The exponential growth of citywide festivals continues apace with the latest edition of Sheffield’s TRAMLINES Festival. Attracting an impressive 35,000 fans to its inaugural event in 2009, the city’s premier music festival has developed into a hotly anticipated annual fixture with an impressive attendance in the region of 200,000 revellers. Much like this summer’s Liverpool Sound City, Tramlines saw 2015 as a chance to progress to a new chapter in its juvenile history. Moving the main stage from Devonshire Green to the much larger expanse of Ponderosa Park a mile up the road certainly echoes the relocation of Sound City to its new Dockside home.
Brand spanking new stages aside, what really makes Tramlines tick is the sheer wealth of affiliated events on offer, official or otherwise. With the bulk of Sheffield’s most popular venues offering a jam-packed programme across the three days, the city whirs into life, sound and colour bursting out of every pore. Industrious local businesses embrace the footfall with discounts and invitations to sample their wares, whilst small back-alley drinking holes teem with merry custom. Rather than gathering in a far-flung field, city-based festivals offer a unique opportunity for locals and tourists alike to engage in the unique vibrancy of an urban environment.
The Merseyside contingent makes its greatest showing yet this year, with a smattering of artists showcasing the wealth of diversity on offer in the region. Post-rock stalwarts ANATHEMA bring their continually evolving sound to the grand setting of the City Hall, deftly promoting their individualist take on melancholy. Over at The Harley, Liverpool newcomers GULF seek to prove why their own brand of psych pop is garnering a positive reaction across the board, whilst Heavenly Records signees and BBC 6Music favourites HOOTON TENNIS CLUB reignite the wit and charm of Pavement with a winning set at The Leadmill. But that isn’t all from the reignited Heavenly set, as STEALING SHEEP deliver a performance of increasingly popular hits from their critically acclaimed second album, Not Real. And, in embracing the fringe events with open arms, another homegrown gem is unearthed: Stewart Lee favourites EX-EASTER ISLAND HEAD smash home a stunning performance of their latest Mallet Guitars piece to a rapturous reception in the newly renovated Abbeydale Picturehouse Social.
Dark, minimal and dripping with post-punk cool, Manchester’s LONELADY takes another leap into the realms of crossover popularity with a confident Main Stage performance, further cementing her position as a key signing to the Warp Records roster. Some would say a party just ain’t a party without the funk-soul marathons of CRAIG CHARLES, and he hits his peak around the midnight mark at DQ on Sunday.
With the newly hiked (although still reasonable) ticket prices, it’s important for Tramlines to prove its worth with a handful of big hitters. Stepping in for the last-minute cancellation of the Wu Tang Clan, DE LA SOUL take the impromptu headline slot in their stride, showcasing hit after hit like true heavyweights. MARTHA REEVES ignites a sun-soaked Saturday with her iconic golden voice, whilst THE SUGAR HILL GANG do what they do best with an upbeat set of rap classics. BASEMENT JAXX completely steal the show with an impressive setlist jam-packed with charting singles – a tantalising taste of what’s to come at Liverpool International Music Festival on August bank holiday weekend.
Clearly risks are taken in bringing a larger incarnation of Tramlines, but the slick organisation, forward planning and reasonable pricing show all the hallmarks of a team with experience. A headlining act pulling out with 24 hours to go might well sink many festivals, but the swift replacement with artists of arguably equal weight shows that Tramlines really means business. These girls and guys are tough. But what else would we expect from the Steel City?