Boomtown 2019 Chapter 11: The Radical City is much, much more than a festival (review)
Chapter 11 of Boomtown has closed. The Radical City opened it’s doors for 5 nights, introducing people from all around the world to the post-apocalyptic vision of wonder and amazement. For almost 1 whole week the town’s districts buzzed with the unique life that permeates through every inch of Boomtown.
The corporate empire of Bang Hai that once controlled the city has crumbled under the power of their own artificial intelligence, AMI. With her sinister eyes gazing down on Boomtown and overseeing its future, it’s inhabitants survive through the power of people.
Boomtown is like no festival I have ever been to. It was plain to see from the moment I stepped into the grounds and saw the cascade of convincingly intricate buildings lining the routes through the festival. It looks stunning, it looks so real that there are many moments you have doubts about whether you truly have transported to a new reality – a radical and exciting one.
Each building, each stage, each stall holds their own secret pocket where people dance, sing, they barter and brawl. They live on in Old Town and Copper County, capsules of the past teeming with old wooden buildings and corrupt law enforcement. They revel in the waterfalls and stone structures of the Lions Den. And they survive the nuclear wasteland of the new Area 404.
Each distinct district of the festival has it’s own theme which comes complete with unique architecture and musical stages. Throughout the day the stages played host to an array of bands big and small venturing through all genres available to the ear.
And then there are the people. Each district has its own set of characters and their own world in which to play with. With the fascinating array of eccentric persons occupying every area comes your role in this parallel universe. Whether you’ve come kitted up to truly be a part of it or just want to revel in the show – you are part of the theatre that exists in every pore of Boomtown’s body.
You may find yourself convincing the Bank of Boomtown as to why they should give you a loan to prop of your nefarious ideas. You may be dragged to one side by an enraged Copper County local after they’ve threatened the townspeople with a gun. You may very likely find yourself taking on a role in the bizarre yet thrilling virtual theatre of it all.
Highlights from the music side of things – well there’s too many to name every incredible act. There is a churning plethora of artists throughout the weekend. But there were definitely some stand-out shows.
A raucous show from Gogol Bordello in the Town Centre saw flame throwers light up the sky as Eugene Hutz sprayed wine on the crowd backed by his gypsy punk orchestra. On the same stage Slaves blasted the crowd back with classic British anger, channelling it all through crunchy guitars and scathing lyrics.
The pure energy from these two sets represented the motif of all artists performing at Boomtown. Each act plays their part in the story of the festival with pure force that blew crowds away and sent them off dancing into the night. No matter what time they were playing and who it was to, whether it be traditional folk, dreadlock-fulled rock, or hard techno – everyone seemed to be in on the story.
Boomtown favourite Beans On Toast performed to “possibly the most people I’ve ever played to” as he returned to Boomtown for the, who even knows how many times at this point. With tales exploring his own escapades at festivals, the people he’d meet and the substances consumed it was the perfect fuel to get the crowd cheering.
Over at the Lions Den stage an incredible set from Groove Armada saw the valley fill with crowds ready to superstyle. Waterfalls erupted from either side of the stage which looked like it had been carved out of an ancient Mayan ruin. Later that evening those waterfalls drenched Mike Skinner during an impassioned performance with The Streets, after Skinner climbed the walls of the stage to christen himself with Boomtown’s holy water.
When the evening comes around the bands make way for an incredible line-up of DJs and producers filling the National Park with electronic music. To one side of the festival you had ex-Bang Hai stage – The Relic, a monumental creation that towered above the crowd. Huge screens on the stage displayed artificial intelligence AMI scanning her watchful eyes over the audience.
On the other side in the nuclear wasteland of Area 404, and beyond the wonderful and fluorescent Psy Forest, lay the Nucleus. Acting like a sister stage to The Relic it was another post-futuristic grand design of major engineering with electrical astonishment. Once again AMI loomed, peering over the tens-of-thousands of dancing night-wanderers.
Boomtown’s opening ceremony took place at midday on the Lions Den stage on Friday. With an ecological focus the show was a mesmerising display with grand animal puppets surrounded by dancers, inspiring talks and blooming red smoke throughout. It was a fitting introduction to such a monumental festival.
That ecological focus rippled throughout the festival with Extinction Rebellion marches carving through the crowds throughout the weekend. Leading an Extinction Rebellion wagon into the festival, activists half playing/half deadly-serious spread their messages of ecology through sheer powerful presence.
Boomtown 2019 was filled with signs and symbolism asking attendees to think about the future; our future. As part of their ongoing process to make a bigger and better festival each year but reduce their impact, this year the organisers worked with a network of environmental and wildlife organisations to work towards a greener festival.
The eco-message permeated throughout the site with compostable toilets, zero-waste camping sites right in the centre of the action, bottle schemes to eradicate plastic and much, much more. Boomtown will also plant an impressive 66,000 trees, 1 tree for every person at Boomtown this year. That would be an amazing yearly tradition for them to commit to.
The 5 days of music at every corner, astonishing costumes playing a part in the world and stunning settings finally drew to it’s triumphant close at midnight on Sunday. Taking place at both sides of the festival in The Relic and at the Nucleus, ‘The Assimilation‘ saw Boomtown Chapter 11’s narrative reach its conclusion.
With AMI taking in the crowds for full assimilation the stages roared with intense bass and rapid electronic music. Dancers emerged with strobing lights covering their bodies, spinning illuminated hoops around their bodies in front of and atop the stage. It felt like a jawdroppingly intense doomsday apocalypse.
As AMI came close to full Assimilation suddenly the counter stopped and terrifying screams from the artificial intelligence erupted throughout the site. Something had gone wrong in her merging of the population. AMI’s tyrannical overseeing nature had been disrupted and now the people could look towards a new future: A New Beginning.
The message ended with another take on it’s ecological perspective. Clips representing nature reclaiming it’s rightful heritage and taking back man-made structures and technology flashed before us in a strobing flash, imprinting the images in your mind as powerfully as possible.
Boomtown Chapter 11: A Radical City was over. But it promised a New Beginning next year. An even bigger, better, more exciting and more impressive festival from what is already the most astonishing and thrilling event of the year. I will definitely be returning to see the new chapter in Boomtown’s amazing story.