Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Indietracks 2011 Review

As followers of the RB Podcasts may be aware, I have enthused about Indietracks a hell of a lot over the past 12 months. The mix of DIY quirkiness and the genuinely friendly nature of the festival made it a winner for me last year. But as I said the other day, the NEW and the UNKNOWN are big aspects of what makes a festival for me. Would it be as good again?

For those late to the party, Indietracks is a small (about 1000 people) festival set within the grounds of Midlands Railway Museum. There’s an outdoor stage in front of a grassy area, an indoor stage in an old railway shed, a small stage in a corrugated iron chapel and various other small stages including a moving steam train and impromptu sets in the merch tent. It’s a lovely, compact setting with great views of the countryside all around.

Last year the first band I saw was The Hillifields whom I had never come across before but set a great standard of unknown gems for the rest of the weekend. This year, just the same, we came across Tiny Fireflies, a guitar / synth 2 piece that also feature in Very Truly Yours and many other bands. The sparse but warm interplay between the pair was wonderful, the minimal beats bouncing off the rail shed walls. A great start, though the aspect by which it set the standard for the festival was actually in the incestuous nature of the line up. According to the programme pretty much every band consists of members from at least 4 other bands whilst simultaneously playing in 3 different bands on the day. The first band on the Sunday were trying to soundcheck but their keyboardist was busy soundchecking on the other stage!

All of which suggests the kind of inclusive atmosphere of the festival. Also impressive is how far and wide many of the bands have travelled, with many bands from America and Scandinavia in particular. New York born Jeffrey Lewis was an absolute highlight, performing an electrifying set with his 4 piece backing band.

Man, he looked like he was having fun, his rambunctious anti folk giving an admittedly needed jolt of excitement amongst the occasionally pedestrian jingle jangle from the main stage. A cover of Sonic Youth’s 100% pleased the crowd as did a Tom Petty cover. Would have happily watched it all over again.

Edwyn Collins and Herman Dune were the headliners this year. Edwyn was a disappointment, though not through fault of his own. There were generator problems over on the main stage and he was switched to the shed last minute. Basically I couldn’t get in. The sounds wafting out were good, a tight band in place around him. After his brain haemorrhage I kind of presumed he was just ‘better’ now, but he seemed to struggle with his between song speech and clearly has a long way to go, so massive respect that he is out here on tour, entertaining the crowds and singing more than competently. Just a shame I couldn’t see anything, but ‘Rip It Up’ sounded good.

As for Herman Dune, well I didn’t get to see the whole set as my good lady Jayno had finally succumbed to a massive bout of flu and we had to head back to the tent. I liked what I heard though, surprisingly muscular with some parts coming off like ‘Spencer Percival’ by I Like Trains and, as I walked down the country lane to the campsite, the distant sound of a cover of Sonic Youth’s ‘Dirty Boots’. Dammit!

Elsewhere Indietracks has always been a good one for finding little nuggets of greatness. Victoria & Jacob, though previously known to RB have progressed nicely and threw a blinder in the chapel. Both with sets of Korgs and various samplers, the sound is full of layers but relaxed and laid back, Victoria’s vocals guiding the tracks to blissful highs. Afterwards, Heroes of the Mexican Independence Movement featured someone from Fonda 500 as well as loads of other guys from other bands. They were ramshackle but amusingly so (in the right way) and packed a fair few decent tunes.

Just Handshakes (We’re British) offered something slightly more lively than the MOR Indiepop on the main stage and their sound seemed to suit the open field, bathed in sunlight. Berlin Brides played some interesting and loud electro pop, a perfect mid afternoon wake up call.

White Town (of ‘one hit wonder’ fame with Your Woman in 1997) is a massive Indietracks fan and usually pops up somewhere. This year he did a short acoustic set in the Merch tent which was lovely, his delicate songs pleasingly honest and down to earth. His calm, hushed tones transformed the tent into a little haven for 15 minutes and he even played ‘the only hit I ever had, or ever will’ which was great for people like myself, not so familiar with his other work. A lovely moment.

Later in the tent I mistakenly (drunkenly) misread the handwritten sign stating what i thought said 'RM Hubbert' from Chemikal Underground was playing. Instead I got MJ Hibbett but thankfully he was great, with some spot on singalong stuff with some clever points being made about artistic credibility vs mass appeal plus a lovely cover of 'Boom Shake Shake Shake The Room' by The Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff.

These little unexpected moments are what Indietracks are about but this year didn’t quite have the magic of last year. I think this is likely because I am not a massive fan of Indie Pop. Hang on, I know it’s an Indie Pop festival. But last year had great crossover appeal, especially the Day 1 run of Standard Fare, Slow Club, Shrag and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. It seemed this year that the gaps were filled with rather generic offerings instead, the names of which, like the music, washed over me at the time.

Of course, it’s par for the course with a niche festival such as this. Bigger fans of the genre will have likely lapped it up. It wasn’t even a big problem, as that kind of thing is ideal when sitting on the grass with an afternnon cider. The festival had enough of those ‘ooo that’s cool’ moments but not enough ‘Wow!’ moments to match last year.

However, it’s great to see the festival is as strong as ever in terms of its individuality and commitment to providing an interesting and involving weekend. The tables in the merch tent, buckling under the weight of homemade record sleeves and DIY labels treasure troves of stock, with the labels and band members stood proudly behind them told me all I needed to know about Indietracks – that the scene is alive and well and events like this are core to keeping them alive. For that alone, Indietracks, I salute you.

Dean Freeman

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