boomtown fair

Boomtown gets Gorillaz headline show

Lions Den, Boomtown 2017. Photo credit Jody Hartley

Lion’s Den, Boomtown 2017. Photo credit Jody Hartley

Boomtown Fair has announced that Gorillaz has signed up for a one-off UK exclusive performance at the Lion’s Den stage. The 60,000 capacity festival will take place over 9- 12 August 2018 at the Matterley Estate in Hampshire.

‘Having the Gorillaz perform on our newly rebuilt Lion’s Den arena is beyond anything we could have imagined when we first started 10 years ago!” the organiser said. “It’s unbelievably exciting to start collaborating for this one off show next summer and to delve into all the ways in which we can make the very most of the similarities between our musical styles and story-based performance!’

The collaboration of both Boomtown and Gorillaz is an exciting mix, with both outfits shining a light on a host of underground artists from an eclectic range of musical genres throughout the past decade.

Both having a strong emphasis on politically tinged narrative and characterisation, with a supreme dedication to ensuring the highest production levels are brought to every show.

Heading into its tenth chapter, Boomtown provides a platform for underground music.Art, theatre and performance in a living, breathing, fictitious city is brought to life by hundreds of performers throughout nine themed districts and immersive street sets.

Over the years the festival has consistently challenged festival norms, proving popular with festivalgoers from all over the globe.

So far ahead of the 2018 event, the festival has seen a record-breaking 50 per cent of tickets already sold.

Association of Independent Festivals announces Festival Congress 2017

Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has announced its annual event will return to Cardiff for its fourth year in October.

The Festival Congress will play host to an incredible ‘Pseudoscience’ theme, set to play homage to the nonsensical and weird experiments made by scientists and festival promoters alike.

The standout event will be led by a keynote by artistic director and CEO of Manchester International Festival, John McGrath, in addition to quick fire talks from renowned author Zoe Cormier about her book Sex, drugs and rock n roll: The science of hedonism and the hedonism of science, and John Kampfner, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation, who will speak about creative industry ‘red lines’ on Brexit.

There will also be a ‘Question time’ style panel exploring political issues in relation to festivals and featuring some leading lights of the independent festival world, with other key topics at the conference including event security, welfare, booking processes, up scaling small festivals and creative production. Another headline panel discussion will explore the next steps of AIF’s ‘Safer spaces’ campaign, which reiterated the zero tolerance approach that festivals have to sexual assault with a 24 hour coordinated website ‘black out’ in May.

Held in Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) on 30-31 October, the Festival Congress is a major fixture in the festival industry calendar.

“We’re back for a fourth year with Festival Congress, the ultimate conference and festival party for the independents,” said AIF co-founder, Rob da Bank. “We’re proud of how essential this event has become and all at AIF HQ are buzzing to be joining the dots between festival promotion and science this year, in what promises to be a packed and extremely fun couple of days in Cardiff.”

Attendees include notable festival organisers from the likes of Glastonbury, Bestival, Boomtown Fair, Kendal Calling, Shambala, End of the Road, Liverpool Sound City and many more. The event also invites speakers from every corner of the music sphere with a speaker alumni of Jude Kelly OBE (artistic Ddirector, Southbank Centre), Huw Stephens (Radio One and Swn Festival co-founder), Simon Parkes (founder, Brixton Academy), Professor Tim O’Brien (Jodrell Bank observatory), Robert Richards (commercial director, Glastonbury) and many more.

BoomTown brings in almost £100k for charity

BoomTown Fair has announced it raised £98,654 for various charities across the globe.

Local engagement and education all contributed to the high funding number, along with £2 ticket donations, guest list donations, stewarding partnerships, on-site installations, salvage operations and a platform for awareness-raising talks at the new Speakers’ Corner talks tent.

Talks at the Speakers’ Corner included a drugs awareness message from Wendy Teasdil; Maisie Williams discussing the growing refugee crisis and formal education; Jess Thom talking about living with Tourettes; and the launch of The White Ribbon Campaign’s Safe Event Guide, promoting awareness of sexual harassment and assault of women at events.

