Boomtown (music festival)
The Lion's Den stage at night during Boomtown Chapter 11 (2019)
|Location(s)||Matterley Estate, Alresford Road, near Winchester, Hampshire, England.|
|Years active||11 years|
|Inaugurated||7 August 2009|
|Founders||Chris Rutherford, Lak Mitchell|
|Most recent||7 August 2019– 11 August 2019|
|Next event||11 August 2021– 15 August 2021|
|Organised by||Boomtown Festival UK Limited|
Boomtown (also known as Boomtown Fair) is an independent immersive five-day theatrical music festival held annually near Winchester, Hampshire on the Matterley Estate in South Downs National Park. It was first held in 2009 and has been held in its current site since 2011. Its diverse line-up of bands, DJs and speakers perform on many different stages each a part of a district with its own unique theming. Each yearly event is known as a Chapter and expands on the storyline from the previous year, told through the sets, live actors and many forms of alternate reality games. The festival site is split into several districts, and the narrative is reflected in the design of the districts, streets and venues, which are populated by hundreds of actors to play the role of inhabitants.
The festival is run by Boomtown Festival UK Limited Company Directors Chris Rutherford and Luke Marcus Mitchell, both from Bristol. The large scale of the sets and infrastructure require six weeks of construction, and a month of disassembly for each event.
In July 2019, the organisers were granted a capacity increase by Winchester City Council, bringing the total number of people allowed on site to 76,999. This number consists of 58,000 ticket holders, 17,999 crew, artists, traders and guests plus 1,000 local residents with day tickets. The increase was to come into effect from 2020, until Boomtown 2020 was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The festival is set to return in 2021 with a reworked layout and reset story with Chapter One: The Gathering.
Boomtown Fair was first created by Christopher Rutherford and Lak Mitchell in 2009 after having grown up in the festival scene.  Their experience with music festivals led them to believe that the events they were attending lacked atmosphere, and that many genres were being overlooked, which became a goal for the pair. The first chapter, Boomtown Begins, took place in 2009 and was held at the Speech House Hotel, Coleford, in Gloucestershire on 7 August. The second event saw the festival move to the Stowe Landscape Gardens in Buckingham, Buckinghamshire and for the third event, the festival was relocated to the Matterley Estate in Winchester, where the festival has remained since.
The seventh chapter, in 2015, saw the introduction of Psychedelic Forest, the first psychedelic trance stage. The 2016 fair saw further expansion with Sector 6, introduced as a way to even the spread of bass-heavy music across the site, and Whistler's Green green fields area over the top of the hill between the Lion's Den and Downtown areas, mostly secluded from the rest of the site.
The tenth chapter, in 2018, brought the new districts Disorder Alley, Paradise Heights (in place of Mayfair), and Copper County (in place of the Wild West). The same year, festival organisers hoped to increase the capacity of the festival to 80,000, but the application was rejected. Instead they were allowed to open a day early, but only if attendees arrived using 'sustainable transport', in coaches, shuttle bus or cars with more than three people.
In August 2019, Boomtown were granted licensing approval to open a 3,500 capacity event space at their Bristol headquarters, which opened in November as Area 404. The year's fair installment, chapter eleven, introduced the new Area 404 district in place of Sector 6 providing the festivals home for techno and acid house music. The event was focused around the "Leave No Trace" mantra. Encouraging attendees to take all their rubbish and tents with them as they leave, and also banning single-use plastics from all of the on-side stalls. As a result of this push, the festival saw a 50% reduction in tents and equipment left behind in 2019. The festival introduced cigarette butt ballot bins as a part of this initiative in an effort to encourage responsible disposal of cigarette butts. Built by TerraCycle, attendees can vote on opinion polls by putting their butt in one of two slots, where their waste will later be recycled into furniture.
Chapter twelve was to see the introduction of a new district Forgotten Valley as a replacement for Whistler's Green. The new district was to encapsulate the Kidztown and Floating Lotus stages, but see the replacement of The Lighthouse stage with a new area known as Ancient Futures. On 30 April 2020, Chapter 12 was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The festival's return in 2021 saw a storyline reset and, like the very first year, was known as Chapter One and subtitled The Gathering. With this change in canon, the event also saw a redesigned layout, consolidating the site into three main areas: The Main City (located in what was previously Downtown – the Matterley Bowl), The Forests and Woodland areas, and the Campsites and their villages. The move meant that the majority of stages and venues were now located within the natural bowl, with the campsites able to occupy more of the flat land in the surrounding landscape.
