Indietracks is a magical festival with a strong punk and DIY ethic. Situated in the Derbyshire countryside, it is a treasured part of the indie-pop scene. What sets it apart from other festivals is a unique church stage, an indoor stage in a train shed, punters hanging out with bands in the merch tent, performances on a steam train, and an owl sanctuary.
The festival offers a friendly, welcoming atmosphere where everyone is included. The line up was fresh, vibrant, and colourful: in addition to headliners Martha, The Wedding Present, and Cate Le Bon were a whole host of debutants who hadn’t played the festival before, including Peaness, Daniel Versus the World, and Crumbs.
Friday 28th July
Despite the wet conditions, the three bands performing on the night were moved to the indoor stage, keeping the crowd sheltered from the rain. First up were Edinburgh quintet Kid Canaveral, who blended fuzzy guitars and poppy melodies to create a heartbreakingly joyous soundscape. There were some huge infectious choruses on show, as demonstrated on ‘First We Take Dumbarton’ and ‘Who Would Want to Be Loved?’, while the audience lapped it up, dancing and smiling.
Chorusgirl were next. Their sing-along shoegaze anthems sounded massive, while the chemistry between Silvi Wersing and Faith Taylor was a joy to watch. The ethereal, atmospheric guitars were evident in “No Moon’ and closer ‘This Town Kills’, both igniting a feel-good atmosphere. But the band also showcased some brand new songs. One of them, ‘Demon Baby’, featured Faith’s stunning vocals; the ethereal backdrop of the guitars increasing its powerful impact.
Chorusgirl were a solid warm up for tonight’s headliners Martha. Since the release of their second album Blisters in the Pit of My Heart last summer, the queer anarchists’ already growing reputation has increased along with their ability to work a crowd. Opening with ‘Bubble in My Bloodstream’ and ‘Chekhov’s Hangnail’, they were on fine form, with the crowd heartily singing along. The stage production was special, with dazzling lights reminiscent of a rave, complete with glowsticks. The passion in both band and crowd was evident with plenty of moshpits, in particular to a raucous version of ‘Move to Durham and Never Leave’. Each song came with an introduction to what it was about, for example bassist Naomi Griffin introduced ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as “a song about people misunderstanding gender roles”. It was a commanding headline performance, made even more special when singer JC did a solo performance of ‘St Paul’s (Westerberg Comprehensive)’ while the rest of the band crowdsurfed out of the stage.
Saturday 29th July
After watching the can crush (a steamroller crushing empty cans, which has become one of the festivals much loved attractions), the first band I saw were Crumbs who brought a slice of post-punk to the indoor stage. With brilliant titles such as ‘Stockport Syndrome’ and ‘Ciggy Stardust’, they boasted strong harmonies with a gritty melodic backdrop. They were well received by the audience, being the perfect band to open the day.
Spaniards Cola Jet Set took the energy up a notch on the outdoor stage. In addition to a party atmosphere, they seemingly brought the sunshine out, shining brightly over the stage. Most of the songs were sung in Spanish, but there was an upbeat carefree vibe about them. The audience responded well, with plenty of dancing.
One of the standout bands of the weekend was Peaness, based in Chester. Entering the stage to Pokémon battle music, their musicianship was extremely tight, carried by Rach’s creative drumming. Their summery, feel-good indie pop songs, such as ‘Ugly Veg’, Skin Surfing’, and ‘I’m Not Your Problem’ were immaculate, containing infectious harmonies from guitarist Balla and bassist Jess. You could tell they were having a blast onstage as they rounded off with the brilliant ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’ from debut EP No Fun, sounding perfect on the outdoor stage.
After Peaness’ enjoyable set, Londoners Shopping ramped up the pace; their danceable basslines and Rachel Aggs’ versatile guitar playing were mesmerizing to watch. Influenced by both The Slits and Gang of Four, they brought a giddy energy to Indietracks, causing plenty of people to dance uncontrollably.
Later, it’s off to the merch tent to see Onsind (consisting of Nathan and Daniel from Martha). The tent was rammed to see their political, inspiring acoustic folk-punk, which sounded brilliant in an intimate environment. They showcased some songs from their upcoming album which were a joy to hear for the first time, but it was ‘Dissatisfactions’ (about depression), ‘Pokémon City Limits’ (with its profound punch line “never trust a Tory”), and ‘Heterosexuality is a Construct’ (about homophobia) which felt extremely powerful. The audience sung back every word, embodying the festival’s defiant spirit.
Up next, Frankie Cosmos were captivating and enthralling on the outdoor stage. Greta Kline’s soft vocals matched the anxious lyrics, while most of the songs impressively fell short of the two-minute mark. The band played songs from last years’ breakthrough album Next Thing including ‘Too Dark’ and ‘Sinister’. Both tracks sounded warm and clear, floating away perfectly in the atmosphere, while the keyboards blended superbly with the guitars.
