Not too long ago, I had the privilege of attending one of the pre-eminent psychedelic arts festivals the world has to offer. I had initially been completely overwhelmed by the experience, to the point where putting it into words in a medium such as this seemed impossible. However, now that the dust has settled and I have been able to process it all, I have grown eager to share some of what went down during the exceedingly epic adventure that was Boom Festival.
From Lisbon to Boom
As soon as I arrived in Lisbon my attention was immediately drawn to the many others who were there for the same reason I was. Something quite special started to happen next, as it kind of felt like a common excitement shared by everyone on their way to the festival was beginning to develop. I was feeling quite exuberant myself as it pervaded the humid Portuguese air and became almost palpable, like you could reach out and touch it.
We had decided to use the Boom Bus as our mode of transport to and from the festival. It is certainly the simplest and most hassle-free means of getting there, but four hours in one of the more uncomfortable buses I’ve been on wasn’t the most enjoyable part of the trip by any means. We were on the way to Boom though, which made it fairly easy to cope with. It would have taken something seriously tragic to detract from my giddy enthusiasm at that point.
Entering Boom Festival
The whole getting wristbands and getting through the gate process was fairly straightforward, there is a separate entrance for the Boom Buses so the wait in queues to get in was not too bad at all. We arrived on the Sunday night and by the time we were dropped off inside the venue it was already dark. Finding an appropriate spot to camp was not easy, in addition to being dark there were already many thousands of people there and a lot of the decent spots had been taken.
But a decent spot was eventually found. Once we had pitched the tents it was time to go for a little wander and do some exploring, and that is when my mind really started to boggle. Before that point I had not seen any features of the venue, but after taking one short walk around I had come across a plethora of visual stimuli that was capturing my imagination in a big way.
Exploring the venue
We had a look at the Dance Temple and the Alchemy Circle (the two main dance floors). We walked past the Chill-Out Gardens and spent a bit of time at the wonderfully eclectic and interesting flea market. And everywhere in between we would stumble across another mesmerizing art installation, complex miniature labyrinth, expertly manicured garden or intricate laser display to feast our eyes upon.
The whole place is scattered with eye candy of that ilk, everywhere you look there is something new that you haven’t seen yet. It kept happening all week, even after having been there for five full days I was still finding new nooks and crannies with extraordinary sights to behold. One of my favourites were these Jellyfish made of recycled plastic cups, hanging from bamboo poles. They had LEDs in them which created a gyrating bubble-like design on the ground at night; it kind of induced a feeling of being underwater. Needless to say, it looked rather incredible.
At one point we found a little wooden hut, my mate opened the door which led to a staircase heading down. At the bottom of the stairs I found myself underground, surrounded by trippy distorting mirrors, LED lights and flashing images among a couple of separate tunnels in what can only be described as a psychedelic mineshaft. At the other end was an exit leading up to an awesome three-storey tree house. Now, after telling you all that you might be thinking that’s where I must have had the most fun all week…and you would be right.
Music at Boom Festival
The music at the main dance floors only started on the Tuesday evening, so Monday served as our primary day at leisure. We spent most of it basking next to that glorious lake, taking the opportunity to get in some much needed R&R before the madness and debauchery of the next few days was about to unfold.
Despite the program not having begun, I loved being there for the full day on the Monday. My recommendation would definitely be to try get to Boom the day before the festival officially starts so you can have that full first day to relax, acclimatise to the conditions (which are pretty harsh), ensure you get as decent a spot to camp as possible and to maximise the amount of time you are able to spend there. Such a remarkable atmosphere becomes apparent immediately once you arrive, it simply is an environment worth being in for as long as possible.
The fact the music at the Dance Temple only started at 6 PM on the Tuesday resulted in what felt like a build-up of something, but I can’t quite put my finger on or describe exactly what it was. It certainly wasn’t tension or frustration, but you could definitely feel a kind of collective sense of edginess and impatience gradually accumulating as the day wore on.
