Indietracks Festival - Midland Railway Centre, Butterley 25-27 July 2014 Live Review
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.
Similarly seasoned veteran Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500, Dean & Britta and Luna, earns his keep with a set heavily weighted to the bleak slowcore of his first band. Where Gruff Rhys' headline performance is indulgent and plodding, Dean is more appreciative of the occasion and offers up stellar performances of 'Blue Thunder', 'Snowstorm' and 'Strange' in a dusty, slightly uncomfortable indoor stage that is the perfect environment for their nervous, introspective minimalism.
In a baking heat that lasts the entire weekend, The Flatmates and The Popguns offer further wistful nostalgia, but Indietracks isn't just for those with a weighty back-catalogue to their name. The Durham indie-pop micro scene (yes, it exists!) is well represented by the catchy acoustic duo ONSIND and ramshackle sing-along punk five-piece No Ditching, and members of both bands perform an unbilled set as Martha, whose ethos and spirit is Indietracks made flesh. They stand as one of the country's best new bands, and although their acoustic performance in the merch tent isn't as euphoric as their main stage set in 2013, it is impossible not to have a Cheshire cat grin as they pluck through 'Gretna Green' and 'Present, Tense'.
Fittingly for a festival which stands out from the crowd, there are refreshing alternates to the typical fare of £5 cans of warm lager and cardboard pizza. An impressive selection of fairly priced local ales are available and Gopal's Curry Shack vegan South Indian curries are a fantastic accompaniment, whilst slices of watermelon and slush puppies are life saving early doors thirst quenchers.
Aside from treats both musical and consumable, however, one of the best things about Indietracks is the atmosphere of the crowd, which is wholly supportive and even synergistic. MJ Hibbett (& his Validators), whose genuinely funny folk tangents are one of the weekend's surprising delights, plays to a crowd of at least a couple hundred a week before playing to less than ten in his home city of London, and Shelley Jane fills (and enraptures) a train carriage – standing room only - after barely a handful of gigs. Though both deserve to play to audiences of such a size it is hard to think of any other place in the world that they would.
Whilst other festivals try to expand beyond their means and burn out in the process, the stasis of Indietracks is oddly comforting, with a trip to the grounds of Butterley Midland Railway Centre feeling more like a Christmas trip to visit the family than the typical excuse for alcoholic over-indulgence that a music festival usually represents. In twenty years, Standard Fare will probably have reformed to play the main stage, Martha will be playing tracks from their eleventh album and the same staff will be serving real ales and dangerously luminescent cider, and one couldn't hope for anything more.
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