It’s fair to say that in the five years since its inception, the Indietracks festival has developed far beyond the modest, ultra-niche beginnings it had back in 2007. Granted, to many the festival remains something of a curio, but the ever growing level of attention being shown to it (including national broadsheet coverage), not to mention regularly finding people on site who’ve travelled from Spain or America, shows that one of the most unique events in the British festival calendar has found its feet and continues to develop.
The 2011 edition saw searing heat that meant Ambre Solaire was the order of the weekend rather than anoraks, and a festival that moved ever so slightly out of what is often perceived to be its niche fey jangle pop. The crossover acts that have graced the festival in recent years (Camera Obscura, Slow Club, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart) also went for this year’s edition, leaving a slightly different musical landscape compared to previous years.
The expansion from a two- to three-day festival stayed in place, however. Friday saw the attendees being eased into the event firstly by the subtle, swooning pop of Pocketbooks and then by the lazy Byrds-ian summery sounds of Super Furry Animals/Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci hybrid supergroup Jonny. If the aim of Friday night was to provide a gentle introduction to the weekend’s festival then no one thought to tell exuberant Swedes Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, who, within a handful of songs, had managed to raise even the most settled of punters off the stage-skirting grass bank to shake their posteriors. It was instant, energetic and slightly quirky pop, and surely one of the best ways to end the first night of the festival.
Saturday began with Just Handshakes We’re British, and their harmonious yet rhythmic brand of jerky, quasi-post-punk. It’s clear that the band are developing and gaining confidence exponentially with every show they play, and having already bagged a deal with esteemed Spanish indie-pop label Elefant, they must surely rank as ones to watch for the future. Given the level of press hype surrounding them, you’d be forgiven for assuming the same could be applied to The History Of Apple Pie. Sadly, their uninspiring and insipid recreations of early ’90s alternative rock (think a more melodic Yuck) failed to move.
Those who’ve seen Help Stamp Out Loneliness are by now accustomed to a hint of chaos in live performances, but their performance here took it to whole new levels. Having played an impressively tight and focussed set of simmering post-punk that amply showcased their debut album perfectly, they blew the power to the main stage (or the power blew of its own accord, depending on your viewpoint). It started a bizarre run of events that had the potential to ruin Saturday night’s festivities, but due to the organisers’ efforts were resolved with startling efficiency. Startling efficiency could well be the best phrase to describe the set of Milky Wimpshake. With the generator for the main stage having failed and the evening’s headliners (and their accompanying move to the indoor stage) threatening their stage time, they’d have been forgiven for knocking a couple of songs out of their set. The fact that they instead decided to play their entire planned set at Ramones pace with minimal between-song talk instead made for an unlikely Saturday evening spectacle.
Given the technical difficulties, it was impressive to note that the evening’s schedule barely lost an hour (though it came at the expense of the indoor stage’s post-bands disco), leaving the way clear for The Hidden Cameras and Edwyn Collins to resume their positions on the bill. The latter continues to amaze and delight in equals measure, and the sight of him flawlessly crooning his way through his back catalogue is a sight which both never gets old and still has the ability to produce tears from audience members.
Indietracks has always been a outlet for music’s well kept secrets, with the line-up often comprising artists that aren’t even a household name in their own living rooms. Nonetheless, there was a feeling come Sunday that too much thought had been put into the Saturday line-up and not enough into Sunday, with even the most ardent of the festival’s supporters musing about staying at their respective abodes for the weekend until Sunday’s early evening. That’s not to say there weren’t things worth watching, chief among those being Haiku Salut who captivated the church stage mid-afternoon with a series of instrumental passages using accordion and loops that has since been described by many as something approaching “post-indie-pop”. Over on the indoor stage The Sweet Nothings proved that you can take what to many could be lyrical clichs (socialism, The Daily Mail, trains, friends you only see at pop shows) but providing you have the songs to back them up you can get away with pretty much anything.
For many the day’s highlight was anti-folk extraordinaire Jeffrey Lewis, and he didn’t disappoint, inciting mass sing-alongs with the more instant moments from his back catalogue such as Roll Bus Roll and Broken Broken Broken Heart. In the process he also managed to rival Milky Wimpshake’s Pete Dale as the hardest working performer of the weekend. Withered Hand demonstrated that there’s still very much a market for the earnest singer-songwriter in today’s musical landscape with a set of affecting, and heartfelt songs.
Crystal Stilts provided a darker, more atmospheric closing act to the indoor stage than many were expecting, but while musically very good they came dangerously close to undoing their hard work with a standoffish on-stage presence indebted to Echo & The Bunnymen or The Jesus & Mary Chain. Where 2010 saw the festival close with an incendiary set by The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, 2011 saw a chilled out and relaxing set by Herman Dune which drew heavily on 2011′s sleeper hit, Strange Moosic. It felt a fitting end to one of the UK’s most relaxed festivals.
All told, the festival wasn’t as consistent as last year. Where many found themselves rushing around to catch as much as possible in 2010, there were gaps in personal schedules which would’ve been unheard of twelve months prior. It’s a breath of fresh air that’s needed in an increasingly overcrowded industry, and where the festivals that stand out are in theory the ones with the greater chance of succeeding. Long may it continue.