For a festival that generally takes place slap-bang in the middle of the British summer, it doesn’t half rain a lot at Indietracks, so it was water-proof coat and shorts weather, something they don’t tend to mention in all those festival fashion articles. Luckily the day started indoors anyway, with the rather wonderful Molar.
Molar are a band who fit into the slightly shifting musical mood of Indietracks, while once it was dominated by somewhat twee C-86 inspired bands, a shifting political climate and a younger generation have led to a greater number of Riot-Grrrl and punk-inspired acts appearing, and the multi-national Londoners certainly fit that tag. While there were some sound issues initially, once their scrappy-punk hit its stride it was really quite powerful. The politically active lyrics were present throughout, whether they are detailing issues in the drummer’s homeland of Venezuela or demanding an end to borders in Luxembourgish (which we’re reminded in a real language). A cover of Slant 6’s, What Kind Of Monster Are You?, was particularly well received, and to use the old festival cliché, they were exactly the wake-up call we all needed.
From there it was over to the main stage, with a break in the rain timed perfectly for only the fifth ever show by the pastel jumpsuit wearing, all-girl supergroup, Cheerbleederz. The band have just one EP released so far, so treated us to the entirety of their upcoming second one, due later this year, “hopefully”. On this evidence they’re a project we really hope they stick-at and are able to fit around their other musical commitments. Telling tales of the intricacies and mundanity of modern living, with some really special harmonies and a perfect amalgam of punkier and poppier moments, it was a brief and perfectly formed set.
If success is about overcoming adversity, then Witching Waves deserve all the credit we can, and will, throw at them. The Yorkshire-via-London post-punk trio arrive a member down, in the middle of a torrential rain shower. There was a good chunk of the stage left awaiting the arrival of bass-player Estella, caught in traffic en-route to the site, “we’re still hoping Estella will make it”, said guitarist Mark without sounding all that confident that it would happen. Even as a two-piece though, Witching Waves remain a ferocious prospect, Emma’s tremendously powerful drumming creating an urgent back-drop, as Mark stalks the stage like a man possessed by some guitar-playing demon. Then the weekend’s most rock’n’roll moment arrived, Estella did make it, dashing onto the stage bass in hand, we’re only slightly disappointed they didn’t plug in and join in mid-song, yet it’s a moment of real feel-good triumph. As if to show what we were missing, they launched into Flowers from 2016’s Crystal Cafe, a bass-heavy, Joy Division-like slow-burner, that brought a suitable level of gloom to the dark skies and industrial back-drop, only slightly broken by the odd site of the whole crowd giving a passing train a jolly wave as it chugged on by. Add that to the list of things that only happen at Indietracks.
Suitably soaked, we quickly dashed for the indoor stage for the much anticipated Porridge Radio, it was already packed to the rafters with a mixture of fans, interested onlookers and people who just want to be dry. Still they sounded great from the back!
They’re followed by Fresh, a band we last saw back at DIY Popfest in 2017, and have, perhaps unsurprisingly, come a long way since then. While they were previously walking the line between minimal-punk and acoustic-emo, now they’re a fully-fledged rock-band, just with some really good melodies thrown in as well. Most of the material was lifted from their recent second album, Withdraw, with the incredibly impressive screamed vocals of Revenge arguably one of the weekend’s most impressive moments. They ended on an old favourite, Fuck My Life, which seemed perfectly inappropriate for a band who seemed to be having as much fun as they were.
Mammoth Penguins are something of a tradition at Indietracks, gradually working their way around almost every stage on offer. This time it was The Outdoor Stage, with their normal three-piece line up bolstered by a collection of musical friends, many of whom played on their John Doe concept album. It felt like something of a celebration for the band, borrowing heavily from this year’s well received LP, There’s No Fight We Can’t Both Win, with particularly wonderful renditions of Closure and a slightly censored, child-friendly version of I Wanna. There was an excellent moment when singer Emma, one of the festivals organisers, realised they were over-running and pleaded with the rest of the Team not to cut off the power, for the comedy value, we’re only slightly disappointed they didn’t.
