The message that Sheffield is a central hub for live music has been echoed throughout generations; a buzzing scene for big bands to perform and a platform for local talent, but it’s one I still struggle to grasp. An infant compared to fellow festival giants, Tramlines has just turned eight and has already been on a bumpy journey up to now. What seemed to be the kick up the backside that Sheffield’s music scene needed has gone from vowing to keep its tickets free and guitar music at large, to well, reversing on its own words. The unpredictability of Tramlines is what draws many back each year though and we spent the weekend at a rarely sunny Sheffield, soaking in this year’s line up.
Whilst the real gems of Tramlines lie in the nooks and crannies of Sheffield, many of which are part of the free ‘fringe’ section of the festival, Ponderosa is where we set up base most afternoons. The main stage came under scrutiny last year for its lack of toilets and lengthy queues but with plenty more portaloos this year, punters were able to catch acts carefree, starting with Friday night’s headliners (yes, two a day rather confusingly) Dandy Warhols and Dizzee Rascal, from the alternative rock and grime realms respectively. When Tramlines was born in 2009, Dizzee Rascal was at the top of his game and even if Big Narstie and Novelist may be more sought after in 2016, he seems fresher than ever when he bounds onto the stage with tongue in cheek grime hits including ‘Bonkers’ and ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’. Whilst his new Eurovision laser beam belter ‘Hype’ isn’t to everyone’s taste and has to be stopped when someone gets injured in the crowd, it’s a triumphant return for UK grime’s once loved son.
A similar reception was conjured up 24 hours later in the same spot when Kelis takes to the main stage with a trio of hits; ‘Milkshake’, ‘Millionaire’ and ‘Trick Me’ from her 2003 album Tasty. It’s a set that glimmer’s graciously, similar to last year’s Saturday night headliners, female fronted powerhouse Basement Jaxx. It’s here where the festival’s organisers can be most proud. At a time when women in music have somewhat been elusive from festival posters, Tramlines boasts some of the best around.
Sunday afternoon throws up the quirkiest band right now, and guess what, they’re female too. Hinds, heralding from Madrid, tease the crowd with the same purr as Antonio Banderas’ puss in boots; cute and innocent on the surface but packing a punch, and maybe one too hefty at that. “Our life is breaking down right in front of you” singer and guitarist Carlotta Cosials laughs referring to the loss of some of their instruments and broken pedals, leading them to borrowing instruments. The thing is, using someone else’s half tuned guitar works even better for these garage rock thrash-abouts. “This is our successful first time in Sheffield!” cheers Cosials before they hurtle through final track ‘Davy Crockett’. She’s not wrong there, with the crowd chanting for more as they leave.
Elsewhere, topsy-turvey burger bar, Bungalows and Bears, plays host to The Japanese House, who winds down those still buzzing from Jurassic 5 and Catfish and The Bottlemen, and uplifts those after an uninspiring set from Public Service Broadcasting. 21 year-old Amber Bain is still the mystery behind the mic for many fans of The Japanese House, but on stage she does little to hide her genuine love for the crowd and her music, doing a Busted-style air jump during ‘Cool Blue’. It’s another one of those goose-bump moments that the females of the festival have provided.
Where Tramlines does it well, it’s unforgettable. Young Fathers set at Ponderosa on Saturday evening was full of intent, with little left untouched. “We’re all migrants, everyone of you or before you, whether you like it or not. And if you don’t like that you can go fuck yourself” singer Kayus Bankole calls out. Another political message from Jurassic 5 the day after leaves the crowd raising their fists for Black Power. It’s these moments of unity which make Tramlines so special. Similar could have been said for the likes of George Clinton, Parliament Funkadelic, had they not been muffled by the appalling sound and local grime act Coco, whose surprise show at Sheffield Hallam University only gathered a small handful of uninterested festival goers.
Sheffield is a city raised on its sweaty club venues graced by Pulp, The Human League and Arctic Monkeys. Whilst Catfish and the Bottlemen’s headline slot may have been a little pre-empted, it gathered the largest crowd of the festival, owing to Sheffield’s thirst for guitar based music. The rise of grime and DJs today are paramount to any festival DNA, but if Tramlines want to continue to thrive and raise ticket prices each year, then more relevant guitar bands need to be at the forefront of their plans.
Photos by Ethan Weatherby