Indietracks is always special. This year’s festival? Even more so. The fifth summer Indietracks (29th-31st July) was not only able to confidently assert its most diverse array of artists to date, but it seems as if now, half a decade into existence, the event really has established as loyal and enthusiastic a crowd as any music festival could possibly boast. This will come as no surprise to the fervent indiepop flock. No surprise either to the Indietracks team; over to Emma Hall, indiepop enthusiast and festival publicist:
“Numbers have improved each year. It was apparent just by looking around the festival that the Friday in particular has become more popular. There have been lots of reports this year of summer festivals suffering but thankfully Indietracks seems to have been unaffected.”
And so, if 2011 will go down as the year that the festival bubble burst, Indietracks will be one of very few success stories. Indietracks: the Germany to V Fests’ Greece? OK, a little OTT, but nevertheless the quirky and anti-corporate originality of Indietracks is very much in the ascendency. Reasons? Emma gives kudos to the staff:
“The railway staff always work extremely hard, but in the last couple of years we’ve noticed huge changes in the efficiency of the running the festival and, this year in particular, the planning leading up to it. We had a few technical problems this year which may not have been dealt with so smoothly did we not have such a good relationship with the railway staff and volunteers!”
‘Hear, hear.’ The dedication of the staff, and of course the surroundings in which they work, are more than simply [brace yourself. . .] icing on top of a delicious cake; the railway and its workers give Indietracks its very identity, never mind the second half of its name. Deserving of a mention too are the wonderful staff at the Golden Valley camping site, where most of the revellers (including this one) pitched tents, slept, discarded mysterious black bogies (can anyone explain this widespread occurrence amongst campers!?), and danced nights away. Only the nearby geese were inhospitable (and vocally so, too!). But it’s the music what draws the folks in, and this year was no exception – names such as The Hidden Cameras, Edwyn Collins and Jeffrey Lewis luring the faithful as never before. In addition, with its most eclectic set of bands to boot yet – ranging from the synth pop of Athenian duo Berlin Brides to the multi-instrumentalism of Haiku Salut – there was never a dull moment at Indietracks 2011.
It’s no wonder the Friday was more popular this year. With crowd pleasing stalwarts Pocketbooks and superduo Jonny warming up for Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, Friday evening was far less of the festival prelude it has been in previous years. Indeed, Friday was one of the event’s big success stories, and Suburban Kids certainly hold up as one of the weekend’s main highlights. The Swedish twosome’s toe-tapping, inclusive pop – with influences ranging from electronica to polyrhythmic African music – almost seemed to be perfectly symbolic of what was to become an increasingly diverse weekend. With the organisers of London Popfest now on board, and what Emma Hall describes as the “less ‘twee’ direction indiepop is going”, the makeup of the weekend was indeed very different to previous Indietracks festivals. Suburban Kids With Biblical Names very much appealed to such changing sensibilities on that wonderful first night.�
Saturday’s early highlights included The Garlands, another Swedish band (there’s never a shortage of Scandinavians at Indietracks), whose pretty melodies rang out in the Indoor Stage (don’t call it a shed during festival hours!) mid-afternoon. Singer Christin Wolderth told me that they, like so many other performers over the weekend, managed to enjoy the festival among the punters either side of their set. Christin heaped praise upon Help Stamp Out Loneliness, Edwyn Collins, The Hidden Cameras and Peru (who played one of the three train slots on Saturday afternoon) in particular. After The Garlands, The Wendy Darlings – self-proclaimed “professional amateurs” – exhibited indiepop at the other end of the spectrum. Pretty melodies remained intact, but with barbed garage guitars juxtaposing the subtle and harmonious nuances, the French band served up one of the wildest performances of the weekend. Then came the rare spectacle of a live outing from the seven-piece Butcher Boy. Unfortunately the set had to be cut short, with the crowd missing out on newie “I Am The Butcher” and oldie “This Kiss Will Marry Us”. John Blain Hunt, singer and songwriter, suffered a similar fate later in the evening when the main Outdoor Stage’s broken generator (more on that later. . .) resulted in his indoor DJ set falling by the wayside to make way for live music. All in all though John remained upbeat, and declared “I think we did ourselves justice.” Too right they did; their set of intricate songs was one of the classiest and most uplifting of the weekend.
