The date: August 11th 2017. The destination: Winchester.
With the sun’s approval we loaded the car and set our sat-nav southbound, zipping our way down the A43 towards the mystical, musical city dubbed Boomtown. Mindful of the idea that it’s never been a festival adverse to upping the ante, we were excited to see what lay in store in it’s 9th year…
Returning to the Matterley Estate near Winchester, the 60,000 capacity event takes you through different eras, with 10 different purpose-built districts, all designed to engage your senses and help you become one with Boomtown. From the leg shaking, do-si-doing dust-dowl of the Wild West, to the futuristic, bass-infused, post-apocalyptic realm of Dstrkt 5, each nook and cranny of the site holds something unique and almost always, visually immense.
With so much to see and do, you could be in danger of spreading yourself thin or falling foul of FOMO. However, adopt the mentality that “you are where you are supposed to be” and you really get the most from this eye-catching event.
Boomtown’s ongoing storyline was brought to life across the ‘city’ with hundreds of actors on balconies, ensuring those wandering through the streets took in the full scale of the sets, scenery and immersive environment surrounding them. Approach a performer and utter the words “Do I know you, friend?” and you’ll find yourself discovering hidden worlds and untold stories as you become involved in one of the many storylines and games interweaved into the event.
Chapter 9 “Behind the Mask” told the story of the new CEO of the fictitious multinational Bang Hai Industries. Following on from last year’s theme ‘The Revolution Starts Now’, the story revealed how the city was being taken over by Bang Hi Industries, a financially motivated corporation who had plans for the development and gentrification of the district, much to the dismay of the contesting Boomtown residents. The storyline is an allegory for the corporate and commercial monopolisation seen all around us, and it was clear a huge amount of effort had gone into the development of the storyline.
The screens and nightly shows taking place across three of the main stages, Town Centre, Bang Hai Towers and Sector 6, presented the unfolding narrative of what really was going on in Chapter 9: Behind the Mask. This year, to make it even more immersive, an accompanying app Bang Hai People projected uploaded images throughout the festival of those who got involved naming them the ‘top citizens’.
To ensure the safety of its citizens, the event organisers went to special lengths, acknowledging that “the: ‘drugs are illegal, don’t do them’ policy hasn’t worked in general society, and it is no different for festivals”. Teaming up with harm reduction, not-for-profit organisation The Loop, the organisers offerered attendees the chance to safely test their drugs as part of the ground-breaking harm reduction scheme.
Friday saw us travel back in time to the lawless land of the Wild West, where we cut the proverbial rug for many hours to the likes of 47 Soul – “infectious electronic beats mixed with sounds of the Middle East”, and Lakuta – “a global mix of musicians who create a fierce driving sound.” In the evening, hip-hop legends Cypress hill delivered a punchy performance at the Lion’s Den, pulling in a huge crowd and creating an electric atmosphere.
The Tangled Roots stage, with it’s blaring sound system reverberating around the forest, was a highlight from Saturday, though I’ve never seen DJ’s so ignored; everyone was hell bent on facing 90 degrees away from them, drawn instead to the rumbling coming from the speakers.
Then came the moment where we had to make the executive decision. Do we see the Specials – who we knew the vast majority of the festival would be going to see, meaning low visibility and minimal rump shaking space, or do we use the opportunity to see another act billed at the same time? We decided to go with the latter and headed to Poco Loco (as acts go, one of my favourite venues in Boomtown) and caught the brain-popping turntablism and insightful lyricism of Dizraeli and Downlow who constructed a Hip Hop set full of wit, fun and compassion.
Sunday rolled around all too quickly, but rather than lament only having one day left, we decided to carpe diem and headed to an area that in previous years had gone unexplored by us – Whistlers Green. Whilst we were not up in time to take part in the Reggae-aerobics session in the morning, we did arrive in time for me to try my hand at some hula hooping, and once they managed to drag me away from my dreams of joining the circus we wandered around taking in the sights. There are a plethora of creative workshops for all ages including Forest Schools, make your own chocolate shops and carpentry, as well as relaxing and soothing massages. We tried our hands at a drumming workshop and sampled some CBD infused goodies from the Hempen Co-Operative.
Looking around it was clear that Whistler’s green was definately the more family oriented area of the festival, not to say that I didn’t witness many courageous parents ushering their young ones around the other districts of the Boomtown. However it was here, nestled within Whistler’s green that you had the KidzTown and there was even a whole kids-only play area in the woods complete with climbing frames.
The Windmill stage played host to The Comet is Coming – “2016 Mercury prize nominees who incorporate elements of jazz, Afrobeat, electronica, funk and psychedelic rock” and also Dub Fx, who was armed with a live band to take his beatboxing and fusion of reggae, hip hop, jungle and jazz to the next level.
