"So what's indie pop, then?" - Indietracks Festival's boss reveals all

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Stuart Mackay | 19 May 2010

“So what's indie pop, then?" one of the station guards asks me as he watches a bunch of excited festival-goers step off the stream train on the way to the Indietracks Festival.

He's one of a team of local volunteers who drive the locomotives, maintain the trains and act as signalmen at the Midland Railway Centre. You might think that having thousands of music fans descend upon this quaint railway would be their worst nightmare, but actually they're delighted to see so many people enjoying the trains. I've never know how to describe indie pop, however, so I dodge the question and point the guard towards one of the carriages where the Bobby McGees are about to enthral passengers with their ukulele-based skiffle pop.

I never set out to run a festival, it just happened. In 2007, I had no experience in organising shows and was simply working at the railway restoring steam trains, when I had the idea of staging a gig there.

I nervously approached the railway managers about running a small event in April and, luckily, they were incredibly supportive. I printed flyers to hand out at local gigs, but although I'd been given flyers many times at shows, for some reason I was too nervous to hand out my own. I thought that everyone would laugh at my suggestion of visiting some old railway in the middle of nowhere to see bands, so I just quickly laid down the flyers and left. I needn't have worried. Word spread, the night sold out really quickly, and the evening was a success. We had to do it again.

Summer was approaching, so I started to think about an all-dayer. I then figured that if we were building stages and people were travelling long distances, why not hold it for two days? And that's how, in the summer of 2007, Indietracks became a proper festival.

I have to admit that our first festival was a struggle. I was working full-time restoring trains and trying to do everything else in my spare time. The bands needed convincing that this festival could actually happen, and I was forced to relocate the outdoor stage at the last minute as torrential rain was forecasted.

We moved the main stage into a recently built locomotive shed, with a concrete floor that had only set a week previously and a stage I had built myself. Typically, after all that effort, it turned out to be a sunny weekend.

In 2008 we added a small outdoor stage (on a lorry trailer) and, last year, thanks to the support of our partner Elefant Records, we were able to build an even bigger one - and this time it wasn't on the back of a lorry! In fact, last year's festival attracted more people than ever thanks to our partnership with Elefant to celebrate their 20th anniversary. The Spanish label brought a range of fantastic bands to play the new outdoor stage, including La Casa Azul and Camera Obscura, and a whole host of Spanish indiepop fans followed them over, which gave the festival a distinctly European favour. La Casa Azul even won a special Virtual Festival Critics' Choice award for his headline slot, which saw our main field transformed into a Euro-indie pop disco! We also hosted craft and music workshops for the first time ever in areas such jewellery and bunting making, and how to run your own record label. These proved really popular with both young and old alike, and we're looking forward to running these again this year!
Behind the scenes, everyone involved in running Indietracks is doing it as a hobby. Jobs such as artwork, press releases and festival programmes are all done by the team for the love of it, and I'm still quite surprised at the level of interest that we receive. It's obviously a bit of a niche festival, being solely indie pop, and there's a much bigger rock and blues festival just three miles from us that also takes place on the last weekend of July. We're targeting different audiences, but it didn't stop the local press running a story once about the "battle of the festivals"!
It's a bit strange to get that sort of attention, but I'm really pleased that my idea has caught people's imagination. Four years ago, combining pop music and locomotives was just a ridiculous dream … now it's full steam ahead for this year's event!

Stuart Mackay


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