We cram into the Church Of Merch for a surprise unplugged set from Onsind, which was just about audible from the back, there’s a mass “never trust a Tory” sing-along, seemingly particularly appropriate with Mr. Johnson’s recent promotion, even if it did lose some of its subtlety as the verses got a little lost in the sound-checking on the main stage. The band sound-checking were LIINES, The Reckless Yes signed Mancunians, who were a last minute replacement for Desperate Journalist. The band have been gaining all sorts of acclaim for their distinctly 90’s sounding take on post-punk and live it was a highly polished and well received affair, not bad for a last minute fill-in!
Next, we headed back into the unplugged merch tent to see Alex from Tugboat Captain perform a set largely consisting of new material, and with a guest vocal from Rachel from L I P S, which we’re reliably informed was practiced about five minutes before the set. Alex’s enthusiasm for the festival is matched in the small crowd’s reaction, creating a rather lovely moment for the few people that caught it.
Based on the number of t-shirts alone, it seemed like for a lot of people, the festival was always building up to this moment, when Durham DIY-heroes Martha took to the stage, part one of a double header with former Fortuna Pop label-mates The Spook School. It was Martha’s fourth appearance at the festival, and first time on the main-stage since 2013, after rain forced them indoors two years back. There’s something delightfully old-fashioned about the rise of Martha, building from humble beginnings via word of mouth, they’re now headlining 1600 capacity venues in London and playing on the main stage at End Of The Road. All that said though, there’s no place like home, and outside of Durham, Indietracks is probably as close as Martha get.
The quartet fill the large stage with ease, they truly seemed at home with their growing reputation, maintaining all the charming energy of their earlier material while showcasing material from a back-catalogue that’s now over-flowing with crowd pleasing hits. They played the crowd well, introducing, new track, The Void, with the downbeat pronouncement, “shit is fucked”, and otherwise largely letting the music speak for itself. They threw in a cover of Allo Darlin’s My Heart Is A Drummer, in about the only place where most people in the crowd would recognise it. Before they played closing track, Gretna Green, bassist Naomi seemed to echo most of the crowds feeling declaring, “I need to get to the indoor stage, because I really like The Spook School”, before unveiling an inflatable duck dingy and asking a crowd to sail her there. There’s a moment where we weren’t entirely sure if that decision was brave or foolish, and by the look on Naomi’s face she wasn’t either, as the song played and the duck gathered momentum though it was a truly bizarre and triumphant moment, we haven’t a clue how she got off at the other end!
Rather remarkably Martha and The Spook School, have never before appeared on the same Indietracks bill until this year, and sadly they never will again. The much loved Glasgow-quartet recently announced that, after eight-years they’re parting company, with Indietracks the first stop on their farewell tour. We knew it would be busy, we just weren’t quite prepared for how busy! Emerging in full mime make-up, they launched straight into a ferociously received set, the band were clearly emotional throughout and so were most of the crowd, even if the sound does at times leave you not entirely sure what song they’re playing at first. They grew into the set and by the time favourites like Binary and I Want To Kiss You were rolled out, they were truly into their stride. All good things must pass though, and as the set lurched on everyone began to realise that this was the case here, even Niall the drummer-come-comedian of the band struggles to crack jokes or offer the most sincere of thanks without breaking-down slightly. With two songs to go, they launched into a re-imagined cover version of The Just Joans’ What Do We Do Now?, with Indietracks appropriate lyrics/in-jokes like, “do you still drink down the train bar? Is the train bar, still the train bar?”, yet it was the sing-along chorus that left not a dry eye in the house, “we can’t keep living in the past. What do we do now? Now we’re ten years old, the band’s we loved are dead, the band’s we loved are dead”. Martha leapt up on stage and joined them for a rapid-run through of Move To Durham And Never Leave, before poignantly leaving them to finish alone. They finished on Try To Be Hopeful, of course, a tear-jerking, heartfelt beauty of a song at the best of times, here it’s almost too much, we were left a little broken. As the balloons fell on the gathered crowd, we could only echo what so many others said, it has simply been a privilege to watch this band.
There’s perhaps always been a feeling with The Spook School that they never quite know how important they are to so many people, their tales of feeling like outsiders, self-doubt and above all remaining positive resonate far beyond their record sales. We can only hope that on Saturday night they got to realise how much their little band from Glasgow meant to a bunch of oddballs in a train museum in Derbyshire.
If you missed it, you can read our review of Friday HERE, and check back tomorrow for the final part of our Indietracks review.