Still my favourite festival. I can’t see that changing either.
Dates: 26, 27 and 28 July
Venue: Midland Railway Centre, Derbyshire
It may not be the sun-dappled opening to Indietracks that we’ve enjoyed in previous years, as the gloomy drizzle makes the grassy banks in front of the main stage a treacherous, greasy place to view Friday’s three bands, but at least the music quality makes up for the inclement weather.
Fever Dreams open the festival with a 7pm slot on the outdoor stage, the stage for the trio of bands on opening night. They fizz and crackle like a firework packed with sherbert, exploding into fuzzy punk and whizzing alt-rock. Their echoic sound – aided by a stiff wind – ricochets off the assembled wagons and engines stage left. And if you’re wondering what’s meant by that, you ought to know that Indietracks is set on a preserved railway in the middle of lush, green Derbyshire, where over the course of the weekend steam trains will carry passangers – and live music – along the three-mile track and all manner of railway-related activities will take place.
However, there’s not much train spotting do enjoy just yet. Friday night is all about the music; the festival’s opening gambit and a brief taster of what to expect.
So with your geography lesson out of the way, up next, rather aptly, are The School.
This 8-piece mix Motown with a cute keyboard-led pop mentality, producing a rounded sound that, with violins, trumpets, glockenspiel and guitars, hints at indie-folk behemoths Belle & Seb having beers with The Ronettes.
Headlining opening night are Cinerama, the ‘side project’ of David Gedge, The Wedding Present frontman and lover of movies. Cinerama began in 1998, when Gedge and his then wife decided to create art out of their love of the big screen and so created a filmic diversion to the Wedding Present’s more earthy schtick. The resulting alchemy was a silver screened, cinematic swirl of pop-noir and experimental soundtracks to imaginary films which is perfect as the light fades and the chill in the air sharpens.
On Saturday, the sun comes out. Typical, as the majority of the best music in the afternoon is in the ambient engine shed. From the thrash punk of Athens, Georgia-based boy/girl guitar and drums duo Eureka California, to St. Louis mature alt-rockers Bunnygrunt via London’s Feature – an all-girl QOTSA-shaped grunge machine who weave malevolent harmonies through a doomy chug-fest – Saturday afternoon is best undercover.
Meanwhile outside, one of the biggest crowds of the day witnessed a steamroller crushing empty beer cans. There will be more videos of that on You Tube than the bands!
Elsewhere Mammoth Penguin play their astute and learned indie-pop to a relaxed crowd on the main stage. The band’s singer, Emma Kupa, is a busy girl, as she plays a solo set in the church too, for which the queue is ridiculous snakily.
While they provide the sun-drenched soothing early evening soundtrack, Tigercats maintain this mood in the shed with swooning pop and a beguiling Afro-beat patchwork quilt with shared male and female vocals. Indie uber Lord Darren Hayman from esteemed indie projects such as Hefner joins them, providing saxophone to the lolling loveliness (he plays sax super sub for Emma Kupa’s gig in the church, too).
On the main stage, as the sun glares over the train yard at Swanwick Junction, and as a brisk breeze prompts punters to don outer garments for the first time today, LA-based punk-noir femme fatale Coleen Green thrashes her guitar and plays to a digital soundtrack of Carter USM-like drum loops and pits herself as some sort of one-woman Sleater Kinney, resplendent in a simple white t-shirt, short denim shorts, a navy cardigan and, of course, designer shades. She’s both sexy and assured.
Headlining the indoor stage are indier than indie itself, The Wave Pictures; an eccentric, esoteric threesome with songs brimming with brilliance and with topics as bonkers as marmalade sculptures. They are, quite simply, tunesmiths that deserve a lot more recognition. Take Seagulls, it too taking a hint from Tigercats and discovering its inner Paul Simon as the crowd hollor back “You’ve got a lot of nerve” as afrobeat swirls around the shed. These guys should, by rights, be headliners.
Instead, that accolade goes to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. They fuse sparkling melodies with bolder, widespread indie-pop and actually prove rightful headliners.
Saturday’s sunshine has been replaced be Sunday’s inclement weather; a drizzle that sees the outdoor stage resemble an umbrella party.