Funds raised

Local support:

·      BoomTown matched guestlist donations to create £10,000, to be split between the parishes bordering the festival site for investment in projects to benefit their communities.

·      £7,255 has been donated to Hampshire Air Ambulance through the ongoing stewarding partnership.

·      The BoomTown KidzTown team held free family carnival workshops at the Discovery Centre for Winchester families, alongside local charities Naomi House and Blue Apple Theatre.

National and international charity support:

·      £46,380 was raised for Oxfam through the stewarding partnership, with a further £15,000 raised through their district-themed Oxfam Shop.

·      The multi-charity beneficiary stewarding organisation My Cause accrued £5,165 for a range of UK-based and international charities.

Refugees help:

·      A group of volunteers from Twyford collected 160 sleeping bags, 85 tents, 58 roll mats, 13 self-inflating mats, 17 rugs/blankets and quantities of miscellaneous clothing, shoes and wellies, canned food, pots and pans, lamps, pumps and chairs – all of which went to L’Auberge des Migrants.

·      Love Support Unite raised £2,410.

·      Help Refugees raised £500 through their festival-wear stall, selling unsuitable clothes that had been donated to their warehouse in Calais.

·      Refugee Community Kitchen raised £280.

·      Festival Waste Reclamation and Distribution collected tents, sleeping bags, camping chairs, sleeping mats and clothes for Syria with the Portsmouth-based Don’t Hate, Donate charity.


·      TEMWA Charity ran the festival’s on-site Lost and Found, for which BoomTown donated £5,000 towards the charity and a further £500 was raised through festivalgoers giving donations.

·      The build crew from the South American-styled area, Barrio Loco, raised £1,640 for Alianza Arkana, a grassroots project working with indigenous communities in the Amazon in Peru, whose way of life is under threat from increasing development and industrialisation.


·      72,000kg of CO2 emissions were accounted for through travel carbon offsetting ticket donations of £3,600 to Energy Revolution.

·      BoomTown teamed up with Love Your Tent to bring a new initiative, with the idea of giving cheap ‘dispensable’ tents more sentimental value to encourage people to take them home.

·      Purple Community Fund raised £489 selling handbags, belts and jewelry made from ring pulls. They also collected 5kg of ring pulls from the festival.

Building Up BoomTown

Behind the scenes at the pop-up city changing what it means to be a greenfield festival.


When Access sits down with Lak Mitchell, one of the founders of BoomTown Fair, it doesn’t take long for us to realise that his festival is a little bit different.

“This year the rebels took over the new nuclear power station, which the corrupt power-hungry mayor had built thinking she was doing the right thing,” he says, explaining that his event is part festival, part ongoing immersive theatre.

From the very beginning, says Mitchell, the idea for BoomTown was for something more than a regular music festival.

“The vision of it being a real working city was on the cards right from the start,” he says. “The clue is in the name. We called it BoomTown because we wanted to create a town that supposedly existed all year round.”

BoomTown’s current incarnation is a sprawling fictional metropolis, complete with detailed sets, themed areas and a complex, fantastical storyline involving corrupt officials and the occasional giant spider.

The site is split into nine districts, each with its own character and individual style.

“It was inspired partly by Disneyland, believe it or not,” laughs Mitchell. “There they’ve got zones that you can wander into and you’re hit with a completely different theme, feel and sensory environment.”

The resulting experience is something completely unique, both in terms of scale and imagination.

“The amount of scaffolding that goes into this festival is absolutely insane,” adds Mitchell. “I can’t imagine there’s another festival in the world with this amount of it.”

When Access talks to him, he is still on site after the 2016 event, which took place on 11-14 August at Matterley Estate in Winchester.

“We’re still flat-out packing up,” he says. “It takes a good two months. It’s such an ambitious build, it couldn’t be done in much less time. It’s like an enormous interactive film set.”

“None of the builds are straightforward, everything’s on the side of a hill,” adds Lee Austin, event director for the Winner Group. “It’s very unusual, there’s not another build like it. To see it up and running and finished is amazing.”

