Indietracks feels like Isambard Kingdom Brunel putting on All Tomorrow's Parties, where the only downside is choosing between the gorgeous music and the unlimited steam train rides, writes Kai Jones.
Overall – 8/10
Now in its third year, Indietracks has sprung up from very modest beginnings to be one of the UK’s most endearing and eccentric festivals. Taking place at Midland Valley Railway Centre in Riply, Derbyshire, the event is a labour of love for founder Stuart Mackay, who combined two of his passions: restoring steam trains and indie pop, to create one wholly unique event. Indietracks isn’t just a great excuse to discover some great new music, it’s an opportunity to support the earnest restoration of our heritage: the festival acts as a money raiser for the museum, with everyone involved in the weekend volunteering their time for free.
The line-up represents the very best of the indiepop underground, many of whom would be lucky to even to grace the smallest of stages at ATP. Bands come from as far afield as Japan, Italy, Sweden, USA and Argentina; DJs from Berlin, Barcelona and Hong Kong. With Spain’s seminal indiepop label Elefant curating the main stage, there’s also a great selection of Spanish acts including Cola Jet Set, La Casa Azul and Cooper. For a festival that could fit comfortably inside Glastonbury’s Shangri La field, it certainly knows how to punch above its weight.
Familiar labels, fanzines and club nights - such as Fortuna Pop, Twee as Fuck and Lipstick on Your Collar - feature throughout the weekend, either DJing, running workshops or generally getting accosted by indiepop enthusiasts screaming, “oh my God, you’re from Talulah Gosh!”
Part of the charm of Indietracks is the ability to actually explore the heritage around the site. From having a drink at the bar in an old buffet car, to standing right next to one of the massively-intimidating locomotives, to the free and unlimited steam train rides – some of which actually feature gigs by some of the acts – it’s hard to walk around without feeling a sense of satisfaction that you’ve discovered something very special.
Tickets for the festival are priced at a very reasonable £55, but there’s a catch – it doesn’t include camping. For this you have to book separately at the nearby Golden Valley Campsite (£20 each per night for two people, a car and one pitch) or further afield. Although the campsite itself is beautiful, clean and very close – only a ten minute walk up a nice, leafy lane to the site - if the festival organisers could make a deal to include camping in the ticket price Indietracks would be almost perfect.
Getting there and back – 7/10
For a festival built around trains it’s a shame you can’t rail it all the way – but then you can blame Richard Beeching’s desolation of the network in the 1960s for that. The nearest railway stations to the Midland Railway are Derby, Nottingham or Alfreton, with regular buses to the site Monday to Saturday (the Nottingham route drops off at the nearby town of Ripley; from there it’s a short taxi ride). The H1 service from Alfreton takes you direct to the Golden Valley Campsite.
Gas-guzzlers have it easy – Ripley is minutes from the M1 and A38. Parking is free and Indietracks have a Freewheelers Page (linked from the Indietracks website) where you can arrange a car share.
Site – 7/10
Tiny and intimate, the site centres around Stanwick Junction on the Midland Valley line. As well as the main stage – which only this year has been upgraded from a lorry trailer – there’s an indoor stage in an old railway shed and a lovingly restored church, hosting some of the more intimate gigs (a fourth venue, hosting DJs, is housed at the Golden Valley campsite). A narrow gauge railway runs right through the site – manned by two of the friendliest railway workers you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet – while you can jump on one of the regular steam train rides from Stanwick Junction itself. You can also explore the locomotives and old mail trains in the gargantuous exhibition hall and marvel at the restored diesel trains that litter the tracks around the site. A bar in the shed offers a ridiculous array of real ale, but food wise there’s only a small-but-tasty curry stall and a café, which serves the kind of food that would make Hilda Ogden proud, but hardly the health-conscious.
Atmosphere – 8/10
A festival on train tracks full of twee poppers is a sure-fire bet to bring ridiculous grins to the most cynical of people. The atmosphere is happy and easy-going rather than the frantic craziness of, say Bestival. The low capacity means that the vibe takes a little time to pick up each day, with the main stage crowd dispersing in-between bands in favour of the workshops and other stages – an idea would be to draft in some of the great DJs on site to fill the void. However, by dusk – and especially in the late discos in the Shed – the atmosphere becomes excitingly electric.
