Reviewed: Boomtown 2022
“Remember Boomtown is only Boomtown because we’re all together!” It was the words of children’s TV royalty Dick & Dom after Boomtown’s opening ceremony that encapsulated the Boomtown 2022 experience in one sentence. We were finally together again at the Matterley Bowl, the sun was shining, and spirits were high for what was one of 2022’s highly anticipated events. Three years ago, the festival city closed its doors, and Boomtown citizens waited patiently to get back inside of its magical walls after a long hiatus due to Covid-19. The day finally arrived, and the festival’s return did not disappoint.
The main change this year was the festival’s reset to Chapter One – a change saying goodbye to the eleven-year-long storyline Boomtown had previously built. It wasn’t just a reset of the storyline (an interactive element of the festival we’ve come to love over the years), it was a reset of the festival layout we knew. This year, Boomtown condensed its operations into the area previously known as the downtown bowl. This meant no Lion’s Den, no Psy Forest and a lot less walking.
People were sceptical about what this meant for the festival experience. Would it be too small? Would it be the same Boomtown experience we loved? This was the first thought many had when arriving on the Wednesday. Looking down on the festival city from the downtown campsite was strange. It looked tiny and you could hear murmurs of people worrying about it being too busy at peak times. But this wasn’t the case.
Boomtown 2022 promised the new-look city, despite being smaller, would be more imaginative and immersive than ever before. They weren’t lying. Somehow, you still managed to get lost wandering the maze of streets joining the districts, there were actors everywhere bringing flair to the city, and the set design was magnificent. Even the close proximity stages, which looked like they would have sound bleeding into one another, all sounded incredible. While I heard many people complaining before the city opened, I heard barely any complaints once the city closed.
If anything, people were more concerned with the heat and dust than the changes to the festival. Usually, at Boomtown, we’re used to torrential rain (who remembers SHY FX followed by Jungle Cakes at Lion’s Den 2018?) but this year, everyone swapped ponchos for sun cream because there was rarely a cloud in the sky. While this did bring its struggles, it created a wonderful backdrop for Boomtown’s colours to thrive.
This came to the fore on Thursday when street parties popped up across the outskirts of the city. Huge rigs, good music and blue skies – what more could you want? With Born On Road and Rumble in The Jungle running a pop-up Elektrical Soundsytem stage, and Dubtendo throwing a separate one in conjunction with Swing & Bass, there was a party atmosphere in the air to kick-start the first full day of the festival.
The Dubtendo street party set the tone for the festival with its good energy. From people donning Mario costumes and mushroom hats to others waving Dubtendo signs – and not to forget the fat rig that shook your body to the core – the party was well underway here. JFB’s vinyl scratching and Foor’s mash-up bassline were highlights of the afternoon, with the latter artist bringing about a beautiful moment when he played Rozalla’s ‘Everybody’s Free’. With the sun beating down and arms waving in the air, it was a feel-good moment reminding everyone of the freedom Boomtown represents, especially this year. We were finally back at the Matterley Bowl dancing together again. Bliss.
It’s a feeling of togetherness that became a theme of the festival experience. Titled ‘The Gathering’, this year’s Boomtown was all about the community coming back together to connect and dance. Because of that, there was positive energy oozing out of the attendees, artists and workers. From food stalls battling it out with each other blaring tunes while punters decided which stall to dance in front of, to attendees lugging water spray cans and guns around the site just so they could cool off fellow attendees mid-dance.
This infectious energy carried on into Friday, which was the day when the city really came alive. All roads led to the official opening ceremony in the afternoon, which took place on both main stages – Origin (a towering industrial structure for all things drum and bass), and Grand Central (a retro-looking stage bringing Lion’s Den flavour). Boomtown’s opening shows always pack an important message, and this year’s was around unity in the world. There were #FreePalestine flags waving and lyrics around being “all together, all races, all sexualities”. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Boomtown opening ceremony without vibrant theatrics (especially the performers dangling from a crane above the stage).
While the opening show was incredible, what followed was just as memorable – Dick & Dom playing a cameo set to warm up for Arrested Development. There had been rumours flying around earlier in the day of Dick & Dom showing up, and it prompted excitement in the campsites with people screaming “BOGIES”. This was made better when Dick & Dom came on stage and shouted the famous phrase.
For many of us, watching Dick & Dom be silly on TV was part of our upbringing, so to see them on stage blasting bassline and Drum & Bass was a surreal experience – particularly when they worked the crowd with Kleu’s ‘Rudy, A Message To You’. It set us up nicely for what was going to be a festival weekend filled with good feels and plenty of hearty tunes.
Heavy music was the main course on Boomtown’s menu this year. For the first time, the organisers kept the line-up secret until days before, which was a move met with criticism. If you were more into your house or techno or hoping for huge headliners, then you will have been disappointed. But if you love heavy bass music, then you would have been ecstatic at the likes of Born On Road, 24 Hour Garage Girls, Ed Rush b2b Optical, Dutty Moonshine, Sherelle and DJ Marky.
