In a week when other UK festivals and events were cancelling due to severe weather warnings, Boomtown Fair, to everyone’s delight continued as scheduled at the gigantic Matterley Estate, Winchester.
Now in its 11th year or as titled, Chapter 11 A Radical City, 2019 promised to bring even more festivities than ever before, so what if we were expecting torrential rain and gale-force winds, this is England in the Summer and it’s mid-season festival time.
The five day event hosted globally recognised musicians and DJs alongside up-and-coming acts and interactive theatrical compliments. The radical city consisted of four main areas: Downtown, Hilltop, Temple Valley and Whistlers Green, all with various districts such as the amphitheatre Lion’s Den, Town Centre, Old Town, Copper County, Paradise Heights, Kidztown, Relic, Nucleus, Area 404 and District 5 to name a few.
Stepping into Diss-orderly Alley on Thursday night with the rain coming and going from light showers to downpours, I tried to steer from searching for acts on the line-up and explore the vast site. With no real plan, I entered the Poco Loco Stage and to my excitement came upon singer-rapper Alicai Harley’s set, just in time for her hit single Gold and her new release Hot Shot Tuesday.
She provided fans and those new to her with an energetic performance, with many of the audience getting their ‘dance on’ and joining in on her chorus lines enthusiastically.
The wind began to whip up the future storm; festival-goers began to immerse themselves into the Chapter 11 world and I headed on through the festival to the next stop Tangled Roots, vibing and chilling for the remainder of the evening listening to Dub Reggae and Roots with the Lionpulse Sound.
Friday started slowly for me with the weather warnings building into reality and a stomach-bug kicking-in, the day wasn’t looking promising.
Making it to the Lion’s Den just as the sun came out and the ‘Original Don Dadda’, dancehall legend Super Cat and his band got the crowd grooving. AKA Wild Apache sang song after song with a big stage to fill and hit a highlight with the ’90s hit Ghetto Red Hot.
After a recoup I was back at the Lion’s Den to see the current king of roots & culture and one of the Friday night headliners, Chronixx.
This man has a lot of big records in his catalogue and his live performance is as captivating as his music, holding a large fraction ,of the 65,000 in attendance at the festival, in awe.
It rained throughout his set, but that didn’t stop you feeling the island vibes as he delivered songs from his 2017 album Chronology and beyond, the area and sky filled with reggae, rocksteady drum beats of songs Skankin Sweet, Smile Jamaica, Majesty, and earlier songs such as Thanks And Praise, Selassie Solider, Here Comes Trouble and the penultimate song, an all-time favourite Likes, which sent the audience into frenzy.
Friday night saw the full storm take effect with the wind & rain battering tents and festival structures, though after some needed attention it was business as usual for the Boomtown citizens by Saturday afternoon.
Feeling a bit battered and bruised I headed over to the Town Centre in the afternoon to catch the Submotion Orchestra. Formed in Leeds ten years ago these guys have well established themselves with a heavy yet atmospheric sound influenced by everything from jazz to dub-step and have a well deserved following.
The Lion’s Den stage had me back again for more vibes straight from Jamaica and this time it was for Kabaka Pyramid, who’s track Reggae Music draws homage to a genre represented in all its greatness this weekend.
With a strong message of challenging perceptions of a stereotyped culture and as a voice for the people, Kabaka leads the way with messages of spiritual evolution.
Trying to catch up and feeling like I’d missed so much I headed back to the Town Centre Stage for Kosheen. Immediately taken by vocalist Sian Evans and the crisp sound of the band, Kosheen made a massive impact on the festivities.
Interestingly the lead single Hide U from their debut album Resist released in 2000, only made it to number 73 in the UK charts. Re-released a year later and it reached number 6.
After struggling for energy due to the stomach-bug and deciding to take some timeout in the hope of fixing-up in time the evening, it was 9 o’clock and I’ve made it to see The Streets at the Lion’s Den. Without a doubt a must-see-live band, I saw them about 15 years ago on the same site and they were just as refreshing then as they are today.
Led by the witty talents of Mike Skinner and supported by vocalist Kevin Mark Trail it was hard to pick a highlight or even favourite track, as they just kept pumping one after the other, with a stage presence of a true rocker, backed by that undeniable ska infused sound.