Naturally, BoomTown wasn’t always an event on this scale. It started, as many things do, with a group of friends.

“We give out budgets to our crazy lunatic friends” – Lak Mitchell

“We found ourselves, about 10 years ago, standing in front of a festival main stage,” explains Mitchell. “Everyone was just standing there, watching some band with no real soul to them, and we thought, ‘Christ, we can do this’.”

Mitchell, along with his co-founder Chris Rutherford, created a small festival with a line-up of friends and a makeshift stage.

“We’d grown up in the festival scene, and in the underground free party scene,” Mitchell continues. “Because we’d been putting on a lot of parties it meant that we were all up for creating this event. We didn’t have a penny to our name. If we’d lost 500 quid we would’ve been bankrupt.”

Making a profit has never been high on the agenda for Mitchell and his colleagues. In fact, for him the annual financial tightrope walk is a sign that the festival has managed to remain independent and true to its roots.

“It didn’t matter that there wasn’t much money coming in. That meant that the show was still at a really good, decent level,” he says. “The key to it not bankrupting each year was the fact that it had this love from the free party scene and evolved from that.”

The festival grew rapidly, almost doubling in size each year just to cover costs.

“It got to a point when it was putting too much strain on everything,” admits Mitchell. “We’ve always been really careful; we grew because we needed to make the operation professional. There is always inflation on every single angle of the festival: the infrastructure, the staff, everything. Every year we found gaps and we needed to fill them, and that cost money.”

One thing remained hugely important to Mitchell and his colleagues: loyal customers shouldn’t be priced out of the market.

“We didn’t want to out-price people who had been coming since year one,” he says. “We didn’t want them to suddenly not be able to come because they couldn’t afford it. We’ve always preferred to increase numbers for the festival rather than the ticket price.”

The storyboard

The official story of BoomTown began as something the organisers told each other for their own amusement, not for public consumption.

“There’s never much of a plan other than the fact that we’ve got this story,” says Mitchell. “The festival is led by its ever-evolving narrative. It gives the whole festival direction and means that every creative director can grab onto an element of that, and take their section in that direction.”

The story’s shift from private to public came when visitors to BoomTown – “we call them citizens not festivalgoers” – were asked to take part in a fictional mayoral election during its fourth year.

“They all voted in a lady called Comrade Jose,” says Mitchell. “She was amazing, she won everyone over at the town hall elections. It’s a little bit political, a bit fantasy. It’s partly put in place to educate on world issues and topics that we feel really strongly about. When the election came in the public really started grabbing onto it and buying into it. Before that it was just us having a bit of fun in our own world.”

The story, retroactively adapted to the early incarnations of the festival, now forms a central part of the creative vision.

“We’ve got a whole narrative directors’ board,” continues Mitchell. “We come up with the topics that we’re really passionate about and the direction the story’s going. Once we’ve got a really solid idea the story normally needs a big impact feature piece, which relates to something massive within the festival.”

While the creative teams working on the festival have naturally grown over the years, there is still an element of that first festival pieced together by a group of mates. Except for one significant difference:

“What’s really nice is that we give out budgets to our crazy lunatic friends,” laughs Mitchell. “They have these mental ideas and wouldn’t normally be given these nice big budgets. They come to us with their ideas and we shape them and work together on the concepts, then they go away and have creative input on the detail.

“Although the core creative collective of the festival steers everything it’s always amazing to give it out to the hundreds of creative directors who work on all the different elements.”

One such creative force is Dan Borg, creative director of set design agency Front Left and art director at BoomTown.

“I haven’t really seen any other festivals that come close in terms of scale,” he tells Access. “The whole of BoomTown is tied together under this narrative, and we try not to let the narrative break.”

For Borg, who took on the Old Town district four years ago and was responsible for managing 2016’s new district Sector 6, part of building up BoomTown is working out how to reuse and repurpose the sets used in previous years.

“There’s a lot of money spent on the stages, but we build on it year after year so the money doesn’t get wasted,” he explains. “We try and recycle as much as we can. The set that I’ve been using for Old Town has come from major feature films, TV, adverts, all over the place. It’s been recycled for years and years.”

