Gun fingers in wonderland: Boomtown 2022 was a celebration of togetherness - Features - Mixmag

Gun fingers in wonderland: Boomtown 2022 was a celebration of togetherness

Uniting crusty and cool, Boomtown overcame scorching temperatures and technical issues to welcome back devotees after three long years

  • Words: Aneesa Ahmed | Images: Giulia Spadafora, Jody Hartley, George Harrison, Leo Rabermeister, Derek Bremner, Paul Whiteley
  • 1 September 2022

Despite the scorching 32-degree sunshine bearing down on Winchester's Temple Valley, spirits are invariably high. In fact, the heat (and dust) seems to elevate the mood of the Boomtown-starved revellers, who have not descended upon this spot since 2019. Will this post-lockdown edition be remembered as a hot year? similarly to 2017’s Glastonbury? Are we in for four days full of devising creative tactics to keep cool and four evenings of bathwater atmosphere and hedonistic bliss? Who knows. One thing is for sure, it's about to get wobbly.

Beloved up and down the country by all good-time seekers — from your local neighbourhood crusty showcasing their self-taught plate spinning prowess, to the private school rugger team daring each other to eat a pot noodle for 'sups — Boomtown unites all in their homogeneous appreciation for bass, breakbeat and bangers. Opting for no sole headliners this year, instead, Boomtown treated attendees to a diverse array of underground and alternative acts including Koffee, Moonchild Sanelly, Nia Archives, Mungo’s Hi-Fi, Unorthodox DnB and Dan Shake, all spread over fifteen "main" stages and a handful of nooks and crannies.

“I genuinely prioritise Boomtown over a holiday every year, 100%, it’s always a laugh and you can meet so many great people here,” one attendee chimes. She’s sporting flamboyant flared trousers, chatting away with her friends about how many steps they have taken so far at the festival. The expansive Temple Valley has now become a sea of tents and a spectacle of lights, as the "City of Boomtown" is born. This year’s edition is titled “Chapter One: The Gathering” and is centred around a fresh start in the post-lockdown era. Instead of being spread across several valleys, like in previous years, most of the action is concentration in the "bowl" — encouraging Boomtown-ers to come together as one after the period of separation.

“It’s my first Boomtown, and I genuinely was not expecting it to be this immersive,” one man says. He is in awe of the expansive “map” of the site that makes you feel like you’re in a videogame. Each “district” - Botanica, Letsbe Avenue, Metropolis, Copper County, Old Town, and Area 404 to name a few — has a unique storyline, theme and characters to interact with. In typical Boomtown fashion, the overarching narrative of the festival's design is a satirical look at the dystopian, capitalist society that we live in. Live actors stroll through the meticulously-planned "streets" asking you to complete challenges in exchange for "Boomtown cash" — with clues to these "challenges" found around the site and littered through a daily "newspaper" that attendees are given. Ever wanted to complete a side quest at a festival? This one is for you.

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Musically, no beat is spared either. Despite the line-up being focused mainly on electronic music, Boomtown also showcases the talent of some of the biggest alternative acts in the game — including Nova Twins, Koffee, and Kojey Radical. Koffee has fans singing her uplifting and high-spirited lyrics back at her, opening her prime-time set with ‘Rapture’.

Drum ‘n’ bass fans are blessed with a high-energy set by Shy FX, who packs out the main Origin stage with 30,000 people in the blazing hot sun. He plays his infamous tune ‘Original Nuttah’, which gets a strong reaction from the expansive crowd blocking up the streets of the pop-up city. Noisia perform their "last ever UK show" and Kasra and GQ play 20 years of Critical special set. Rising star SABRINA delivers an array of 90’s and 00’s drum ‘n’ bass classics at Dubtendo, a treasure-trove stage that can only be discovered by those who are willing to do some digging. “I genuinely didn’t expect to pack it out so much,” SABRINA says gleefully after her set. “I was having such a good time playing at that stage, I’m impressed so many people could find it. I also just love going around the festival, there’s so much to see!”

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A highlight is the Origin stage drum ‘n’ bass takeover by queer collective and party Unorthodox — headed by drag queen Nathan X. EQ50 and Ram Records’ Mandidextrous delivers a high-energy, fast-paced set which is accompanied by some MCing by legendary MC Chickaboo. Even beyond the stages’ line-ups, the infamous Rave Police Unit travelling van can be seen parking up in the campsites and shelling out drum ‘n’ bass tunes for attendees during the day — earning gun fingers from festival goers who are still in their pyjamas.