Au Revoir Simone – 7/10
Headlining Friday’s Elefant stage Annie Hart, Erika Forster and Heather D'Angelosway are a perfect opener to the weekend, delivering their purring gothic synth-pop from behind individual keyboards with dreamy abandon. Still seemingly lacking from onstage confidence, their presence is limited to softly-softly swaying to the ethereal harmonies. But while the shyness is often captivating they’re still crying out for something else – if only they’d do something like twirl around the stage like Alice In Wonderland every now and then, it would compliment the gothic tales they’re so good at relaying.
Teenage Fanclub - 8/10
The Fannies have still got it. Headlining on Sunday, the rustled post-punk guitars and absorbing, swirling harmonies still sound as relevant as when ‘Bandwagonesque’ hit the shops in 1991 with its Big Star-inspired greatness. New songs, like the country-tinged ‘Baby Lee’, are delicious but classic Fanclub-jangly and they close with a swooning ‘Neil Jung’.
La Casa Azul - 9/10
You’d never think a guy dressed as the Stig from Top Gear would make so many people gush and dance with happiness, but Spain’s La Casa Azul absolutely storm the place on Saturday night. Combining the anthemic disco of Abba with kind of rich production that made the Beach Boys so tantalising, La Casa Azul feature five members but only one of them – the deliciously named Milkyway – ever appears live. The backdrop becomes a massive video console for entire set, sometimes displaying the AWOL members of the band singing and playing, sometimes featuring Space Invaders pixels dancing along to the fresh, addictive choruses. La Casa Azul are like a wild and tropic mix of the Go! Team, Pizzicato 5 and the Scissor Sisters and their joyous, skyscraping cover of ‘Love Is In The Air’ is the absolute highlight of the weekend.
MJ Hibbett – 9/10
MJ Hibbett is an Indietracks favourite and he proved his worth this year by piling a hundred people into a moving steam train carriage and singing songs about how his boss used to be in an indie band. Hibbert is like Billy Bragg with a smile and a belly full of real ale. His tales are endearing, rich and funny, his delivery perfectly-timed. At one point he recounts the panic of fellow passengers faced with a group of revellers on the way to Gay Pride on ‘the Gay Train’. Later in the evening Eddie Argos pays his own respect by repeatedly shouting “MJ Hibbett ... Top of the Pops!” during Art Brut’s set. It’s worth fighting for the return of TOTP just to make that happen.
Little My – 7/10
They sound like an explosion in a primary school music cupboard. They look fresh from the pages of ‘Where The Wild Things Are’. They feel like watching ‘The Flumps’ inside a tambourine. Little My are a mess of indie kids from Cardiff and tonight they pull grins around your silly face faster than you can say Fisher Price Orchestra. Dressed in bear suits and animal ears and playing the most charming twee pop their only musical benchmark is surely ‘Alberto Frog and His Amazing Animal Band’ from seminal 80s kids show ‘Bod’.
Art Brut – 8/10
Far from tiring of all the sweet indiepop, by Sunday evening you just need a little wry sarcasm; a little showmanship; a little post-Fall battle of your senses maybe; a little Eddie Argos. As ever, Eddie doesn’t disappoint, leaning ever closer into the people, marvellously spitting those blunt, loser tales out and over the Shed audience. Behind him the rest of the Brut stylishly grind away at the scrappy, scratchy anthems, as much a match for the eyes of the crowd as Argos’s intoxicating endeavours.
Trains! Everywhere you look there are steam trains, diesel trains, old rustic rolling stock, even a demonstration signal box where you can watch the main stage from – have you ever watched Camera Obscura from a signal box? You can even ride right past the main stage on a little narrow gauge train, while the super-friendly Midland Railway staff wave you on.
The Indietracks website and blog - probably one of the best festival websites out there. It not only gives excellent information on the location, directions and band timings, the blog features interviews with most of the bands and workshop organisers, plus plenty of MySpace links so you can research the line-up and pick your must-sees before you get there. There’s even a train timetable so you can plan your train rides in advance.
The ying and yang of the Golden Valley Campsite
The campsite itself is beautiful and well looked after, offering a café, bar, refreshing showers, electric points and some friendly staff. But there seemed an underlying crabbiness aimed at the people attending the festival – from the initial phone call to make the booking to the ludicrous decision to charge £5 to get in to the disco marquee each night. As a result DJs that had come all the way from Berlin were faced with less than a dozen people on Friday night. By Sunday the campsite had seen sense, offering free entry which accommodated an incredible final night party, but treating people - who are already paying money to camp and drink at the bar - like this is disgusting.
The campsite revolution on Saturday night when a load of Indiepoppers barged into the marquee when the security dropped their guard for a second. Twee as fuck indeed!