In a world obsessed with expansion and 'brand diversification', Indietracks is the land where time stands still. Situated in the middle of a steam train museum, where a working train ferries you to and from the site and a museum tour is among the list of offered activities, you can leave two or three years between visits and encounter the same bands and the same people wearing the same faded band t-shirts. It is undoubtedly an oddity on the UK festival scene, and it is certainly a welcome one.
For 2014's addition, several of the headliners and 'name' bands were acts that had played the festival previously, but where this would be a mark against larger, more expensive festivals, here at an event built on such a niche scene, it is not only inevitable but welcomed. Particularly in the case of Berlin-by-Toronto collective Hidden Cameras, whose last appearance three years ago was ravaged by malfunctioning equipment. Since then, they have undergone a transformation, stripping back their live setup and incorporating strands of electronica and disco into their politically driven indie-pop. Tracks from the band's latest album 'Age' such as 'Bread For Brat' and 'Doom' are much more feisty live, and 'Follow These Eyes' from 2006's 'AWOO' is given a new lease of life with synth arpeggios and droning strings, but they still tug heartstrings like they used to. Acoustic ballad 'A Miracle' is The Hidden Cameras at their absolute best; naked, fragile, but full to bursting with heart and soul.
Elsewhere, however, debútants provide plentiful delights. On their first UK tour in nearly two decades, New Zealand's The Chills dismiss any concerns about being in it for the money with a spell-binding set of lo-fi psychedelic pop. It is unfair to dismiss them as a one-track band, and glimpses of new material show they haven't lost the magic despite numerous line-up changes, break-ups and make-ups. Very few people write a song as good as 'Pink Frost' and it is the hypnotic, ebbing calling card of the 'Dunedin Sound' that is not just the set highlight but the high point of the festival itself.
Since its inception in 2007, Indietracks has remained one of the best kept secrets of the UK festival scene and a hideaway from modern life, with an atmosphere more reminiscent of childhood trips to Haven campsites mixed with extended family piss-ups than the usual drug-fuelled skirmishes that festivals are typically an excuse for.
A mile away from the town of Ripley with its St George-draped pubs with imposing names (The Wreck in particular having an immediately foreboding, yet curiously enticing vibe), it exists in a bubble of whimsy that is entirely resistant to corporate sponsorship and hype, and is only barely pricked by usual negatives taken as a given. As such, it seems wrong to attempt to critically assess it. Fortunately, in 2013 there is very little to criticise.
One of the most puzzling aspects of the festival's seventh edition was encountered upon arrival (naturally, by steam train from the entrance of the Butterley Train Station to the Midland Railway Trust site), with a marked increase on the number of security personnel on site along with a number of police officers and a sniffer dog; something that wouldn't raise an eyebrow anywhere else but seems entirely unnecessary here. It doesn't ruin the mood of the festival, however, and the personnel are certainly more approachable than the grunts that 'police' larger events, but I can't help but feel like it's a slight encroachment on the innocence of the weekend.
Continue reading: Indietracks Festival 2013 - Review
Three years ago in an interview with this very site, Indietracks' head honcho wearily talked about scaling down the cult festival after the pressures of maintaining it, even with a trusted team of volunteers, were becoming too great. The two editions that followed certainly consolidated the key elements of what made the festival unique without losing any of its charm, but somewhere along the line a change of heart must have occurred, as the seventh annual of the world's best celebration of indiepop, real ale and steam trains promises to be its biggest, and best, yet.
The three-day festival is headlined in 2013 by bis, The Pastels & Camera Obscura, and between them they give a concise overview of the festivals overall oeuvre; slightly obscured pop hooks, lyrics that alternate between 'witty' and 'weepy', a high weighting of bands from north of the border (all three artists are Glasgow based), tweeness that at times starts to become overbearing and occasional slithers of folk, punk and disco. The latter are returnees to the Midland Railway Centre after headlining 2009's edition and do so in the middle of a tour supporting the release of their fifth full-length Desire Lines, out June 3rd on 4AD, whilst bis and The Pastels, this year releasing their first album (ignoring collaborations) in over fifteen years, make rare live appearances.
Like every year preceding it, however, the real treats of 2013's line-up lay on its undercard. The Ballet make a short trip over to the UK for the festival and should prove to be a highlight with irresistibly catchy hooks which has led to comparisons with the earlier work of last year's headline act The Hidden Cameras, whilst The Lovely Eggs and Martha promise to inject a little pop-punk into the proceedings. At the other end of the spectrum (well, the festival's spectrum), Fever Dream offer something much darker, taking Interpol's call-and-response bass/guitar intricacies into the realm of hazy shoegaze and Flowers submerge beautiful melodies in a sea of feedback and fuzz in a way not too dissimilar from festival favourites The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.
Continue reading: Indietracks 2013 - Preview
Whatever changes in Britain; the weather, the economy, relative failure in sport, some things are always certain, and despite the recent failure of Bloc and the impending failure of All Tomorrows Parties amongst others it's hard to imagine a time when Indietracks won't be there waiting with cardigan-clad arms and a warm smile, despite its relatively short existence on the UK festival circuit. Indeed, such has been its' perfection in carving out a niche; a marriage of twee indie and twee culture (trains, real ale, mixtape swaps) that it simply feels like something that's been around since the dawn of time, never changing but always welcome.
This year, Indietracks puts out its strongest line-up to date. A celebration of all things twee, the only festival to be held on the site of a train museum has honed in on its strengths to put together a weekend that encapsulates the essence of discos filled with anoraks and awkward fringe-sweeping glances. In partnership with the heralded Slumberland Records, once home of The Aislers Set, Hood, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and Black Tamborine, there is a heady blend of indie-pop and C86, with the occasional slithers of folk and rock that offers focus to both the roots of the scene and its modern purveyors.
It can be difficult to describe Indietracks in a factual manner without giving the impression it is a weekend subscribed to conformity and devoid of creativity. On the face of it, at least for anyone who has never visited the Midland Railway Centre at the height of summer, it is as populated by sound-alike bands and identikit dressers as say, Download Festival, but there is an aura throughout the festival, a kindred spirit if you will, that elevates it above its capacity, budget and other restraints into one of the highlights of the festival circuit.
Summarising highlights and lowpoints of a festival like Indietracks can sometimes seem pointless, such is the harmony of the weekend. Few people bother with itineraries and simply saunter between bands and other attractions. A cynic could say that this is due to the fact you can hear the same sound on any stage, but the festival is less of a close-minded niche and more of an open-arms gathering of like minded souls.
Continue reading: Indietracks Festival, Butterley, Ripley / 23-25 July 2010 Live Rview
When Indietracks creator Stuart Mackay describes it as a 'niche festival' he isn't doing so to create an air of exclusivity so often exuded by those who actively label themselves as 'indie', there is merely no other way do describe a weekend that includes jangly pop, arts & crafts and steam trains. The festival is actually one of the most welcoming in the summer circuit, with a 'big family gathering feel'. It is also one of the best.