Monday, 28 July 2008

Next time, I think I'm gonna take a train - Kiss Me, I've Quit Smoking does Indietracks 2008! (Part 2)

INDIETRACKS FESTIVAL, 26th-27th July 2008, Midlands Railway Butterley (Part Two - Sunday!)

Sunday brought with it the meat and bones of the festival, with incredible acts spilling out from every least once the technical difficulties on the outdoor stage were fixed. Indeed these technical difficulties ended up improving the festival no end; set times were rearranged, and almost every band I actually wanted to see was relocated to the superior outdoor stage. The first band I caught that day were Brontosaurus Chorus, who graced the main stage with their mix of delicate strings and horns with punishing distortion and sugar-coated melodies. Italy's A Classic Education demonstrated why they deserved to win the competition to play the festival, playing a set of propulsive janglepop, akin to the vastly underrated Shout Out Louds. Strawberry Story, allegedly playing their last gig ever, were the only true mis-step of the festival; formed at the tail end of the C86-scene proper, the band's enthusiasm didn't carry across to the subdued Sunday afternoon crowd, who didn't take kindly to the barrage of noise, drum machines and out of tune wailing they were subjected to. Back on the main stage, KateGoes brought their carefree, themed gigs to Indietracks - this time, Kate Goes Stoneage,
so the band donned leopardskin robes and performed a set of shambolically melodic pop music, toy instruments and all.

From then, Indietracks delivered everything it promised; Darren Hayman (backed by The Wave Pictures, more on whom later) played a fantastic, if slightly tipsily abridged, set in the tea tent, for those who didn't make it for his set in the Church the previous night. His set was cut short to make way for The Smittens (above - photo courtesy of jayen_aitch from the Anorak forum) on the back of the Outdoor truck stage. The Vermont quintet were one of the most hotly-anticipated acts of the festival, but I found it strangely difficult to make my mind up about them; their boundless enthusiasm and optimism seemed almost unnatural (or at least a bit forced), but the songs themselves - the majority of which come from their latest album The Coolest Thing About Love - were so irresistibly catchy and fun, that I made a U-turn of opinion with each song. Rocking out where on record they shimmer - a change especially noticeable in the normally-restrained "Sapphire", which became the highlight of the set - the band gained new fans with every song, and by the time of the finale, the band's self-proclaimed theme song "Gentlefication Now! (The La La La Song)" (which was presonally requested by festival curator Stuart), the entire crowd was screaming the refrain back at the band, who looked frankly stunned at the newly-adoring mob in front of them.

Up next were The Wave Pictures (above - picture courtesy of sweepingthenation), and if you don't know my stance on them by now, then quite frankly, I'm shocked and appalled. They turned in a stunning set, opening with a frenetic take on the relatively obscure "I Shall Be a Ditchdigger" (from one of their early CD-R albums), and diving headlong into a set full of hits - though fan favourite "Now You Are Pregnant" was notable in its absence. The only real problem with the live Wave Pictures experience is the number of solos - while each member of the band is an extremely proficient musician (especially guitarist David Tattersall), there's no need to demonstrate it during every song. There's nothing worse than hearing a band say "We've got time for one more song" and thinking how much more time there would have been had each member of the band not pretended to be Neil Young. Still, when that last song is "Long Island", and features a guest appearance from Darren Hayman, it is admittedly somewhat harder to complain.

Piling onto the stage amid an assortment of bells, glocks, samplers and sometimes cramped up two to a keyboard, local heroes The Deirdres were another of the unrivalled highlights of the festival. With madcap songs about Michael Aspel - they once blagged their way onto an episode of Antiques Roadshow - cutesy declarations of love (they could barely get through "Ball in a Cup"'s tongue in cheek lyric "I think he is Batman, I'd like to be his Robin/When I'm his sewing machine, he is my bobbin" without cracking up) and sexual freedom (the almost Los Campesinos!-aping new single "Milk is Politics"), they immediately won the crowd over, as singer Russell indulged in some proper frontman stage antics, much to the rest of the band's amusement. The ramshackle riot show that is The Deirdres is best epitomised by their debut single "Claire, Are We Safe to Be On Our Own?", which came out last year on Cloudberry Records.

