For the uninitiated, Indietracks must look like something of an oddity. A teeny affair by most festivals’ standards, every year it sees around 2,000 indiepop fans flock to the Midland Railway Centre, where bands play in a small stage by a railway café, in a tiny mock church, in a train shed – or indeed on an actual, moving steam train.
There’s zero sponsorship, merch’ is sold in a single tent by the bands and record labels themselves, and the bar is run by the local branch of CAMRA. By 10 o’clock a sea of cardigans flocks en masse, a mile or so down a country track to the nearby campsite, where the ever patient owners stick up a marquee, and indiepop clubs from across the country take it turn to spin 7”s until the wee small hours. It’s as idyllic as it sounds.
Friday kicks off at 7pm with Big Wave, but it’s The Tuts who really sound the klaxon. The trio have already ruffled feathers with their feisty, no nonsense attitude – indeed, as the strapline on their merch’ reads, They Don’t Need No Back Up – and their set is equally as ballsy. Short, sharp blasts of melodic punk get those sitting on the grassy hill drifting towards the stage. Tut Tut Tut is already a classic, and Dump Your Boyfriend sets out their manifesto perfectly.
Tonight’s headliners Bis take that a step further though. “The Tuts sang about dumping your boyfriend, but we didn’t think that was enough,” chatters a heavily pregnant Manda Rin (pictured), introducing Kill Your Boyfriend. As leaders of the electro indiepop scene of the ’90s, this festival is probably the only outdoor stage they could play and hear their words sung right back at them. The set was New Transistor Heroes heavy, but they also played an initially nervous Euro Disco (“We won’t feel so worried about that one again”, admits a relived looking John Disco, noting the rapturous response) Manda visibly struggles to restrain herself from jumping but, while her body might be grounded, her voice is still as astronomically high pitched and piercing as ever, and Kandypop, Secret Vampires and Monstarr sound as good as they did back on their 1997 release. They close with an encore of the Powerpuff Girls theme tune, which they penned and look rightly sheepish about.
The next couple of days are a well planned mish mash of acts (with the obligatory workshops, which this year include making ‘rock and roll sock puppets’, hunting for photos of Coronation Street character Norris Cole, bow tie making and radical cheerleading) which stretch the genre to its very limits. From the twee – Swedes Alpaca Sports (whose I Was Running was an indoor stage highlight) to the silly – Cars Can Be Blue (who were indeed rather blue, in a lovable college band kind of way) and The Lovely Eggs (who consistently manage to merge a hilarious stage show and bonkers lyrics with great, steady tunes) – the shouty – Good Grief and Fever Dream (whose lo-fi Joy Division noise is audibly tightening up, making them mesmerising to watch) – and everything inbetween.
Helen Love joined bis in dishing up the nostalgia. Dressed in her trademark shades, Helen pouts her way through the hyper electro likes of Joey Ramoney, Shifty Disco Girl and Happy Hardcore, with confetti cannons blasting gold ticker tape into the crowd; it’s quite a spectacle for a low budget festival where the biggest extravagance is usually someone throwing a 7” record into the audience. A stage invasion even ensues during closing number, Does Your Heart Go Boom. They couldn’t have been more different to Camera Obscura, who occupied the same stage the night before. Torrential rain, with an accompanying electrical storm, drove their set inside – which meant they came on about an hour and a half late. With the crowd agitated, they really needed to pull it out of the bag, but they barely even looked into the bag; a lacklustre set which none of the band really seemed to want to play – even their big, indie disco hits like Hey Lloyd I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken fell flat.
Martha were one of the weekend’s big successes. Having toiled away, playing countless gigs over the last 18 months or so, their hard works finally seems to be paying off. Not only was the sizable mid-afternoon crowd bouncing around to their two EPs of neat, melodic, Buzzcocks-ish punk pop, but they came second only to The Tuts in the t-shirt competition; everywhere you looked there was a Martha tshirt; surely a sign of the high regard they’re already held in by the scenesters.
The merchandise tent played host to a series of unplugged shows, announced each morning via a small chalkboard in the corner of the tent. This year it included some bands who weren’t officially on the line-up, including The Tigercats, Colour Me Wednesday and The Just Joans, whose singalong versions of If You Don’t Pull and What Do We Do Now were in equal parts rousing and tear inducing.
Amidst all the chaos, NYC’s The Ballet sounded classy, with finely crafted, clever and heart wrenching pop songs. Milky Wimpshake’s recent, fifth album, Heart and Soul in The Milky Way, could easily have been lifted from any of their records from the last two decades, and this weekend its songs stand up against the classics; Without You and Chemical Spray fit in nicely amongst their older, wonky folk punk.
The moment of the weekend was, typically, one that only a handful of festival goers witnessed. Derbyshire trio Haiku Salut’s debut album, Tricolore, has been whipping up a quiet storm since its release earlier this year. It’s a gorgeous collection of blissed out beats, xylophones and curious cluckings – but their show in the 100 capacity church took it beyond ‘gorgeous’ and into the gobsmackingly stunning. With cardboard taped over the windows, plunging the church into near darkness, a series of vintage lamps scattered across the stage flashed in time as they hammered keys, strummed strings and tinkered with the accordion. It was breathtaking, and those who’d queued to cram in left feeling really rather smug.
The weekend came to a close at the campsite disco with bands – both those who’d been playing and those who’d just come along for fun – and fans alike passing around bottles of Buckfast and recycling Helen Love’s golden confetti by clambering up poles and throwing it into the air. Which just about says it all, really.