Tramlines 2012 festival review
'In an ideal world, every city would have a festival like Tramlines'
Chris Swindells - 23 July 2012
It's hard not to be overly enamoured with Tramlines. A free festival in the age of austerity, it's musical
charity and as charity cases we all should be grateful.
More than 150,000 festival attendees reportedly descend on the Yorkshire city for the festival, which in its fourth year has already established itself as an unmissable date on the festival calendar. Unlike other metropolitan festivals there's no wristbands required, no ticket fees and therefore no unholy booking fees. Crucially too the key venues remain outdoors, meaning some people actually do get to witness some live music.
However the only respectable place to spend Friday is inside, in the Bowery. Owned by former Arctic Monkeys man Andy Nicholson, it's somewhere between cute and kitsch - depending on your viewpoint. There's no doubt though it's built for music, like the Monkeys would have prescribed.
Cave Painting (7/10) open the evening, and despite
the full house they stumble on to a fairly muted response for their identikit stadium indie set-up (available in all good
toy shops, £23.99, requires batteries). It proves to be the best warm up set of the night. Sadly, Kult Country (5/10) are a psychedelic crossbreed between a rolling dust ball and Adrian
Chiles. Tedious at best, fatally boring at worst.
Over the road Nokia are getting their corporate branding opportunities in early, presenting a light show on the Devonshire Green with True Tiger, whilst inside the Bowery there's no room to move as Alt-J (8/10) face a long walk through the crowd to reach the stage, late, for their top billing. Highlights of their debut 'An Awesome Wave' are neatly presented and given how fresh the material is there is no doubt its connected, 'Breezeblocks' in particular becomes a rousing crowd chanting demo.
Sheffield wakes with sun on Saturday and the whole of Yorkshire might as well be out for the party. The crowd has more than quadrupled and everyone is happy to drink on the streets and take in the vibe. A vibe which could cautiously be described as euphoric. London might like to think it can do parties but Sheffield puts those Jubilee street parties in the capital to shame.
For a free enterprise Tramlines is meticulously planned and executed. You're never more than ten metres from a steward, ready with directions or advice, though it's not hard to stumble upon the heavily branded Nando's New Music Stage, which brings together a host of new bands. On Saturday, it showcases Esben & The Witch (6/10), a half chicken with a medium herb spice. Pounding dual percussion and a dual vocal attack seem to stun rather warm the crowd in the early evening. Daniel Copeman admits: "We've been trying some new things out, so maybe it's not been the rousing success it could have been."
Stunning is just weapon number seven in Future Of The Left's (9/10) arsenal. They open with shock and awe, playing old favourites like 'Small Bones Small Bodies' and 'Manchasm' - this raucous and anarchic set, which pulls not only from FOTL's three full length albums but for a rare treat from Andy Falkous' previous outfit, Mclusky.
Later that evening Jackmaster (7/10) can't quite keep the attention of the Red Bull Studios Live room (can you see the running theme here), even with his so called 'guilty pleasures', which is disappointing as the venue is growing in occupants. R. Kelly, Destiny's Child and Ginuwine's 'Pony' are not cutting Colman's mustard. These people all want a piece of Sheffield's local wonder boy, which is good as another Steel city hero, Jarvis Cocker, appears on screen to make everyone aware of his impending entrance. "Settle down" he implores, then poses a few questions, "Toddla T, who is he?"
Straight in with 'Streets So Warm' Toddla T (10/10) really didn't need that introduction, it appears his sophomore album 'Watch Me Dance' is as good as the holy bible round these parts. Still he reaches for the cameo appearance book to enrol old friend Roots Manuva encouraging you to witness 'The Toddla T fitness.' Shola Ama then makes a real life appearance for 'You Might Need Somebody' and her latest collaboration 'Alive', before rejoining later for the finale of 'Take it Back'.
When Benga & Youngman (8/10) follow they mix old dance-floor hits from the likes The Prodigy with Benga's new solo productions, like recent single, 'Icon'. The results are truly electric. He lacks the stage and size of Toddla T but seems to have as much fun going loose and wild his the desk and giving the early morning ravers a taste of what they want, no nonsense bass and beats.
Sunday is hit by even greater weather and a heatwave suits Rolo Tomassi (9/10) who return for the third year running and curate the New Music Stage at Tramlines. It might not be surprising then that in the beating early evening sun their noisecore strangely feels at home, in the shadow of Sheffield's imperial looking city hall it's really hard to turn away. Local femme icon Eva Spence almost waltzes around the stage, in a sparkling black dress and wearing a growl the size of the city she looks somewhere between elegant and demonic.
Just up the same road We Are Scientists (7.5/10) are opening their set with 'Nice Guys'. An appropriate title for the threesome, who plunder their back catalogue of rad indie-rock hits to mixed reaction, as Keith Murray struggles with his vocals and Chris Cain tries everything to warm the crowd with their usual on stage 'banter'.
Other than a minor scuffle in the crowd the show finishes on a high, thousands singing along to 'The Great Escape' and 'After Hours' - a fine way to end the main stage billing for the weekend. Devonshire Green acts a perfect venue for these such events, a natural amphitheatre, the 7,000-plus people inside can really watch the show from all angles.
In an ideal world, every city would have a festival like Tramlines, but if any one city deserves it, Sheffield does. After all those years of snooker, steel and The Full Monty, it now has yet another thing to be proud of. Hats off.
Click here for our full Tramlines coverage.
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