From the Truck I made a bee-line for the Church, pulling up a pew just in time to catch Dirty Fingernails; made up of two snarling Scandinavian synthpop siblings...and a drummer named Charlie, the band played a selection of tracks from their debut album, the absolutely boss (geddit?) "Greetings from Finsbury Park, N4" that had slightly more edge than the majority of bands on the bill. Definitely ones to watch out for. After that, it was back to the loco-shed-main-stage to see indiepunkpopstars Milky Wimpshake, another band who don't see stages nearly as much as they should do. The set was chock full of what you might call hits...or at least, crowd pleasers, including the cheaters' anthem "Dialing Tone" and my one-time mixtape staple "Noam Chomsky versus the Ramones", a song about the dichotomy of enjoying political theory and punk the same time. Hell, every song was a winner, and by the time of the final manic singalong to "Blow Out at 80 Miles per Hour" (all together now - "BLOW OUT!"), the crowd was a sweaty mass of three-chord love.

Ducking out of the main stage sauna for the cool evening air of the truck stage, I was greeted by the most impressive crowd I'd seen all weekend. It could only mean one thing - Ballboy. Sauntering onto the stage quietly, they then launched into the atmospheric tom-tom and synth attack of "Public Park", the only song I can think of that turns the phrase "pooper scooper" into poetry. From there, it was crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser, from the bungled bank-robbery caper of "I Don't Have Time to Stand Here With You Fighting About the Size of My Dick" (the purpetrator had been dumped seconds before he was leaving for the hold-up, y'see...) to the heartbreaking could-have-been-a-contender ballad "Songs for Kylie" - inspired by Calvin Harris, no less - every song hit the mark, as the sun went down in the Derbyshire sky. The band were also responsible for one of the most unlikely anthems of the weekend - "Avant Garde Music", an ode to being on the receiving end of music snobbery, which managed to somehow become the cue for the entire crowd to merge into one sweating mass of bodies. Maybe it was an excuse for a bunch of lonely hearts to collectively slag off "the girl who works in the record store", or maybe it was just the right band at the right time, but with Ballboy's set, Indietracks hit its peak.

All of which obviously augured somewhat ill for Los Campesinos!;
when once they radiated giddy teenage excitement with every note they played, LC! now seem to simply be going through the motions. Speaking as someone who isn't ashamed to admit to spending the best part of twelve months worshipping them for bringing unmitigated joy and meaning to my life, it really saddened me to see them having to go on after Ballboy - catching the occasional glimpse of LC!'s singer Gareth looking on during their set, it was hard not to imagine him trying to work out how to follow a performance like that. There's no denying that the band (especially Gareth) was happy to be there - his exciteable banter ("I got to shake the hand of Mister David Gedge last night!") made that abundantly clear; it nonetheless seemed like this was Just Another Gig for the band, in spite of their obviously being genuinely humbled to be playing the festival. A large proportion of the crowd also didn't seem to accept how they fit in to the ethos of Indietracks - the only festival in the world that could be headlined by Sarah Records elder-statesmen The Orchids, as it was last year. It's just a hypothesis, but perhaps the old guard felt like the band were too much of a flash in the pan to convincingly pull off playing above the bands who had worked hard to achieve their cult status. Consequently, they would have had to put on quite a performance to overshadow such expectations and doubts.

Well, maybe it's the fact that I've personally played the album to death, but there really did seem to be something lacking in their headline performance. You could, as with the Wedding Present the previous night, chalk it down to the terrible sound on the main stage (as opposed to the outdoor stage where, Strawberry Story aside, everyone sounded incredible), or maybe it was the fact that I was just unhappy at not winning anything in the raffle, which had been drawn just before the band came on. Then again, having been touring the album constantly since its release in February, maybe the band are just getting tired of playing its songs. Aside from the occasional small change in arrangement, there's nothing particularly different from the album, and even the die-hard fans in the crowd started flagging after a few songs. The obligatory universal insanity unleashed during "You! Me! Dancing!" by all sections of the crowd, both old and young, seemed to be a blip in an otherwise disappointing set, sadly bringing a slightly anticlimactic end to what had otherwise been an utterly brilliant and unique festival.

