Now in its tenth year, Indietracks has become an institution for indie pop fans all over the world. Located in the Midland Railway Centre in the heart of the Derbyshire countryside, it’s not your typical festival setting: small, personal and extremely friendly, Indietracks is the one place you could be watching your favourite band one minute, then be on a locomotive steam train the next.
The location is not the only thing that makes it unique. Primarily focusing their attention on the unknown rather than the established, Indietracks is the kind of festival where you’ll leave having a new favourite band you’d never heard before. The main stage has been host to a number of legendary indie pop bands over the years, however – including The Pastels, The Wake and The Chills to name a few.
With the festival approaching, Clash talks to co-organiser Andy Hudson about what makes Indietracks so special..
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What’s the story of how Indietracks started?
It was originally the idea of a guy called Stuart Mackay, who worked at the Midland Railway charity restoring steam trains. At the time the railway were looking to run some new and different events, to help raise some extra funds, and Stuart suggested an indiepop festival. It was a big leap of faith for the railway, who probably weren't too familiar with The Pastels, Saint Etienne or Sarah Records at the time - they're much more familiar with the indiepop world now! The first events in April and July 2007 were pretty small, but the railway had the confidence to back Stuart in booking some bigger names for the 2008 festival, including The Wedding Present and Los Campesinos! and it really paid off. The festival has been running successfully ever since.
What do you think makes Indietracks different to other festivals?
We're probably the only festival that combines 1950s steam trains and DIY pop music. The steam railway is a really special location - we've an outdoor stage overlooking the train tracks and railway station, a tin tabernacle church, a stage within a locomotive shed and some bands playing acoustically on the train themselves. Having said that, I think we hopefully share a lot in common with many other indiepop festivals, and there's a great sense of community and creativity across all these events - festivals like Wales Goes Pop, DIY Popfest, Pop! South, Going Up The Country and the popfests in New York, Madrid and elsewhere. We're one part of an amazing wider international community.
Is there an ethos that you like to stick to?
We only book bands that we really love and we try to make the festival as friendly and welcoming as possible. The bands we tend to book are often very independent and have a do-it-yourself approach to making music - even the most famous and established bands we've booked have all fiercely followed their own paths and avoided commercial pressures or influences. We try and act in a similar way, and we've survived so far without big sponsors or giving up any control over the festival.
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We're probably the only festival that combines 1950s steam trains and DIY pop music...
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How to you choose the bands that play?
We like to have a nice combination of established artists and new bands. Over the years we've had household names like Teenage Fanclub, Edwyn Collins, The Go! Team and Camera Obscura, alongside rising indiepop stars like Standard Fare, The Tuts, Martha and Tuff Love. I think our headliners this year complement each other really well; Friday's headliners The Spook School are one of the most exciting new DIY pop bands around. On Saturday, Saint Etienne will bring a wealth of pop hits to the party. And on Sunday, we've cult favourites The Aislers Set playing an exclusive UK show. We receive around 400 applications from bands each year, which is a great way for us to discover new artists, and we also pay close attention to people's wishlists on the Anorak messageboard.
Indietracks has come a long way since it started ten years ago, but it still remains quite a small entity. Are you keen to keep it that way?
We're partly limited by the size of location - not simply the size of the main outdoor space, but the surrounding narrow lanes, local accommodation, and the license requirements for a larger festival. Also, the current size is manageable for the teams of volunteers that run the festival each year. However, this all might be a blessing. Our festival has a nice community feel and is very safe and welcoming for new visitors. A larger festival might lose some of that feeling. We definitely aim to keep the festival fresh and interesting, and bring new ideas each year. However, we don't follow the widespread assumption elsewhere that everything needs to keep growing in size to be successful - we're really happy with our size.
Can you tell us a bit about the location; the history of it etc?
Back in the 1950s, following a report by Dr Richard Beeching, the Government closed huge numbers of local railway lines. As a result, many towns were left without a railway station, and people lost connections to other towns and cities. Some of these lines have since reopened. The mass closure was immortalised in the BBC comedy Oh, Doctor Beeching and a song by Indietracks regular performer Pete Green. In the 1960s a decision was taken to create a working and static museum on the site of part of the closed Midland Railway track, and the site has been gradually improved since then, with working steam trains, transport museums, a new station building, the tin tabernacle church and various workshops. There's also a country park and miniature railway adjoining the site, and a great campsite nearby.
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We'd love to book Kenickie, although I think they'd take some persuading!
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Do you have anything special planned at this year’s event to celebrate its tenth anniversary?
We've a few things planned. Firstly, the acclaimed film-maker Jeanie Finlay (Sound It Out, The Great Hip Hop Hoax) has made a beautiful and funny documentary about Indietracks and the Midland Railway, which we'll be screening over the weekend. A few of the bands - Darren Hayman, Bearsuit and Wintergreen - played at the first weekend in 2007 so it will be great to have them back again. Also, we'll have a celebratory disco on the final night, playing hits from the last 10 years. There's a couple more surprises which we'll save for the weekend itself.
Have you had a particular favourite year? Any moments that stand out?
I think 2009 was a great year. We held it in partnership with Elefant Records and booked some amazing bands, including Camera Obscura, Teenage Fanclub, Emmy The Great and Art Brut. La Casa Azul headlined the Saturday night and put on an amazing show with fantastic visuals. His version of Love Is In The Air goes down in Indietracks history. Other highlights have been the Helen Love glitter-storm, Allo Darlin' headlining in 2014 and Martha and The Go! Team putting in electric performances last year. I'm sure everyone has completely different favourite memories though.
What band/artist would you most love to have play at Indietracks that you’ve not so far been able to book?
We'd love to book Kenickie, although I think they'd take some persuading! Their songs always go down a storm at our discos. I hope we might persuade Standard Fare, Stars of Aviation or Monkey Swallows The Universe to reform one day, and I can imagine The Sundays would sound amazing as the sun sets over the steam trains! To be honest though, we're just as excited about finding the next amazing new band.
What I love most about Indietracks is it feels like a small community of like-minded people coming together from individual indie pop scenes across the world. Do you think the fact that so many people form friendships through the festival is what makes it so special?
Yes, I think a huge part of its appeal is that people are meeting up with friends from across the world - sometimes they might only get together a few times each year, including at Indietracks. I think people are also making new friends every year - it's great to meet to people that are visiting Indietracks for the first time and they seem to enjoy it as much as the people that have been coming for years.
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This year’s Indietracks will be held on the 29th – 31st July. You can buy tickets from http://www.indietracks.co.uk/tickets/.
Recommended acts: The Spook School // Expert alterations // Maggie8 // City Yelps // Trust Fund // DIRTYGIRL
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Words: Hayley Scott