Capturing Cambridge
  • search
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Boomslang 

By Marcus Burton

There was no definite date of birth, it was more like the evolution a scene that came together in that moment.

Boomslang was a natural progression from years of organising underground parties across the Eastern region and London. Different groups of people had been putting on parties in St Neots; in Bedfordshire; in Cambridgeshire; on the beaches of Norfolk; at Glastonbury; and Thames boat parties as well as radio shows. There was no definite date of birth, it was more like the evolution a scene that came together in that moment. The main protagonists were Mr B (Marcus Burton), Vigi (Simon Taylor) and Big John (John Gardner).

Mr B

Vigi

Big John

In the late 1990s Mr B was running a ‘Nu Skool Breaks’ night called Subfunk with DRK (Kieron Chevli) at various Cambridge venues. ‘Nu Skool Breaks’, ‘Breakbeat’ or ‘breaks’ was a new sound that emerged towards the end of the big beat era, at the end of the 20th century. The Nu Skool Breaks sound had originated at a night called Friction run by Adam Freeland, Rennie Pilgrim and Tayo, held at Bar Rumba, (famous for its resident Drum n Bass night Movement) in the West End.

Vigi, originally from St Neots, came to a Subfunk night and soon started playing in the second room, while Mr B was invited to play at The Gangster Dolphin parties which Vigi and friends had been running in and around Bedfordshire. Vigi had also been hosting a radio show called ‘Something for the Weekend, Sir?’ playing out of the Red Studios, at the old Howard Mallet building in Cambridge. Vigi was playing deep-tech house but had been playing some breaks on his show so was naturally curious about Mr B’s sounds.

Subfunk put on three nights at the Junction in 1998 and 1999 and a couple in London, but it seemed to be a little ahead of the time for Cambridge tastes. On one Subfunk at the Junction, 500 or so party people turned  but not enough to make it a regular night. ‘Good Times’ was still the big Saturday night at the Junction. The breaks scene developed a little over the next few years, Vigi and Marcus started a new night, Subsonic which held parties in Nottingham, but also threw some big parties on the unlicensed party scene.

In 2003, Simon Holmes employed Mr B to manage Streetwise Music, a record shop in King Street and develop the Breaks selection in the shop and online. This rapidly grew and  Streetwise Music became one of the ‘go-to’ online shops for breaks vinyl and compiled the  breaks charts for the Cool Cuts magazine charts. At the same time, Vigi was making tunes with a couple of other local music geniuses e.g. Zero (Alex Sullivan) and Phlip (Phil Barry) and so a record label, Streetwise Recordings, was born. In 2004, Streetwise Recordings won the Breakspoll award for Best New Label for 2003/4.

In early 2004, the Junction announced that they would close for a major refurb. Paul Darking and Hoppo decided that they would hold their last Good Times before the Junction closed. Good Times had been running monthly for 10 years, so its ending was going to leave a big hole in the Cambridge club scene. Because of the success of some of the unlicensed events, Mr B and his friends decided to go legit and approached Robbie Tinkler at the Junction who offered them a trial first night on 23rd October 2004.

The Stanton Warriors were booked for this first night but there was no name yet for the night itself. One day, Mr B was watching a wildlife programme one night about dangerous snakes and the name of a deadly snake a ‘Boomslang’appeared on the screen. The snake wasn’t relevant but the name looked and sounded right and so that was that!

The first night had the Stanton Warriors as the main guest act; Mr B and Vigi were resident DJs;  Nectarios was the resident percussionist (he was also Vigi’s studio partner and fellow student on the music tech degree at ARU); and Zero played in the main room at the Junction. 900 people attended that first Boomslang, so the Junction gave the night a monthly slot from January 2005, on the last Saturday night of each month.

Nectarios

By the time Boomslang started, the Breaks scene had developed and was at its peak. Over the next few years all of the main players on the scene were booked as well as up and coming new acts. There were both DJs and live acts: headliners included Rennie Pilgrim (and Miss Chikaboo), Scratch Perverts; Utah Saints; Plump DJs; Krafty Kuts; Ellis Dee; Precision Cuts; Evil Nine; Mystery Jets; Fake Blood; Herve; Annie Mac; The Freestylers; TCR All Stars; Kissy Sellout; Audio Bullys; Tayo; Lee Mortimer; Sinden; Soul of Man; Coburn; Dumb Blonde; D. Ramiez; Hyper Live. Also central to the nights were the resident projection artist Rocket Vision; percussionist Bongo Ted; and Mark Housden from Laser Insanity. Artwork on the flyers came from Creative Pete and the resident photographers were Richard Unwin and Ricky Brooks.

In the upstairs room, local acts played different sets. The second room had a different sound with other local smaller acts and DJs playing: regulars such as DJ Largo, Andy Barlow, Glamrot. Local Cambridge techno upstarts The Priory (Sam I am, the Fish and George)  took over as residents of the upstairs room for a few years.

When Boomslang first started, DJs were playing vinyl on technics 1210’s; you could still smoke fags indoors; and the pubs would shut at 11 pm every night. By 2010,  DJs were playing digital files off USB sticks on CDJs and every now and again half the dance floor would disappear for a cigarette! The biggest distribution company for breakbeat vinyl, Intergroove went bust in 2008 because of the rise of digital technology and declining vinyl sales for Breakbeat artists. The small boutique festival scene boomed: off the back of Boomslang, in 2008 the Temple of Excess at the Secret Garden Party was born. However, other genres begun to appear and become more fashionable such as Dubstep, and so the Breaks scene in Cambridge appeared to have run its course.  Generally, party people wanted something different from what Boomslang at the Junction had offered.

That Girl DJ

In 2008 Vigi left to start a family and That Girl DJ took over as resident DJ. Mr B (and ‘Big’ John Gardner) had promoted Boomslang, but in June 2010  he decided to hang up his headphones. The Junction took over running Boomslang and it ran a few times  – but less frequently – until 2013.

‘Lost Nights and Love Songs’ is a Heritage Lottery funded project celebrating 30 years of The Cambridge Junction. www.junction.co.uk/lost-nights

Contribute

Do you have any information about the people or places in this article? If so, then please let us know using the Contact page or by emailing capturingcambridge@museumofcambridge.org.uk.