Ethos and values
The event is centered around a set of common beliefs and principles, mainly supporting the progressive ideas of environmentalism and social equality.The event explicitly defines these ethos through the event's vision code, referred to as The Six Pillars of Boomtown.
Respect Yourself: In a world that can make us doubt our own worth, we want to provide a space for self-empowerment and freedom of expression.
Respect Each Other: In a world that is deeply scarred by the open wounds of racism and prejudice, we want people of all backgrounds, beliefs, ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities and races to know that you belong and are safe in our city.
Respect the Planet: In a world that is burning, we call on our collective humanity to come together to find solutions and care for nature, as she cares for us.
Creativity: In a world where conformity is valued over creativity, we want to provide a platform that nurtures artistic freedom and pushes the boundaries of creative expression.
Connection: In a world where digital connection so often replaces physical connection, we cherish the depth of togetherness that comes from the gatherings of humans.
Celebration: In a world that can so often feel overloaded with negativity, we want to celebrate the very best this beautiful planet and all humanity can achieve, in one almighty party where everyone's welcome!
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The prospecting geologist Nickolas Boom, having discovered a Gold-bearing vein in the hills, founds the town with settlements of his crew of miners. Word of this discovery spread throughout the region, and soon other prospectors began wanting a piece, marking the beginning of an eternal power struggle for dominance over the vein. Boom tried to bring order to the town but lawless rebels only drove further chaos.
Chapter 1: Boomtown Begins (2009)
In an effort to restore order, local officials succeeded in driving away the rebels. The towns annual fair was set up to unify the community. The fair attracted musicians and entertainers from far and wide. Farmers and merchants from neighbouring villages came to the town, selling their produce and goods. The fair was a success and the people were uplifted. Only that same week, the gold ran out. Once more, violence set in and the streets descended into anarchy.
Chapter 2: External Forces (2010)
Recession struck the town, and looting and fighting were commonplace. The Kaptin began an attempt to contain this anarchy. Boom was outraged at this interference, and with the Pirate Captain and Gypsy King, swore to keep The Kaptin from making progress and ruining their freedoms.
Chapter 3: The Disappearance of Boom (2011)
With new settlers, the town expanded into new districts and brought new attractions. Only the wealthy lacked any areas of prestige, and so the town officials budgeted a huge amount of money from their urban redevelopment fund towards such an area – Mayfair Avenue. Having had enough, Boom returned to the mountains in search of a fabled temple in the forest, with treasure guarded by lions. With this wealth, he would buy the land of town and restore the peace and freedom, without the rules of a state. Boom was never seen again.
Chapter 4: An Alien Presence (2012)
With further expansion, the town became a city and with this progress came taxes and troubles. With a comet-like crash, an unearthly structure arrived. Arcadia had landed and The Kaptain declared a stage of emergency in the town, declaring himself Mayor.
Chapter 5: Declaration of Democracy (2013)
The docks of Oldtown were revitalised as a wave of trade and immigration hit the port. Travellers from the far east formed a vibrant oriental quarter known as ChinaTown, and those from Latin America founded the Latin Quarter. After pressure from citizens, The Mayor announced free elections with district councillors being appointed, and the following year even the mayoral office would be subject to vote.
Chapter 6: The Loopholes of Time (2014)
From the elections of the year prior, Comrade José became mayor. She introduced the citizenship test, and began on her plans to unite the districts. Defeated and regretful, the ex-mayor turned to the aliens of Arcadia for help, who agreed to send him back in time to the inception of the town. He set off to the west, and reached an isolated town. The ex-mayor told Sheriff Bane of the town about the newly constructed mines and the grand city Boomtown would become. Initiallly skeptical, the Sheriff agreed that if this did come true, that the ex-mayor could call on their aid when he found himself in trouble.
After this agreement, the ex-mayor found himself back in present-day, surrounded by a district that previously hadn't existed – Wild West Street. He once again met Bane who was ready to stick to the promise he had made, and handed over his Sheriff badge making the ex-mayor the new Sheriff of the Wild West.
Chapter 7: The Palace Has Risen (2015)
Chapter 8: The Revolution Starts Now (2016)
Chapter 9: Behind The Mask (2017)
Chapter 10: The Machine Cannot Be Stopped (2018)
Chapter 11: A Radical City (2019)
Chapter 12: New Beginnings (2020)
Chapter One: The Gathering (2021)
Across the four areas of Temple Valley, Hilltop, Downtown and Forgotten Valley there are 14 unique districts, each with a unique identity seen through the set dressing, wandering theatrical performances, and music genres on show. Each district has at least one main stage and a selection of smaller street or theatrical venues as well as small and medium-sized music venues. The festival contains over 25 'main' stages and an additional 80 street venues.
