Edinburgh’s adorable genderpop punk warriors Spook School are headlining the Friday night at Indietracks. Remember them, we’re going to see them again later. In the meantime let’s just enjoy them totally owning their moment, basking in an audience that are in swoony love, drinking in their tales of identity and bittersweet human existence, gulping them down like lemonade, and burping back their adoration. Spook School are an important band, with vital things to say, they also play delicious pop songs and have a drummer that does all their talking for them. Normally there is no other band like Spook School. Except at Indietracks, where everyone is a bit like Spook School. The brilliant things they represent are the brilliant things about indiepop as a scene and Indietracks in particular: openness, tolerance, joy in pop, a rejection of gender norms, seeing the audience as family, and being allowed to be funny, sweet, angry and catchy all at the same time. At Indietracks there’s little dividing the bands and the people watching them, and even less dividing their souls from their art. This is less a music festival and more a family reunion.
There aren’t any other festivals like Indietracks. Not really. And that’s not because it’s tiny and has actual steam trains (though that is a bonus). Indietracks is a festival without any of the stuff you hate about festivals: no poseurs, barely a sniff of ego, no trouble, no cynicism, no branding, no symbols of soft corporate power, no magazine tie-ins, no crap bloggers doing voxpops and fashion features, no VIP area full of shit celebs in hot pants and wellies. No Lauren Laverne (actually that last one is a bit of a shame - if there was ever a festival where being the singer of Kenickie carries some cache, it’s this one). You get the picture though: in a festival scene completely shorn of identity, where Reading is less a gathering-of-the-alternative-tribes and more a piss up with pop bands, where Glastonbury is full of people who don’t leave the main stages, and where the V Festival continues to be a place to be sick after your A-level results, Indietracks attracts a refreshingly music-focused, literate audience who get each other. It’s probably the only festival in the world where you’ll get 600 people who all know the words to the Lovely Eggs’ ‘Have You Ever Heard A Digital Accordion’ and treat Darren Hayman playing ‘Hymn For The Cigarettes’ like it’s McCartney doing ‘Hey Jude’.
Also, in a festival landscape constantly criticised for under-representing women, Indietracks is leaps and bounds ahead. It passes whatever the musical version of the Bechdel Test is on drummers alone. Most bands are at least mixed gender, and all-male bands are extremely rare. It’s not like that’s a ‘thing’ here, it just doesn’t feel like anyone’s filling quotas. It’s just… how it should be. Brilliant indiegrunge trio ¡Ay Carmela! don’t stand out because of their genders, something which might (but shouldn’t) give them a novelty factor at Blokefest2016 up the road, here they stand out because they have a knack with melancholic powerpop driven by gorgeous, melodic basslines and glistening harmonies.
Remember Spook School, who were slaying the mainstage back at the start of this review? They were also the audience. You’d spot them watching the amazing Chrissy Barnacle, a lovely and twisted folk singer who combines the energetic storytelling of Josie Long with the alien elegance of Joanna Newsom. You see Chrissy bopping to Baltimore jangly types Expert Alterations. Expert Alterations’ bassist can be spotted watching the extraordinary instrumental storytelling of Haiku Salut, who in turn can be seen… well, you get the picture. This isn’t a clique, it’s a scene. A real one. Everyone, on either side of the barrier is here for the love of joyful indie goodness. It’s an in ice-cream wonderland, safe for all (unless you’re the bass player from Trust Fund who got walloped in the annual campsite football match).
This year's’ is not a perfect line-up, but what’s telling is where those imperfections are: no-one is judging the occasionally shonky performance or out-of-tune guitar (pristine musicality is only ever a bonus in indiepop), and the polished hits of Saturday-headliners Saint Etienne makes them comfortably the dullest band of the entire weekend. That said it would be nice to see a band that doesn’t list “Pavement, C86, Pulp” as influences. Just to shake things up a bit.
Festivals are supposed to be little holidays from your life; somewhere to bathe with mates in music and mud, among people who think the same way you do. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost that. Maybe at the big festivals it was never really there anyway. Maybe everywhere feels like that when you’re 16 and it drifts away as you get old and cynical. Who knows? The point is this: Indietracks actually feels like festivals should feel, and rarely do. It’s a pastel paradise for a cherished scene, and you should go. Every. Fucking. Year.
Photo credit by Jonathan Howell.