Tramlines 2013 - By Volume

Understand that I am only as he made me: a faithful servant to all of the noise, all of the lights, all of the flashing in my head. Laura Stevenson - Wheel

Tramlines 2013

Part 1 of our coverage of Sheffield's most mesmerizing weekend. Author: on July 25, 2013
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We didn’t get to see Public Service Broadcasting, the band we’d drawn a pencil loop ’round who use public information films in place of vocals. The line outside the ticketed venue – The Harley – was unmoving amid a fluid city centre. So we wandered across the street near the Students’ Union and watched a ukulele covers band play for half-comedy, half-gang vocals on a garden wall. As they sang songs of commiseration to the punters queuing opposite, the spirit of the festival flickered into focus before another chant of Umbrella’s chorus drowned it out. Tramlines 2013 struggled with itself at times – the once-free festival this time charging, albeit pennies, for entry to a number of its bigger stages. But the people, as they have for five years now, pulled it up to the next level of atmosphere.

The Grand Old Ukes of Yorkshire had been slated informally to play the Harley prior to our circled band, but were told the schedule had changed and so rebelled. There was friction between what at times felt like two festivals — the free and the promoted; the relaxed and the organised. Earlier on that Saturday, we’d tumbled downhill slightly to watch a group called Mega Aquarians  with an almost-Jack-Black on vocals and some seriously full-bodied rock as their driving force — in another free-for-all venue, the packed Frog and Parrot. In rooms like those, Tramlines was as vital as ever; in fact, in almost every room, the communal feel permeated a tangible tension. I didn’t see the main stage, but I imagine I was glad for it; the glory of Sheffield’s best weekend always did hover from bar to bar, only very occasionally rooting itself in a flagship venue.

This year, the second stage graduated from outside City Hall to the O2 Academy, a larger room for absolutely certain, but hardly in keeping with the grass-roots texture of Division Street’s livelihood. That didn’t stop Tall Ships from playing a phenomenally emotive set. The Brighton rockers opened with “T=0″, as they did in Leeds in 2012, masterfully carving through a tight but human set, peaking with “Chemistry” and the gorgeous “Ode To Ancestors”. A shame, then, that they weren’t afforded more stage time, as the O2 Academy’s policy seemed ruthless and in some way deferential to their two-stage set-up. We headed upstairs to Academy 2, to see Leeds’ Castrovalva play (un)comfortably the most intense set of the festival. A melange of noise and punk and I don’t even know; their energy was unmatched over the whole weekend, and we ran into their bassist the following night in Leeds at the Brudenell Social Club.

Friday had started at the Leadmill with the pristine, electro-rockers from Swiss Lips. Swiss Lips had arguably the best sound of the whole festival, but special recognition has to go to their backing vocalist and keyboardist, Tim Ethersby, whose backing vocals escalated practically every song to another level entirely. From there we ambled to see a group fresh from supporting Japandroids in Leeds, PAWS. Their set at the Forum, which came closest to matching Castrovalva’s dynamism, was a spectacle, marrying a refined sound with an aggressive tone to great effect. The Scottish band (who, seemingly like everybody good and Scottish, are on Fat Cat Records) rocketed through a breathless but extremely competent collection of tracks including “The Hospital Song” and had the room swirling by the time their set closed amid a plea for somewhere to sleep. It was a brilliant close to a brief introductory night — as the Friday always is — and set the wheels of the weekend in motion.

Our Tramlines 2013 coverage will conclude with Part 2 on Saturday, July 27.

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