The legendary team behind the wildly successful Boomtown Festival have come back home to Bristol! Area 404 has arrived, and you can find the full Boomtown Source review below.
11 years since the first Boomtown Fair, the team behind the annual festival have opened what they call a “permanent events space” in Bristol. Or put more simply: “a banging great warehouse sized multi-room nightclub”
Boomtown has been officially named as the fastest growing festival in the world during the past decade. It was a tiny Bristol based festival at first with around 1000 attendees in 2009. But it has recently been granted a licence for 77,000 to attend in 2020, at it’s now permanent home just outside of Winchester. And it’s not difficult to see why it’s got just so popular in such a short time.
The totally independent team, free from the shackles of large corporate ownership, have had complete creative control over the event, pushing boundaries in every direction. Boomtown is not just a run of the mill music festival. It’s an immersive theatrical event, with around a dozen themed districts, over 100 stages, live actors, theatre, pyrotechnics… you name it. Boomtown is a non-stop assault on the senses.
Area 404: An instant sell out
So when it was announced that they would be opening Area 404 in Bristol, to say there was a lot of hype and expectation, would be an understatement. The grand opening of the venue, billed as Boomtown Halloween, was originally planned as a one night only affair. It soon expanded to four nights, such was the enormous demand. The 3,500 capacity venue sold out all four nights within a matter of minutes.
No details were known about the event prior to ticket sales. The location had not been confirmed, nobody knew what the venue would be like, and there was no line up announced. But off the back of the reputation of the festival, thousands of people scrambled for those £35 tickets anyway. Just to be able to see for themselves what the legendary Boomtown team had up their sleeves.
But could Boomtown ever deliver on such sky high expectations?
A nucleur fallout zone after the meltdown of Sector 6…
Area 404 is based upon one of the several districts located at Boomtown Fair. Boomtown is set up as a fictional city, with various districts and zones. It has its own story line that progresses each year, and encourages festival attendees to get in character and take part in shaping it. The city has it’s own celebrities central to the plot, such as “Rothschild” (above), and the AI avatar “AMI”.
Area 404 was a brand new festival district for 2019, having previously been known as “Sector 6”. Once the largest and most elaborate of Boomtown’s huge dance arenas, Sector 6 was intricately themed to resemble a giant “Bang Hai Industries” nuclear power plant. But following dramatic events at the 2018 festival, the reactor core went into total meltdown, leaving behind the radioactive industrial fallout zone which Boomtown Citizens now refer to as “Area 404”.
I always wondered what happens in the city of Boomtown during the rest of the year, once the annual fair is over. Now at least a small part of Boomtown, Area 404, exists year round in an industrial estate in central Bristol. Which seems quite fitting really given the districts theme. It’s a physical place, and not temporary like the fair. The lines between what is fantasy and what is reality at Boomtown seem to have got even blurrier.
We spent so much time exploring the venue and all it had to offer, we only really caught bits and pieces of all the various acts that were booked onto the line up. Our time was spread fairly evenly between all 5 rooms, and we visited each of them multiple times. We were totally absorbed in the venue, the atmosphere, and having a great time with our various friends we kept bumping into and losing again throughout the venue. It was a very friendly Boomtown style atmosphere, and we got chatting to a lot of different people. They truly seem to have succeeded in bringing the spirit of the festival back to Bristol.
A warehouse rave in a Bristol industrial estate
Being in a warehouse setting, with such a great atmosphere, it felt like a free party rave at times. The building already had a history of being used to host raves, prior to its purchase by Boomtown. Boomtown Source wondered if this is precisely how somebody at Boomtown HQ first came to learn of the buildings vacancy. They obviously would have spotted the huge potential for an epic main room with its double level balcony set up…
A few times we noticed that the bouncers had to remind people that they couldn’t smoke indoors. I’ve not seen someone try to light up inside a venue in years. But this seemed to be a symptom of the free party festival type atmosphere. It was simply too easy to get caught up in the mayhem and forget you were in a fully licensed venue, where the smoking ban applied.
