Review of Indietracks 2013 Midland Railway Centre, Ripley - 26-28 July 2013

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.

Indietracks Festival

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.

Once inside, however, everything is as you were. The site has remained untouched insofar as layout is concerned for several years now, and Indietracks is all the better for it. With such retention of its customer base (a lazy estimate would suggest the majority of the weekend's attendees are regulars), there is no need to change a winning formula, particularly as the vibe of the event paints this as a welcome familiarity and not a tiring repetition.

Which extends, of course, to the festival's line-up. Though the bands may change (though again a significant amount are returnees), there are the same neat categories for a large percentage of the line-up each year; original c86 bands playing their first gigs in decades, tweer-than-thou indie-pop from Spain and Scandinavia, every band from Scotland that use an acoustic guitar, modern practitioners owing a hefty debt to the fuzzy end of the late eighties and early nineties, and, finally, a smattering of artists than fall (just) outside these confines. This year the festival belonged to those in the latter two categories, and whilst two of the more established names (Bis & Helen Love) produced sets that were ridiculously fun, the highlights came from those still cutting their teeth.

Chief among these are Martha, the band of the festival according to a poll held hastily after its climax (with 5 votes of a total 15 entires for stat fans). The quartet from Durham are a cult band in the old fashioned sense; in another time and in another place they'd have been one of the name-piece bands for 'Our Band Could Be Your Life', and, as is the case with The Replacements, Husker Du or Dinosaur Jr., there is no mathematical reason for why Martha are so good. They play the same noisy pop music that thousands of other bands do (with more emphasis on 'pop' than any of the bands mentioned above), but they just make you grin more and dance more than the rest of these bands. It sounds unwieldy and a cop-out to reduce a band's appeal to such generic terms, but in some cases no deeper analysis is needed. Songs like 'Gretna Green' and 'Standing Where It All Began' are met with audience-wide shout-alongs, as are tracks that are yet to even be recorded, and the stage invasion that closes their set, led by members of the equally raucous The Tuts, is probably THE moment of unparalleled pure joy of the weekend. Which is what this weekend is all about.

Other (relatively) new bands that get tongues wagging are Fear Of Men, who are pointedly 'arty' and modern at a festival that almost seems an affront to modernity but have enough chiming choruses to add substance to their style, and Fever Dream, a band that take the swooping guitar riffs of the early shoegaze conglomerate and unleash it on a menacing post-punk landscape. Theirs is a head-down, brooding, building soundscape that tears apart the Indoor Stage, gaining more gravitas from the natural reverb and muggy heat that encompasses the barn throughout the weekend.

In the church stage, Haiku Salut's light show is another highlight, albeit one expected by a considerable percentage of the audience already familiar with their spellbinding clusterf*** of, well, most things. A less familiar delight on the same stage are EXPENSIVE, who take a while to get going but reach a point by the end of their set where they combine the ebbing schematics of the likes of Chvurches and People Press Play with the beats of Mountain Men Anonymous and early 65daysofstatic. Whilst there is abundance of promise across the fresher bands of the weekend, with Seabirds and Flowers also worthy of a mention, EXPENSIVE are perhaps the ones most likely to cross over.

At the other end of the spectrum, the one-two punk-pop punch of The Lovely Eggs and Helen Love are just as vital. Both have their share of underground hits, the former with the absurdly catchy 'Have You Ever Heard A Digital Accordion' and the latter with 'We Love You' and 'Does Your Heart Go Boom', resplendent with glitter cannons and as close to a high-end light show as you will see at Indietracks. Enticing the crowd into the second stage invasion of the weekend, Helen Love's set is the perfect close to the weekend, which makes things awkward for Sub-Pop darlings Still Corners, who end up playing to about fifty people on the main stage afterwards.

So where does Indietracks go from here? It is a question asked every year. Should the festival bend further to the grittier side of things and go for a headliner like Yo La Tengo or F***** Up (whose t-shirt count is one of the highest of the weekend), or go for bands that share the whimsy of the festival's habitat if not the sound (British Sea Power, iLiKETRAiNS)? Unlike 2012, where it felt like the barrel was beginning to be scraped, 2013 indicates that it needn't be full steam ahead; things are fine just as they are.

Jordan Dowling

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