Following Butcher Boy on the Outdoor Stage, Help Stamp Out Loneliness provided the soundtrack to lots and lots of hot air balloons. The crowd waved, the band waved, and the little figures in the sky waved back. Despite ominous problems on stage foreshadowing the technical failures that were to shake up the evening’s line up, HSOL’s set was untarnished with the band rifling through song after song from their self-titled debut album. Then to a very different set in a very different location. Chris T-T’s acoustic gig inside the Church Stage was one of the weekend’s most memorable, full of anecdotal spirit and with a humorous dynamic between performer and audience. With pews full, T-T played in the packed church that he later dubbed a “gorgeous and unusual stage to find at a festival”. Set highlights included his comic rage about the “CUNTryside Alliance” – T-T’s staple live favourite “The Huntsman Comes a-Marchin’”. It too provided a gorgeous and unusual moment, with the pews bursting in unison “I’ve never been in favour of police brutality/But when the huntsman comes a-marchin’/Well give him one for me, officer, give him one for me.”It was a rousing and communal moment, and, for all the political earnestness, Chris T-T’s acoustic performance was one of the weekends most heart-warming.
Onto Saturday’s headline acts, and The Hidden Cameras’ impromptu acoustic set. That bust generator? Well, as disastrous as it was, it nevertheless gave us the real magic of not one but two sets from Joel Gibb’s collective, including the unplugged, acoustic outdoor set. A warming and spirited rallying call, the audience was completely in the palm of Gibb’s hands, hanging off of every soaring and ornate vocal flourish, enraptured. Their second came after Edwyn Collins, who – originally pencilled in to perform on the defunct Outdoor Stage – took to the Indoor Stage in emphatic fashion. Any set boasting Orange Juice classics “Rip It Up” and “Falling And Laughing” is going to be a hit with such a devoted crowd, inexorably well-versed in all things 1980s, while his impressive new material was greeted with equal enthusiasm. He closed with that song; y’know, the one with that riff. It was rip-roaring, and his band fired on all cylinders. Afterwards, we were treated to Joel Gibb and co.’s second performance, this time plugged in. “It’s hard to follow Edwyn Collins, but we’re going to try” announced Gibb. ‘Try’ they did; the accidental headliners even took to playing blindfolded. Hearing Gibb’s iconoclastic vocal delivery in both acoustic and electric settings across one evening was a real treat; with Edwyn Collins sandwiched in the middle, Saturday night at Indietracks was a truly remarkable experience. (Ergo, praise be to technical failures!)
After the likes of A Fine Day For Sailing (whose fitting summertime reverie “Orange Crate Imagination” must be one of songs of the weekend) and the fun fun fun Papa Topo, Mat Palatano gave us Sunday’s, and therefore the festival’s, final train gig. The Specific Heats frontman, in fine voice, delivered a crowd pleasing set, and, as the train bumped along, even attempted some risky solos on his acoustic. The carriage was tightly packed, and he didn’t disappoint the expectant gathering. After huddled train-goers departed from the station, many went in the direction of the main Outdoor Stage to see Sloppy Joe, whose set included a jubilant cover of Aztec Camera’s classic “Obvious”. Later on outdoors, Zipper caught the indiepoppers by the fuzz with their distorted guitars bursting along to sweet, evanescent songs. Quite a contrast, back indoors with Berlin Brides; at previous Indietracks, their synth driven sound would have seemed a little out of place amidst the twee, but at this year’s festival their leftfield influences fitted right in with the changing nature of the festival. Just as Saturday begot a couple of precious surprises, Sunday too had its fair share, namely inside the Merch Tent. Stacked with trinklets, clothes and records (loads n loads n loads of Fortuna Pop!: The Butterflies of Love, Airport Girl, The Lucksmiths, Comet Gain, et al), the large marquee provided, for much of the festival, a place to be lackadaisical, careless and free from the hassle of getting to the best spot to see the band (what am I talking about? there’s no hassle at Indietracks, at any point); a place to indulge in vinyl records and all things knitted. Sunday, however, saw the tent taken over by MJ Hibbett, who was rapturously received, with “The Lesson Of The Smiths” getting the full sing-along treatment (back and forth banter with the audience ensued), and later on by Jyoti Mishra, a.k.a. the late 90s chart-smashing one-man band that is White Town.