I think this is why, for me personally, that first evening of action at the Dance Temple was possibly my favourite phase of the festival. Once the music started it felt like a giant relief valve had been opened and whatever it was that had been building up all day was being released in the most spectacular way. The energy it created in that place was just unreal, it was dreamlike bliss.
An organic trance band called Goayandi opened the Dance Temple, a group of highly skilled musicians indeed that make excellent use of Didgeridoos, Sitars and assorted percussion instruments but with all due respect, it’s not my favourite subgenre.
Dick Trevor, Outsiders and Hypnocoustics played that night and each act was exceptional, but the show was stolen by Altruism in my opinion. I had never heard of her or listened to her music, but I was still looking very forward to her set as my rationale was this: if you are invited to be the first DJ to play at the Dance Temple, you must be seriously good.
It turns out I had been downplaying it somewhat, she was far better than “seriously good”. I remember saying at the time that despite there being at least another 50 sets we were going to see that week, this one was going to be tough to beat. It’s obviously a subjective matter but that is exactly how it transpired, it might have had something to do with the incredible release and unreal energy I alluded to earlier, coupled with one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, but she landed up playing my favourite set of the whole festival. It was at this stage where I started to gain a full appreciation of what we were standing in. The main dance floor at Boom has appropriately been named “The Dance Temple”, and it really was a magnificent structure indeed.
Huge bamboo spires towered high above an elaborate material ceiling, flanked by impressively detailed archways on either side. Added to this were numerous installations attached to each archway, mind-blowing temporary architecture representing symbols of nature and the theme of this year’s edition of Boom. There was a giant head of a jaguar and an elephant, as well as an owl’s face. There was an octopus with vivid tentacles that entangled the archway it was affixed to. They all made for fascinating viewing indeed, but the real marvel at The Dance Temple were the four Venus Goddesses by Artescape.
In keeping with the theme of “The Feminine”, the primary feature of the Dance Temple were four massive installations comprising a female torso and head, paying homage to Venus, the goddess of love. There were two attached to each archway, one facing in towards the centre of the Dance Temple and the other facing out. Each one was slightly different, but all were equally as majestic and regal as the next. All this was capped off with a brilliantly designed stage and a captivating tentacular portal atop the material ceiling.
I like to think of it as a colossal psychedelic cathedral, and it truly was a breathtaking sight. It took on a new dimension altogether at night when the phenomenal visual mapping was added to the equation. The mapping was just insane; the most enchanting, otherworldly thing I have ever seen. In addition to that, once in a while the Goddess’s eyes would open up and have a look around.
I’m not really a fan of most of the music that was played at the Dance Temple at night, but in spite of that it was well worth spending quite a bit of time there just to take in the spellbinding craziness of it all. More words won’t really do it justice, there’s a video to go along with this review. It’s well worth the watch and will give you a better idea of the wizardry that was on display.
It came as an extremely pleasant surprise to me, but I had no idea how prevalent the South African influence at Boom would be. The last act to play at Boom, Shane Gobi, is South African. The Coca-Cola sold there is called “Ubuntu Cola”, a term that has its etymological roots in South Africa. The Dance Temple elements were conceptualised and designed by Daniel Popper, the painting and decor features were done by Carin Dickson and her Artescape team and Afterlife Visual Audio were responsible for much of the dazzling video mapping I referred to earlier.
All are South African, but more importantly all are virtuosos and seeing their exceptional work create magic that thousands of people from all over the world absolutely revelled in evoked many a genuine “Proudly South African” moment. Daniel, Carin, Wayne & Craig; take a bow and congratulations to you all for a job perfectly done!
It is due to creative talents such as these that the Psytrance scene in Cape Town has become one of the foremost in the world. In terms of quality, what I have encountered here compares quite favourably with what I saw over there. What truly blew my mind though, and what can’t be compared to anything over here, is the size and scale. The enormity of everything is just staggering. You could be standing fairly far back from the stage and the sea of people in front of you would be somewhere between 5 to 10 times bigger than a Cape Town trance party dance floor, then you would turn around and realise there are just as many people behind you.