Heading downtown towards Diss-Order Alley, walking diagonally down-hill my right leg slipped in the long wet grass, buckled my ankle and brought me to my knees. The damn weather has a lot to answer for.
Barely getting to Poco Loco I just caught the closing song from Dr Syntax & Pete Cannon, as the Dr gave his thanks to a generous crowd.
Ocean Wisdom was up next and being fairly new to me, though not the first I’d seen him live, he came straight out and took control. One thing I’ll say is that there’s no messing around, Ocean Wisdom goes hard with lyrics as punchy as his beats and when he shifts it up gear like on the tracks Walkin’ or Eye Contact, it may take you a bit to catch-up, but the clarity in his delivery is special. In his earlier days, he’d been deemed the fastest rapper, with critics sighting him to have knocked Eminem off of that title.
Hobbling through a packed tent to discover Ocean Wisdom I discovered that many fans of his had caused a “road-block”, with some unable to get into the venue, I headed over to Relic one of the new editions to Boomtown and coined to of risen from the ashes of the fictional Boomtown headquarters, the Bang Hai Corporation.
A stage that pulled your attention from afar and was a true spectacle when immersed in lasers, the light show and the legendary drum n bass drops from none other than Fabio.
It was at this point I’d gone to access the sound-booth area hoping to capture that obligatory wide shot, was told to climb the barrier due to a faulty gate, I literally put my ‘good foot; forward and landed in deceiving whole full of mud resulting in twisting my other ankle. With a stomach-bug and two twisted ankles, could it get any better as I think about the climb back up that hill? (No chance of running up it!).
Gently making my way back to Poco Loco things were moving slowly for Little Simz. With the band in position, they left the stage for what was tough to be a group huddle, except they didn’t return and it became obvious that technical difficulties were causing delays.
After apologies from her team, backed-up with assurances that Simz wanted to deliver a quality show, she had various crew scrambling through wires and equipment, Simz finally came on stage over an hour later. This gave me a chance to rest but she was more than worth the wait. She entered the stage to her song Boss from her latest album GREY Area with megaphone in hand, supported by grungy drums and walking bass rhythms.
With various successes over recent years, Little Simz projects confidence and with compassion for her content laden with social commentary. What a great set and this enabled me to get back to my sleepy quarters a little in pain but happy.
Another late start on Sunday and feeling the toll of mobility issues ‘v’s’ the hills, terrain and crowds I made my way to one of the far corners of the festival Whistlers Green and even further to the top of the hill was a new stage, the Lighthouse.
With the sun now shining and the wind calmer UK jazz musician Ashely Henry was another sign that Boomtown has something for everyone, as I’m sure the other acts I’d sadly missed at this stage also proved. His jazz fused set seemed to allow for a more reflective experience, with a major highlight being his rendition of Nas’ The World Is Yours, originally sampled from pianist Ahmad Jamal, and a refreshing take on Solange’s Cranes In The Sky.
On to The Forge and another new stage to see Dreadzone, mainly comprising of ex-members from Big Audio Dynamite. With their funky break-beats, roots and bass sounds and over 25 years as a group Dreadzone proved to more than satisfy across the generations in attendance.
The ever-popular Black Kat Boppers fronted by the black-kat himself Roy Philips played in the more intimate Foggers Mill Stage in Copper County and had their audience alight while playing their signature high energy sound of rocking blues.
They packed a diverse range of music lovers and festival goers; rock and roll dancing and singing throughout their set, drawing in unsuspecting passers-by curious to the unique sound filling the area.
Mid performance they welcomed on stage fellow musician J Fashole-Luke for an impromptu showcase of his harmonica skills alongside a brief swap for the guitarist to main vocals. Anyone who’s seen these guys rock know just how contagious they are, you could have been passing by heading for some techno down at Area 404, but there was no way you weren’t noticing these guys tucked-away.
Soulful reggae vibes came from Bristol’s Laid Blak in the Hidden Woods, which was not so hidden but with a great fun loving and seeking crowd, head nodding, dancing and drinking to their heart’s content. The weather was at its best now which added to the great atmosphere, but no matter the weather every time passing this area you could hear great vibes, energy and gravitation of hordes of festival-goers.
