Missed hitting the festivals this summer? What? So you didn’t go BOOM in Portugal? The hippest, most eco friendly (it is supposed to have a zero carbon footprint) festival in Europe? Well, lucky for us, our Adam Wallace went and has returned to tell us all about it.
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Some reflections on Boom 2014.
Boom is a week long, psy-trance festival held bi-annually in Portugal. Boom sells 25,000 tickets in advance, and there are likely several thousand who bunk into the site one way or another, [the security fence is nothing like the Berlin Wall style construction which surrounds Glastonbury’s site], which is about the fifth the number who go to the money-festival which Glastonbury has become. Boom’s site is also much, much larger than Glasto, which makes for a much more chilled out atmosphere. The Boom site is also run on permaculture principles, making use of things like compost toilets, which recycle all the shit from the festival goers into soil for use on the farm site, as well as solar energy and recycled materials to build the stages and other structures.
The festival takes place at a truly beautiful site around one side of a large freshwater lake at Idanha-a-Nova, in Castelo Branco, in central Portugal. The site is ringed by small sun-baked hills covered with oak and olive trees, which just adds to the sense of tranquility and positive energy. Its divided into several sections, according to the activities going on there, but wherever you are on the site, you are no more than a few minutes from being able to strip off and dive into the cool, refreshing lake water, which was an absolute essential for those of us from Northern Europe, unused to the intensity of the Portuguese afternoon sun!
To my somewhat psychedelic-ly influenced eyes, the arrangement of the Boom site seemed to mirror the transformational spiritual journey which is so much part of the ethos of the festival. We Are Love was the slogan of Boom 2014. At one end of the site was Funky Beach, where people seemed to spend the day drinking expensive cocktails and swimming in the lake, then moving around the shore you passed through the Liminal Village, which hosted lectures and discussion groups on a range of subjects from reforming the drug laws to communal living.
Next was the Alchemy Tent and Dance Temple, which pumped out a constant beat of psy-trance music, [apart from a special guest appearance of Anoushka Shankar, which was exquisitely beautiful to listen to], and which was where most of the dealers selling substances were operating. Moving on past the psychedelic experience, you came to the other end of the site, where there was the Sacred Fire and Healing Area, as if those who had experienced altered states of consciousness could find ways to make the transformation for the psychedelic state more permanent through meditation and other spiritual practices.
The 2001 decision to decriminalise drugs in Portugal created a completely different atmosphere, and response to substance use, within the festival site.
The 2001 decision to decriminalise drugs in Portugal created a completely different atmosphere, and response to substance use, within the festival site. There was no overt police presence on site at all, [during the week I was there I the only time I saw police they were driving through the site in a car], although during the talk on drug reform at the Liminal Village tent, it was said that the police had targeted known dealers off-site in order to avoid the need for a presence on site. Some festival goers I spoke with were happy with this arrangement, as in 2012 the festival was flooded with cocaine, which had resulted in a rash of thefts across the site as many resorted to robbing other festival goers tents to raise money for more coke.
Apart from the lack of visible police presence targeting drug users, the most interesting, and obvious differences to any similar gathering in the UK were to be found in the CheckIn and Kosmicare tents. Kosmicare was a dedicated space aimed at providing among other things, a safe and supportive environment anyone experiencing a difficult and intense reaction to any substances they may have consumed. The volunteers working their were also trained in First Aid and there was an on site hospital which could provide emergency medical care. Working alongside Kosmicare were the CheckIn, whose volunteers manned a stall which offered harm reduction advice on commonly used substances, answering questions from festival goers, and giving out advice pamphlets in several different languages, condoms, packs of two disposable tubes for snorting powders, condoms and ear-plugs. Most significantly CheckIn also ran a substance testing service, usually from 8pm until midnight. People would give a small portion of the substance they had bought, [one quarter of a standard LSD blotter was sufficient, or a small fragment of any tablet], which would then be tested, and the results revealed to the individual two hours later.
Sensibly, CheckIn did not publish lists stating whether certain pill or blotter designs had proven to be MDMA, LSD or otherwise, as in many cases, the same designs tested positive for different substances. However, “Alert” notices were soon appearing across the festival site that DOX and NiBOME had been discovered in samples of supposed LSD, that these substances could cause psychedelic states of between 36-72 hours depending on the dose taken, and that they take up to 3 hours before any effect began. Kosmicare volunteers said they had cases where people had taken a tab of DOX or NiBOME, and when they had felt no effect after an hour, they had taken another, and even a third one an hour later, just as the first one began to take effect. Although they did not state what tab designs had tested positive for these substances, individuals often added descriptions to the Alert warnings, saying things like “Asterix and Fractal tabs”. Personally, these warnings meant that I was very cautious when consuming any psychedelics, taking them for testing, or seeking out mushrooms rather than LSD.
“volunteers provided valuable harm reduction activities, which went a long way towards helping people make safer choices when it came to consuming substances.”
Boom 2014 was a fantastic festival. The energy throughout the week was truly uplifting and positive, the setting beautiful, with so many things available to participate in or see, that it is impossible to describe them all here. Without doubt, the decriminalisation of drugs in Portugal contributed to the relaxed atmosphere. There was none of the usual police activity targeting drug users which goes on at similar festivals in other countries, and without any doubt the activities of the Kosmicare and CheckIn volunteers provided valuable harm reduction activities, which went a long way towards helping people make safer choices when it came to consuming substances.
It’s a sad reflection on the state of European drug policy that in most other EU countries testing services like CheckIn would, sadly, be considered illegal, and in some cases, [for example in the UK], where they have been attempted, have resulted in the event being shut down.
Written by Adam Wallace