In the homogeneous world of UK music festivals there's very little to tell most of them apart. More often than not, the USP usually consists of an exclusive headliner and very little else. So Indietracks is a welcome necessity to the summer calendar.
Situated on the site of the Midland Railway Centre in the rural Derbyshire village of Butterley, Indietracks is by far the friendliest, all inclusive and attitude-free event of its kind DiS has ever set foot in. And that's even before we get on to any of its attractions. Because aside from the music; most of which for all intents and purposes can be traced back in one way or another to the halcyon indiepop era of the mid-Eighties, there's also a range of other activities to be enjoyed here. Such as workshops to make cardboard record players, learn to play 'Tallulah' by Friday's headliners Allo Darlin' on a ukulele in 45 minutes or make a fabric bird brooch out of felt. In fact, birds provided much of the entertainment this weekend thanks to the owls and parrots of Woodie's Wings a local rescue centre whose stall included Tara the dancing parrot.
Walk across the site from the indoor stage (a shed normally used for storing locomotives) to the church and you'll see many of the artists casually mingling with punters. Delve deeper into the Golden Valley campsite and you may even find yourself invited to make up the numbers in a game of football between members of ONSIND, Joanna Gruesome and anyone else they can rope in. With egos firmly left at home, it creates an atmosphere like no other and one that has made us return every year without fail since its second edition in 2008.
This year's line-up also boasted some impressive names among its number. None more so than Friday night's return of erstwhile Britpoppers Spearmint and New Zealand cult heroes The Chills, both with new albums set for release this year. While the former's brand of energetic Pulp-play-the-hits-of-The-Pet-Shop-Boys-and-vice versa schtick had those present dancing in the early evening sun, it was the latter's dark melancholia that drew the first large crowd of the weekend. Martin Phillipps, the band's only remaining original member, casts a formidable presence out front. New songs such as 'Silver Bullets' and 'Underwater Wasteland' blend in effortlessly with the more familiar likes of 'Pink Frost' and 'Doledrums' while closer 'I Love My Leather Jacket' had everyone bouncing in unison.
For watching headliners Allo Darlin' it must have been a daunting task following the Dunedin outfit on stage. However, they needn't have worried. Playing a mix of older material proffered from both their previous long players along with a selection of as yet unreleased tracks from forthcoming third album We Come From The Same Place, they're a revelation who've grown in stature as songwriters and performers. The sprightly title track and fellow pop sensation 'Crickets In The Rain' prove the pick of the bunch on first listen, with focal point and mouthpiece Elizabeth Morris beaming radiantly throughout. They also wheel out a guest or three towards the end, with Standard Fare's Emma Cooper duetting on 2010's 'Silver Dollars' then joining The Just Joans' David and Katie Pope for an energetic run through the aforementioned's 'If You Don't Pull'.
The next day, with the sun still shining and temperatures soaring by mid-afternoon, we're treated to the fey electronica (think The Field Mice circa 1991's epic swansong 'Missing The Moon') of Spanish ensemble The Royal Landscaping Society. They smile a lot and so do we. Canadian punk poppers Thee AHs kick up a storm too, albeit briefly. However, it's in the sweltering humidity of the church that things really get interesting. Brighton sextet Slum Of Legs are an enticing bunch, fusing influences ranging from riot grrl, classical and krautrock into their half-hour long repertoire. With a sound driven by charismatic violin player Maria Marzaioli occasionally veering on Mancunian post-punk misfits Dubsex and King Of The Slums, their songs which range in subject matter from transgender equality to Beyonce's alter ego 'Sasha Fierce', their energetic presence sets the scene for what follows.
Step forward Laura J Martin, a one woman orchestra whose diverse range of styles and sounds far outweighs the folktronica tag she finds herself saddled with. At times reminiscent of Kate Bush fronting Wild Beasts, others Tunng with a ore obtuse line in songcraft or a less hostile Bjork, we're literally blown away by her incredible perforance that we follow the Liverpool songstress into the merch tent after and literally demand she sells us a copy of current LP Dazzle Days there and then.
Hotfooting it back into the church, we're then treated to an exquisite lesson in shambolic lo-fi noisepop by returning Leeds combo The Manhattan Love Suicides. Looking and sounding like they've never been away - their last show here was during the third edition of 2009 - they also treat us to a couple of new songs that make us yearn for more than the half hour we're given. Still, with a new album imminent and band members Adam John Miller and Darren Lockwood assuring us they're all the best of friends again, we're confident this won't be the last time they'll be gracing us with their presence.