Even the second dance floor, The Alchemy Circle, was gigantic. In terms of detail it didn’t incite quite as much wonderment as The Dance Temple, but it was still an awesome setup indeed. It was a massive circular structure that sort of looked like a miniature technicolour Millennium Dome, but with a huge curved entrance allowing a crowd of varying sizes to ebb and flow for the duration of the festival. On occasion the crowd there would reach enormous sizes, bigger than the majority of parties taking place in Cape Town.
The music at the Alchemy Circle was incredible, some of the best sets I saw all week were played there. I discovered some crazy new sounds and categorising most of what I heard into genres is tough, but I would say it was mainly techno, progressive techno, minimal, tech-house, glitch and progressive trance. Very little of it was standard or ordinary though, the outrageous styles and unusual fusions of electronic sounds created what felt like a weeklong celebration of musical innovation. Some of the artists from the Alchemy Circle who stood out were DJ James Monro, Twofold, D-Nox & Beckers, Marcel Fengler, Symbolic, Perfect Stranger (techno set), Uone, Manu and Extrawelt.
There were some other world class artists such as Cimi (aka M-Theory), Ticon & DJ Emok who played there. I would have loved to see them but unfortunately I missed their sets. I guess I could be forgiven though; they played on either the Saturday or Sunday and as tempted as I was to have been at the Alchemy Circle, there were pressing matters elsewhere that required my immediate attention…
We made it to the Dance Temple by about lunchtime on Saturday during the set of another artist I hadn’t heard of called Thatha. It turns out Thatha and Altruism is the same person, the different aliases denoting her DJ act and live act respectively. It should come as no surprise then that the wondrous sounds emanating from that herculean rig were whipping up a frenzy of note, although perhaps the fact Ace Ventura was due to play next had been the primary cause for everyone’s wild anticipation.
I reckon Ace Ventura was the biggest crowd puller on the line-up, as by the time he started at 2 PM tens of thousands had gravitated in droves towards the Dance Temple and the immense crowd was as big as it had been all week. It almost felt as if every single individual at Boom was there. He played for an additional 2 hours in what became a mammoth 5-hour set that had the place heaving, the longer it went on the more untamed people seemed to become. It was great to be a part of, but as special as Ace’s set was, the festival only reached its crescendo the following day.
Last day of Boom
The last day at Boom was simply momentous. The exceptional quality of music, the astonishing sense of togetherness, the resplendent full moon and the unrestrained jubilation of everyone all merged to create what had to have been the best day of many people’s lives.
I got to the Dance Temple at 11 AM, just as Shayman was finishing up his set. The sequence of events from then onwards consisted of Suntree, Zen Mechanics, Zentura, Sonic Species, Tristan, Avalon, Burn in Noise and Shane Gobi. If you had asked me beforehand to compile a list of the artists I would like to see play on the last day at Boom, I think it would be quite similar to that. Each act absolutely killed it, the music was just far too good. If I had to pick a set of the day, I’d probably have to go with Avalon.
Shortly after Boom, Sonic Species shared the following status on his Facebook page: “There was so much love in the air that I literally felt like I could almost reach out and touch it. The positive energy and power that we all created and shared during the closing session of Boom Festival’s Dance Temple was absolutely extraordinary! Apart from being the most uplifting and incredible experience of my career to date, that day, for me, will go down in history as one of the finest global trance moments of all time!”
I’m inclined to try tell you more, but I don’t think anyone could put it better than that. I also don’t think more words will really do it justice, you just had to be there to truly comprehend how epic it was to see +- 45 000 people experiencing the most joyous moment of their lives in that particular setting.
I know I’ve only mentioned the last day and the first evening, but those certainly weren’t the only two occasions when the music at the Dance Temple was great. It always was. Even though I don’t really enjoy the sounds of some of the artists who played there, I could still appreciate it because it felt like everyone was pulling out all the stops to ensure they delivered a set of deluxe quality. I got the sense that many of these artists view playing at Boom as an ultimate career highlight, a noteworthy pinnacle. Therefore, only A-games were brought.
