Just imagine if Tramlines had taken place in London? I’m pretty sure we would have seen more national news coverage boasting of its success. Roughly 40,000 people came together at Hillsborough Park, a 49 acres site north west of the city centre. Although, these are not huge pre-pandemic numbers, this was one of the biggest events in the UK since March 2020. It’s also rumoured it was one of largest to take place in Europe this summer.
Even without robust academic data on the stats, it was a massive achievement for South Yorkshire. We’re very proud and we want the rest of the UK to know about it. Trawling the internet for stories, I was shook to discover only a small handful of in-depth reports. If I’m wrong DM me and I will re-edit this blog because I’ve been searching and there’s not much out-there.
This write-up, is an autobiographical, untrained journo homage my Tramlines 2021, it’s a love letter to the artists I discovered and a taste of what to expect if you’ve never been before.
A lil Tramlines History.
A South Yorkshire institution starting 2009 the event has since won “Best Metropolitan Festival” at the UK Festival Awards. Outside of the ticketed main arena, there is a (mostly) free locally coordinated Fringe festival pulling venues and space across the city together. Although, it’s not been researched officially, it is estimated by the organisers it brings millions into the local economy each year. This supports an entire ecology of artists, sound engineers independent businesses, all the local taxi companies love it. It’s a big deal for the city. Every, town, village and hamlet should have their own.
Feeling Freaky at the Fringe.
It’s thought that on top of the 40,000 people that attended the main arena that at least another 10,000 revellers hit the streets for the fringe. We visited Dorothy Pax at Victoria Quays, a little walk outside the city centre there’s a canal marina, with cobbled walkways, bridges and outdoor seating. Park Hill and the tram lines are its backdrop. It’s an on-point Sheffield aesthetic matched with a good atmosphere and mix of people. There’s different ages, families plus it’s dog friendly.
Canal Lines – The Dorothy Pax Fringe Stage
Canal Lines began in 2019 and this year saw 40K investment from Arts Council England to support the events infrastructure and commission artists. Venue owner Richard Henderson, explained how important the event was for him personally, describing that he’d known of technicians and musicians sell their PA’s and guitars to financially survive the pandemic. For those that work in the night-time economy, many have not received government grants due to not owning premises. The good people that work in the night-time economy live for their industry, which is mostly freelance and insecure. Acknowledging this, makes Tramlines and its fringe events such as Canal Lines seem all the more significant. It’s helping individuals and the industry locally get back on its feet.
Vibing at the Canal.
I love festivals, where else will you’ll find your pal, who has a serious day job, covered in glitter, wearing a rainbow poncho. In our hectic, work heavy lives, we need spaces for madness and rule breaking. Everyone was feeling the love dancing on the cobbles in front of the Canal Lines stage. It was liberating scanning the crowd and seeing punters happy and maskless.
Sheffield band Speed For Lovers, instantly got the crowd popping. As an ageing raver, the band were exactly what I want to hear, so I turned to Google to find out more. Sheffield Star described the band as a “synth noir”, which sounded pretty bleak, for me they were more kaleidoscope and bouncy. Their track Hot Yoga Emoji! has since become my post lockdown electronica/disco/rave party anthem. Plus, I’ve learnt Synth Noir is actually a genre that fuses part bass, part synth combined with an iOS drum machines. Who knew?
Dorothy Pax was heaving by the time Henge played in the late afternoon. A type of electronic crossover rock which they call Cosmic Dross, they perform as the fictional characters Zpor, Goo, Grok and Nom. It’s impressive how high energy they are in full costumes. It looked hot and sweaty playing the drums in that toad alien mask. If you do one thing today watch this INCREDIBLE collaboration between HENGE and The Glitch Collective, the film uses a combination of live action, illustration and animation. It’s pure joy.
Doing The Main Arena – Sunday Sesh.
We could only commit to a Sunday afternoon sesh of the festival but his was exciting because I really wanted to watch and possibly interview the glorious orange haired talent Phoebe Green.
I came across Phoebe many years ago in Doncaster. She has vague connection to my home town and I have been enchanted by her poetically crafted songs ever since. I don’t want to make this a rant on gender but when you look at the festival line-up, there’s just too many dudes. I wanted to attend the Sunday to see Phoebe kick-off the main stage; be unapologetically herself and an inspiration for the youth. He latest release IDK, is a kinda of dreamy, sythn, electro, anti-pop, anthem which is both pretty and scathing all at once. Oh, and Billie Eilish is a fan too.
Being in a crowd 40,000 people.
Can’t lie, it felt weird being around so many people and I started to think about what festivals actually represent in the human psyche and if aliens observed our actions at Hillsbrough Park, what would they think? If I got the chance to speak to aliens, I would explain, it’s a big human version of a murmuration. In nature we see individual birds all come together in unison to vibe off each other and dance in the sky. At Hillsborough we’re just doing the same thing, only it’s neatly trimmed grass with cider and vegan burgers.
Tramlines 2021 was the first festival my little niece got to experience after all our horrendous lockdown shizz. She’s 16 and Tramlines created a space for her to watch her favourite artists with her friends and be a normal teen. Its a rite of passage and I’m glad she could have this experience on her doorstep. PLUS there were vegan Magnums. Had to wait for ages, the ice-cream van que was long but these days I am defo more excited about a Magnum than a pint of cider.
Ending with Baby Queen.
On our way out of the main arena we stumbled across The Library Stage and were instantly drawn into the pop-synth sounds of Baby Queen. The lead singer Arabella Latham, was strutting around the stage with more swag than a 1960s Jagger. Her performance was fierce and in another lifetime, I want to be reincarnated Baby Queen.
What We Missed: Saturday’s Donx* Connections (*Donx = Doncaster)
As this is a write-up for Doncopolitan I wanted to give kudous to two talented artists of Doncaster, who are truly outstanding and both played Saturday night.
Listing his influences as Marvin Gaye and Sampha, his first release Take Me Away was easy my fav song 2020. It makes me cry everytime I hear it.
Christian Carlisle – BBC Introducing Sheffield
Everyone in Doncaster knows Christian Carlisle as a larger than life character but it never fails to impress me how devoted he is, when it comes to celebrating and curating artists across our region. It was only via Corrine’s (Chris’s wife) instagram that I saw he had been involved in curating the Leadmill stage. Here’s Christian’s epic 3hour BBC Introducing show featuring artist interviews and other highlights from the festival.
Again, seeing people out-doing there thing like the pre-pandem days has been a big highlight for me. This was really captured in this photo. Corrine is a nurse who has worked at Doncaster Royal Infirmary on the front-line through-out the pandemic. Thank you for everything you’ve done #NHShero.
Chatting with the Tram-man.
The best way to end Tramlines has to be a ride on a real tram back to the city. We got the chance to speak with the conductor, who enjoyed chatting about Saturday night’s carriages full of messy people dancing to an impromptu sound system. He was just genuinely elated that everyone was happy having a party on his tram.
Maybe this is where we all discover the real spirit of Tramlines? ….Let’s find-out 2022.
In the meantimes, here’s a little eclectic playlist with all my fav 2021 artists.
Thank you to Doncopolitan, Tramlines, Richard Henson of Dorthory Pax of helping me create this write-up.
Pus Dr David White for the images 🙂
I’m a visual artist, writer, activist, who loves social commentary and critique. You can commission me to write for you or collaborate on a plethora of things. Get intouch email@example.com