In contrast to Frankie Cosmos, Joanna Gruesome were fuelled by adrenaline. The Cardiff-based band have experienced some line up changes since releasing their last album, Peanut Butter in 2015, this time Rachel from Flowers was brought in on guitar. Her vocal performance on ‘Honestly Do Yr Worst’ was stunning, while Eilidh from Breakfast Muff brought ferocious hardcore screams. The brutal feedback of ‘Sugarcrush’ caused a small moshpit to break out, while several audience members had grins on their faces.
The Wedding Present are Indietracks legends and indie pop heroes. Heavily championed by John Peel, at one point they equaled Elvis Presley’s record for most hits in a year by releasing one single each month in 1992. Headlining the outdoor stage, there was a drunken-fuelled carnival atmosphere with songs from last years’ album Going Going… sitting nicely alongside floorfillers ‘My Favourite Dress’ and an energetic, fast version of ‘Kennedy’ to close the set. Singer David Gedge played up to the crowd’s reaction, saying: “I forgot how many good songs we had”, while the recently enlisted line-up gave the songs a fresh exciting twist.
Sunday 30th July
The first band I saw was Daniel Versus the World in the church. Daniel Versus the World are a queer melodramatic rage collective fronted by Daniel Stocker. His passionate vocal delivery and emotional, raw lyrics were full of conviction. This suited the church perfectly with a beautiful rendition of ‘Thank You’ and a stunning theatrical performance of ‘Love Your Rage, Not Your Cage’, both taken from his album Remember Who You Are. It was another highlight of an extremely diverse weekend.
Then, I saw Suggested Friends who played tracks from their upcoming album. The jangly guitars were creative, with ‘I Don’t Want to Be a Horcrux for Your Soul’ a highpoint in their set; driven by Christabel Williams’ fluid drumming and Faith Taylor’s soaring powerful vocals. Cowtown’s experimental, synth-driven new wave was refreshing, in particular ‘Emojicore’ at the end, getting some of the audience members dancing.
This was the first time Personal Best played Indietracks, so there was a sense of excitement as they took to the indoor stage. Katie Gatt has a craft for creating huge sing-alongs like ‘This is What We Look Like’ and ‘The Tide’, both going down exceptionally well, while new song ‘Rollies’ was equally vibrant. Despite the short set, Personal Best were on solid form, the explosively catchy harmonies from Katie and guitarist El Morgan demonstrating a winning formula.
Because the church only has a capacity of 100 people, I got a sense it would be packed for Baby Arms’ set. Baby Arms is the solo project of Colour Me Wednesday frontwoman Jen Doveton. Her backing band consisted of Laura Ankles on bass, Jaca Freer on drums, and Katie Gatt from Personal Best on keyboards. They added some substance to the songs, while the reverb on Jen’s voice made them sound massive. She performed a beautiful acapella version of ‘Garden City’, bringing the whole church to a standstill, while the mix of guitar and keyboards during ‘A Sign’ captured the dark feel of the song. The set was rounded off with a lovely, upbeat cover of Throwing Muses’ ‘Not Too Soon’. It demonstrated how superb Jen and Laura’s harmonies were as they made the cover their own.
Despite adverse weather conditions, which were handled superbly by the organisers, the indoor stage was packed to the rafters for The Tuts’ set. Although they didn’t headline the festival, they made a bold statement with an incredible stage production akin to a wedding. They were introduced by Laura Ankles in a vicar’s outfit, before singer Nadia Javed, bassist Harriet Doveton and drummer Beverley Ishmael rushed onstage in wedding dresses to a rapturous reception. Over the years, The Tuts have gained an extremely loyal following, culminating in the fan-funded release of their debut album Update Your Brain. Having seen them grow since their first appearance here back in 2013, it was a joy to behold seeing the crowd lose their minds to ‘Dump Your Boyfriend’ and create a small wall of death to ‘Always Hear the Same Shit’. But for all their crazy energy, it was the tender moments that made this set special. Their acoustic rendition of ‘You’re so Boring’ was moving, while they assembled a group of their friends to cover Linkin Park’s ‘In the End’ in a touching, emotional tribute to Chester Bennington. After getting every indie-popper to marry and embrace themselves, they finished on a fiery version of ‘Back Up’, before all three members crowdsurfed out of the stage.
This felt like a statement of intent, but the task to top it fell to Cate Le Bon. The Carmarthenshire singer has carved a reputation for creating her own unique sound with dark, thought provoking lyrics. It felt like the calm after the storm as her haunting vocal delivered a relaxed atmosphere as she played tracks from recent albums Mug Museum and Crab Day. She brought some experimental touches to her set, for example the mesmerizing, meandering ‘Wonderful’ and ‘Sisters’. One of the most captivating parts of the set was when she detuned her guitar during one of her songs, while the delicate ‘Are You With Me Now?’ brought the festival to a tranquil finish.
Indietracks has something for everyone and this year it was more diverse than ever, with an invigorating line-up celebrating the best of indie-pop. It was a perfect weekend, demonstrating that this is a festival well worth your time.
Words by Ermis Madikopoulos