Boomtown: The City of Roots and Reggae

As Boomtown continues to grow in popularity, so does the demand for more elaborate stages, bigger acts and more to explore. Boomtown is a land of escape, excitement and curiosity, It’s a chance to open your mind, let your creativity thrive and your legs jive to the incredible selection of acts on this years bill. But whether you see yourself as a decadent dweller seeking out the grandeur of Mayfair or as an avid explorer in search of new sounds in DSTRKT 5, the city would falter were it not for the dedication and hard work of its organisers year on year.

Boomtown has made a name for itself as one of the best roots and reggae festivals in the world with and of course, any festival so highly affiliated with roots culture need to ensure that excited festival goers are not gonna be be let down by set ruining sound restrictions and the absence of impacting bass. For any dub head, the sound system is as integral to the set as the music they’re playing; without those punching bass hits and moments of complete weightlessness, it’s easy to think a set is lacking something.

In charge of one of the most important aspects of the festival is musical mastermind Kaptin Barrett whose job as programmer means it’s his decision to book the acts that steal the show. Last year the likes of Fat Freddy’s Drop, Damian Marley and Madness headlined and this year’s line up yet again is second to none. I caught up with Kaptin to discuss what to look out for in Chapter 9, why Boomtown is so grounded in roots and the importance of sound system culture at festivals.

When deciding which festivals to go to, do you think people take into consideration which sound systems are gonna be there?

Some people do for sure, there are certain sound systems that people trust implicitly and so if they see them on a line up then it will definitely sway their decision.  Also many festivals are simply a bringing together of different groups and communities, there are still sound systems that have these communities grow around them, though less so than previously I feel.  

Why do you think boomtown has become synonymous with roots music and sound system culture?

Because sound system culture is our roots, certainly for many people in the family.  Whether that be reggae sound systems, jungle sound systems or techno sound systems, they lay a large part of the foundations of what we’ve grown into.  As far as roots music, that’s a term that is applied to both reggae and folk music, but both when done well, speak to something deep within, something real and we make a point of bringing the realest artists we know to the festival.  

How do you go about choosing which sound systems to use?

It all depends, many sound systems apply to be part of the festival, and some get involved by putting together ‘street venues’ where they come up with often outrageous, but always interesting ideas that help to form part of our story and that fit into the district we put them in.

I should probably explain there for people who don’t know that we build a whole pop up city with different districts representing different types of music and atmospheres.  Within that there’s a theatrical storyline that pulls the festival together and drives it along, so when you come to the festival you actually become a character in the story.  Not all of them are theatrical though, we have a great Dub Reggae area in the woods called Tangled Roots which is solely focused on the music really and that’s a combination of Unit 137, Lionpulse Sound and Qualitex Sound System, we also have street parties where sound systems set up their rigs just like any other city street party.  

Do you think people care more about quality of sound or size of the stage?

It’s different for different people.  There’s something quite awe inspiring about standing in front of epic stages such as Bang Hai or Sector 6  and listening to your favourite DJ – but some people just need a set of speakers with quality music and quality sound and they’re good for hours.  Of course we try and ensure that all of our stages have quality sound regardless of size.

What do you think makes a good sound system?

People who really care.

Why do you think love of sound system culture is so prevalent at boomtown?

Mainstream culture is often built on selfishness whilst sound system culture was built on respect for the people, bringing people together and unifying them.  Although there has often been competition in the culture it’s ultimately built on love and people can really feel that, even if they can’t quite put their finger on it.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

Seeing people’s faces as they walk around the city, it’s always my favourite part.  

Which area do you think has the strongest line up?

They’re all so different – you can’t really compare the jazz in Whistler’s Green to the Drum N Bass in Dstrkt 5 but I’d like to think they’re all strong.

Do you have a favourite sound system? If yes, why?

Not really, I love so many for different reasons.  This is the first year we’ve not had Mungo’s Hi-Fi either as DJs, live or full sound system though and I’m definitely missing not having them there already.

Sound systems are now widely used across all genres, but do you think they’re at their best when they’re playing what they were designed for, dub etc?

As the music changes so do the sound systems, so different ones are often suited best to the music the operators love the most.  

What up and coming artists/sound systems should we be looking out for?

Artist wise I’d say keep an eye out for younger Jamaican artists such as Raging Fyah, Jah9, Protoje, Jesse Royal, Runkus and Iba Mahr because musically Roots Reggae from Jamaica is in a great place right now.  Sound system wise I’ll be playing on Electrikal both as AAA Badboy on Thursday and Big Swing Sound on Sunday, but the lineup is strong for those guys both days so keep an eye out for them.

words by Hannah Rooke

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