Tramlines 2013 – The good, the bad and the _____

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Well, Tramlines 2013 is done and dusted and I’ve reviewed it amply for La Pop Life (a top site from México) and Goldflakepaint (a top site from Bristol). For my own Shithole of a Website (TM), Sloucher, I’ll do a bit of photo caption and then go into an assessment of the bad, the good and the _____. SONY DSC

A beat-em up dedicated to Asbo A Gogo. The Sheffield references are fun (Hendo’s = recover life) and gameplay does change later, actively requiring both players to cooperate, which is always nice. Managed to beat it with the great Dan Sumption. It made me fear Pugs.

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I’m always impressed by Oxo Foxo’s ability to create such a loud but intimate performance, all by herself. Sheffield Cathedral is just perfect for her mantra-like lyrics and mesmerising vocals. Please do listen to her Disguise EP, it’s a gorgeous 5 track love letter to music.

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Everyone an army always seem to be frustrated and angry. These energies are channeled into a fierce live show, where apathy will be confronted by loud notes and almost whispered vocals. I’m pretty partial as ‘Architecture at its meanest’ inspired a chapter in my novel.

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Didn’t stuck around much for Karhide, but it seems like a lot of effort to the single guy on stage to wiggle with all that equipment. The music was impeccable, though, 80s vs Krautrock vs prog,  and any stage presence he could have was sacrificed for the music. Would love to see him again with some crazy visuals to go with the music.

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Hey Sholay… if you’d told me 4 years ago, in that cold night in March at Uni’s Fuzz Club that these guys who played to a half dead place would play to a packed Cathedral, I would call you a delirious. Thankfully, good taste has prevailed and their amazing live show has steadily gained them a very healthy amount of followers. The packed crowd relished every single sweaty moment. Amazing renditions of ‘Wishbone’ and ‘Burning’.

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I missed Menace Beach at Live at Leeds back in May, so I had to catch them this time around. I heard they are good live, but needed to be more “tight”. What I saw was enjoyable and the surf and dream pop leanings of their music went quite well with the O2 Academy. Really need to hear more music from them.

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I had very high hopes for Maybeshewill after Live at Leeds and they did not disappoint. The sumptuous City Hall was just perfect for their energetic live show. Cathartic and aimed to the heart.

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Fly on bird, fly on were on Tiger Works, a venue I’ve never been in. They are described as “minimal rock” both in the program and the venue’s info sheet. They play post rock, with some instrumental hard rock thrown in for good measure. They are a good bunch and the sound is actually quite decent, which is always welcomed.

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For a long while I’ve wanted to see I Like Trains and the City Hall was the perfect venue for them. I have history with ‘Beacons’ and as I snapped photos from the pit, I could feel my skin crawl and every hair in my arm stand. ‘The Shallows’ and ‘A rook  house for Bobby’ have to be experienced live.

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Arrived to Frog & Parrot when Mega Aquarians reached their halfway mark. It seemed packed, but security let me slide in. Very loud and enjoyable, although I’m sure a lot of people in the crowd went “uh?”, but at least they stuck around.

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The pilgrimage to Tye Die Tapes was fun. I got confused and ended up with a friend in a very wrong part of town. Managed to get out ok and then waited for Collider. It’s nice to be in a gig where people mosh and crowdsurf without anyone going “nanny state” on them. For Krist Novoselic’s sakes! It’s a punk show; people will want to do such things! Moods were great (“It’s 50 p for moshing, guys!”) and Collider were a top band. See them live! This happened:

And buy a Pjaro tape too.

Since Mega Aquarians sort of disappear from experience often, my friend Joe and I hightail it to West Street. It’s the first time I go into Lava Lounge and… how many disco balls is too many?

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Oh…

How many chandeliers is too much?

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Ah…

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Anyways, here lies a small problem that venues face during Tramlines, which is booking bands they have no idea what they sound like, pairing them with genres that probably will clash. Mega Aquarians gave their best, 2/3 of the place ran away and a couple of grumpier dudes ended up joining in the fun. Hey, if you win a fan…

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Firesuite are a band I always seem to big up a lot and it’s because I truly enjoy their shows, a mixture of shoegaze with explosive rock. The double vocal attack, the crazy bass and drum combo and the sparse but moody synths are combination that always wins me over. New stuff sounds a little less distorted but still quite gorgeous. ‘Red World’ is always a treat.

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It was a bittersweet moment to see Smithereens. Sure, their punky demeanour and “who gives a shit? WE ARE LOUD!” schtick leaves no room for sour notes, but it was their last gig, as the singer would be leaving England for Africa. They knew this. You could sense it in the ambient and see it in their eyes. Everyone joined for the sing along beginning of “Shark!” and we all said goodbye.

