It’s hard to believe that, in this oft-trumpeted ‘age of austerity’, that a festival like Tramlines could occur. Three days of music, in over 50 venues across Sheffield, all for free? Troubled times? Not for one weekend in South Yorkshire.
Indeed, it was harder to try to find a venue in Sheffield that wasn’t playing live music. From the tiniest room above a pub to a specially erected main stage on Devonshire Green, Sheffield had Tramlines fever. Even a bus designed to whisk people between venues across the city was host to ‘buskers’ – which saw the likes of Bromheads and Dinosaur Pile Up performing impromptu acoustic sets.
Tramlines kicked off officially on the Friday evening, with local, mainly unsigned, bands playing local pubs like the Grapes and the Frog & Parrot. At the Corporation, the first big name of the weekend was the up and coming Pulled Apart By Horses.
At first listen, the Leeds band may well seem incomprehensible – brutal riffs, screamed vocals and a melee of bodies slam-dancing mean that could seem a bit intimidating to anyone over the age of 25. But a wry sense of humour (song titles included E=MC Hammer and I Punched A Horse In The Throat) show that there’s more to them than meets the eye.
And, more importantly, buried deep beneath the screamo exterior, is a canny sense of melody – Back To The Fuck Yeah could almost be described as singalong, while the closing Den Horn is turning into a bit of an anthem already. In a crowded, sweaty moshpit, Pulled Apart By Horses make a beautiful kind of sense.
Just up the road, at The Bowery, Rotherham’s Heebie Jeebies had a lead singer who looked like Jermaine from Flight Of The Conchords and a bassist who’d turned up in his pyjamas. They were endearingly shambolic, but attracted a loyal fanbase who sang along to every word with gusto.
The main draw of the evening though was New York’s Darwin Deez, also at the Bowery. Although their recent debut album was a nice collection of quirky little electro-folk gems, nothing quite prepares you for the Deez live experience. Breaking into synchronised dancing to various ’80s electro classics, the quartet provided the most entertaining live set of the weekend by some distance. Moreover, songs as beautifully crafted as Deep Sea Divers and Up In The Clouds prove that they’re no novelty act. Despite the rather unfortunate moustache, Deez looks set to be the hit of the festival circuit this summer.
Saturday saw 8,000 people descend on Devonshire Green, with long queues beginning at 5am. Sponsored by the local radio station Hallam FM, there was a line-up heavy on pop and RnB, with names like Eliza Doolittle, Rox and Playground Maffia performing short 20 minute sets. Yet those who wanted to avoid the crowds could find plenty to entertain themselves.
The Peace Gardens played host to the World Stage, with show-stopping sets from Baghdaddies, Macka B and even a Bollywod dance troupe. Round the corner, outside the City Hall, was the showcase for the New Music stage, featuring an impressive line-up including Chapel Club and (yes, them again) Dinosaur Pile Up.
The Twilight Sad played a particularly intense set – they’re probably the type of band that are best watched in a small, dark venue, rather than outside on a gloriously sunny day. Their angst-ridden rock seemed to leave many a bit non-plussed. Blood Red Shoes, meanwhile, were a totally different story – the duo creating a gloriously knockabout atmosphere that even had one small child bouncing up and down on his father’s shoulders air-drumming.
It was certainly a contrast to Devonshire Green, where Professor Green and Tinchy Stryder were entertaining the masses, but that’s the beauty of Tramlines – every genre of music seems to be covered at any one time.
Sunday saw a less crowded Devonshire Green, which was understandable as it was a slightly less mainstream line-up than the day before. A healthy crowd still gathered for Mystery Jets though, showcasing their excellent new album Serotonin. Their early experimental edge may have completely gone now, but songs such as Two Doors Down and the superb recent single Dreaming Of Another World saw the rather odd sight of a bunch of local kids slam-dancing at the front of the stage.
Headlining the Sunday evening were Echo And The Bunnymen, with Ian McCulloch looking no different to his ’80s heyday – clad all in black, hair like a bird’s nest, shades firmly clamped to his face and puffing on a cigarette. The songs sounded as good as ever too, with Seven Seas and Bring On The Dancing Horses being particularly triumphant. The guest spot of local hero Richard Hawley for a cover of The Velvet Underground‘s Waiting For The Man was the icing on the cake for most people.
On a tragic weekend for festivals (some 21 people were crushed to death at Germany’s Love Parade), the organisers of Tramlines should be given the upmost respect for the excellent organisation. Even a potentially nasty incident, such as the last-minute cancellation of 65daysofstatic due to a power cut, was dealt with calmly and without trouble. Tramlines still has the odd teething problem, and could probably benefit from a superstar or two, but overall this is a textbook example of how to run an ‘urban festival’.