Notoriously recognised for it’s wacky and outlandish outlook, ‘Chapter 9- Behind the Mask’, descended on the hills of Matterley Estate last weekend to transport almost 60,000 revellers into the parallel universe of Boomtown Fair.
With every year holding a different story for the festival theme, ‘Behind the Mask’ tells a story of a town teetering on the edge of disaster, before a benevolent corporation called Bang Hai helps to build a new society from the ashes of the old.
Bang Hai challenged the old order, and from the ruins of the once mighty palace, a new and even more impressive symbol of the future arose, and the new Bang Hai tower looked across the city with a message of hope to all of Boomtown.
Boasting bizarre affairs throughout the whole weekend, the festival consists of several themed districts, from ‘Chinatown’ to ‘Wild West,’ spreading across miles of the festival site- each with equally unique and crazy themes.
Hundreds of actors loitered in the districts to bring the festival to life and help to tell the story of this year’s ‘Behind the Mask’. Seemingly, no expenses were spared in the stunning visuals in every district, with the fireworks and acrobatics displayed over at Bang Hai towers and Sector 6 simply awe-inspiring.
With the biggest Boomtown Fair to date this year with up to 60,000 revellers attending, organisers of the event also went to extreme lengths to ensure the safety of attendees taking drugs. The festival still operated a zero policy approach on its gates, but sensibly recognised that once people have managed to smuggle their drugs in, they’re going to take them, and so should be looked after in the best possible way.
The Loop, a charity who set up the drug-testing tent, tested a record number of samples over the weekend at the festival, where users were able to drop off a sample and then later find out what their substance was and how sensible it was to take it.
Everyone who used the service, which was run by a team of professional chemists and drug counsellors, gave it countless praise. It is also believed it may have contributed to less drug-related casualties for the welfare team and paramedics. Hopefully, this service that is saving lives will be seen more often at festivals in the future.
Despite over 600 live bands and DJ’s performing over the course of the weekend, it would be unfair to label Boomtown Fair as simply a music festival. Bringing the broadest spectrum of genres to the table and theatrical games, there are also hundreds of activities to keep you occupied during the days.
Slightly out of the way at ‘Whistlers Green’, the family orientated area was home to hundreds of activities such as witches boom making, African drumming and dream catcher making… We even tried our hand at the drum and bass workout early on the Friday morning… very difficult with a hangover to say the least!
‘Whistlers Green’ also made for a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the festival, with a calming atmosphere almost feeling like a completely different festival. British jazz group, Sons of Kemet, were a highlight of this district. Playing early on the Friday evening, the group played continuously for an hour and encouraged all ages to engage in their music.
After a peaceful day, we headed over to ‘Sector 6’, which seemed to be the home to all things drum and bass. Although initially struggling with sound issues on the first day, ‘Sector 6’ soon became our favourite district over the weekend. Highlight sets came from The Prototypes and Shy FX, who delivered truly mind-blowing performances. A special mention has to be given to Friction though, whose set became the favourite of the festival. Delivering one of the maddest drum and bass sets, Friction owned ‘Sector 6’.
On the Sunday, drum and bass extraordinaire, Nicky Blackmarket , took to ‘Raveyard’, one of my favourite stages across the whole weekend. Lurking deep into the forest, the ‘Raveyard’ was kitted out with the finest Halloween props and made for the perfect setting for this DJ’s set. However, he may have been suited to a much larger stage as revellers queued for lengthy amounts of time just to catch a glimpse.
Leaving all preconceptions behind, ‘DSTRKT 5’s’ neon underworld of bass was also home to highlight sets of the festival. Dub Phizix and Strategy owned the Robotika stage, whilst highlights from Bang Hai towers came from bassline dj, Holy Goof, and an iconic bassline duo set from My Nu Leng and TQD. The closing set from Black Sun Empire was absolute carnage from start to finish, and teamed with one of Boomtown’s finales made for the perfect closing party for ‘Chapter 9- Behind the Mask’.
Experiencing Boomtown Fair for the first time, I find it hard to believe that any festival will ever compete. It’s the biggest, maddest and most incredible place I’ve ever visited and I’m already counting down the days until Chapter 10.