Indietracks is known for being super friendly; by way of acknowledging this, a solitary police dog limps around half-heartedly for about 15 minutes over the weekend; the recycling bins overflow with carefully placed vegan curry plates; declarations of the festival’s stance against hate crime and prejudice proudly hang from tarpaulin and donations to the owl sanctuary which displays its birds there every year almost equal the takings at the local CAMRA-run bar.
That friendliness spills over into every element of the indiepop festival, which has taken over the Midland Railway Centre – a heritage railway museum in Derbyshire – for a weekend in each of the last nine years. It’s even evident in the bands who play there. Most are fans themselves and stay for the entire weekend in the campsite down the road. This means that guest appearances are commonplace; for example, if you want to see Niall from The Spook School sing My Heart Will Go On with Martha; Paul from Allo Darlin’ and Tigercats join The Wave Pictures on stage; Jennifer from Colour Me Wednesday take over vocal duties for The Tuts; or Darren Hayman crack out the sax for Tigercats, you’re in the right place.
One band in particular felt that friendliness in abundance. “There’s a saying that you play Indietracks twice in your career. Once on the way up, and once on the way down. It’s great to be back,” winks JC of pop punks Martha, as his band enters the stage on the soggy, final evening of this year’s event. Anyone can see that he’s being ironic; they might not be headlining (tonight that honour goes to The Go! Team) but really this whole weekend has been about Martha. From the sea of t-shirts, to the excited chatter anticipating their set, and the permanent presence of various band members in the merch’ tent, it feels like the whole festival has been leading up to their show – a furious, heaving mass of sheer togetherness. It feels victorious, they sound victorious and as they leap into the crowd to surf their way across the room and signal the close of their set, they look victorious too.
At that moment they felt like the only band in the world, but Martha faced stiff competition…not least from some of their label mates. It all kicks off on Friday night, with three bands on the outdoor stage, before the other venues – a huge train shed; a teeny church; a working steam train and a space for ‘secret’ shows from bands mostly there as punters, in a corner of the merchandise tent – get going on Saturday. The band charged with getting things going are Fever Dream, whose droning lo-fi matches the drizzly grey of the day – a inspired choice who sound all the better juxtaposed against the sugary twee of melodic eight-piece The School.
Evans The Death put on polished performance; the dismissive silliness and giggles of the foursome replaced with a swaggering rock n roll attitude that matches the nouveau britpop sound of their second album, Expect Delays. Fellow Fortuna POP!sters Tigercats were equally polished, the more intense sound of the recently released Mysteries manifesting itself in Duncan Barrett’s brilliantly angsty vocals. A brass section, manned very briefly by Darren Hayman, added even more depth to a band who’ve matured without losing their signature sound. New songs given an early airing sound heavier, suggesting another subtle switch for the restless Londoners.
Former Standard Fare singer Emma Kupa’s new band Mammoth Penguins draw a big crowd for their early evening slot. Veering not too far from her old band’s sound, Kupa’s voice is in fine form as she snarls her way through a set of Allo Darlin’-ish observations and coming-of-age songs. The Wave Pictures play something of a greatest hits set, with Friday Night In Loughborough, Strange Fruit For David and the Jonny Helm-fronted Sleepy Eye pitching the mood just right.
The Tuts, however, happily ruffled a few feathers amongst the indiepop purists, with the sheer volume or Nadia’s blood curdling screams. Grrrl punks for the DIY generation, they issue venomous rants about crap boyfriends and sexist gig promoters, but all the while with infectious melodies and a joyful enthusiasm that endears them to many. They’re related – through a member and their hometown – to Colour Me Wednesday, who are less angry but make an equally thrilling politically driven noise. It’s additions like these which have helped to boost the festival’s reputation from an obscure collection of C86 inspired janglings to something a little more eclectic…if at times still pleasingly obscure.
The weekend’s headliners, Cinerama, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and The Go! Team, add a sense of occasion, but the real winners of the weekend are those bands who’ve only sold a handful of records but whose passion for this festival makes it so special. And the owls. Definitely the owls.