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It was pretty impossible to get anywhere else, but the streets were buzzing, with the usual Saturday deviants being dumbfounded by the amount of happy and snappy music fans. The common thread was alcohol, I guess. We managed to get quickly in The Bowery and saw Temple Songs , with a drummer who looked (and behaved) like Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. The band is awesome and their racket was well worth the wait (and the befuddled look from Security when they saw my luchador mask.)

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Sunday morning wasn’t easy like The Commodores (or Faith No More) promised. Still, the fantastic and incredibly loud show that The Nøse puts made me want to chase them after and sorta beg for some sort of recording. Hopefully, they will, but McSweeney still has to release that sweet ass album I know it’s on the pipeline…

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David J. Roch… first time I saw him, it was a quiet, sombre affair. With a full band? Still moody and introspective. Very honest and raw feelings on display. Can’t wait to see him again. The impromptu (or was it?!??!) duo with Gina Walters was interesting.

The 65daysofstatic exhibition was pretty nifty, the soundscapes overwhelming and even if it seemed a tad empty, it was a highlight.

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I saw a crowd. My natural curiosity made me go and check it out. I had no idea who he was, it was only later that I found out it was Jon Windle (from Little Man Tate.) It’s not my cup of tea but what I really enjoyed was how much he brought people together and how he didn’t give a toss that security was not being too subtle about dispersing us. It never came to that (even if there are reports that say differently.)

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This was the first time I’ve seen Steve Papa Edwards, although a lot of people (mostly the Counterfeit Mag crowd) rave about him. I stuck around for a song, saw him smile to the small but dedicated crowd and ran to the O2 (with an espresso from Motoré quaffed while running down Barker’s  pool).

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I remember seeing Wet Nuns back in the Stock Room in 2010. It was only them, Serious Sam Barrett and a handful of people (plus free Jambalaya.) They didn’t care how overnumerous  we were, they gave it all. Seeing them now playing for a big audience that clearly loves them makes me feel great. I love them infinitely. Can’t wait for the album.

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That. That is what Tall Ships feels like: Carefree, alive and slightly blurry. One of the best bands I’ve witnessed in my life.

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Although I interviewed them 2 years ago, I’ve never been to a Rolo Tomassi gig. I knew of their fierceness, so I braced myself before Eva Spence’s roared from the lowest depths of her bowels. A couple of photographers were being absolute pricks, one of them trying to stretch himself and attempting to get an upskirt shot of her. He elbowed me, I called him a couple of expletives in Spanish. I left during the second song. Good show, for what I could muster to stick around for.

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Castrovalva first arrived on my catalogue when I used to write for The405. Back then, I found them weird and discombobulating, but full of honest energy and great potential. ‘In our prime’ and ‘Señorita’ made me a fan a few months later. It’s my second time seeing them live and even if the room is horribly empty, they go wild. ‘Señorita’ is an absolute beast and there’s nothing so satisfying like shouting “TUT TUT, YOU FUCKIN’ DONUT!”

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Moving stage times and a lack of genre cohesion seemed to be a problem with a few venues around, but the good people of Freaky Fuzz had a beast of a line up at DAda. I stupidly missed a lot of their stuff, but ran to catch Vuvuvultures. The sprained ankle was worth it, as their live performance oozes atmosphere. It’s like an 80s Goth film (The Hunger, The Lost Boys, heck, even bits of Repo Man!) with a blue tinted smokey atmosphere, where you can only see their silhouettes, the logo and a bright blue light. What you feel is a lot of emotions being tugged around, with “that scream” in ‘I’ll cut you’ making me stagger back a bit. 100% devoted to their art, a great performance without pretension.

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I camp early at Bungalows and Bears as I had to cover Wolf Alice (at least photo-wise) for the organisers. Blessa have been getting loud accolades since last year and I simply can’t come up with anything new.  Dream pop, shoegaze, slightly cinematic and very atmospheric (love the small tribute to Angelo Badalamenti’s ‘Fire walk with me’). It’s gorgeous music and the MJ (from Hookworms) recorded album in the horizon should be a real keeper. If there’s a guy who can capture their rich sound, it’s him.

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Wolf Alice was the perfect closer for my Tramlines 2013 (and quite probably, my last ever Tramlines – the home country beckons). It’s loud, it’s slightly bluesy (but never too twangy) and although the microphones were malfunctioning often, the band kept themselves in good spirits. The music made people dance and sway ‘til it was all over. Top show.

So, what’s the overall judgement?

It was a good experience.

Tramlines always gets the city buzzing and I always feel spoiled for choice. Musical selection was quite spot on (even if a couple of people moaned on twitter that it was “underwhelming”) and outside of Narcocorridos, I think everyone’s palate was being catered for.

