Midland Railway, Butterley
July 24 26 2009
For one weekend a year, a weekend that should logically be the hottest of the year, the Midland Railway Centre just outside Butterley in Derbyshire becomes the epicentre of the indiepop world. A centre usually dedicated to the development and history of the Midlands railway network becomes awash with glockenspiels, backpacks, Arab Strap t-shirts, flannelled trousers and homemade mixtapes. You might have guessed that it was by no means the hottest weekend of this year either.
Now it in its third year, the music starts for the first time on Friday evening as opposed to the Saturday as with previous years. Unfortunately we miss former Pipette Rose Elinor Dougall due to a mare of a journey to the festival taking double the time expected, but do arrive in time for the beguiling Au Revoir Simone. Understated, yet captivating through their melodies and girl-next-door charm, the Brooklyn all-girl trio play the sunset slot on the outdoor Elefant Records stage. People drink real ale and scrumpy cider. Capri cigarettes are smoked. This really couldnt be more different to the lager-fuelled, teenage angst free-for-all of Reading & Leeds.
Spanish indiepop stalwarts Elefant Records curate the outdoor stage this year, now a fully formed covered platform as opposed to a back of a lorry as with last year. Vaguely linked by an interest in all things twee, the stages line-up is eclectic to say the least. Take Elefant Stage opener Sucrette for example, a curious mix of Japanese bubblegum pop and riot grrrl punk. Its an acquired taste. However, theres no denying the painstaking beauty of erstwhile troubadour Nick Garries psychedelic folk or the guitar pop sensibility of the Frank & Walters, both playing the same stage on Sunday.
The grandparents of indiepop, their own words not ours, Friends, performing on the indoor stage (a locomotive shed for those not in the know) look as if they should all be playing in different bands. Mainly 1980s bands. However when they begin plying their trade with such grace that fact falls by the wayside. That trade is crack shot spangly pop gems that dart effortlessly between misery and joyousness. The elder statesmen of C86 along with the Mighty Mighty and BMX Bandits for sure.
Camera Obscura by Jonny Tansey
Camera Obscura playing Indietracks is the equivalent of say, Snow Patrol headlining T In The Park. Co-headlining the Elefant Stage, they pull one of the biggest crowds of the weekend to see them whittle through cult classics such as Lloyd Im Ready To Be Heartbroken and recent single French Navy. Ignoring much of their new material, the band rely on their back catalogue, in particular much of third album Lets Get Out Of This Country. The impressive ending salvo of the Stax-meets-Spector If Looks Could Kill and the ethereal Razzle Dazzle Rose work perfectly and get us in the mood for an evening that promises a 24 hour indie disco back on the campsite.
Following on from Camera, the other co-headliners are entirely different propositions. Emmy The Great offers up well-crafted pop-folk to the table, somewhere between Belle & Sebastian and Joan Baez, although perhaps she would be more suited to an afternoon slot in the sun rather than the last act to perform on the main stage on Saturday evening. La Cazul Asal is a bizarre end to proceedings on the outdoor stage in their videos and promotional photos a kitsch, 60s-inspired pop band, however live their songs are performed by just one man going by the name of Milkyway. We were told to expect classic pop in the same vein as the Beach Boys and ABBA, however what we got was shameless europop that reminded me of what I used to hear playing in the discos of various French campsites in the late 1990s.
The Indietracks Train - pic Andrew Bulhak
We were in for a treat afterwards when the How Does it Feel to be Loved night took over the onsite marquee. Spinning the finest in heart-wrenching Northern Soul, Motown, 60s girl groups and 80s miserablism, this non-conformist indie disco is prime territory to spot and observe the twee-pop dance in its glory; a sort of self-conscious pogo or half-hearted shake; horn-rimmed spectacles and record bags bopping long into the night.
After an all-nighter of brilliant leftfield indie and far too many Jamesons and cokes, we gingerly made our way to the locomotive shed to catch Eux Autres. It felt like they playing an early morning slot but it was actually near 2pm. Centering around brother and sister Heather and Nicholas Larimer they play skewed pop post-punk thats as catchy as it is caustic. A bit like the Pixies if rather than dealing with themes such as sex and religion they sang about being taken to nudist hippy communes by their parents.
At a festival that prides itself on understatement and lo-f ethics, Lucky Soul are a breath of fresh air. Kicking off with the distinctly glam-tinged recent single Whoa Billy, the outfit are in muscular form, even the more sugary moments from debut record The Great Unwanted sounding meatier, clearly bolstered by the introduction of American keyboardist Art Terry who promises to recreate a New York church on Sunday morning during gospel-influenced new song Aint Nothing Like a Shame. He also manages to stay looking ice-cool even when almost unintentionally knocking his keyboard from its stand. The ironys not lost on a band with a song named Aint Never Been Cool as their Twitter post the day before would point out. With new material White Russian Doll and Up In Flames sounding more cocksure therell be plenty of souldiers looking forward to their second record.
Following Indietracks veterans Pocketbooks, who sound a lot more polished live than they do on their recordings, Art Brut are very much an anomaly on the bill. Eddie Argos, the man rather puzzling proclaimed as the new Jarvis by some quarters announces that hes found everything a bit twee so far before running us through hits such as Formed A Band and Emily Kane. To his credit he did get at least half the shed pogoing, quite an achievement at Indietracks although I felt a bit like I did when I saw Rolf Harris at Glastonbury ten minutes would have been enough.
By the time outdoor stage headliners Teenage Fanclub take to the stage, the rain that has threatened all day has become a deluge, the sunny Friday evening we arrived seeming a world away. No-ones spirits are dampened though as the Scottish indie heroes reach into their extensive arsenal of material spanning from their humble C86 beginnings through lauded albums Bandwagonesque and Grand Prix right through to the present. Their sun-kissed, harmony-laden Byrds-esque guitar pop may not be best suited to torrential downpours, but its a great end to what, in a world of generic corporate cash cows, is arguably Britains most unique festival.