came careening back towards us, with me up against the barriers, the scramble of people almost pushed me down, knocking my headdress off. “Like a baby!” he said, this absurd six foot something rake of a man, dressed in a very close fitting monochrome striped two piece, as security angrily carried him back to the stage in their arms.
It was soon time to prepare for the evening. Frank, Ross and I heading for Ojos de Brujo, a Spanish band. Fires blazing, there was a real party atmosphere at the Old Mine, with the audience singing loudly, salsa-ing wildly and calling for an “otra! Otra!” at the end. Still cold despite the flames shooting from the mine, Ross lent me his jacket.
“Wow, this is so warm!”
“Now you see why I didn’t bring a sleeping bag” said Ross. Unbelievable.
Later, as Frank and I forced our way out of the sweaty ASBO Disco and wandered through one of the busiest parts of the festival, I noticed a tent next to the walkway fully open, a girl in a tiny minidress lying half in, half out, on her back. We went over. Her phone lay blatantly on her lap, headphones plugged in, her bags and clothes all over her little tent. Shaking her bare thighs, we woke her eventually, and managed to get her into her tent, with her phone away and warmer clothes on. She spoke with us, and was a little wired and slightly confused, and although she did up her tent and presumably went back to sleep, I felt shaken. Not long later, I decided enough was probably enough, and headed back to bed myself.
TWERKING IS A NEW WAY TO DANCE?
Sunday was reggae day, a treat as the reggae capital of the festival, Lion’s Den, was right by our tents. Laid Blak opened, the users of some seriously “dodgy lyrics”, as Ross put it – “twerking is a new way to dance” was an actual chorus riff, as was the spot-on “no more war (repeat x10)” – along with some slightly misogynistic slippages and a couple of terrible dancers. Soon after though, was a new favourite – Soom T. Singing in Arabic–sounding quarter tones, preaching the one love philosophy, followed by a tasty bit of toasting, this small woman with a very strong Scottish accent backed by an all-girl reggae band was an absolute joy and surprise to behold. She did attempt some crowd participation – but called out the crowd quickly: “I know none of ye are singing because yeve all got spliffs hanging out yer mouths”. Everyone was dancing, and it was only 2pm on a Sunday.
“Right” she told us. “Let’s get you in the mood for the final night. I think it’s time fer some improvised techno” – before the whole band whacked out an upbeat, body popping, ten minute long freestyle techno tune. We stuck around to watch Fat Freddy’s Drop, but with the entire three litres of wine now mysteriously gone, I went for a quick lay down on the grass nearby and managed to sleep through both that and Damien Marley, one of the most popular acts of the festival, it seemed from the crowd around me when I awoke. Not one to ruin the last night party, I sat up, felt remarkably good, wiped the drool off my face, and followed Miles’s instructions to “COME ON! WE’RE GOING TO MISS IT!”.
The revolution, the costumes, the fireworks, the hit-the-sky audience, the fantastically fast beat. Boom. Dejected, we stood. Would a sudden new beat be dropped down from the skies above us? All around us were only the sounds of people, talking, shouting, chanting, sadly beginning to move away. It being only just midnight, the final night of the festival, and all of us already sinking into post-Boomtown blues, we headed up to the hidden woods to sit down before starting the long walk up the hill to bed.
As we entered the forest, a rhythmic bang-bang-bang began to sound. Stages being taken down already? I wondered. “Yess, here at the start of the banging” said someone behind us. A security guard passed us: over his walkie-talky “the banging’s started here” hissed out. We leant against the side on a walkway above the dance area. Below, a man appeared to be hitting a metal bin with a long piece of wood. A couple of people joined him, picking up their own sticks from the ground. A security guard approached them and reproachfully took the bin. More and more people began to fill into the sandy area below us. A quiet chant began: “We want drugs, we want drugs”.
“They can’t expect drugs that easily”, I said.
“It’s drums,” a friend told me. “Listen”.
The chant began to rise in the air, and suddenly below us the bin was back. Upturned, painted in the Rasta colours of green, gold and red, people picked up sticks and began to bang on it. All around the woods below us, festivalgoers dressed in spangles, strange glasses, hats, giant fur rugs or very little, flowed thick and fast onto the sand, eddying around bins, with sticks, stones or hands, beating a non-rhythm that developed a rhythm. Straight below us, someone in a bucket hat took charge, directing the beat and causing an uproar with his solos. All around the festival, empty bins (they know the score by now, eight years in) were overthrown, launched into a group, and immediately hit upon by anyone and everyone. Beneath us, bin drums with the appearance of mini stages took the pent up aggression, lack of sleep, and overload of drug energy left in a thousand or two people after the weekend. I watched a security guard creep into the crowd and gain on one group of drummers, look around suspiciously, then quickly raise a block and wooden stick into the air and begin banging along too. From up on the walkway, it sounded like the most absolutely disgusting filthy drum and bass of the entire weekend.
And that was that. The last night of BoomTown 2016, beaten away with sticks. Reflecting, what a weekend it was – the crowd, the stages, the lights, the colours, the glitter and the beat, the beat, the beat. Forget the hill – every step up it was accentuated, just as every detail of the city was immersed in consideration, in connotation. Too much to take in in four short days, I certainly need the break to get my head around the preparation it must have taken to bring the city to life. But don’t expect to see me anywhere but there this time next year.
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