“There is such a large amount of temporary theatrical infrastructure,” Mark Tennant, brand manager for BoomTown supplier LION Trackhire tells Access. “The site evolves organically as it builds, so flexibility is paramount.”

“I haven’t seen any other festivals that come close” – Dan Borg

“It’s great to be involved with such a progressive event,” adds Kevin Thorborn, UK manager of Mojo Barriers, “and to see organisers pushing boundaries when it comes to creativity and imagination.”

Flexibility, and a certain amount of pioneering innovation, has been necessary for more than one aspect of the festival. The site has around 150 sound systems packed into a relatively small area, meaning that the core team has been forced to get creative when it comes to noise management.

“There’s nothing else like it in the world to take advice from,” says Mitchell. “We’ve had to create new methods of noise management across the whole site, which is just insane. To make that amount of sound systems work in one space and not clash has been a really intense enterprise, but it’s really paid off.”

In terms of creativity, the designers have to achieve a balance between the narrative of the festival as a whole and their own personal vision for their assigned area or district.

“We all bounce off each other to a certain extent,” says Borg. “There’s a friendly rivalry between the areas, and we try and up the game each year. My vision for Old Town is hard to describe; it’s something in my head that’s been building up over the years. I was really happy with it this year, we got quite close.”

The vision for BoomTown extends to the festivalgoers as well, to how they experience the site and how they interact with the festival while on site.

“It’s about escapism and finding your inner character,” explains Mitchell. “We’ve had the most incredible emails afterwards, about how it’s completely opened people’s eyes in terms of creativity.

“It’s really humbling to read some of these comments. It’s about opening people’s imaginations and showing them what you can do with art and expression.”

The need for escapism, which seems particularly tempting in light of current events in 2016, doesn’t prevent Mitchell and his colleagues from seeing the potential impact they could have on real world events as the festival continues to grow.

“We’re all quite close to what’s going on in the real world. We’re passionate about supporting charities and we’re getting to a position where we’re able to focus a lot of our direction and energy on that side of things.”

When it comes to the future of BoomTown, Mitchell is reserved about providing details:

“We’ve written the story for the next few chapters, so we know the direction the festival is heading,” he says. “We’ve had ideas come in from all over the world from people who want to be involved. It’s insanely exciting.”

If there’s one thing Mitchell wants to remain constant, it’s the experience had by the citizens of BoomTown.

“We’ve created a community where people look out for each other, respect themselves, respect the environment and respect the people around them. It’s important that we don’t lose the intimacy everyone knows and loves. That’s the message we’re trying to put out there.”


This feature originally appeared in the October issue of Access All Areas, out now.

BoomTown appoints Mojo Barriers

Mojo Barriers has secured a contract with independent festival BoomTown Fair, which takes place 13-16 August.

BoomTown Fair has called upon Mojo Barriers to design and deliver its stage barriers for this year’s festival, which will take place at Matterley Estate in Hampshire.

Mojo Barriers, which recently supplied AC/DC’s tour, will supply 450 metres of stage barrier, 200 metres of bar barrier and 13 line-up gates across the festival site.

Set in its own unique, fantasy festival town, Boomtown features nine different districts with winding streets and a host of bespoke entertainment venues, including a casino, hotel, hairdressers and roller disco.

BoomTown Fair is now in its 7th year and this year will witness performances from Mungos Hi-fi, John Butler Trio, Dreadzone and hundreds of artists across 22 stages, including a new main stage.

“There is a lot of original thinking going on within the independent festival scene and we’re excited to be working alongside BoomTown Fair, which is widely renowned for its unique character,” Mojo Barriers’ UK manager Kevin Thorborn said. “Moving away from the traditional five or six stage festival format, with its own crowd dynamics within a temporary town setting and we have worked with the organisers to identify the ‘hotspots’ to ensure festival-goers are kept safe, deploying crowd barriers where densities are at their highest.”

Mojo Barriers has reported an increase in work with independents in 2015, after it secured new contracts with 51st State, Found Festival and Glastonbudget Festival.