Dig out those wellies, spray on that glitter and most important of all, start planning those costumes… Boomtown Fair is coming to town. August 2012 will see the weird and wonderful world of Boom roll up into a secret location in the South West of England for the fourth year running. This four day festival of Bacchanalian revelry is most definitely on the rise, steadily metamorphosing into a bigger, better and more diverse sort of shindig whilst still managing to retain the intimate vibe of its smaller festival days where a dead phone battery and a bad sense of direction won’t necessarily mean kissing goodbye to all your campsite friends for the duration of the weekend.
The general premise of Boomtown is a descent into a fantastical, mad hatter world based loosely around a town centre with a decidedly skewed perspective. Post-apocalyptic avenues with giant tentacles protruding from abandoned shops, vivid splashes of street art and mutated vehicles like the police rave unit (an adapted police riot van with sound-systems at the ready to provide impromptu shows all over the site) combine to give you the impression you have fallen through the looking glass into a surreal world where anything and everything goes.
The town beauty parlour has face-paints at the ready to transform the ordinary into true Boomtown citizens; an Asbo roller disco is scheduled to take over the community centre; there are big, golden beds for fun and frolics at the Park Hotel; a prohibition den of inequity has set up not too far from the casino and should you choose to attend the Booming Banquet, you can expect a little bit of glamour-puss entertainment from the Hoochie Coochie cabaret and burlesque show.
With all this entertainment exploding around you, bear in mind it could be quite easy to lose your mind and forget about the music. But each year, Boomtown Fair provides its citizens with a selection of sounds to tickle anyone’s fancy. Check out the mighty jungle of the Lion’s Den for reggae, roots, dancehall and dub; the manic world of Bassline Circus where rave paves the way and you may not make it out alive; the Devil’s Kicks Dancehall where rockabilly and distorted vintage hedonism inhabit a world of elegant debauchery; and of course, the main stage of the Town Centre that showcase a mixed bag of ska, folk, gypsy, swing and anything that will get those feet moving. Boomtown is nothing if not eclectic.
During the day, there is the option of a quieter, greener vibe with areas such as the craft and healing fields offering workshops in all kinds of crafty shenanigans from hat making to copper banging and a place to, like totally chill out, man. However, as twilight approaches, things begin to take a turn for the twisted and with the funfair rides as an increasingly sinister backdrop, the carnival comes to life.
A key element of this magical, fairground feel is the presence of the fantastic Invisible Circus, hosting the Oldtown Theatre. This collection of artists including hula-hoopers, object manipulators, aerialists and all sorts of other excitement began their career whilst squatting in the old Audi garage on Cheltenham road, Bristol. They have now performed in over 20 countries around the world. One of the unique qualities of Boomtown is the emphasis on interactive entertainment. The distorted fairy tale ambience is accentuated by the practically mandatory fancy dress the ‘town planning council’ encourages every year with the announcement of a specific theme. Last year’s Town Citizen theme saw beautiful mermaids and naughty nurses rub shoulders with gypsy brides and swashbuckling pirates as well as those visions of crazy that simply don’t make any sense – Mr. Baboon in a French Maid’s Outfit, I’m talking about you.
This summer’s Outer Space dress code should provide an absolute visual banquet and the general theme of Armageddon is a match made in intergalactic heaven with the crash-landing arrival of the fearsome Arcadia Spectacular in their only, full-scale performance of the year.
This group began as a sculpture organization, aiming to recycle military scrap metal into installations built to celebrate life. My experience with Arcadia was at the mighty Glastonbury festival and it blew the faces off the entire crowd with a towering inferno of moving sculpture, circus performance, laser lightshows and pyrotechnic special effects. All these components spontaneously fuse together to come to life as one futuristic, rave machine with strange creatures prowling around to the pulsing beat from the live DJ booths presiding on high.
My top memory from last year’s Boomtown involved the Big Love Inflatable Church, an interactive theatrical event that saw me and nine friends get married in a fabulously bizarre ceremony. You book in your wedding and on the big day, show up at your allocated time and have a rummage through their dressing up rooms to deck yourself in suitable wedding attire, thereby becoming part of the performance. A train of geisha girls in full make-up spotted us getting ready and asked if they could be our bridesmaids. Various random guests popped in to join the fun, the vicar married us, one of our grooms piped up with a rambling speech and then everyone partied to the Prodigy. And they say that romance is dead.
On a final note, it’s not just all about the fun of the fair – Boomtown does try to do its eco bit too. One new initiative to keep the town tidy is that everyone pays up an extra fiver on arrival and is given a bag for recyclable waste. You fill the bag with rubbish, deliver it to the on-site recycling centre and Robert’s your father’s brother, you get your five big ones back. Everyone’s a winner.