Other than the sets I’ve already mentioned, some of my favourites were Skyfall, Vertical Mode, E-Clip, Ozzy, System 7, Perfect Stranger and Loud. There’s another artist who can be added to that list, but he’s an iconic figure who deserves a bit more than a short word in passing. He may not get the same recognition those currently in the limelight do, but the positive contribution Regan has made to global Psytrance is worthy of endless respect and admiration.
I’ve seen him play many times and thought I knew what kind of set I might see, but I was badly mistaken. The incredible musical journey he was able to take us on in the 3 hours he was invited to play for was unlike anything I’ve seen him do here in Cape Town. He started off upbeat and trippy but moved to groovier and funkier sounds as his set progressed. I really am attaching no kind of patriotic Capetonian bias to this, but objectively speaking, he played what I thought was one of the best sets of the festival.
More than a music festival
Another thing I should mention, which I didn’t fully grasp before, is that Boom is far more than a music festival. There were workshops, lectures, presentations, interactive talks, film screenings and discussion panels covering a broad spectrum of topics such as ecology, sustainability, relationships, love, science, music, art and quite a bit more. Led by knowledgeable and masterful speakers and held at a place called the Liminal Village, one of my regrets is not spending a bit more time there.
Visionary Art Museum
One place I did get to spend some time was the Visionary Art Museum, and for that I am extremely thankful. The gallery was presented by Android Jones, and I implore you to make those the next two words you type in Google’s search bar should you be unfamiliar with his work. The mind-blowing psychedelic images seemed to almost to distort my perception of reality, at times it felt like what I was looking at couldn’t possibly be real. I spent a little over an hour in that gallery, and another one of my regrets is not spending a lot more time there.
While I’m on the subject of regrets, I do have one more. There was a dance floor directly adjacent to the lake right on the other end of the venue called Funky Beach, I didn’t manage to get there at all but apparently it was as awesome as the name makes it sound. Having not been there, I am obviously unable to tell you how it was from firsthand experience, but the pictures and videos I’ve seen have certainly given credence to the good things people have told me.
I managed to make it to the Healing Area for a little while, a tranquil and sacred place where one could go to genuinely connect with oneself. A vast array of alternative medicines, therapies and practices were on offer. Meditation, yoga, pujas, ancient rituals, therapeutic massages, acupuncture and the like were all available for whoever desired to partake. I didn’t participate in anything but I did spend an hour or so there one evening to chill in a beautiful little garden and watch the sunset, and I definitely left there feeling a greater sense of serenity than the one I had when I arrived.
Another amazing aspect about Boom is the festival’s ecological vision. It is one of the greenest festivals on the planet, and has deservedly won numerous awards to reflect their significant successes when it comes to ecology and sustainability. All the water used for the showers and kitchens is returned in its purest form to its natural source thanks to revolutionary water treatment techniques. All of the buildings and structures are made from materials such as straw, bamboo, mud and clay that leave little to no trace on the land. It’s a testament to how well the land is cared for that today, three months after Boom, the arid terrain has been replaced by an unbelievable abundance of lush greenery.
What is important to bear in mind is that despite all I have told, it doesn’t scratch the surface of what I saw and experienced during that wonderful week in Portugal. No words, pictures or videos could ever truly illustrate the magical wonders that occurred at Idanha-a-Nova. My levels of enjoyment were constantly increasing as the next entrancing sight or sound would fantastically reveal itself.
If you’ve taken the time to peruse this account, my one hope is that it will assist in convincing you that Boom Festival is simply one million percent worth making the pilgrimage to at some stage in your life. It will take a lot of time, commitment and dedication in planning for, and no little financial input. But think of it as a life-enhancing investment from which there are only gains to be made.
I’d like to end off by wholeheartedly thanking every single individual who contributed to providing that heavenly world for us to live in for a short, but extremely blissful, while. There are far too many to mention by name but to all the organisers, artists, workshop leaders, speakers, restaurant staff, bartenders, cleaning staff, security and anyone else who had a role to play, just know that I (and many, many others) will be eternally grateful for the love and devotion that went into creating that spectacular, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing experience. Obrigado Boom, I’ll see you again soon!