Before the polyester-clad, fringe and specs brigade pack their flower-print wellies and cord trousers and head up to Derbyshire for the annual twee-fest that is Indietracks, they’re treated to a week packed with gigs from some of the darlings of the scene.
Some are billed as pre-Indietracks gigs, to raise money for some of the bands who’ve travelled from overseas. Others are simply low-key warm ups, but at all of them there’s an air of excitement and enthusiasm for a scene that’s gathering strength with lightning speed.
Smack in the middle of the week comes an impressive line-up featuring some of the most eagerly anticipated bands due to play at the weekend. First up are fresh-faced Californian four-piece Antarctica Takes It. Looking like the geeky kids from Glee, they giggle as they tell stories of their first few days in London, and grin their way through a set of tracks taken mostly from their second album, Constellations, which is due out next month. Pint-sized singer Maria Schoettler casts the mic stand to one side, preferring to stand to the side of the stage, directly facing the audience and wiggling her way through the set, clutching on to the microphone. The new songs bring her voice to the forefront, and the likes of Try Try Try are melodic gems that sound more polished, without losing their DIY charm.
Fellow US popsters The Smittens are up next. A more lo-fi, all American take on twee, they’re a more studied, thought-through proposition. Where Antarctica Takes It felt spontaneous and giddy, they feel planned and composed. It’s no bad thing, but the enthusiasm in the room dips until headliners Allo Darlin’ take to the stage.
It’s been a month since their debut album was released and things are looking up for the London-based band. Singer Elizabeth Morris is moonlighting, playing guitar in Amelia Fletcher’s reformed Tender Trap, and, she excitedly tells us, the band is heading over to America soon. But to those who’ve spent the last four weeks bouncing around to their self-titled record, it will come as little surprise. Tonight’s show may be dominated by American bands, but it takes the half Aussie, half British four-piece to show how it’s really done.
The songs speak for themselves – strong, sing-along choruses, with ukulele plastered all over them, and subject matter ranging from Woody Allen to Berlin art galleries and Swedish lakes. They’ve gigged fairly intensively over the past year or so, and it’s done them good – Morris plays fewer uke solo ballads, which often prompted a mid-way lull in their set, and she’s also better at interacting with the audience, making her an infinitely more likeable front-woman.
Highlights tonight include fan favourite Polaroid Song and the brash, bubblegum pop of Kiss Your Lips but, as ever, they really shine when they’re joined by friends as special guests. Tonight the honour goes to The Smittens’ Max, who takes the place of The Pipettes mastermind Monster Bobby, to growl through the male vocal of the brilliant Dreaming. He just about manages it, and the contrast between Morris’s sugary-sweet purr and his rattling, low baritone is gorgeous.
A great night from some great bands – most of whom will be playing in some shape or form in Brixton the following night, before making the trip up to Indietracks. Why – as a very smiley man clutching a pint and an Allo Darlin’ t-shirt asked very loudly on his way out – can’t every week be like this?