BoomTown Fair 2017: August 10th – 13th
It’s another British summer and that means it’s time for the citizens of BoomTown to once again pack out the bustling city streets of the country’s most unique locale. For a few brief days attendees can lose themselves in the madcap antics that only this festival can provide, boasting an eclectic musical roster encompassing ska, punk, reggae, dub, psychobilly, folk, world, electroswing, dubstep, drum and bass, psytrance and everything in between among its various districts.
Fortitude are now fairly well-acquainted with BoomTown, with our coverage now entering its fourth year (be sure to check out our highlights of 2016, 2015 and 2014), and it’s fantastic to see that not only are new exciting acts being welcomed into the fold, but a distinct community spirit is developing among the returning artists as they in turn hone their talents year after year.
Not all things progressed smoothly this year, however, with severe weather the previous month almost halting the entire event. Thankfully, through the hard work of the festival staff, the seemingly-inevitable descent of the venue into veritable marshland was avoided, and BoomTown went ahead. Sadly, an error with ticket scanners on opening day caused major delays at the gate, and as a result we missed most of the bands on the Thursday afternoon, some of whom may have been contenders for this list. Of course this did not stop BoomTown as a whole living up to its usual expectations, and while the superb selection of acts is far too vast to include in this one article (therefore all returning highlight artists from previous years are excluded), below and in no particular order are our personal favourites from BoomTown 2017.
BoomTown is a city that never sleeps, and that means someone’s got to do the graveyard shift. However, this proved to not be as daunting a task as one might think, as the Chinatown Courtyard stage was packed out at 2am Saturday night/Sunday morning for Just Say Nay’s set, and they did not disappoint. Their sound is irresistibly upbeat ska punk with occasional Balkan elements snuck in, and all assembled are almost helpless to get their knees up accordingly. Already boasting an eight-strong line up, their numbers were given a further boost with the inclusion of violin (provided by the band’s original trombone player) and a special latter set guest appearance from the horn section of Lead Shot Hazard (more on them later). They even earned themselves an encore from the adoring crowd, with the chanted refrain of ‘Low Blow’, which closes their latest Shit Out Of Luck EP, carrying on well after the band had left the stage.
One of the best things about BoomTown is that whether it be through a tipoff or a simple wrong turn, it’s almost a certainty you’ll come across something new that instantly leave a lasting impression. One such band this time around were The Creepshow, who stormed the Devilkicks Dancehall on Friday night. Originally hailing from Montreal, Canada, this five-piece psychobilly collective gave both barrels throughout, with infectious guitar licks, furious upright bass and pounding rhythms uncompromising in rawness and intensity. Currently touring in preparation for their upcoming album Death At My Door, due for release on 15th September, the band’s horror-laden grooves provided the perfect soundtrack to get the blood pumping and prepare their audience for the long night ahead.
Following their cameo alongside Just Say Nay the night before, it would have been a crime to have missed Lead Shot Hazard on Sunday afternoon. Rapidly making a name for themselves on the London ska punk scene, the band rocked the Crazy Calamites stage, packing the venue to the roof with both numbers and atmosphere. Their set was crammed with fantastically catchy tunes from start to finish, showcasing their recent War & Pieces EP, with the absolutely smash ‘Grids & Markers’ being a real highlight. Lead Shot Hazard proved a massive hit with fans old and new alike (apart from the bassist’s 9 month old son, who remained fast asleep in his carrier/band advertising billboard through the entire show, because there’s just no pleasing some people), with numerous members of the UK ska punk glitterati occupying the crowd, while less-family attendees made short work of the group’s stash of free EPs. A name to keep an eye on, to be sure.
By no means strangers to BoomTown but criminally absent from our list in previous years (sorry guys), Tree House Fire graced Chinatown Saturday afternoon, and were without a doubt one of the stage’s highlights for this year. Met by the glorious (and somewhat overdue) summer sunshine, they proved the perfect soundtrack to the season with their performance, chock full of chilled reggae tunes to help you sway away any lasting grievances from Friday night. With powerful vocals and plenty of dub snatches for good measure, Tree House Fire knew what their audience needed and promptly delivered, allowing everyone to lose themselves in the groove in preparation for the rest of the weekend’s madness. Definitely ones to watch out for as head out on tour with JB Conspiracy in November this year.
As evidenced by other entries on this list, ska is highly prevalent at BoomTown, so it wouldn’t feel complete without some of the genre’s most celebrated royalty making an appearance. Now entering the 40th years since their conception and missing a number of members from their classic line up (including the sadly departed John Bradbury and Rico Rodriguez, who both passed away in 2015), The Specials headlined The Lion’s Den stage on the Saturday night to a reaction that was of little surprise. While the festival is a fantastic opportunity to discover the best up-and-coming acts, there is welcome room for the old guard as well, and the band won over their audience with a steady stream of familiar and well-loved tunes. Tens of thousands packed out the arena to holler along to the likes of ‘A Message To You, Rudy’, ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Too Much Too Young’ and ‘Rat Race’, while it was astounding to witness how their more politically-charged classics such as ‘Do The Dog’ still resonate with today’s audiences. Caught up in the joy of the event and thanks to the spectacular work of Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, Horace Panter and crew, the set seemed to fly past in an instant, leaving an appreciative crowd wanting more without overstaying their welcome.
When the festival inevitably reaches its end, BoomTown has developed a real knack for closing their main stages with a bang, and 2017 was no exception. Now consisting of Rome Ramirez, original Sublime bassist Eric Wilson, and former Tribal Seeds drummer Carlos Verdugo, Sublime With Rome ended proceedings on the Town Hall stage on Sunday night. As would be expected, the set relied heavily from Sublime’s back catalogue, but a selection of newer tracks, along with a number of covers from the likes of Toots & The Maytals, Bad Brains and the Grateful Dead made for a surprisingly eclectic performance. Classic ska punk was typically the order of the day, but elements of hip hop and dub kept the entire performance fresh, with low bass synths replacing bass guitar on several songs to add a moodier, more serene feel. Following a short pause at the end of their set, the band inevitably returned for roaring renditions of ‘What I Got’ and the immortal ‘Santeria’, sending the crowd into raptures with each chorus. And with that, the assembled were left to slink off in preparation for BoomTown 2018 and what it may have to offer. Weather and technology allowing.