Thankfully that was the only time we even noticed that security were present in the venue, as there didn’t seem to be any other trouble or reason for them to make themselves known. The crowd were friendly, and everyone was just having a good time. The security seemed to be standing back in the shadows, and just letting people get on with it, which is how it should be. It was maybe one of the best crowds I’ve seen at a nightclub in years.
Was the line up any good though?
There had been some criticism on social media in the lead up to the event that the line up was weak. This came particularly from the Drum and Bass community who had been hoping the event might be more DnB centric. While there was plenty of DnB, it was mostly confined to the smaller rooms. Aphrodite put on a blindingly good Jungle DnB set in the main room as well, but this was not until right at the end of the night.
Condensing over 100 stages from the festival down to 5 rooms was always likely to leave some disappointed. And given DnB has such a strong showing at the festival, I can definitely understand why DnB fans might have felt let down. Area 404 is brand new, and has a lot of life in it yet. I think it’s quite likely they will throw DnB focused events with big line ups in the future, once the initial “new nightclub” hype wears off. The “Core Reactor” main room is enormous, with 2 balcony levels, and could certainly accommodate some big names.
Boomtown Source however thought the music balance was just about right, a decent mix of the various genres represented at the annual fair. And I noticed that a lot of those who complained about the lack of decent line up were soon eating their words once they had actually attended the event and seen just how good it was! The acts booked were top notch, and a lineup full of surprises you might not have heard of before has always been the hallmark of a Boomtown event.
Bits of the night I can remember…
My new discovery of the event was Septabeat, a live drumming and live sequencing Drum and Bass act. Bringing some mad energy up on the drums in the wee hours. Respect!
The absolute highlight of the night for me was Aphrodite, playing a headline jungle DnB set in a packed out main room. The whole room didn’t stop moving, and the hour long set was over too quickly. I could have kept going far past the 4am curfew.
As for the venue itself, I particularly enjoyed the Engine Room. Having live acts rather than DJs right in the centre of the venue really helped bring the place to life, and gave it that true festival vibe. And the Acid Chamber, a long tunnel like room, was absolutely going off non-stop. It packed an incredible sound system along with mind bending lighting and visuals. It was entrancing, and the perfect setting for techno. We watched ONYVAA absolutely smashing out some beats in here.
Area 404 has been created with passion, care and detail
Boomtown is lovingly created with so much attention to detail. Area 404 has so much to offer fans of the festival, as well as newcomers looking to dip their toe. Characters like AMI have become celebrities in themselves. There always seemed to be a crowd of fans hanging around the window which AMI was trapped behind, trying for the perfect AMI selfie. AMI tried to pass a small plastic heart out to me, but unfortunately the screen separated us. Since AMI represents a digital avatar, it seemed fitting that a screen separated us and prevented any non-visual interaction.
The best dressed person we saw had to be an AMI imposter, who had obviously spent a lot of time making this replica costume. What a dedication to the Boomtown cause! It led to probably the best photo of the event I’ve seen: AMI meet AMI.
An expanding “Boomtown Universe”
The ever increasing popularity of the “Boomtown Universe” has become clear during the course of this year. I’ve seen the Boomtown Storyline Facebook group go from a few hundred members to well over 5000 in a matter of weeks during the summer of this year. I’ve seen hundreds of people turn out just to catch a glimpse of Mr Bliss at the festival. Now that universe has expanded further with Area 404, ram packed full of easter eggs and hidden references for us Boomtown geeks to look out for.
The lore behind Boomtown has become increasingly detailed and intricate, to the point it seems almost inane. Many struggle to keep up and follow the goings on, and rely on the popular Facebook group to fill in the gaps. But this is simply the attention to detail and effort Boomtown put into everything they do, no matter how obscure it may seem to most. There is a rabbit hole waiting for you to go down, if you want to explore it.
But if you don’t want to get into that level of detail it’s all good. Boomtown welcomes everybody. You can participate in the story line as little, or as much as you like. Or perhaps not at all. You do you.
All photos were provided by Boomtown HQ or taken on my crappy phone