The large main stages of Relic, Nucleus and Lion's Den differ from standard stages as they are designed to accommodate crowds several thousand strong, with vast stage sets at the centre with food and drink concessions in their own arenas. Kidztown is the dedicated children's area at Boomtown, introduced in the second year, co-ordinated by qualified child and youth experts, including play-workers, early years specialists, artists and performers.
The 2021 installment is set to feature a reworked and scaled-down site layout as apart of the festival's recovery measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from the Forest Party stages, each of the districts will be relocated to inside the Matterley Bowl in a new, more condensed layout for the Downtown area. Some of the campsites will be moved to the fields immediately surrounding the Bowl, and the overall footprint for the event is down-scaled.
Districts and Stages
The site layout evolves and changes with each installment, with new areas and venues being introduced and previous itterations renewed. A number of the stages have remained consistent throughout the history of the festival, including the Kidztown, Lions Den and Town Centre stages which have featured since the 2011 fair, through many different incarnations.
|Area||Key||District / Main stage||Picture||Stage(s) and Venue(s)||Main Genre(s)|
|Temple Valley||1||Area 404||
||Acid Leak • Fallout Disco • The Grid • Nucleus • SP:23 Street Party||Techno • Acid house • Rave|
||Psychedelic Forest||Psychedelic trance|
|3||Lion's Den||Lion's Den||Reggae • Ska • Mixed Genre|
||Croaker Club • Flying Moustache • Foggers Mill • The Forge • Wrong Side of the Tracks||Ska • Folk • Blues • Drum & Bass|
||Tangled roots||Psychedelic trance • Dub • Dancehall • Reggae|
|6||Tribe of Frog|
||Buskers Wharf • Mama Jynx • Oldtown Square • Rimski's Yard • Shamrock||Folk • Punk • Rock music|
|8||Paradise Heights||Copper Feel Cabaret • Hotel Paradiso • Paradise Ballroom • The Bandstand • Villa Avarice||Disco • Soul • Jazz • Afrobeats|
|9||Town Centre||Bad Apple Bar • Boomtown Bobbies • Job Centre • Town Centre||Pop • Hip-hop • Mixed Genre|
|Downtown||10||Barrio Loco||24 Hour Garage Girls • Kaotik Kartel • Loose Lips Block Party • Pirate Studios • Poco Loco
(+ an unannounced stage new for 2020)
|Garage • Hip-hop|
|11||Diss-order Alley||Earache Factory • Hangar 161 • The Bunker • The Freak Boutique
(+ an unannounced stage new for 2020)
|Metal • Rock|
||Broken Core • Cyberdrone • Dystopia • Scrapyard • Sub Lab||Gabba • Hardcore • Jungletek • Drum & Bass|
|13||Forest Parties||Hidden Woods||Dub • Dancehall • Reggae|
||Dubtendo • Fashion Haus • Little Pharma • Pagoda Plaza • Zenith||House • Funk • Disco|
|15||Relic||Relic||Drum & Bass • Jungle|
|Forgotten Valley||16||Forgotten Valley||
||Ancient Futures • Floating Lotus • Speakers Corner||Acoustic • Soul • Folk • Spoken word • Spirituality • Activism|
||Raucous Rascals||Family friendly performances of|
– Previous district / main stage. – Current district / main stage.
The festival takes place in South West England on the Matterley Estate in Hampshire on the grounds of the South Downs National Park, 3 miles from Winchester. The grounds are situated between the A31 and A272.
The grounds have been the home of a number of music festivals and concerts over the years, including Creamfields in its inaugural year of 1998, Homelands from 1999 till 2005 and Glade Festival in 2009. Because of this long history with a number of iconic events, many consider the grounds to be firmly entrenched in the roots of many notable acts and genres, especially with regards to dance music, underground dance music and other electronic music.
The fair is situated at grid reference . The site is split into 3 areas: the Downtown area is contained within the Matterley Bowl, the natural valley Temple Valley features the area of the same name, and the Hilltop area extends across the crest of the hill that is the mid-ground between these two areas – it is also the geographical centre of the site. The site is divided by the steep hill between the Downtown and Hilltop areas with participants taking either Hippie Highway or The Stairs to travel between the two. A number of stages feature within the natural features of the sites. The Hidden Woods, Tribe of Frog, Tangled Roots and Psychedelic Forest stages are set within forests under tree canopies. The Lions Den stage is also set within a natural amphitheatre.