Back to the Lighthouse, to ensure I didn’t miss Kate Tempest‘s performance and with a crowd swelling, everyone was also waiting in anticipation for her to start. Her performance was real and raw as to be expected, covering songs from her first album and newer works. A fine setting for this more than socially awake poet with a poignant clarity on the disparities of injustice and capitalism.
Clashing with a contrasting set about to ensue, I pulled myself away early for another not to be missed performance down at the Town Centre. 80’s/90’s hip-hop duo Salt-N-Pepa who delivered an infectious high energy performance to their ever-expanding crowd.
With classic well-known songs such as Whatta Man, Lets Talk About Sex, and Push-It amongst others, it was a great sight to see. Everyone there catching a glimpse and reminiscing over old hip beats and dance moves, while standing on tables, benches, and balancing on friends shoulders.
Salt-N-Pepa have been through a few ups and downs but they were the first female hip-hop group to achieve gold and platinum status back in the eighties and 30 plus years on and these women show how they reached such heights and somewhat pioneered positive sexuality through a male-dominated rap culture.
Staying with the Town Centre Stage and the much-anticipated Prophets Of Rage consisting of a plethora of supergroups Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill. Arriving just before they hit the stage, the crowd were restlessly waiting and expectations were high.
This “elite task force of revolutionary musicians” did just that and revolutionised a revolutionary festival from begining to end. The high-energy performance covered their own material as well as the hits from their respective groups. With a firm positioning stance of “fuck Trump and fuck Brexit”, they led the audience into a frenzy of all-out musical excellence from the stage to the ensuing mosh-pit.
One last trip to the Lion’s Den for Lauryn Hill and who cares she arrived late for her set, any diehard fan will know this is regularly commented on and expected. Her tour DJ, DJ Reborn kept the crowd entertained with old and new school tunes, definitely being best DJ set of the weekend and pushing the crowd to anticipate Ms Hills arrival.
Lauryn did not fail to deliver with such a great performance of beautifully arranged musical treats and timeless unique vocals to her songs from the 26-year-old album The Mis Education of Lauryn Hill.
A backdrop of positive photographic and film imagery of Black and African American people accompanied her many of her poignant, socially conscious and heartfelt songs such as Forgive Them Father, Zion, Ex-Factor, and Doo Whoop. She addressed the crowd on occasions, with her thoughts on being negatively targeted throughout her career and the unstable times we now live in, stating this attention was not because she is ‘crazy’ but because she is revolutionary as a black woman in her music and insight.
In addition to also paying homage to the great musical influences, as a young child from legendary soul artists such as Anita Baker and Curtis Mayfield amongst others alongside the emerging hip hop beats, that helped her create her timeless masterpiece album. Ending her set with her beautiful cover of Roberta Flacks Killing Me Softly.
The night ended a high, with fans from the middle of the crowd repaying their gratitude by gently singing the song chorus back to her which encouraging her to come back and join in and encourage the whole audience to join in.
One last trip down to Diss-Order Alley to catch the hotly tipped slowthai and is was a road-block of youth scrambling to get into Poco Loco, security had stopped entry and once inside they were urging the audience to move across the venue in a bid to make room for more and to proceed safely.
Once on stage, a reflection of today’s modern disenfranchised youth pulled no punches and although my initial thought was ” wow that’s violent!” slowthai does allude to how a ‘fuck off’ culture breeds from discontent of the establishment alongside a need for escapism and an indulgence for substances. With the crowd going wild at every song, slowthai seemed to hold a juxtaposition between aggressive expression and raw vulnerability.
From the diverse line-up of music artist, the theatrics and the creativity of the districts forming this sensory-overload of a city, there’s entertainment for all at Boomtown. Chapert 11: A Radical City proved to overcome the weather and exceed expectations.
The camping areas are vast and well laid out and the current Boomtown campaign on the “throwaway culture” ,that seems to be an industry wide issue, is paying dividends compared to other years. We totally support Leave No Trace.
My advice is to take your time, explore and absorb the festivities, just understand that this is an experience that you’ll want to revisit.
Review and Photography by Nosa Malcolm at Boomtown Fair, 7th-12th August 2019