Having seen The Spook School in much smaller surroundings over the years there was something particularly heart-warming about this year’s Indietracks. Seeing them play the main stage on Friday night had many of us feeling like proud parents; they’ve long been proponents of a certain kind of high-energy indiepop made for those of us who’ve ever felt out of place in the world. Perhaps that sounds uninspired, in an era where it's normal to feel an affinity for outsider pop, but there’s a lot more to The Spook School than just that.
Their tales of identity and honest confrontation of gender politics is what makes them important, but the very fact they’re playing here tonight is also why Indietracks is not like any other festival. Where else would a band singing songs about burning masculinity play a headline slot on the main stage, while hundreds of people sing along? It’s a theme that Indietracks is no stranger of, and pretty much all of the bands on the line up are synonymous with everything the festival has come to represent: tolerance, inclusion and a joyous, unashamed love of pop.
Even with drummer Niall’s typically witty commentary, it’s certainly something to get misty-eyed over, and sums up why a lot of people have fallen in love with this festival. The indiepop world is a small place, and while a lot has changed since it began as just a very intimate one stage all-dayer, the same faces you remember from previous years are still here, making it feel more like a reunion than anything else. It’s been said countless times, but Indietracks is the sort of place where you’ll make friends for life, form relationships as well as bands, and discover new music from those who might otherwise not be given a chance to play to crowds bigger than that at their local DIY venue.
What’s most noticeable is just how inclusive it is. Nearly every band has women in, and while indiepop has long defined music mostly made by white men, things seem to be improving. The line-up isn’t the best the festival’s seen, especially considering it’s the tenth anniversary, but it’s away from the main stage and in the indoor and church stages where you’ll find most of the unsung gems of the weekend. The excellent Simon Love, Nervous Twitch and of course The Spook School make Friday night one of the more memorable first nights of Indietracks, but it’s the Saturday that stands out as being one of the best in terms of variety, although that might have something to do with everyone feeling a little fragile on the Sunday. Even with a gin hangover, though, Indietracks always manages to lift the spirits of those who might be feeling too idle as a result of the late night campsite discos the night before. Look no further than The Lovely Eggs’ set on Saturday for conviction – acting as a much needed antidote to the comparatively tedious set from Saint Etienne on the outdoor stage (though you have to appreciate something that’s not explicitly indie-pop at a festival where everything is indie-pop), no matter what your feelings are on this band, they have an admirable knack for bringing people together. There’s something strangely touching about hearing 600 people sing ‘fuck it’ in unison.
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Leeds’ Maggie8 reveal their singular take on ‘hindi indie folk’ earlier on in the day, offering a refreshingly playful, upbeat set with the odd contemplative moment for good measure, with singer Nivedita Pisharoty’s vocals sounding particularly stirring. Elsewhere, Dirty Girl, Po! Chrissy Barnacle and Two White Cranes provide Saturday’s highlights, the latter two exhibiting their respective lyrical talents with pleasing vigour. Baltimore’s Expert Alterations’ authentic interpretation of C86 inspired jangle pop sounds more prominent than ever, and despite not being able to get in due to overcrowding, the saccharine sounds of Sarah Records luminaries Secret Shine resonates from outside the church stage, with ‘Temporal’ sounding particularly sublime.
Aside from the owls and steam trains, of course, there’s little that represents the misunderstood ‘twee’ tag that Indietracks is often wrongly associated with. There’s no doubt a number of bands that adhere to the slightly more fey aspects of the genre here, but there’s enough variety to disassociate the festival from being champions of only music without bite, guts, attitude, anything that’s not inoffensively timid.
Speaking of which, Leeds trio City Yelps provide the gusto at the indoor stage on Sunday, with their shambolic, Flying Nun-esque punk songs. Never ones for sounding note perfect, their version of the Sex Pistols’ ‘Problems’ is appropriately messy while staying rather faithful to the original, and singer/guitarist Shaun Alcock’s vocals are less mumbling than usual, in fact, you can even hear what he’s singing. Lorna’s playful melancholy doesn’t disappoint, either, but Red Sleeping Beauty’s set of dreary electro pop fails to sit well with most of the crowd, resulting in a curious visit to the church stage in which I discover the wonderful Deerful, whose unique, miniature synth rendition of The Field Mice’s ‘Emma’s House’ is a moment I won’t be forgetting any time soon. Trust Fund play one of their best ever sets of dejected power pop, to a crowd of people singing every word – further proof that Indietracks can make any band feel like the most important band in the world. Meanwhile, Indietracks regular Pete Green’s witty, self depreciating discourse proves triumphant.
Festivals always feel like you’re in a little bubble for three days, it’s a chance to escape the mundane routines of everyday life and surround yourself with likeminded people, but as a man wanders around with the European flag draped across his shoulders – while an entire marquee sings along to 'Fuck It' – it feels especially difficult leaving Indietracks this year. It’s our little world, after all.
If there’s one thing to put a dampener on the weekend, though, it would be the news of the demise of Sean Price’s influential Fortuna Pop label. While disheartening, it would be silly not to celebrate Sean’s achievement instead of dwell on what was sadly a necessary decision. Fortuna Pop played a big role in the success of Indietracks, and many of us are grateful to Sean for letting so much good music thrive and exist in such capable hands. If it’s time, then it’s time. The cycle will continue, and hopefully we’ll one day have a new label like Fortuna Pop giving us more brilliant music. As Matt and Clare of Sarah Records once said, “the first act of revolution is destruction, and the first thing to destroy is the past. Habit and fear of change are the worst reasons for ever doing anything.”
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Words: Hayley Scott