If Friday at Indietracks is a gentle ease into proceedings, then Saturday is when the real excitement starts. The crowd may be a touch groggy from the night before early doors, but they remain fresh, energetic, ready to gorge themselves on whatever musical delights the brains behind this event have provided. The traditional pre-band, early morning stop at Johnson’s Buffet reveals the rather tragic news that they’ve downsized their previous full English breakfast to a breakfast roll option, or as we’re in the Midlands after all, a Breakfast Cob. It’s a worrying development as a quick glance at the early afternoon line-up suggests we won’t be stopping for lunch anytime soon. It is perhaps the tell-tale sign of a truly excellent festival line up when you’re already worrying about when you’re going to fit in your next pit stop for food.
We pause momentarily on arrival into the actual site to ask the question on many people’s mind that morning, wasn’t there a coffee van here last year? Perhaps our minds are playing tricks on us, but we’re sure that pizza van was a coffee van last year. Luckily the rather bizarre stall that is Carnival Of Food seems to have a “proper coffee” machine, located alongside the rather contrasting treats of Candy Floss and Fresh Fruit Smoothies. Failing that over at the bar the excellent Celtic Porter, “made with real coal” as every bar person seems to have been trained to chime in unison, has a rich, malty taste, which if not actual coffee certainly seems to hint at it, and it’s officially the afternoon, so who are we to argue. The real ale bar also happens to be located at the indoor stage, which was home to the first act we came to admire, Chorusgirl.
Chorusgirl are one of those slightly confusing acts where you’re not sure if it’s a solo artist or a band. We’re going to stick with band, so Chorusgirl are a four-piece band from London fronted by Silvi Wersing. To date their available music on the internet stretches to a whopping four songs, so the chance to remind ourselves how very, very good they are is always a welcome opportunity. Today’s set it no exception, their recent single for Odd Box Records, No Moon, draws some very early in the day dancing, as Silvi’s chugging guitar and lightly accented vocals are interlaced with some expressive guitar soloing, giving the track a lovely freedom that’s just the right side of messy.
Elsewhere there are military drums, slinky 1980’s guitar work and even a slight country feel to a track that doesn’t yet appear to have a title. This Town Kills starts with an almost Shadows-like twang before giving way to jangle-pop with a hint of The Jam, but it’s, Oh, To Be a Defector that’s the real highlight. The much anticipated surprise guests emerge, and it’s quite the array of impressive female singers, going under the name The Choir of Defectors. We attempted to write down everyone who got on stage and got as far as members of Charla Fantasma, Wolfgirl, Cosines, Junk, Ace Bushy Strip Tease and Fireworks before we lost track, so apologies to anyone we missed. Their actual impact on the song was somewhere between a shambles and a delight, indeed they spent a lot more time perfecting their surf-pop dance moves than actually singing, but the track remained as wonderful as ever; a surf-inspired jangling joy, all twanging guitar and dead-eyed vocal delivery; it’s an early contender for the track of the weekend.
The see-sawing between the indoor and outdoor stages begins here, and it’s straight over to see Los Bonsais take to the de-facto main stage. The Asturian duo have expanded to a trio since we last saw them, with the drum machines replaced rather predictably with a drummer. In word perfect English they explain early in their set that they don’t speak English, they then proceed to run through a riotous set of the best moments of their two mini EP’s Nordeste and Martin Pescador as well as a few new tracks, and a cover of Television Personalities classic, Part Time Punks translated back into Spanish. At least, that’s what we think it was! The language barrier seems to prevent the crowd full embracing their fuzzy scuzzy guitars meets laid back Velvet Underground vocals styling, but what a joy it is that they’ve found a festival willing to give the audience the chance to try it in the first place.
From there it’s back indoors for the closing few tracks of American Slacker-Punks Eureka California. The duo who are signed to Happy Happy Birthday To Me waste no time in grasping the audience’s attention, it’s hard not too with such an impressively moustachioed frontman, who it turns out is also pretty much comic gold. They claim to be the first band to play in Drop-D at Indietracks (they probably aren’t) and then check, a little late, with the audience whether they’re allowed to swear on the mic with children present (they probably are) all of which draws a look of, “he’s always like this” from drummer Marie, the slightly unwilling straight-woman of the comic pairing. They’ve also accidentally colour co-ordinated and with the energetic and very impressive drum thrashing behind the kit, there’s a vague White Stripes aesthetic going on. One that is not matched at all in the music, which is a blend of Johnny Thunders punk, the cult indie of Pavement and the laid back attitude of Guided By Voices. In the stand out, I Bet That You Like Julian Cope, they produce one of the most thrillingly simple highlights of the weekend. They finish their set a little early in true Ramones fashion, which is a shame, but gives us more time to get over to the main stage for Evans The Death.
