Indie Tracks Festival, UK, July 2009

Now in its third year, everything about the three-day music festival Indie Tracks is unique. For one its Midland Railway Centre location in England must make it the only festival with a level crossing in the middle and steam engines charging across the landscape.

It’s also so small scale that it makes it almost inevitable that you’ll be sharing a beer with some of the bands at one point or another. Yet at the same time it’s clearly important enough in indie-music circles to attract bands from across Europe and the US. The main stage was even sponsored by Spanish label Elefant for its 20th anniversary.

Being family-friendly without being family-oriented is another plus. Thankfully, it’s not full of bouncy castles and stupid people dressed in animal suits, but neither are the little darlings trodden into the mud or running around spilling people’s pints and starting fights.

And the festival-goers are unequivocally cool – cool enough to take hippy chic to a higher plane. It could have been an international convention for Converse All Stars, so united were the indie-rati in their footwear.

Those attending were also so cool that they didn’t even smell unsavoury after three days of questionable weather. Many actually smelt quite savoury by the end. Was it cheese or egg?  I couldn’t tell.

So, to the bands. If awards were being handed out for best performance then Brooklyn based electro-indie popsters Au Revoir Simone (pictured) were almost in the running after pulling off a great first night finale. This was however marred by a moment of idiocy when one of them tried to explain what the “US phrase”, “faux pas” meant in English (I have high standards for this kind of thing). It displayed an ironically poor grasp of French given the name of the band.

Following this linguistical blunder the best performance of the festival award should probably go to Finland’s Cats on Fire. Far too many acts gave very informal performances, pointless band chit-chat, even the odd false start; so the panache with which Cats on Fire delivered a compelling set lifted them well clear of the ordinary.

Other highlights were London’s Pocketbooks  and Speedmarket Avenue, from Sweden. Early 1990s indie comedy veterans Frank and Walters were on form and Italy’s Fitness Forever played a cracking set that harked back to the world of La Dolce Vita and the 1960s.

Camera Obscura also delivered a bunch of pop perfect tunes while Saturday’s finale, in the form of Barcelona’s La Casa Zul, who (no joke) have a member called Androids, was just bizarre.

One of the musical treasure chests – and there were many – was the church stage: large enough to hold only seventy people maybe, there were a couple of great discoveries. The Understudies, complete with great song titles such as ‘Chip Pan Glam’, were so nervous they couldn’t work out what the applause was for – it’s actually because they’re pretty good. Another find was Beatles influenced Italian band Le Man Avec Les Lunette. Great songs, amazing cellist.

And yes I should have my wrists slapped for missing Teenage Fan Club and Emmy the Great. My bad. Plus I was so busy I never got to go on a train.

Finally, should any of the organisers read this, please burn down the disgraceful burger bars and get more real food (and real ale, it ran out I think) – there’s only so much pea-based curry a digestive tract can take.

By Matt Whipp