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Indie Tracks 2017 Review

We weren’t meant to be at Indietracks this year: we were booked in for another festival that shall not be named but takes place nearby. However, after being told to park in a bog we looked around for a more pleasant Sunday. Indietracks never fails to lift the spirits. After two days of hell and being soaked, Sunday was bliss.

The first thing we catch is Daniel Versus The World in the Church, where he thanks Indietracks for being “the queerest it’s been” and making an effort at better representation (the 2017 festival also seemed more racially diverse too). This is the second time I’ve seen DVTW playing a Sunday afternoon set at a festival, but it’s a position which suits his glittery Stephen Trask-ish piano pop songs, and the trio line-up (there’s a rhythm section too) works fine in the intimate surroundings of the Church stage. He reminds me of Fiona Apple: perhaps he needs a Jon Brion production.

Most of the booze at Indietracks is served in cans, and these cans have to go to the recycling, so they get a steamroller to crush the cans flat every few hours. The can-crushing steamroller always draws a good crowd. There’s something oddly satisfying about watching it being faced with a massive pile of cans and smashing through them all: such an inspirational character. We caught the 13.50 set, but I’m sure the sets elsewhere in the weekend were not dramatically different. Maybe it’s like seeing The Fall, where it’s always different but always stays the same.

Luby Sparks are an impossibly young Tokyo quintet who, according to one interview, are playing their first ever gig outside of Japan! So shoegaze that even the drummer looks at his shoes for the entire gig, the band’s boy-girl vocal exchanges and blissed-out noise is like being guided through a busy city while on opiates. These are really pretty, both to look at and to listen to.

We remain indoors for Cowtown, an aggressively energetic Hookworms offshoot who take cues from Krautrock and post-punk and whose 12-track, 22-minute album ‘Paranormal Romance’ came out last year. The Leeds trio’s high-octane, Korg-driven performance ends with the guitarist holding his guitar to the sky, which is hilariously mirrored by the keyboardist and even the drummer (holding the hi-hat up!). The band’s boisterous drones are more fun and melodic than Hookworms were when I saw them.

Outdoors, The Orchids are playing. They’re a quintet from Glasgow who released a bunch of records on Sarah Records in the 1980s and have now reformed. You already know what they sound like, right? No? Augmented by two percussionists for this show, the band’s jangly Triffids/Go-Betweens sound is fine for the last of the Sunday afternoon sunshine.

Grace Petrie is completely unaccompanied on the Indoor Stage, but fills it completely with her passionate protest songs. After touring around for years, and being spurned by the Guardian and by Whitby Folk Festival among others, Petrie’s developed a self-aware, ironic streak even when trying to coax the audience into participation (“that’s about 52% of you keen, which as we know is an overwhelming majority…”). A sudden downpour causes Petrie’s audience to literally double as everyone rushes indoors, essentially creating a captive audience for the Leicester singer-songwriter. Petrie’s stuff, however, warranted a decent audience anyway.

The inclement weather causes a temporary stage reshuffle, and forces Monkey Swallows the Universe into the indoor stage for their “last ever” gig. The odds are against the minimal folk quintet: they’re chucked onto the indoor stage with essentially no soundcheck and have to follow Grace Petrie’s rambunctious songs to the disinterest of the crowd. Using instruments like the glockenspiel, recorder and double bass, this must be the most low-key quintet ever, so quiet that they’re virtually inaudible at times. But it’s hard to know how this would have translated to the main stage either: another band who in hindsight were probably better off in the Church.

The forced line-up switches cause a few awkward schedule pile-ups so we forego The Wave Pictures (who suddenly start on the main stage with no pre-amble as soon as it stops raining) to catch sullen Hole-ish duo Skinny Girl Diet, who play super-heavy tracks off the aptly-named ‘Heavyflow despite some technical issues (a malfunctioning distortion pedal) and the stripped-down line-up. A Karen O-style echo effect is applied three tracks in, which suits the band well, oddly enough.

Effervescent London trio The Tuts peculiarly announced on Facebook that they were headlining Indietracks on Sunday, but are on earlier than Cate Le Bon and play the second stage. Whatever their thinking, the effort involved in their set indicates that they’ve decided to treat the gig as a headline slot, either to upstage Le Bon or to announce their own potential for the role. It works, too: this is probably the most memorable set of the weekend. Introduced by a vicar in front of 4ft balloons, entering in bridal gowns, playing a cover of ‘Wannabe’, the band are going all-out here. There’s the occasional dud: a song with the refrain “give us something worth voting for” seems like an unfashionable opinion in 2017, and the new song is more Tuts self-mythologising in what sounds like an unsuccessful attempt to emulate Beyonce. On the encore (!!!), though, the various parts coalesce: singer/guitarist Nadia talks openly about her struggles with depression before the vicar comes back on to marry the band to themselves (because if you can’t love yourself…) and the band bring out an assembly of pals for an acoustic cover of Linkin Park’s In The End’. They’ve always been a fun proposition live, but this was a statement of intent.

Top that, Cate Le Bon. Wearing a black pyjama suit and holding her guitar like a machine gun, Le Bon’s superior quirk would have caught the eye had she been lower on the bill, but this is the death slot for her and her band. There’s a difference between headlining your own gig and headlining a festival, a difference that Le Bon gives little indication of understanding: she treats it as just another gig, albeit one of the last for the band before they go to record the follow-up to Crab Day (which is her newest release, despite being fifteen months old). It’s a bummer, as while it may not be a festival headline show, the music is still pretty good: a fringe associate of final-days Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Le Bon has a similarly skewed take on indie-pop as they did, a cross between John Cale’s chamber-pop and Canterbury scene lysergics, a sort-of psychedelia indigenous to Wales (seicedelia’r?). The set finishes with ‘What’s Not Mine’, which takes the ‘Mr Blue Sky’ chug to its logical, fatal conclusion. And that’s it: there isn’t even an encore.

My eternal gratitude to the organisers of IT for gettingb us in at such short notice; it is acsolidcreglection of how this festival works. Everyone involved is lovely, every act well chosen, every food stall hand picked. This is a festival by people who care for people who care. May it continue forever as a safe haven of beauty and art.

Editor of LLR since 2005

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