Do I think it was perfect? Well, no. I’ve been to Tramlines since 2009 and I’ve seen it grow and growth goes hand in hand with errors (which are actually part of experience.) No such thing as a perfect festival and I feel as satisfied from this year’s edition as I’ve felt since 2010.

With that said:

The Bad:

Now, I’m tackling the elephant in the room: the program. I’ll write extensively at this because I do believe this integral part of the festival needs a good ironing out. I know it’s hard to keep schedules. I know it’s hard to get information from bands and parse it all out. I know stage times do change. What I think is that a better communication could’ve been done with venues, bands and organisers to sort out a couple of issues that did affect the punters. Stuff like:

1) Descriptions of bands being just their genre. Repomen, Indie? More like Baggy, but genres are weird thing. A grey area, if you will. Still, only the genre as a description for the band? Not helpful to people who don’t know local bands or who just want to dig in what’s to offer.

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Photo: Katriona Gilmour

And some bands got described, but not at all as what they are:

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2) Genre applied to bands being nowhere near what they are. I know it’s a bugbear to assign a genre to music in general, but being in the same ballpark is much better than assigning a wrong genre. Case in point Bringatii (mispelled as ‘Briganti‘ on the program) and The Hope Explosion tagged as electronic:

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Photo: Katriona Gilmour

This is The Hope Explosion:

This is Brigantii:

3) The actual quality of the program booklet. My friend from Leeds bought a program. This is how it looked on the very night she bought. It was in her bag most of the time, opened just a few times:

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Photo: Katriona Gilmour

Look, it’s a festival, times will probably be moved. With 70 or so venues, I know it’s impossible to keep track of every single change. A solution that could work is get venues & promoters to communicate with the main Tramlines Twitter account and inform of changes. It might not be done by all venues, but it could be a start.

Maybe someone doing a quick double-check on listings could also do the trick. Case in point: Eagulls was announced on O2 Academy‘s event, but they never played. The changes were announced on Facebook on the day, but the printed sheets at the O2 still had Eagulls, which meant the times got a bit wobbly. This is a major venue, an extra push to deploy the information will help iron out these creases.

So, yes, get venues to use social media, at least during Tramlines, and keep people informed. This is a problem that can only be solved by increasing the communication spread and social media works quite well.

Regarding genres and band descriptions, the only way I think the workload could be evenly distributed is to get all bands that apply to submit their own description. Give them a short space, just a line. That would let bands identify themselves and take one task off the hands of the organisers’ already busy hands.

Now, the question: did the program ruined my experience? No.

I do believe that correcting these issues would increase the reputation of the festival even further, though.

The Good:

Now that the whole program thing has been done and dusted from my end, let’s talk about the good things from Tramlines, because the final tally is a positive one and that’s what this opinion piece intends to highlight (yes, I banged A LOT about the program – let’s emphatise the good stuff):

-Musical selection, as mentioned before, was top range. I actually had to do triage and skip bands that I wanted to see live (Dutch Uncles, Fawn Spots, Slowcoaches) to see other bands. I rather regret having to skip one great band for another great band than having to settle to one. Choice is good and the organisers made sure we had them.

-The Busker Bus: UPDATED: Credit where credit is due, it was run by Danielle Gigg, thanks to Ad:for:Peru for pointing this out. Give Lee Mullin a medal. He works to no end and deserves kudos. Sure, there were problems on Sunday but he made a call and it was the best one. The Busker Bus is always a highlight of Tramlines. Get someone to help with the Twitter account, as he’s probably full of work during both days the bus runs!

-Security: Although there were a few misunderstandings (I was told “not to touch the stage” at the O2, the water & food policy disagreements), security was pretty good and there were no rabble rousers doing nasty deeds (at least I didn’t see any.)

-The Tramlines twitter account did all that was humanely possible to communicate and transmit. Whoever were tweeting from there, give them a pint and get them more people to work with next year.

Price: Do I believe it was worth to pay 18 quid for the weekend (or 15 for early birds)? Yes. Because the choices of bands was nifty.

The big venues: Whoever decided that Maybeshewill and I like Trains had to play City Hall deserves a big round of applause. The O2 Academy‘s line-up was fantastic (warts and all) and the Busker Bus is always a fun time.

The Folk Forest : Because it’s a heaven for those wanting to relax away from the hustle and bustle.

The ______ :

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The fuck was this?

And that’s all I wrote. Thank you and see you on the other side.

Words: Sam J. Valdés López

Photos: Sam J. Valdés López (unless credited to someone else).

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2 thoughts on “Tramlines 2013 – The good, the bad and the _____

  1. by “the Counterfeit Lot” I think you mean Jenn! ;)

    Exposed did the listings…….

    The Academy debacle was ludicrous. They changed the running order/line-up three times in 2 hours but by their facebook page.

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