The flip side to the joy of getting to Evans The Death earlier than expected is how disappointing Evans The Death are. It starts promisingly enough with a perfect squall of feedback and their excellent latest single Enabler, but gradually dissolves into a lot of grumping about the place and little actual product. They’re a band who always seem on the verge of collapsing in on themselves, and today is no exception. Their excellent album, Expect Delays was a triumphant record packed with passion and anger at the world, but today it’s lost in an attempt to play at a proper “fuck you” punk attitude that comes across like they don’t actually care much about the set at all: one of the weekends rare disappointments.
The last time we saw Feature they were taking to the stage at a sold out Electric Ballroom, supporting one of their absolute heroes Kathleen Hanna in the guise of The Julie Ruin. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the circumstances, they looked a little nervous to begin with, so it was nice to see them here settle quickly into proceedings. The trio may deal in superb vocal harmonies, but they also do a rather neat line in over-driven guitar lines, laid back bass and the fantastic drumming of Jen Calleja, also of Sauna Youth. They announce one song as being about, “consuming your twin in the womb” which is delivered with far too straight a face to not be slightly terrifying. There’s plenty of stand outs, Pre-Feel is a surf-rock dancing number showcasing their poppier side, whilst closing track Psalms is probably their most complete track, with the should be a sing-along chorus “I can’t find my focus, working is for losers” a rather neat summary of the weekends activities.
Via a quick look at The Free Fall Band, a perfect pop band who are oddly reminiscent of the middle ground of Grandaddy and The Hives, we made our way back to the main stage in time for the much anticipated Mammoth Penguins. Emma Kupa is enough of a name on the Indie-Pop scene that she’s performing twice today, a later solo set follows Mammoth Penguins at the church stage, but seeing a brief break in proceeding we went to check out her latest band. The former Standard Fare front-woman might be the big name in the band, but Mammoth Penguins are a three-piece. Emma is joined by drummer Tom and bassist Mark, who also performs on the Sunday with Violet Woods. The material is largely taken from their album Hide & Seek, only recently released on Fortuna Pop, and whilst it’s perhaps a little one paced at times, the sheer variety of guitar tones, and some excellent lyricism see them roar through a very well received set, closing track When I Was Your Age a particular highlight.
As a bride might say, get me to the church on time, and if you’ll excuse that pun, we moved on to see Flemmings. The trio had their van broken into the night before, and shortly after they start break two guitar strings, in one song, which should be rounding off one of those weekends to forget. Luckily, via a collection from the audience repairs to the van are covered and, equally kindly a replacement guitar is sourced, even if it is rather tiny. Which all in all, makes for an odd sort of triumph of a set. Their noisy, distorted sound is pitched somewhere between Wavves and Sonic Youth, and Flemmings are both very loud and very messy in the best possible sense of the word. In years to come they’ll talk of the legend of the three-voiced punk rock-racket that came over adversity and won the appreciation of the congregation.
It says a lot about the inclusive nature of Indietracks that a band like The Ethical Debating Society can sit comfortably on the bill alongside tiny voiced, ukulele playing, Twee-popper Christina Quesada. The Ethical Debating Society (from here on known as TEDS) are quite possibly the least twee band in the world, and probably the loudest band in Indietracks history. The South-London three-piece are the epitome of DIY, everything about them from song-structures, singing styles and how they play their instruments seems to have been worked out along the way. The twin vocals often seem to sing different lines at the same time, as if both Tegan and Kris are battling for control of the band. Even between songs they manage to disagree with one another “it’s hard to be angry when there’s steam-trains and owls about” quips Kris, Tegan retorts “speak for yourself, I’m still fucking angry, Owls didn’t stop the Tories” not to be outdone Kris dedicates the next song to “our new favourite protest group Owls against Tories.” Half an hour in, the company of the trio is both thrillingly loud and a lot of fun, they even get some audience participation in, dragging someone from the audience to join them on guitar for a kazoo-laden cover of X-Ray Spex’s Oh Bondage! Up Yours! Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, and if you think that you can answer to TEDS, good luck with that!