Boomtown always reiterated this year’s line-up wouldn’t be filled with huge acts due to the financial loss that occurred during Covid, and if anything, this encouraged the team to dig deeper with their music programming for what was arguably the most diverse line-up they’ve had. From more females than ever before to acts of all colours, races and identities, it was a joy to see so much thought go into this year’s programming.
Drum & Bass heads were especially happy with the line-up as there was a phenomenal billing of artists and collectives flying the flag for the genre. Friday felt like a love letter to the underground bass music scene with The Grid, Hidden Woods and Origin stages all proudly pushing Drum & Bass and Jungle flavours to thousands of ravers. It was the latter of those stages that stood out with a Critical Music takeover featuring Kasra, Enei, Halogenix, Bryan Gee b2b DJ Die and more. As a towering behemoth of a stage looking weathered and distressed, Origin was the perfect setting for a genre of music that has been through the mill over the years, but always comes out on top.
As the weekend hit, the feeling of celebration that had been building reached a climax with Boomtown’s official celebration fancy dress day. While many didn’t bother because of the heat, those who did ran with the theme in spectacular Boomtown fashion – the actors especially.
As important as music is to Boomtown, the theatrics are just as vital. This year, there was something happening everywhere you looked. Pop-up moving mechanical stages with a DJ inside, a band of people dressed in junk parts doing the YMCA with attendees, the little room in the Metropolis district where you could sit on the sofa ‘playing’ Xbox while listening to an intense loop of gabba – the city was a full-on sensory experience. I especially loved the actors at Area 404. By day, they were spraying people from above with water guns, and by night, they were shooting fire (not at us, thankfully).
It’s these random moments that define the Boomtown experience (and why the festival didn’t need to release a line-up beforehand). You always know you’re going to be immersed in a weird and wonderful world when you step into Boomtown’s city. Those following the storyline will have known all about this as they walked into random rooms, got asked to do questionable things by actors, and often were sent on wild goose chases to find clues.
If you weren’t following the storyline on Saturday then you were probably catching some of the incredible acts on the bill. The pick of the bunch was Fabio & Grooverider & The Outlook Orchestra at Grand Central. We first saw Fabio & Grooverider perform with The Outlook Orchestra at London’s Southbank Centre earlier this year, but this festival performance was one that was three years in the making, and a moment Grooverider admitted he felt “nervous” about.
As early pioneers of jungle and D&B, it was brilliant to see them reeling through the history of the genre in a format where the duo narrated the timeline and its developments along the way. The live orchestra was the star of the show, performing swine-tingling renditions of classics including Makoto’s ‘Golden Girl’ (with sublime live vocals from Cleveland Watkiss), and Chase & Status’ ‘In Love’, which Jenna G performed live alongside epic sax solos.
One thing I noticed during this set was the crowd energy. People were dancing like crazed beings expressing themselves however they felt fit. This is Boomtown. People oozing free-flowing energy in the dance like it was their last festival. Maybe it was the influences they were under, or maybe it was the fact we were witnessing special moments all festival that called for raw emotion. Saturday night was full of them, as across sight on Origin, Noisia were performing an emotional final UK set before parting ways. It was a performance we’d been building anticipation for all weekend and the production was fitting for the occasion with lasers and flames popping off from all angles.
I was disappointed only to see Thys behind the decks when you’d think all three members would have been there for their UK send-off. Because of that, the set was more of an experimental journey than a full-on Noisia showdown, but it was still a special occasion. Thys jumping on the mic at the end to say “And now it’s over… Thank you so much for all of these years” was a tear-jerking moment that will live long in people’s memories.
The final day of Boomtown was filled with just as many big moments to enjoy. Whether it was DJ Marky & GQ shutting down Origin when Marky scratched to DJ Hazard’s ‘Bricks Don’t Roll’ – one of the festival’s best moments that had the crowd going nuts as he spans with the vinyl deck in his hands, or DLR going b2b with Break for a hefty Sunday send-off, there were some outstanding musical moments to experience.
But if you weren’t into D&B, then you were probably watching Kool & The Gang at Grand Central. It was a beautiful show you don’t get the opportunity to see often in a lifetime as they reeled through classics sparking nostalgia amongst the crowd. When ‘Celebration’ played, there was a sea of people on shoulders and everyone was singing along. It was the perfect way to close a festival return we were all celebrating.
As always, Boomtown ended with a closing ceremony on the two main stages. Origin’s saw A Little Sound and take centre stage for what was an epic finale with hearty basslines, while also relaying an important message about the planet and being connected as one. Some people clearly didn’t get the message though – leaving masses of tents and rubbish behind after the festival closed. Sustainability is at the heart of Boomtown’s mission, so to see so much disregard for it was a big shame, especially considering the messages of togetherness throughout the event.
Here’s to hoping Chapter Two: The Twin Trail brings the same positive energy and big moments we experienced this year, but with more care for Boomtown’s values.
Keep up to date with news about Boomtown Chapter Two: The Twin Trail here