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Boomtown is one of the most iconic dance music festivals in the world, with 66,000 people coming together in a pop-up city teeming with art, music, and activity. This year, world-class acts such as Chase & Status, The Streets and Carl Cox headlined, drawing huge crowds to the main stages with a mind-boggling scale of production and sound.
But away from the skyscraper-sized constructions and vast crowds of eager revellers, Boomtown offers a stunning range of small street venues, some with a capacity of 150 or even less. These micro-venues make Boomtown the teeming, bustling hive that it is: you can always be sure that, somewhere, there is a party going on that you want to be at. Below we run through some of the best small venues at this year’s edition…
Powered by heavy stacks courtesy of Firmly Rooted Soundsystem, Sub Lab showcased the best of bass and dubstep, featuring DJs such as N-Type, L U C Y, Silkie and Sir Hiss. With the speakers placed on either side of the tiny tent, facing across the crowd and illuminated by spotlights, the focus here was the thumping cuts rather than the dramatics that appear at many other venues. Stripped back, honest, bass-centric music was readily in supply, much to the delight of the heads that constantly filled the room.
In the heart of the newly-created Area 404, a nuclear wasteland resulting from a reactor meltdown, Acid Leak gave visitors a mashup of high energy acid house and retro techno. In a room lined with glowing barrels of luminous green nuclear waste and relentless psychedelic lasers, Acid Leak never stopped pumping out infectious rave bangers.
A venue unlike any other, Digital Funfair had no DJ or performers. Instead, partiers were invited to play on their BeatJigsaw, controlling loops and tracks by moving blocks of wood around a large table. The result was organic and interactive, with a slow rotation of people talking their turn to mix and blend energetic drum ‘n’ bass hits. As well as the BeatJigsaw, other attractions lined the room including the bizarre and challenging Pacbike, where you controlled classic retro games from the saddle of a bicycle, and the AV Arcade Table, an arcade machine converted into an audio-visual mixer to cut and combine pre-set content using traditional joystick and button controls. It was easy to lose yourself in the electro-carnival setting, as many curious customers found out.
From Thursday through to Sunday, crowds descended to the streets of Metropolis for the open-air party supplied by Dubtendo. D&B was the main attraction of this street venue, with the likes of Bou, Benny Page and a takeover from Born On Road and Inja. Nonetheless, High Contrast mixed it up with his eclectic ‘High Contrast (Kinda) Disco Set’ that began with lighter, feelgood tracks, eventually morphing through the full spectrum of his sound. If you could push down the packed street and get close enough to the speakers, you were sure to have a blast anytime Dubtendo was open for business. Then, for a change of pace in the night, Dubtendo offered retro gaming competitions, with visitors getting the chance to go head to head on Mario Kart and more.
Itchy Bitch Disco
For a change of pace from some of the more relentless sounds of Boomtown, Itchy Bitch Disco offered respite in the form of disco and house classics. An extra-large love heart, outlined by red lightbulbs, shone from behind the decks, while a glittering disco ball hung above the compact crowd. With Inner City’s classic ‘Good Life’ filling the gently smoky surroundings, you could easily forget you were surrounded by the mud and madness of a music festival.
Billed as “Boomtown’s Sickest Micro Venue”, Little Pharma specialised in broken beats and moody basslines. Whether it was the ragged sounds of the Hot Cakes Takeover, dark stompers from Marten Hørger or the driving, acid-flavoured trance of Monk3ylogic, Little Pharma kept its patients dosed up into the early hours. The interior was a medical whitewash, with test tubes and vials surrounding the decks, and mannequins without limbs or heads hanging from the ceiling made for a fun yet unsettling venue.
Happy Slap Boutique
The Happy Slap Boutique was a centre of pure electric hedonism. With a Bladerunner aesthetic and twirling dancers covered in neon and sequins, the chaotic décor mirrored the range of music on offer – a blend of almost everything from across the electronic music spectrum. As long as it’s bright, vivid and in your face, anything goes in at Happy Slap Boutique. Arther Shillin’s excellent set was a great example – at one point, he effortlessly mixed from 1920s-inspired electro-swing to minimalist breakbeat to roaring jump-up in the blink of an eye.
The Lawless Halls of Justice
By day, the Lawless Halls of Justice host trials for the crimes of residents and visitors of Boomtown, but by night, a mix of underground rave fills the halls. The fully-functioning court was complete with prosecution and defence lawyers, an honourable judge and a number of onlookers eager to see thieves put in the stocks and rightfully punished. When court ended session, though, everything from D&B, jungle and breaks to psytrance, electro and hardcore swamped the court, spilling onto the streets of Copper County. The music was at totally at odds with the old-time surroundings, yet summed up the bizarre split personality that makes Boomtown the well-loved theatrical festival that it is.
Pirate Studios Presents
Pirate Studios made their debut at Boomtown this year, and gave audiences something truly special. The tent was near bare, blacked out apart from a massive screen spread behind the decks, which flashed with distorted, rapidly shifting multicoloured glitch effects. Among the performers were Maxsta, Cabasa and Addison Groove, with the focus on cutting edge grassroots DJs and artists that are still emerging from the UK underground. The undeniable standout, however, was an exclusive secret set from Plastician b2b Skream, closing the venue on Saturday night with an hour of garage followed by an hour of classic rolling dubstep hitters. This rare call back to the early days of the genre, with now legendary nights like DMZ and FWD>>, was an unparalleled treat for the fans lucky enough to find themselves deep in Barrio Loco at the perfect time.
Find out more about Boomtown here.