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Tramlines was bigger, but was it better?

  • Published in Reviews
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Photography by Paul Jones

Arriving at Sheffield station late on Friday afternoon, the weather did not disappoint as I stepped out into the typical Yorkshire rain. The opening acts of the festival were not scheduled to begin for a few hours so I battled the hills and made my way to the press office. After picking up my pass, I decided to kill some time by checking out some of the smaller venues around the city centre. This year has seen the festival spread out across Sheffield further than ever before and on the Friday at least, this mainly led to me wandering from venue to venue without much really going on. After an hour of bar hopping I landed in the Cathedral; one of the festival’s grandest stages. An amazing acoustic space with tall ceilings, stone walls and stain glass windows shooting colour in every direction, perfect for a chilled out evening.

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There was only one act I wanted to see at the Main stage on Friday night and that was Slaves, so I hopped on a tram and made my way to Ponderosa Park. After seeing their energetic set from the back of the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury last month I was looking forward to seeing them in a slightly more intimate setting. They pulled in a large crowd at the new main stage, and although it was no longer in the centre of Sheffield, the atmosphere was still as lively as ever. After 45 minutes of being crushed, jumping up and down and a small ruckus, Slaves left the stage. You were left with the feeling that they had put everyone in the mood for the rest of the weekend.

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Although this year I was special and could barge my way into any of the venues, I decided to stick to my humble beginnings and head to the usual Friday night spot at Tramlines; Bungalows and Bears. In past years, Bungalows has hosted some big line ups with free entry and this usually means getting down extremely early to avoid queuing. I arrived late, as always, and feared the worst, however to my surprise managed to walk straight in. The venue was busy but not heaving, the introduction of ticket prices and more venues has seen a surge of DJ’s at Tramlines leaving people spread out across the city. With venues like the Night Kitchen and Hope Works now in Sheffield bringing in some top headliners, the Bungalows and Bears bill seemed quite thin. The music was loosely fit together with little coherence between tracks or DJ’s. Bouncing from Disco re-edit to House classic, from 90’s Garage to R&B chart hits without any real curation. Headliner Yasmin, who up until now I have only heard sing, played a DJ set which I heard described as ‘fun’… I think we’ll leave it there.

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Martha Reed and the Vendellas

Onto Saturday and without any warning the sun was shining. This was unexpected to say the least, and walking through the city centre there was a lively atmosphere, as the usual roads and shops were transformed into a wash of beer and music. First up was Mowtown legends Martha Reeves and the Vandellas over on the Main Stage. We made the long trek over to Ponderosa Park, choosing to walk and sink a few warm beers along the way. It’s always surprising how quickly you can move out of the city and find yourself in the greenery of Sheffield. This setting was perfect for Martha and her great backing band to deliver a medley of Motown groovers.

Elsewhere back in the city, and out of the sun, I stumbled across downtempo trio Favela who played a James Blake-esque live set. I wasn’t too familiar with their music beforehand, however their sound was on point, with great vocal harmonies, incorporating live and electronic drums, sample pads and electric piano.

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Submotion Orchestra

After quickly stopping off for food and some more warm cans of beer, which we had managed to keep hidden in the bottom of our bags the whole day, it was time to move onto the Octagon. We eagerly awaited James Holden onto the stage, who was due to start at 11pm. We were eventually greeted by Submotion Orchestra. Their sound was full and typically ‘sub-heavy’, however having only heard the Valve system in the Octagon, it was a nice change to not have my eardrums perforated in the venue.

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James Holden

Following them was James Holden, his set-up consisted of an analogue modular synth, an arp1 and a mountain of patch cables, if you’re not familiar with the gear then all you need to know is that it looks look like you just don’t want to touch it. This was accompanied by a live drummer and set against a backdrop of hazy visuals. On the contrary to Submotion Orchestra’s set, James Holden was extremely loud. This time my eardrums were definitely being perforated by the pure uncompressed amplitude of the synth - it was beautiful. After an hour of analogue madness, everyones eardrums had been beaten for the night and it was unfortunately time to leave.

Sunday morning saw a day of heavy rain which, unfortunately, was set in for the day. So unless you fancied getting soaked at the main stage it seemed that day time drinking was your best possible option. When the rain finally died down and subsided in the evening, it was a perfect time to head out for the night with the remaining hardcore Tramlines-goers.

Before you knew it, home time had rolled around and it was time to set off for the long journey back to Leeds - luckily I was not driving. Leaving Tramlines I reflected upon the weekend and how it had compared to previous years. It has definitely gained many things from expanding to more venues. In certain places, there was much less queuing and waiting around than there had been in previous years although, in others it was a painful 45 minute to an hours wait. However, spreading out the venues may have come at a price, diluting the atmosphere in the centre slightly, and making the logistics of seeing some acts slightly difficult.

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It is however, hard to complain too much about a festival that offers so much for such a small price, and this year was definitely the most diverse line up to date. Tramlines should be the blueprint for any inner city music festival; bringing together the best venues, bars and businesses in the city, continuing year on year to sustain the community feel of the festival in Sheffield - take note inner city music festivals!