What better way to escape the rain than watch unbilled acts play unplugged and acoustic in the merch tent? Allo’ Darlin’s moustachioed Bill Botting plays with his sister, entertaining blurry eyed punters with his sweet laments. His last song, a cover of Paul Simon’s Graceland, is drowned out by the sound of Colour Me Wednesday on the main stage, whose lead singer looks and sounds like Lily Allen, minus the anti-establishment rhetoric. Her band, meanwhile, back her with bouncy DIY pop-punk which makes us forget all about the terrible weather. Their cover of Bryan Adams and Mel C’s When You’re Gone is a particular highlight.
Another way to escape the persistent wetness is to board a train – either diesel or steam hauled – and watch a band play in a carriage. On the diesel-hauled 16:10 from Swanwick Junction, Michealmas cram a drum and three guitars into the tiny space in front of a seated audience. It’s this type of uniqueness which makes Indietracks one of a kind.
Back outside, there’s something of a C86 revival going on, with The Darling Buds. They’re a cult band and a real coup for Indietracks having only recently decided to get back together, while in the engine shed, there’s a chaotic and raucous garage rock sound coming from all-girl trio The Tuts, who, with both Asian and Caribbean members, impart an anti-racist rallying cry between songs which ties in nicely with this festival’s ‘No Discrimination’ ethos. They cover the Spindoctors’ Two Princes before ending their energetic set with a welcomed stage invasion from Colour Me Wednesday.
Stereolab were a much-loved, often influential band of the 90s. Leatitia Sadier was part of that band, and now forges a solo career out of her sophisticated avant-pop and Gallic charm. She and her backing band make a mysterious, distinctly French sound, and she sings in her native tongue. It’s mesmerising stuff.
Other methods of keeping dry are taking part in a workshop (everything from making bunting, karaoke and even speed dating) and of course checking out a band in the site’s tin tabernacle church.
Frida and Ale play their quixotic dream-pop in there. They’re a multinational band made up of Italians, a Norwegian and a Swede (Frida) who, with a dry wit, a terrible dress sense (think an ill-dressed white females rapper) are utterly compelling. They play bittersweet indie-pop songs with an upbeat tone but a deep seated melancholy. They are, by virtue of their oddities, brilliant.
During their set it was announced that the remainder of the outside schedule is to be moved inside as the rain gets increasingly heavier.
First of the rescheduled acts is Euros Childs. Following 15 years of leading Welsh psych underachievers Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci through the harsh indie underworld – save for brief and sporadic spells of success just outside the top 40 (never actually in it, mind) – Euros Childs has been reborn a strengthened songwriter of purist folky wonk-pop.
With a full band bolstering his uplifting, wide-eyed tales, he weaves his velveteen vocals over subtle piano-heavy folk-pop/neo-psychedelia expertly. Superb stuff.
Martha have a huge underground – and ever expanding – fan base, a lot of whom are in attendance tonight. Unlikely to bother Greg James on the top 40, they don’t care one jot. Their punk is constructed via a DIY, organic ethos; a ‘screw the mainstream’ attitude. With some belting impassioned and concise tunes built on crushing guitars and pummelled drums – all performed in their thick County Durham accents – they overcome initial sound issues to triumph in the darkness (the lighting is atmospherically noir to say the least).
There’s even a comedic interlude, as buddies and Indietracks heroes The Spook School are invited onto the stage to destroy Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. It’s incongruous but genius in equal measures.
It’s doubtful there’s ever been a better party band than The Go! Team. This frenetic, 12-legged ball of energy generates more power than the National Grid and party like no other.
Exuberant leader Ninja is like Jamelia torn between hip-hop, pop, funk and Martian jazz (probably). Her energy is relentless.
Their delirious fusion of hip-pop beats, funk grooves, rock guitars and pop sensibilities compels even the most placid of onlookers to wiggle their derrieres.
Their sunshine pop is perfect for the soggy day we’ve witnessed. And with that, Indietracks is over for another year.
Wet, sunny, and then extremely wet. Whatever the weather, this festival is a joyous riot of colour, friendship and character. Indietracks celebrates its 10-year anniversary next year. May it never end.