Elsewhere on-site, the motocross track within the Materley Basin has in the past held the British round of the World Championship, as well as the Motocross of Nations. The site has also hosted the Tough Mudder endurance test series.
|Boomtown Begins (2009)||7–9 August||£45|
|External Forces (2010)||13–15 August||£58|
|The Disappearance of Boom (2011)||11–14 August||Gogol Bordello, DJ Zinc and Ms. Dynamite||£93|
|An Alien Presence (2012)||9–12 August||Reel Big Fish, Caravan Palace and Shy FX||£63|
|Declaration of Democracy (2013)||8–11 August||£149|
|The Loopholes of Time (2014)||7–10 August||The Cat Empire, General Levy and Chas & Dave||£149|
|The Palace Has Risen (2015)||13–16 August||Protoje, Noisia and Mr. Scruff||£120|
|The Revolution Starts Now (2016)||11–14 August||Madness and Damian Marley||£135|
|Behind The Mask (2017)||10–13 August||The Specials, M.I.A. and Cypress Hill||£195|
|The Machine Cannot Be Stopped (2018)||8–12 August||Gorillaz, Die Antwoord and Limp Bizkit||£246|
|A Radical City (2019)||7–11 August||Lauryn Hill, Prophets of Rage, The Streets, Chronixx, Chase & Status and Groove Armada||£244|
|New Beginnings (2020)||12–16 August||Wu-Tang Clan, Underworld, Kelis and Pendulum Trinity||£249|
|The Gathering (2021)||11–15 August||Not yet released||£199|
Donations to various charities are made each year from the festival's profits; in 2015 these were the Energy Revolution Initiative, Winchester Youth Counselling and Trinity Winchester. Tickets are donated to charity for raffles and competitions, and the festival works with Oxfam, MyCauseUK and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance who provide stewards. The festival also produces a fundraising CD at Christmas. Since 2014, the festival have provided free children's arts & craft workshops at a pop-up event in nearby Winchester.
For the 2019 event, Boomtown partnered with TreeSisters, an organisation focusing on reforestation with women, to plant one tree for every ticket bought (48,000). After the event, it was announced that the partnership planted 71,725 trees.
Incidents and deaths
During the 2011 festival, Deborah Jeffery, 45 from Winchester suffered a fatal heart attack after taking ecstasy.
In 2013, Ellie Rowe, 18 from Glastonbury, Somerset, died after consuming alcohol and ketamine. The incident occurred the same day Ketamine was reclassified from a class C to class B drug in the UK. In the years following the tragedy, Wendy Teasdill, Ellie's mother, has become an advocate for on-site drug testing, saying the facilities may have saved her life.
The following year, Lisa Williamson, 31 from Hereford, was found hanged in a campsite toilet after using drugs.
In 2016, Olivia Christopher, 18, from Chesham, Buckinghamshire, was discovered dead in her tent after a suspected drug overdose. It is believed she had consumed a cocktail of cocaine, ketamine, LSD and MDMA as well as alcohol while at the festival. The police seized £79,000 of drugs at the festival, with an additional £55,000 worth being placed in amnesty bins at the gates. The same year, a discarded cigarette started a fire which destroyed more than 80 cars.
In the weeks leading up to the 2017 event, the construction of the city was hampered by bad weather, which contributed to delays at the gates, with some guests queuing for up to 10 hours to enter the site. Despite the problems on the gates, the rest of the event proceeded without incident.
In 2019, the festival saw very high winds, causing widespread damage to tents in all camping areas, as a result of fencing barriers blown into the festival. In addition, the Relic main-stage stage was closed during a performance by Shy FX on Friday after a piece of debris from the stage fell onto the crowd during the high winds. All subsequent acts that day being moved to the Lion's Den stage. It was re-opened the next day. No injury was reported.
Awards and nominations
DJ Magazine's top 50 Festivals
|2019||World's Best Festival||Boomtown Fair||23rd|||
|2017||Best Festival||Boomtown Fair||2|||
|2018||Best Event 2017||3|||
|2020||Best Event 2019||1|||
A Greener Festival
|2019||A Greener Festival||Boomtown Fair||Commended|||
UK Festival Awards
|2018||Best Festival Production||Boomtown Fair||Nominated|||
|2019||Best Festival Production||Nominated|||
|The Greener Festival Award||Nominated|
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