Indietracks 2016 – festival review
29-31 July 2016
Midland Railway Centre, Derbyshire
Celebrating its tenth year the small and perfectly formed Indietracks welcomed Saint Etienne, The Spook School and The Aislers Set to Derbyshire to headline alongside a plethora of greats old and new.
Sarah Lay and Pete Darrington hopped aboard the indiepop express to report.
We know where we are, can look down the track and across the fields to a childhood home, and yet we somehow feel out of time and place as we stand on the platform at Swanwick Junction and prepare ourselves for Indietracks 2016.
We talk about the history of the station – the WWII POW apprehended nearby, a grandparent who worked this part of the line, the failed teenage romance with the girl who kept her horses at the farm across the way. The site is still quiet with an hour before the opening act and as we stare at a selection of owls and parrots, sipping on strawberry cider we try and ground ourselves in the moment; admiring tote bags and a Taylor Swift / Sonic Youth t-shirt, a dazzling array of stripes stark through the dust from the cinder tracks.
Each year it seems an equal mix of magic and madness that this festival appears at the volunteer-run Midland Railway Centre to celebrate a scene which is tight knit and insular and yet friendly and welcoming to all. The sun is shining as this musical tribe get ready to celebrate their tenth year festivalling together and across the weekend there is the satisfaction of favourite acts performing as you hope, the delight of newly discovered great bands and the warm glow of being part of this utterly special something spun up from nothing but passion each year.
Friday night at Indietracks
by Pete Darrington
It’s a daunting task, kicking off a festival. It’s friday evening, people are still arriving, many of us are still ruminating over what a crappy day we had today in 9-to-5 land. The Indie kids have barely had time to check out each other’s pin badge collections or who’s got the most ironic Taylor Swift t-shirt.
I’m desperate to see Nervous Twitch, but more importantly, I’m desperate for others to see this band and so as Erin, Jay and the rest of the gang gingerly saunter out on to the stage, I feel like I’m the only guy there. Come on you people! You can choose a pair of Hello Kitty sunglasses later!
But Nervous Twitch have been super smart. They were ready for this. They don’t wait for the audience to get their shit together. Instead, with a couple of nods and knowing smiles they crack straight into Baby I’m Bored from their Modern World EP; unleashing their signature blend of trashy garage rock meets sassy punk pop on an unsuspecting field full of strawberry cider sipping skinny jeans and flowery dresses.
The Song is barely two minutes long but it’s enough to stop a couple of thousand people in their indie tracks (see what I did there?) and immediately swarm towards the stage. Yes! I breathe a huge sigh of relief but they don’t pause for breath as they launch straight into So Rock n’ Roll, the opening track from their current album Don’t Take My TV.
The kids are more than alright. The kids are loving it. Nervous Twitch are the perfect antidote to shitty-week-at-work blues. These Indietracks organisers know exactly what they’re doing. Dancing breaks out for the ‘Shangri-La’s on acid’ clatter of Johnny’s Got A Gun and beacon-in-electric-blue frontwoman Erin visibly relaxes – she knows they’ve just hit it out the park.
From here on in it’s plain sailing (or should that be railing?) as the band power through a broad selection of sing along anthems that pretty much span their entire (and frankly awesome) back catalogue.
“This modern world can get you down” Erin cries as their set comes to a triumphant climax. Yes it can, but Heaven’s to Betsy, Nervous Twitch just fixed that.
It’s a wander around the site before headliners The Spook School take to the stage just after sunset. Jeez I hate these guys. They’re young. They’re good looking. They’re funny, they’re socially switched on, they write practically perfect slabs of two minute power pop which they perform with such verve and flawless precision it makes me cross. How can a band this young be this good? They own the stage, they work the audience. They look like they’re having the time of their lives. They all sing. Even their guitars match, for crying out loud. It’s infuriating. Front boy Nye casually and confidently talks to several thousand strangers about what it’s like to come out as transgender in public. That takes guts.