To close the Indoor Stage, a stellar double bill of New Yorkers: Jeffrey Lewis with his band The Junkyard, and Crystal Stilts. First off, Jeffrey Lewis (who I met later: he was incredibly gracious and signed three programs for me and my gang; he’s a comic book artist too, dontchyaknow, so his doodles were fucking ace) delivered everything you would expect. Talkative and witty, and backed by a band that included David from headline act Herman Dune, Lewis rattled through a succinct set featuring the hilarious and hugely popular “Mosquito Rap” (“it’s not all right to be givin’ me a bite”) as well covers such as Sonic Youth’s “100%” and his tuneful version of “End Result” by Crass (consonance and eloquence added to rage and intellect). Crystal Stilts were as exquisitely and energetically lugubrious live as on record. From Brad Hargett’s menacing baritone vocal to Keegan Cooke’s militant drums and Kyle Forester’s kaleidoscopic keys, the band’s dynamism shook the Indoor Stage to the core with songs from the recent “In Love With Oblivion” album making up the bulk of their tight set.
With no repeat of Saturday’s technical hitch, the Indietracks faithful got their Sunday night headliners, and good lawd do Herman Dune know how to put on a rock show. With real hard bluesy licks, paroxysmal guitar noise and a relentless rhythm section, John Peel’s old favourites delivered a no frills performance that was more indierock than indiepop. Joined briefly by the Lewis brothers Jeffrey (returning the favour) and Jack, Herman Dune rampaged through a career spanning set, elatedly closing the festival. Just as Indietracks got rocking (hard), it was all over for another year. Well, save for the disco(s). Indietracks 2011 was everything you’d expect and a whole lot more.
P.S. the vegetarian stall [signature dish: the ‘Buddha Burger’] had the best ketchup ever; it actually tasted of real tomatoes, as opposed to plastic.
P.P.S. Final thoughts from those who made the festival:
“Each year we see the Midland Railway site looking smarter and new buildings going up, and it’s great to know that Indietracks has done its bit towards that.” – Emma Hall.
“We really enjoyed Edwyn! Mostly though we enjoyed just being at the festival – walking around, the warmth, the weather. The location is wonderful – the venues themselves, but also the geography and the nearby towns. I love going to England and seeing red brick! Seeing the flowers in people’s gardens, and the vegetables. It seemed there was a lot of that!” – John Blain Hunt, Butcher Boy man and Glasgow man.
“Indietracks was amazingly cool. It was the first time we’d ever played in the UK, so we had no idea what to expect. My favourite description I read recently is that “Indietracks is where these bands go to get the respect they always should have.” That’s such a lovely way to put it, and I love that Indietracks remains dedicated to promoting small bands. It was a total thrill to go there and get to play a big stage with hundreds of people who know the words to your songs. I also love that it’s big enough to feel like a proper festival, but still small enough that you run into 10 people you know just walking from one end of the grounds to the other. It’s all very family-friendly and everyone — from the staff to the bands to the fans – was so nice and welcoming. 100% hipster-free! The setting with the trains and countryside really tops it off. I expected it to be awesome from everything I’d heard, but now I really get it.” – Charles Bert, Math and Physics Club.
“I had the best time, largely because all those schmindie types are so sweet. Fantastic curry too. I was gutted to miss all the Sunday stuff”. – Chris T-T, who had to hit the road on Saturday night.
“It’s not like any other festival, in any way” – Christin from The Garlands. Spot. On.