Boomtown!

by Sylvia A. Winters

This weekend my friends and I jumped in a car and headed down to Hampshire for Boomtown festival. The queue for the carpark was about an hour, but we had snacks, music, and were all excited enough that we didn’t mind the wait. There were a lot of old camper vans broken down along the way, people jumping out and trying to push them uphill.

It felt like we had arrived a day late when we got there. There were cans and bottles littered all over the place, people staggering around and shouting, drinking and laughing, all just in the queue to get our wristbands. Most people were carrying in their essentials–tents, backpacks, and of course, alcohol. One girl was carrying a full length mirror in with her.

The first thing we really noticed there was that there were a lot of men in dresses. Some as costume, but most not. Most wore their dresses or loose robes casually, because it was hot as balls out and a skirt is much cooler than trousers or shorts, and because they knew no one was going to give a shit what they wore. It made me a little sad that men don’t usually feel comfortable dressing like that outside of the festival bubble, that the rest of the country isn’t quite as liberal. There were also a few people wearing wizard hats, and that combined with the people in dresses made me feel like this was the Quidditch world cup, and I was watching people like Archie who hadn’t quite mastered the art of dressing like a muggle.

We set up our tents, had a couple of drinks and met up with more friends, and then headed off to explore. Mayfair was the first district we came to, encapsulated by the slogan written on the wall ‘Happiness is bad for the economy’. There were well dressed men and women in furs and pearls throwing fake money around, and then snatching it back out of the hands of people stooping to collect it. We passed a taxidermy place (the animals were of the children’s toy variety) where upon entry guests were called ‘dirty vegans’ and I was asked if my jacket was rhino leather.

Probably my favourite moment of the entire festival was in Chinatown on the Saturday night. My friend wanted to check out the amusement arcade, but the door was closed and there was a little queue outside. Not really sure what was going on, we jumped on the back of the queue. The doorman was long-haired, wore eyeliner and dressed in a gold sparkly jacket with patches on the collar and back, flirting with the pretty girls ahead of us. He let them through the door and turned to us. We learned this was his first Boomtown, and he’d been born on a nearby farm as a tiny cabbage, and had rolled down the hill to join the festivities.  He asked us if we knew what we were queueing for and we confessed we didn’t. He told us the clue was in the name, and we looked up and saw ‘The Big Ride’ written above the name of the place. I felt a little nervous at that, unsure what we were in for. Would it be fast? Or high? I was someone who got nervous about going down the Helter Skelter slide meant for children. Finally the doorman let us in, but locked out our friend, then had a change of heart and let him through too because he liked his shirt.

Inside the room was full of mirrors. “Don’t be afraid to look at yourselves,” we were told. We wandered around the room, unsure what we were meant to do or where to go. There was another woman inside, standing at the top of some steps, waiting at a closed curtain. I lined up behind her. She disappeared behind the curtain. I heard her screaming.

I glanced to my friend. What was going on? Had we just stumbled into some kind of Soylent Green factory? The curtain was pulled back, and a mime let me through, separating me from my friends. I couldn’t see the woman. The mime gestured down and I looked. There at my feet was a tiny red horse on wheels, big enough for a one year old child. He gestured again. I was supposed to sit on it. This was The Big Ride. So I did, barely squeezing myself onto it, and the mime pushed me back and forth repeatedly, me howling with laughter the entire time.

Outside, my friends seemed less impressed, so we headed out of Chinatown toward DSTRKT 5 to see some creepy robot strippers. DSTRKT 5 was kind of amazing as the sleazy and slightly rebellious underbelly of the Boomtown city. It reminded me a lot of the street Jay Robin and I live on, if only there were more robots.

We also saw some bands and stuff. Madness and The Levellers were amazing. I also found some new-to-me bands like the Great Malarky, the Peacocks and the Filaments.

I can’t really write everything about the festival. If you’ve been to any you’ll understand why. There was just so much to do and see that it’s all quite jumbled, so for the sake of coherency, I’ll leave it for now and just say that I had a great time, despite ending up with odd patches of sunburn, some kind of scrape along my chin that I can’t remember how I got, and camping in a field full of tiny spiders that got absolutely everywhere (except mostly, thankfully, inside the tent). And despite the worry that our tent had gone up in flames when we saw a big plume of smoke rising up from behind The Jolly Dodger, the pirate ship stage. It wasn’t our tent, but a carpark fire that wrecked about 80 cars (thankfully not the carpark we’d parked in). The compere was quick to assure us it was outside the city walls but that we shouldn’t go near certain campsites for a while. “If it burns, it burns,” he told us.

Now I’m going to enjoy the rest of my recovery day and wish that every week could be a festival week.