From the ornate stages to the intimate street venues (Boomtown offers over 120 music venues) it is a credit to the organisers that on the whole the festival ran quite smoothly, with a good number of eco-friendly toilets, a huge array of food and drink stalls and impressive sets.
Whilst more could be done to reduce the environmental impact of all music festivals – they can be environmental disasters when it comes to the amount of trash generated, it is positive to see that Boomtown has taken some measures to ensure they provide entertainment whilst taking responsibility for the planet. The addition of organic and fairtrade food stalls was also a pleasant surprise. We caught up with the festival organisers for a short interview on all things eco and here is what they had to say:
What do you think are the main ways festivals have an impact on the environment?
The main impacts are obviously the amount that can be accumulated over the course of a 4 day festival in terms of food waste, left behind camping gear and general litter, down to things like glitter – seemingly harmless but unless it’s biodegradable, can be pretty harmful.
The carbon emission from people driving to and from the festival is quite a large one. However, this year our partnership with Big Green Coaches, has people coming from 55 different locations, and our coach packages have been incredibly popular this year and looking like nearly a third of people a will be arriving via public transport, which is huge!
Over the years we have introduced a lot of initiatives and systems to try to minimise the environmental impact, however, the biggest thing is to try to get the audience to take responsibility for their own belongings, as it is a myth that all tents left at festivals go to charity, that is just a really small amount, and only when people have packed them down and donated them properly do they actually make it to people who need it. The rest of it depressingly ends up in landfill and takes a huge amount of time, effort and money to clear away.
Do you think festival goers are concerned about the environmental performance of festivals?
To a point, yes. Most people are pretty conscious of recycling and carbon emissions, and would probably much rather be at a festival that cares about the impact it has on the surroundings and tries to do something about it, than one that just doesn’t care at all. And the uptake we get from our Eco Bond initiative and onsite recycling is great, however, there is still a long way to go to ensure that people take their belongings home with them at the end of the event.
What initiatives have you got in place to make this a greener festival - from noise to food, waste, co2 emissions, camping etc?
We have so many initiatives and are constantly trying to figure out ways to improve year on year. On of our original campaigns in Tent-Cil is a special Boomtown initiative where we spray paint tents with different festival logo’s in order to turn them into souvenirs (to be taken home!). We were also one of the first festivals to add a returnable £10 Ecobond onto each festival ticket at purchase which can then be exchanged for a full bag of rubbish/recyclables at the end of the festival on Sunday. We also work with Camplight who rent out pre pitched tents to all those who’d prefer to not trek to and from the festival with all their camping gear to get people to bring less stuff, as well as alternative travel providers.
We partnered with Big Green Coach this year to further cut down on our carbon emissions by encouraging people not to drive! They have return coaches leaving from over 55 locations across the UK (more than ever before). GoCarShare provides an avenue for those who do drive to do so with a full car of people, cutting down on travel expenses and meeting new friends at the same time and Energy Revolution is an industry partnership geared towards turning fossil-fuel festival travel miles into a direct investment in renewable energy through a £3 donation when buying festival tickets.
We also try to alert our audience wherever possible about how they can live a little greener through news stories on our website (Biodegradable Glitter News Story) as well as our social media channels – not just during festival season but throughout the year.
Is this environmental awareness something you also try and encourage with your staff or with the artists too?
Yes definitely, keeping the site as green as possible is a responsibility that lies with everyone. All the catering uses biodegradable cutlery & plates etc and there are multiple recycling bins backstage to make sure people recycle as they go, as well as lots of taps across site and back stage to encourage people to use reusable water bottles
What’s your biggest green tip for all festival goers?
If you don’t want to take your tent/camping gear home with you – please do NOT bring it!! Instead, book a pre pitched tent with Camplight who do all the hard work for you! Bring a reusable water bottle with you to save money on buying water and refill at the taps across site, if everyone did this it would make a huge impact!
As we prepared to say goodbye to Boomtown and deal with our bout of post-festival blues, the only thing to put a dampener on the event was the mismanagement of the exit traffic on the Monday. Whilst we had not been party to the queues on arrival, it took us 2 hours to get from our parking spot to the exit gate, at which point we found ourselves joining another queue – at least we had our memories of the weekend to console us. Plus, on getting home it was comforting to note that the organisers had acknowledged the issues, stating: “We are truly sorry to those in the lengthy queues and will ensure that we have even more robust contingency plans ahead of next year’s event.” – Boomtown Organisers.
So, what will Chapter 10 hold? Watch this space.
Angie is our resident features writer on location in London, specialising in festivals, food and nutrition, and with a keen interest in ethical fashion.