Festivals. They’re everywhere now. Derbyshire alone has at least four – five if Download counts (well it has a Derbyshire postcode). When I first started attending festivals in the late ’80s/early ’90s, you pretty much had a choice of three. Monsters of Rock in Donington, Reading Rocks and Glastonbury. Then came Phoenix festival, the Brighton festival, Heineken in Leeds. The Isle of Wight festival was resurrected and over the next ten to fifteen years or so, the whole business of music festivals mushroomed. They’ve even started to take over cities, taking place in multiple venues across a weekend (Sheffield’s Tramlines, Camden Rocks and now Derby’s 2Q). But Indietracks just isn’t like the rest.
Festival going has become a lifestyle event. People I know who aren’t music fans are enraged when Glasto tickets are now sold as part of a lottery procedure. They rant about the price they had to pay for a couscous and tofu salad in the arena. There are now event staging companies specialising in running festivals. You want to run a festival? You don’t need to care about ordering portable toilets and arranging litter pickers anymore. If you’ve got the capital, you set up as a promoter, book the bands, bung a farmer a decent fee for hiring his field, call ‘festivals-r-us’, give them a date and time, sign up with an on-line ticket retailer and bosh. The cash roles in. Ok, I’m simplifying and sprinkling in a liberal amount of cynicism but honestly, they’re literally ten a penny now. But Indietracks is different. Indietracks is doing it right. It’s small, beautifully formed and born out of love.
It takes place at the Midland Railway Centre in the heart of Amber Valley in Derbyshire on the last weekend of July. Like something out of Harry Potter, you board a vintage train at Butterley train station – a beautifully restored platform 9 and 3/4 from the golden age of steam, resplendent in its 1930’s decor and staff in vintage uniforms and you take a ten minute train ride to a magical place.
You alight at Swanwick Junction and the old station serves as the entrance to the festival site. You’re not met by Max and Paddy-style gum chewing Show Sec types who delight in taking your provisions off you because they don’t meet ‘health and safety’ standards (or because the promoters want you to spend £10 on a plastic carton of vegetable tempura). You’re met by volunteers from the railway centre. They’re friendly. They chat to adults and children alike. They’re proud of the place and what they do.
Indietracks is not to everyone’s taste. It’s a niche festival. It’s primarily made up of indie pop bands. Expect to see the likes of scene royalty Martha, up-and-coming scamps Peaness and oldie-but-goldies like The Wedding Present. Record labels like Alcopop!, FortunaPop!, Elefant and Oddbox are strongly represented.
Girls wear flowery dresses and boys wear horn rimmed glasses and t shirts with slogans like ‘Scared to Dance’ on. Some boys look like girls with their hair in plaits and painted nails. Some girls look like boys with their cropped short hair and Fred Perry polo shirts. Nobody bats an eyelid. Everyone there has no problem being who they want to be and above all everyone is lovely. No-one acts like an arsehole. It’s obvious that it’s written into the DNA code of this event – the organisers do this with big hearts and the punters appreciate them for it. It’s tempting to use the word ‘twee’ to describe this scene and this event in particular, but it really isn’t. It’s just civilised.
It’s representative too. Glastonbury was openly criticised this year for having over 90% of its performers comprised of white males. Indietracks has all girl bands, bands fronted by asian and black females, queer and transgender bands. And they don’t make a big deal about it either. There’s no box ticking here, they just do it because it comes naturally – it doesn’t matter if you’re a monoptic hexapod from Alpha Centauri – if you make gorgeous indie pop records you’re welcomed with open arms.
The bands all intermingle with the punters and watch each other’s performances and there’s none of that horrible artist rivalry and arrogance. Chatting with artists in this years’ line-up, its immediately apparent that they’re as excited about being at the event and seeing the other bands as they are playing. Yeah, in the grand scheme of things it’s small fry – around 2000 indiepop fans of all ages attend but this is part of its charm – there are only three stages and one of those is in a tiny restored chapel where the audience watch the bands from old pews but I for one hope it stays that way. The main stage sits at the foot of a sloping hillside which acts as a natural amphitheatre allowing everyone a perfect view of every show, irrespective of height.
No frowning at the goon in front of you who has decided to put his girlfriend on his shoulders completely blocking your view. No drunken idiots jumping up and down on your toes while you strain to catch a glimpse of your heroes. You don’t even have to stand up. It’s just another little touch that makes the whole thing just wonderful. Art and craft workshops keep children entertained. The bar is sensibly priced, well stocked and well staffed so you never have to wait more than a few minutes to get served. Same goes for the toilet queues. It feels safe and those who attend with children have no qualms letting them explore the event on their own (you can’t get lost on the site, it’s too cosy and there are stewards everywhere). And while we’re talking about the level of organisation, I’ve never seen a single ‘old bill’ in the arena area – there really is no need.
When it comes to festivals, the big guys could definitely learn something from the little guys in this case. Indietracks has gone from strength to strength since it’s humble beginnings in 2007 and while I hope it continues to do so, I also hope it never loses sight of what makes it such a magical event – the fact that it’s small, perfectly formed and made with heaps of love. Don’t just take my word for it though. Watch that cool little vox pops video above, made for the 2010 festival and you’ll see exactly what I mean – then book tickets when they go on sale for next year.