This weekend marked the 10th anniversary edition of the UK’s biggest indie-pop festival, Indietracks. Set, as always, at the Midland Railway, the festival remains as idiosyncratic, eclectic and vital as ever. Showcasing many bands who would never even be considered by other festivals. Indietracks may be a relatively small festival, the capacity is around 2000, but for Indie music in its truest form, it might just be one of the most important.
There’s something wonderfully reassuring about the atmosphere at Indietracks, whilst most festivals seem to draw new audiences each year, the vast majority of people at the festival are the same faces who come every year. There’s something almost organic about the way the audience has aged and evolved with the festival; each year the crowd looks a little older, the number of children increases dramatically, and everything remains reassuringly how it always is. That’s not, of course, a bad thing, it has become a well oiled machine, the formula works so it requires tweaks not grand overhauls. This year we note with interest the merch tent has spun round 90 degrees, and where once was a Mexican street-food van, now stands a one-stop vegan bistro, a welcome addition to the small but eclectic catering options.
Proceedings, as always, kick off with a somewhat laid-back Friday, the site doesn’t open until five in evening, the entertainment is limited to just one stage and three bands, and there’s a certain post-work drinks atmosphere to proceedings. There’s an undeniable hum as friends and acquaintances, many of whom only see each other at this one weekend a year, regale one another with tips for the weekend and stories of the year gone by.
The opening band of the weekend are exactly the sort of band Indietracks was created for, Leeds’ Nervous Twitch. The Odd Box Record signed quartet fuse the 1960’s pop of the Shangri-Lah’s with some distinctly American-punk influences and touches of surf, garage-rock and a slight dash of J-Pop, though that might just be the bubblegum-blue hair’s doing. There’s a definite Tarantino movie soundtrack feel to proceedings and they run through an excellent set, particularly good when singer Erin swaps bass for synth and adds some almost Stooges-like organ textures to proceedings. A new discovery to kick off the weekend, and with Odd Box in the process of re-pressing their latest LP, Don’t Take My TV, a well timed discovery as well.
A quick pit stop to try some of the local ales, (Butterly Tunnel excellent, Old Oak Bitter very drinkable) and it was time for Simon Love & The Old Romantics. Simon, the former frontman of The Loves, released his debut solo album, It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, last year on Fortuna Pop, and the material today is largely lifted from that. A larger than life frontman, Simon enters resplendent in the sort of white suit you can only really pull off if you’re willing to at least partly laugh at yourself. Accompanied by his three-piece backing band The Old Romantics, they tread a difficult line between 1970’s glam-rock pastiche and the TFI Friday house band, it shouldn’t really work, but it does. Largely because the lyrics are genuinely funny, they swear a lot and they seem like they’re having a brilliant time doing it. Some of the in jokes are so niche they’re baffling, they’re joined for one number by Jools Holland (definitely not Liz from The School in a mask) and on latest single Tennis Fan, Alexander Christoper Hale comes on stage dressed like the bastard off spring of John McEnroe and Andy Murray and forehands some tennis balls into the crowd…for some reason. Highly entertaining, plus there’s hordes of kids screaming “mother-fuckers” and a song written from the point of view of Elton John’s ex-wife that could easily end up in a law suit, and if you can’t enjoy that – you’re doing life wrong.
Talking of Fortuna Pop, the weekend is slightly rocked by the shock news that after twenty years and over 200 releases, the label is to come to an end. There could be few more fitting places for head-honcho Sean Price to break the news than in the Indietracks programme, seeing as his label has probably provided more bands than any other over the 10 years of Indietracks. We will be very sad to see the end of one of the UK’s most important independent labels and home to so many of our favourite bands from Allo Darlin’ to Martha and fittingly Friday night’s headline act, The Spook School.
The epitome of what Indietracks is all about, The Spook School’s rise to headliner has been meteoric. The Glasgow quarter first played back in 2012 and have deservedly risen through the ranks, even if we must admit we were a tad surprised to see they were headlining. Indietracks have always been a festival willing to back a small band to rise to the occasion and that’s exactly what The Spook School do. Drummer (come stand up comedian) Niall bounces onto the stage like a professional wrestler, parades along the front and screams into a microphone, “Good evening Indietracks, we are The Venga Boys.” As per usual his bandmates seem to treat him with a mixture of admiration and disdain, following a riotous opening track, guitarist Adam quizzically asks, “did you just introduce us as The Venga Boys?”
Niall’s shtick is actually rather cleverer than it may initially appear, it buys the band time to gain their composure at easily the biggest show they’ve ever played, and if there are any, understandable, pre-set nerves they’re not at all detectable. They run through a set of material from throughout their back catalogue, a number of older numbers from debut Dress Up are well received, as are new songs, the excellent Going Home from the recent Continental Drift Slumberland/Fortuna Pop sampler sounding particularly excellent, injecting a Veronica Falls like jangle-pop feel to their usual punkier take on the indie-pop genre. The greatest reception though is saved for material from the band’s break-out second album, Try To Be Hopeful; one of our favourite albums of last year, it showcases their winning blend of sincerity, humour and big-pop hooks. Whilst the album’s deeply personal lyrical inspiration, from gender-fluidity, to challenging sexism and coming to terms with your own identity, could quite easily sound heavy, there’s a sense of universality and lightness of touch to it, that makes you feel very much part of the conversation. Take the stupendously good Binary, whilst it asks the listener to challenge societies tendency to place us into neat categories, it does so with a catchy sing-along, 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1, chorus and an outro that has the whole crowd singing (or in many cases screaming) “I am bigger than a hexadecimal.” People say guitar music, even pop music, has nothing to say anymore, well they’re just not looking in the right places.
A personal highlight is their latest album’s title track, Try To Be Hopeful, it’s a song that in a world that increasingly has a tendency to feel bleak and hopeless, reminds us that we all have a duty to try and remain positive and to fight for the things that are worth fighting for. It’s just a remarkable piece of songwriting, it could easily fall into the trap of here’s our epic, tear-jerker, were it not so honest and sincere. The Spook School’s magic is that they look at the world, acknowledge all it’s problems, but still make you believe that anything is possible, that dreams do come true, and watching them headline this festival, surely one of their dreams just did.
Oh and for the encore….well it had to be a Venga Boys cover didn’t it…
All photos courtesy of Violet Beehive (twitter.com/violetbeehive)