As the midnight train took the last of the punters away from the festival site into the warm Butterley summer night, everyone seemed to be reflecting on the festival happily; chances are they were the lucky ones who managed to get into the shows on the trains, or witnessed the odd surprise show on the platform, but everyone I've spoken to about the festival has had nothing but good things to say. Admittedly, two years in, there's still the odd teething problem (someone really ought to do something about moving the main stage outdoors or something), but all in all, Indietracks is a welcome addition to the festival calendar, and one that has already ammassed its fair share of regulars.
Roll on 2009.

Next time, I think I'm gonna take a train - Kiss Me, I've Quit Smoking does Indietracks 2008!

INDIETRACKS FESTIVAL, 26th-27th July 2008, Midlands Railway Butterley (Part One - Saturday!)

This weekend saw the return of the happiest, most polka-dotted and pudding-bowled festival in the entire world - Indietracks. Located in rural Derbyshire, the festival played host to a hundred indiepop bands from across the globe, with punters going to and from the site in an antique steam-train. The site itself was hardly built for masses of people, but the organisers managed to adapt the facilities extremely impressively; that said, the acoustics of the locomotive shed - used as the location of the main stage (and merchandise area) - left a lot to be desired, much to the detriment of the majority of the bands playing.

On a somewhat unprofessional note (given that I'm attempting to review the thing), the first day of Indietracks, for me at least, was effectively a write-off; I didn't actually arrive on-site until about 4pm, and the majority of the first couple of hours was spent attempting to scope the place out (eg: locate burger vans,
toilets. Commit to memory.). I did, however, manage to catch a glimpse of a couple of acts who I'd not previously encountered; The Parallelograms ticked all the C86 boxes - stand-up drummer and all - and played a great set, complete with Hello Kitty guitar. Definitely worth looking out for. Meanwhile, a rather lovely Australian singer-songwriter named Darren Hanlon graced the outdoor stage; his hose charming songs about literally bumping shoulders with the stars had echoes of Spearmint and the Lucksmiths.

Compared with most of the festival-goers, who flocked to the main stage in droves to see indiepop godfathers Comet Gain, my main attraction of the day were The Lodger (above - photo courtesy of Underexposed); always a great live band, the Leeds trio (as ever bolstered by an additional guitarist) really outdid themselves playing on the makeshift outdoor stage - the back of a truck! The whole set was a highlight from start to finish; tracks like "My Finest Hour" and the almost unbearably bitter "Many Thanks for Your Honest Opinion" shone as bright as the blistering Derby sun, while last single "The Good Old Days" deserved to be one of the festival's biggest anthems. The closing cover of Orange Juice's "I Can't Help Myself" was an unexpected nod to the festival's roots, and had even the most cynical popkid at least tapping their feet.

Headlining the main stage that night were the undisputed kings of the genre, The Wedding Present - a band in whom my interests have never really peaked above curious. The set was solid; the classics mixed seamlessly together with new material from their current LP El Rey, with tracks like "Santa Ana Winds" and "Model, Actress, Whatever..." wowing the crowd. Unfortunately, as the all-too-frequently spotted t-shirts proclaimed "The Wedding Present: All the Songs Sound the Same"; it was hard to tell if it was the songs themselves, or the less than stellar sound in the loco shed, but every song ended up sounding like "Brassneck" - and even when they played it, it was somewhat hard to discern. A shame, that. The night finished with an indiepop disco, courtesy of the Helen Love Bubblegum Killers, who played some hits (your standard Pulp, Belle and Sebastian etc fare), some misses (maybe I just wasn't in the mood to dance to "Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love In My Tummy"...), and some unexpected treats - anyone who saw me dancing to McCarthy's "We Are All Bourgeois Now" can attest to the joy I felt during that five minutes. A fantastic end to the first day's festivities, though the best was very much yet to come...