It’s back outside after TEDS for a one-woman grunge masterclass from Colleen Green. A transport nightmare almost robbed us of her presence, which would have been frankly awful. One of the most anticipated performances of the weekend, Colleen is without her band today, so is backed by a band in a box. No problem, as her brilliant guitar work is more than enough to hold the audience’s attention as she races through a set of tracks largely taken from her superb I Want To Grow Up album from earlier this year. Clad as always in her dark sunglasses, she’s an effortlessly cool presence, and by the time closing track TV rolls around, it’s just a superbly delivered performance, who needs drummers anyway?
We dashed indoors to catch The Wave Pictures, perhaps unsurprisingly so did everyone else, so we took a spot towards the back and let their always brilliant music wash over us. No matter how many times we’ve seen them they’re never anything short of spectacular, one of this country’s greatest live bands. Their sound is odd enough that they don’t really fit in anywhere, which at the same time means they can comfortably sit anywhere. Spaghetti, with its pulsing bass runs and twanging guitars has the crowd breaking into an impromptu ho-down, there’s a cover of Daniel Johnston’s I Killed The Monster, and Atlanta, their ode to travelling with Jonny Helm taking lead vocals. They even throw in a special guest Paul “The Rainmaker” Rains, who when not playing guitar for Allo Darlin’ and Tigercats, also does production work at Soup Studios, and as such he has become something of the godfather of Indie-Pop, and one of the busiest men at the festival. His arrival coincides with a gorgeous version of down-tempo weeper Sleepy Eyed, which features a gorgeous slow-hand guitar solo from David that’s the equal of anything Eric Clapton ever mustered, and the beautiful lyric “you still have got no style, and perhaps that’s why I like you the best.” With the presence of an additional guitar, David likens them, slightly tongue in cheekly, to Thin Lizzy, but with the array of classic-rock riffing, there’s certainly a hint of Neil Young’s work with Crazy Horse in there. They run through the sing-along of Seagulls, and with ten minutes to go David reckons there’s “enough time for one more guitar solo each”. Instead they launch into Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon and finish on an earlier classic, Leave The Scene Behind. A predictably wonderful set from this most unique and wonderful band.
Headlining Saturday nights proceeding were The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. They’re old hats at this of course, having previously headlined back in 2010, although it should be remembered the New Yorkers have only to date released three albums and been around for less than a decade. None the less they seemed to be a hugely popular headliner, and draw easily the biggest crowd of the day to the outdoor stage. They arrived to little fanfare, suddenly appearing on stage and bursting straight into a blast of hazy dream-pop in the shape of Until The Sun Explodes from their most recent album 2014’s Days Of Abandon. They might be from across the pond but there’s something distinctively British about their sound. They borrow New Order’s synths, the Jesus & Mary Chain’s fuzz, and The Smith’s jangle, and distil it into something more modern. They’re comfortable and polished performers and rush through a gimmick free set of songs, which the expectant crowd lap up.
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart write sad songs for happy people; they’ve got a wistful tone about them, so even a song like Heart In Your Heartbreak seems to be glancing backwards with a new found sense of understanding. Young Adult Friction turns the crowd into a swaying dancing mass, all shouting the “don’t check me out” outro along with Kip and the band, whilst a newer track Simple & Sure shows that they’re still a band who are creating interesting music and not just a nostalgia act. Before they finish they talk of their fondness for Indietracks and the chance to catch up with old friends and are welcomed by the audience as if they are just that, they promise to take to the disco floor and “get intoxicated” with us all later, and you entirely believe they will.
They depart ludicrously early, and unsurprisingly return to run through a wonderful encore. We’ll debate the point of festival encores another time, but at this point we were a little too busy dancing to mind, they play the superb This Love Is Fucking Right and even throw in a cover of James’ Laid, cue lots of terrible/brilliants dancing, and many people saying, “actually maybe James were actually really great after all.” It’s a splendid set and a perfect close to the day’s proceedings.
What did we learn along the way? To never attempt to cover twelve bands in a single day ever again? Who are we kidding, when the bands were this good we didn’t care, slightly dazed, we debate the merits of cheesy-chips and settle into another pint of ale, then immediately start planning who we’re going to see the next day, when remarkably, it happens all over again!
All photos courtesy of Elizabeth Corker (@VioletBeeHive)