At the Jäger-Platz stage, one of the few commercial areas in the festival, some of the best rising stars leave revellers queuing in the masses and hungry for more. Duo Brown Excellence, consisting of DJs RISHI and Zain Shah, play club bangers, old and new, including the official Sound of The Summer 2022 'B.O.T.A. (Baddest Of Them All)', mixed in with contemporary Bollywood tracks and classical Indian instrumentals. “This is our first Boomtown, playing!” says Brown Excellence’s RISHI. “It was so good, like that two hours flew by. It’s always fun playing and was really nice of some of our mates who are here to come down and support us. You can tell Boomtown crowd are just up for having fun so we wanted to give them that!”

Yourboykiran, duo Mina & Bryte, Queer House Party, and GROVE all also pack out the Jäger-Platz stage, with each of these acts leaving a queue of people eager to get in and witness the talent for themselves. While these acts and collectives may be rising, they are all undeniably making waves and are deservedly garnering attention - as the slews of people waiting to enter their sets showcase.

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Over on the streets of the “Botanica” area of the festival, the rings of bass-heavy Bollywood music can be heard in the distance. Daytimers have taken over one of the stages in the area, and DJs JAMEELA, Rea, Rani, Somatic, Sita Shah, Chandé, King Monday, and Darama all go b2b for several hours in the sun. The crew all work to each other’s strengths to keep the variety high and the spirits of eagle-eyed party goers intact. Rea reworks club bangers, Rani shells down some high BPM drum ‘n’ bass, Sita Shah plays tracks with heavy techno drums, and Chandé works in Bollywood classic ‘Chammak Challo’ to bring the South Asian spice to the streets of Boomtown.

Four Tet gives a fantastic finale showdown before the official closing ceremony. He brings energy and high spirit to Temple Valley, and plays his unreleased track ‘Rumble’ made with Fred again.. and Skrillex (the one which is breaking the internet), and mixes it into the iconic ‘Looking At Your Pager’, before closing his whole set, and the whole festival, with a riotous drum ‘n’ bass anthem. “Four Tet understood the assignment!” one boy cheered as the DJ played out the rowdy track.

One of the things that fans have been excited about once the line-up was announced was some of the legendary pairings that would be blessing the stages of Boomtown. Jungle fans revel in a raucous set by SHERELLE and MC Chicakboo who up the BPM and give ravers a mix of jungle, duke, drum ‘n’ bass and footwork. The coruscating light show which accompanies SHERELLE’s set added an element of magical mesmerization, as bright blue beams pierce through the late-evening sky to create a flashing spectacle. Not a dry eye in the house.

Read this next: These are the breaks

Mall Grab and My Nu Leng’s techno and breaks set is on most attendees' minds as the weekend drew to a close. Laced with techno bangers, smooth blends, and transitions that get the approval of hardcore heads and Hackney-dwelling club fanatics alike. Unfortunately, the sound quality at the Grand Central Stage where the pair are playing puts a dampener on the experience — with only those parked in front of the soundsystem able to hear any of the details in the mix.

The poor-sound quality is at no fault of the artists themselves, who both put in maximum effort and yield maximum results, but it is rather caused by the down-scaling of space — but not the down-scaling of acts by the festival. The residual bass from the Origin stage carries into the area where Grand Central is located. If you are toward the back of the crowd, the bass from clashing sets at Origin taint what you can hear at Grand Central. In previous years, the main stages were more spread out, allowing for each stage to have its own soundscape. This year, the lack of adequate space between these two mammoth stages, unfortunately, results in some of the artists’ sets being diluted. This isn’t just the case at Mall Grab and My Nu Leng’s set, as many other electronic artists who had set at this stage - including Four Tet, Nastia and Overmono - all suffer the same fate.

However, technical problems are to be expected at any event, especially for a DIY-oriented organisation that has struggled as a result of the pandemic. Everyone I speak with affirms that the event is fulfilling its goals of uniting people, showcasing various talent, and getting people moving. For pleasure-seekers from all walks of life, Boomtown remains a safe sanctuary and a means for people to re-establish relationships with others, with themselves, and with music.

Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

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