With a new festival seemingly cropping up every week, and with big promoters and sponsors cashing in our thirst for live, outdoor shows, Indietracks feels like a comfort blanket. Shunning the big-name tie-ins, this 2,000-capacity festival, set in the grounds – and trains – of the Midland Railway heritage centre in Derbyshire, is about as DIY as it gets. From locally brewed ales and handmade cakes to home-pressed vinyl and cut and paste fanzines, independent is the name of the game.
That doesn’t mean the festival escapes all of the cliches though; in line with most of the high profile festivals this year, some of its biggest draws were bands who’ve recently reformed after a hiatus of some years. Granted, their returns didn’t make headlines like some other reunions, but these bands were leaders of the pack and carved the scene that Indietracks celebrates. Despite their career spanning just three years and only one full album, The June Brides were one of the bands that started it all. They famously turned down a slot on NME’s hallowed C86 tape for fear of being pigeon holed, but the years have eroded that concern and their new single, A January Moon, is indie-pop-by-numbers. The rest of their set is made up of the hits – Every Conversation and 1985′s No Place Called Home – with a few new ones thrown in for good measure (“This is from our new album,” said singer Phil Wilson, “I never thought I’d say that again.”)
A band who may well have been thinking the same thing for the last few years is The Vaselines. Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly originally went their separate ways in 1992, but they jumped back on the horse a few years ago. McKee, celebrating her 46th birthday, was delightfully smutty, which won over the crowd even before they launched into the likes of Molly’s Lips, Son Of A Gun and Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam.
The Vaselines were the last band of the festival, but for many the real headliner was Allo Darlin’. Riding high on the release of their second album, theirs was one of the most anticipated sets of the festival, not least because of their very open enthusiasm; singer Elizabeth Morris and bassist Bill Botting wear t-shirts emblazoned with the names of other bands playing the festival, they bring Max Andrucki of The Smittens on stage to sing Monster Bobby’s baritonal growl on Dreaming, and their set includes a cover of another Indietracks band, The Just Joans‘ If You Don’t Pull. With Europe showcasing a more sensitive, introverted side to a band who best-loved songs are hammered out on a ukulele, the difference between their two albums is stark, and the crowd is in equal measures in silent awe at Elizabeth Morris’s heart wrenching ballads and bouncing around to what already feel like classics. Set highlights include Kiss Your Lips, Polaroid Song, Darren and a goosebump-inducing encore of Talullah, which saw Elizabeth take to the stage alone. After pleading with the crew, they’re allowed to play for an extra 20 minutes, but you get the feeling that both the band and crowd would’ve been quite happy for them to play all night.
If Allo Darlin’ are now the elder statesmen of indiepop, the kids who are mixing it up and injecting fresh life into the scene take to the indoor shed stage. Opening proceedings on Friday evening, Vermont’s The Smittens are in a playful mood and their new album, Believe Me, looked to be the record most people were tucking under their arm. One of indiepop’s hardest working bands, Tigercats, played a triumphant set that culminated in their new single, Harper Lee, and there was the closest thing to an Indietracks crush during Standard Fare‘s set. As well as tracks from their two albums, they threw in two new songs, which saw them bring in a second guitarist, suggesting a more complex sound going forward – but it was Philadelphia, taken from 2010′s The Noyelle Beat, that set the room alive, and singer Emma Kupa, normally a cool and reserved front woman, looked overwhelmed by the reaction. As did Richard Brooke, of This Many Boyfriends, when he shouted and bounced his way through the anthemic Young Lovers Go Pop; on a high, he finished their set by jumping from the stage to do a loop of the shed, singing his way through the crowd sans-mic.
Those bands set the bar, with Evans The Death, Belle and Sebastian‘s Stevie Jackson and Veronica Falls also standing out. They left some bands lagging behind and, with so much energy and enthusiasm bounding around, Darren Hayman – the high priest of indiepop – sounded stale. Summer Camp also disappointed – unlike most bands playing this weekend,you couldn’t imagine them rushing to the merch stand to snap up the new Shrag album, and while Elizabeth Sankey’s voice was note-perfect, their songs fell on deaf ears.
Given the stellar line-up, few people found themselves with spare time – those who did could jump on a steam train, try their hand at the lindyhop (to indiepop) or hit one of the discos run by the likes of Great Big Kiss and Unpop. With the word ‘indie’ bandied around to describe guitar bands, Indietracks is a reminder of how exciting the real indie scene is. Judging by this weekend, it’s flourishing and, with a rule that no band can play at the festival two years running, who knows which new up-starts will be plugging their hand made cassettes next year.