The Ratells have the unenviable task of opening tonight’s events. The five-piece come out with enjoyable indie rock, with heavier riffs sounding like Devil and God-era Brand New adding to an almost anthemic sound at times. Sadly, something’s a bit off tonight. Lead singer Ash is an energetic force to behold on stage, jumping and spinning around with everything he’s got, but it’s hard to hear him over the music. As the band end on the rousing ‘Something More’, screechingly high guitars tear through the atmosphere of the room. Not that there’s much of an atmosphere – it’s still early, and people are still arriving and working out what’s going on.
What’s going on is the People’s Choice competition for Tramlines. A cynic might assume that most of the people here are friends and family of the seven bands competing to open the Main Stage of Tramlines Festival, but looking around, it doesn’t seem that way at all. As the crowd meanders over to the Steel Stage for band number 2, Pistola Kicks, it looks as though most of the punters here are genuinely lovers of Sheffield’s music scene, here to enjoy a good night of local talent.
Pistola Kicks are one of the most promising bands of the evening, with seriously catchy indie-pop reminiscent of Maximo Park. Despite their drummer being very new to the group, they perform as tightly as any other band tonight, and the audience lap up frontman Joe’s calls for them to step forward. ‘Lazy Baby Hurricane’ is the highlight of their set – although with each set being only twenty minutes long, it’s hard to pick a favourite for each band.
When Sour Cherry take to the main stage, it seems that the band are having some laptop problems. They’re not noticeable though and the band seem unaffected as they launch into pop songs such as ‘You Sing…’, a painfully humdrum Kate Nash knock-off. Sour Cherry’s lead singer Kortni has the levels of arrogance that would ordinarily see you getting kicked off the first rounds of X Factor, and her outfit screams ‘style over substance’. A large portion of the crowd seem to love Sour Cherry though, particularly on their final song which is a crowd-pleasing dance hit, complete with generic rapper.
One thing’s becoming clear; the Steel Stage definitely has a better atmosphere tonight, possibly because the audience number stays the same, but the room sizes shrink. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that the best bands are all playing in the smaller room, as Blue Lip Feel prove. The band might not have the most mainstream appeal with their psych-tinged rock, but they’re one of the best bands in the competition, as newest song ‘Sky Suit’ proves.
By contrast, the paint-by-numbers rock of 10 Bob Millionaire over on the Main Stage seems like it should appeal to many – but by this point in the evening it seems the crowd are getting bored of walking, with a quick glance proving that many have stayed in the side room, possibly for quicker access to the bar. It’s a shame, because the funky riffs of songs like ‘Get Up’ are enjoyable, and every band tonight is worth watching, even if there’s barely time for a fag break between sets.
Setting up on the Steel Stage are another of tonight’s highlights, the confusingly named Polkadodge. Who do not play Polka music. Instead, they play catchy indie rock that sounds fantastic in the overcrowded side-room. Frontman John is lively and happy to explain the background of the weirdly named ‘Catfish’, one of the highlights of their (slightly overrunning) set. The fact that the band have also brought demo EPs to hand out with them is a sign that they clearly mean business, and we should expect to see more from the young band in the future, even if they don’t win tonight.
Rounding off the competition is The Monday Club. One of the heaviest bands of the competition (that’s not counting Wet Nuns and Dead Sons, who are headlining), the four-piece are also the best band on the Main Stage (again, not counting the headliners). With an Oasis-but-heavier sound, they’re a good final act leading up to the final bands of the night, with ‘Lay Down & Die’ being a particularly good crowd-pleaser.
Ah, where to begin with Wet Nuns? You can tell from their name that they don’t take things too seriously, but it’s hard to put into words just how much fun you’ll have at one of their shows to someone who hasn’t seen them before. As the lights go dim and smoke fills the room, the crowd is greeted by the theme song from Game of Thrones, and in walks drummer Alexis with a giant axe. As you do. Wet Nuns really know how to put on a show – but they also know how to play awesome blues-punk. Lead singer Rob looks curiously like a rockabilly Matt Smith, and it’s hard to believe – as a short girl to my side points out, once she’s craned her neck to get a better view – that there are only two of them making that much noise. The highlight of their set, of course, is fan favourite ‘Heavens Below’ (possibly better known as that one that Matt Helders remixed). The crowd goes wild, as does the pit that’s come out of nowhere.
Wet Nuns were loud tonight, sure, but they’re not a patch on Dead Sons, who are almost too loud. Okay, definitely a little bit too loud. People are leaving. It might be the case that nine bands are a lot to put on in one evening, especially with six of them on one stage. For a band with two drummers, a thorough soundcheck must be more important than ever. That’s not to say that songs like ‘Bangonfullturn’ and ‘Junk Room’ aren’t great – they are, with maracas in the latter sending shivers up your spine. It would just be nice to know that there isn’t permanent damage being done to your eardrums as they play.
All in all, all the bands who made it to the final seven in the People’s Choice competition should pat themselves on the back for a job well done. But only one can win – and it will be interesting to see who the judges go for in the end.
And the winner is…Blue Lip Feel who will be opening up the main stage at this years Tramlines festival.