Kristian Birch-Hurst witnessed a triumphant debut offering of Birmingham's new inner-city green space festival
Date published: 22nd Sep 2017
Image: Orbital at Beyond The Tracks
A promising festival debut from the minds behind Moseley Folk Festival and Lunar Festival. Based in the city centre, Beyond the Tracks stands to further highlight the auspicious rise in Birmingham’s creative drive and cultural identity.
Over the course of three days, the festival brought independent food, plentiful entertainment, Birmingham-rich talent (both fledgling and established), expert stage curation and a promising snapshot of future potential - the hallmarks of a legitimate, and memorable, festival experience.
Positioned between the bustling centre and the newly renovated Birmingham City University campus, the site made surprising use of Eastside Park’s dense jurisdiction; a small triangle of urban greenery surrounded by towering high-rises and decaying post-industrial structures, previously used for a number of small-scale student events and political rallies. Reservations of claustrophobia were swiftly quashed on entering the well-spaced, open-air arena.
The unusual two stage setup initially provoked a certain scepticism, with the Main and Second stages placed alongside each other. However, due to the staggered set times, this soon became one of the defining features of the festival; performers were able to run seamlessly into one another, banishing long wait times in between acts, and creating an immersive, unending stream of music from to start to finish.
Across the weekend there were some phenomenal displays spanning an eclectic orchestration of decades and genres; with nods to the acid house movement of the 90s, the indie rock explosion of the late 00s, and a nostalgic revisit to the post-punk revival at the turn of the century.
Key performances came in many different guises. Orbital left crowds equal parts speechless and inspired. Very much the focal point in their custom-made DJ rig - surrounded by a spectacular array of coloured lasers, hypnotic 3D visuals, and explosive stage lighting - the Hartnoll brothers lived up to their prestige. Curating a fluid journey of 909 acid excellence, cut amongst transitory synth build-ups and more aggressive analogue sampling. A perfectly balanced hybridity between the hard, and the dream-like.
New to the block, and native to the city, Superfood added an infectiously funky flourish to the already diverse festival line-up. Dark, yet groovy distorted guitar riffs, warm synth progressions, incisive DIY drums, and a delicate vocal flair; the reminiscent lo-fi sounds of a band on the verge of something special. With prevailing influences in jazz, reggae and soul, the young four-piece have managed to do what others are seldom capable of, melding elements of the past to create a totally unique and refreshing musical vision of the future.
Editors, perhaps one of Birmingham’s most highly regarded acts of the 21st century, crafted a fitting end to the weekend’s proceedings, a compelling showdown of melancholic, interweaving guitar, prominent drum kicks and defiant bass poise. Tom Smith’s unmistakeable baritone emphasised every aspect of their extensive discography; from post-punk’s ground zero, with the anthemic ‘Back Room’, right through to the piano-synth driven resonance of ‘IN DREAM’.
Contrary to the invading autumnal chill, Beyond The Tracks salvaged a convincing summer festival atmosphere, cemented by a clever line-up that paid fitting homage to some the city’s greatest musical achievements. Many local businesses and independents were also added to the fold, featuring stalls from street food virtuosos Digbeth Dining Club, and rum Mecca the Cuban Embassy, among others.
Birmingham is a city very much on the move, rising up from relative obscurity, and establishing its voice on the UK stage. In this vein, Beyond the Tracks is yet another welcome addition to the city’s growing tapestry of arts, music and culture, cultivating an enriched sense of artistic self that remains pertinent, and distinctly Brummy.