Joanna Gruesome's Alanna McArdle informs us she's been in the wars this weekend as the bandage on her heavily strapped right leg evidently demonstrates. While not suggesting they've become polished, they're an altogether more formidable force nowadays than the one which made its debut here itwo years ago. Combining melody with harsh shards of noise and embittered angst throughout, the songs aired from last year's Weird Sister having developed a more brutal edge in the flesh. Dean Wareham joins them on stage for their now familiar heavy assault on his former band Galaxie 500's 'Tugboat' and it's a real neck-hair raising moment. Only leaving the stage briefly, Wareham then returns for a set largely consisting of relics from his back catalogue and it's possibly the highlight of the entire weekend. Sounding in good voice, the likes of 'Snowstorm', 'When Will You Come Home' and 'Strange' genuinely reduce grown men to tears, whilst 'Fourth Of July' orchestrates the closest thing to a mosh pit Indietracks will ever see.
In between times, The Popguns turn back the years with consummate ease, even dropping their biggest tune 'Landslide' early in the mix for good measure. Nevertheless, DiS must salute Gruff Rhys for performing one of the most audacious, captivating and ultimately jaw dropping headline sets we've ever encountered. Choosing to play a conceptual set based entirely on this year's American Interior long player, Gruff Rhys tells of the story of explorer John Evans between songs, only veering off course to talk about unicorns midset. He concludes his set by waving a selection of Dylan-esque placards with slogans ranging from 'Applause!', 'Ape Shit!' and 'Resist Phony Encores' to 'Thank You' and 'The End'. Suitably impressed and heavily lubricated, DiS retires to bed via the campsite disco tent where Britpop classics from the likes of Suede, Pulp and The Bluetones provide a soothing soundtrack.
We're up bright and early Sunday morning, initially to attempt packing our tent away (pop-up tents. The easiest in the world to erect, nightmares to take down) but mainly for Derby-based songstress Shelley Jane, whose lovelorn ditties on the jam packed steam train about Doris Day and ex-boyfriends are worth suffocating for. Afterwards she'll stand on the platform chatting to her legion of newly acquired fans while signing copies of her forthcoming EP.
The Hobbes Fanclub give a good account of themselves on the indoor stage, their noisy Wedding Present-inspired pop serving as a late afternoon tonic for anyone still nursing a hangover from the night before. Similarly The Very Most look like The Magic Numbers and sound like The Lightning Seeds; an odd combination but one that works a treat with revellers still basking in the sunshine for the third day in a row. Its legendary indie poppers The Flatmates though that raise both energy levels and decibels to unprecedented heights. Having reformed last year with original members Martin Whitehead and Rocker joined by Swedish frontwoman Lisa Bouvier, drummer Brian Price and recently acquired bassist Matthias Lidehall, they're in dynamic form from start to finish. While the biggest cheers are unsurprisingly reserved for more familiar artefacts from their Subway days like 'Happy All The Time', 'Shimmer' and 'I Could Be In Heaven', new songs such as the frantic 'Punk Moth' and last year's comeback single 'You Held My Heart' suggest that eagerly anticipated first album proper, said to be almost ready, could be worth the twenty-nine year wait after all.
Having watched Sweet Baboo nervously navigate his way through a rain sodden set at last year's Green Man, it's a pleasure to watch him effortlessly seduce the Indietracks crowd this evening. By the end he's trading winsome pop for a Thurston Moore-style fit of rage that sees him almost bury the neck of his guitar through his amp several times. Some call it passion, others anger. It makes for an enthralling sight whatever the purpose.
Edinburgh's Dan Willson aka Withered Hand treads a fine line between mournful and uplifting compositions. Perversely he seems more at home on the former, echoing the likes of Frightened Rabbit at their most dissonant. When choosing to bestow us with the latter, it doesn't quite hit the spot so we head to the church for cheap thrills instead. They dutifully arrive in the shape of Los Cripis, an Argentinian three-piece who eat, sleep and breathe lo-fi in its most formative sense. Ticking all the right boxes from Pavement and Pixies to Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth, they're a beguiling bunch.
Which brings us to yet another finale. The last time The Hidden Cameras played Indietracks in 2011 their set on the main stage was cut short by a fault with the sound generator, causing them to move indoors. Thankfully this year, there are no such problems as Joel Gibb and his band, dressed for the occasion in matching gold lamé sashes and black kilts play as if they have unfinished business here, which to an extent I guess they do. 'Skin & Leather' and 'Carpe Jugular' convey a whole new set of emotions in the flesh compared to their recorded variants while 'Death Of A Tune', 'AWOO' and 'Ban Marriage' rival the previous two evening's highlights for songs of the weekend. By the end, even the normally stern looking Gibb breaks his concentration to crack a smile, no doubt pleased as punch at the way his band justified their slot as bill toppers with graceful aplomb.
Sadly, another Indietracks is over, but as with previous years the 2014 edition won't be forgotten in a hurry. Roll on next July...