Apart from Binary I know absolutely nothing of this band’s output and it 100% doesn’t matter one jot. Every song wraps its friendly arms around you and affectionately tells you ‘here comes the killer chorus and you’re going to love it’ – all within thirty seconds of the song starting. And, if in the unlikely event of you not liking this particular song, well that’s OK – The Spook School don’t mind, because there’ll be another one along in a minute or two that you definitely will.
The kick off with I Want to Kiss You and pretty much express train their way through every song from their two Fortuna POP! albums Try to Be Hopeful and Dress Up. Even their song titles are sassy as fuck, as I learn afterwards once I’ve acquired the jaw dropping twenty-song-long set list. Can You Ever Trust a Man Who Thinks Matt Damon’s Really Cool? being the best of all.
Naturally they go down like several bottles of fizzy alcopop leaving the audience dizzy for more, ending the night with the frantic handclapping middle eight’ed I’ll be Honest from their aforementioned first long player.
Jeez, I love these guys.
Saturday at Indietracks
by Sarah Lay
We’re late; we’re always late. But as my children bounce into the softly sprung seats of the First Class compartment on the waiting train and chatter excitedly about the Hogwarts Express I let the excitement of returning for day two of Indietracks bubble up. The sun is shining and as the train whistle sounds the wonderful warmth of this festival wraps around us. It’s time to indiepop.
Jessica and The Fletchers draw in a crowd to the indoor stage mid-afternoon, despite the allure of sunshine, owls and a steam roller crushing cans outside. The Barcelona-based C86 band cantor through a set full of jangling guitars that get the assembled crowd shuffling their feet on the dusty concrete floor. The industrial space suits the echoing vocals and the upbeat pop sends us all off out into the sunshine with smiles on our faces.
The crowd ebbs and flows between the two main stages on the small site and the tide now rises around the outdoor stage for Flowers. There seems to be a huge amount of space between the three band members on the stage but this only serves to give the tracks the room they need. Their delicate, ethereal pop floats across the sun-soaked crowd, an appreciative quietness as they watch.
There is a whisper of cool air as you enter the red corrugated walls of the on-site chapel and take a pew for the next act. But there is no referential silence or pious lowering of heads in front of this alter, as Two White Cranes (the name for Joanna Gruesome’s / Grubs’ Roxy Brennen’s solo output) lead us through a gentle set of tracks interspersed with light-hearted chat.
In bare feet, odd socks on the wooden floor, Roxy sways as she sings through a selection of songs from her Radisson Blue album. This is new folk, self-deprecating and humorous but with a touching honesty in the introspection. It is a set for friends old and new, a perfect haze of songs on this sunny day.
Back out in the open of the main stage Emma Pollock performs a chilled set from her solo albums, including this year’s In Search of Harperfield. The tracks from this are faithful to the record, an introspective and personal set of songs which are nevertheless approached with pragmatism. The nostalgic longing embedded in the songs doesn’t spill over into cloying sentimentality, and with the added humour between songs tonight the emotional resonance ripples out from the stage and through the crowd.
Today’s headliners Saint Etienne are a band that epitomise the Indietracks vibe; attention to the smallest detail but an unfettered exploration across genre, they are a quiet determination. Taking to the main stage on Saturday night they stand amongst the green and white giant balloons dotted about the stage and look out on a packed crowd, the last light of the day glimmering on the rolling stock stood on the line beside us.
They are all smiles as they work their way through the set, Sarah Cracknell a commanding front woman without needing to be overwhelming or brash. As they work their way through immense back catalogue they evoke the sense of their beloved London, the city past and present rising around us from the fields of rural Derbyshire. They are the quintessential Indietracks band and are a perfect Saturday night headliner.
A decade in Indietracks is a festival which knows its scene, knows its identity and while never standing still seems comfortable in its place. Defiantly independent, lovingly run and wonderfully nostalgic in setting and modernist in its line ups.
The short journey back down the track is, as always, bittersweet. My heart is full from another few days at this most wonderful festival, but its already longing to return next year.
All words and images by Sarah Lay and Pete Darrington.
Together they present The Rumble on Radio Andra each Tuesday night from 8pm including a pick of the week from Louder Than War. Tune in here or find the podcast here. They also run Reckless Yes – an independent record label and live promotion agency.