Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Indietracks 2009: Friday

In just its third year, Indietracks has found a great big niche right at the heart of what we must by law refer to as the crowded festival summer. This year it's the same weekend as Truck, Camp Bestival, Secret Garden Party and any number of potential competitors, yet the fact the attendance numbers are exponentially growing is testament to many things: the idea, the reputation of its clientele, the fortunes of the music it covers at base level, and above all else the experience. Far away from 'boutique' labels, Skins kids or fashionista column inches, Indietracks exists in and of itself, so much so you almost don't want to give the game away.

So here's the first of three lengthy, detailed blog posts about it.

Truth be told, there was some foreboding on arrival at the Ripley end of the Midland Railway Museum. Indietracks, running as it does on a whole lot of communal spirit and togetherness, has always seen warm weather before, but the Friday had seen showers in the East Midlands, and indeed a couple of small rain flurries hit before the music - commencing half an hour after advertised without explanation, as would become a pattern with the stage throughout the weekend - coincided with things drying out. Still, any fears were allayed with some recce of the site, as while attendance numbers were understandably much smaller than the rest of the weekend there were still people catching up, exploring the site, band members taking in their surroundings etc. The indiepop community, clearly, won't let inclement conditions come between them and comradeship in the name of indiepop's extending tentacles. As we would see.

Elefant Records, in the year of its twentieth anniversary, had been invited to curate the main stage, moved to the bigger/proper outdoor area, and they'd decided the three band Friday was for showing off their more electronically minded catalogue. Or, in the case of Argentina's Modular, echoing the kitsch lounge music the presumably Elefant-sourced DJ played between bands for most of the first two days. The duo's parping keyboards, synthesized vocal interjections and callbacks to Jean-Jacques Perrey's experiments in musique concrète and Walter/Wendy Carlos' electrifying the classics are reminiscent of Stereolab's space age bachelor pad era, an easy listening retro-futurism that put here in a wide open festival setting doesn't really go anywhere but works as easy listening background. Which sounds like a bit of a wasted trip, coming all that way to provide mood music, but it fits somehow.

Not so long ago Rose Elinor Dougall was in a band who could play big shows in New York and Tokyo and sell out Shepherd's Bush Empire sized UK venues. Pleasingly, she doesn't seem bothered that her post-Pipettes career sees her pretty much starting from scratch, commenting "it's like I've been miniaturised into a toy railway set" as she surveys the rolling stock and steam train lines. While the coquettish glances and endearingly shabby dancing that made her the people's favourite in the band remain - you'll go a long way to find someone who looks cooler at handclaps - her music has moved away from the knowingly kitsch end. While still pop music of a sort, taking Stereolab's awkward retro-melodic nous and Broadcast's kaleidoscopic drone as a starter, you can also hear Sundays-esque wracked sunshine pop, Cocteau Twins textures and the darker end of the Smiths. The key extra ingredient is Dougall's voice, one that in this context seems unsuited to three-part girl group harmony; very English, deep and lushly powerful but also melancholically reflective in tone a la Siouxsie or Bridget St John. Her band the Distractions add something almost akin to turned down shoegazing textures (and special mention to bassist Georgia Lee for rocking a leopardprint all-in-one), but there's something at these songs' wistful, self-doubting heart that suggests relatively big things ahead.

Dougall's top Myspace friend is the night's headliners Au Revoir Simone, and it's easy to see the musical connection. The three Brooklynites don't have a great deal of stagecraft bar Annie Hart, who gets into some spectacular headshaking at times and takes to the drumkit for one song but encourages us to clap along so that she can keep the rhythm as much as our lending a percussive hand; what they do have is a way of humanising the ethereal elements of their sound. Current album Still Night, Still Light is almost skeletal in its vintage drum machine plus keyboard drone plus airy harmony template, more so than the more flesh and blood-cushioned The Bird Of Music, and while they don't really deviate in the live sound - Erika Forster brings out a bass for a couple of songs, Hart has to change the battery on one of her keyboards after the first song having forgotten during the line check, there's what seems a genuine appeal to invite them back next year at the end (you can't imagine many American bands play this sort of location) and that's about it for interaction - and some songs drift by on the breeze, there are equally moments, Sad Song of particular note, when the various keyboard sounds mesh together and envelop all in enchantment. And every so often they get to crank up a disco beat or throbbing pulse rhythm for some particularly awkward shape throwing. It doesn't all work in an outdoor environment, but it works much better than you'd expect.

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