Tramlines Festival @ Various Sheffield 20-22.07.12

The first Tramlines Festival in 2009 was considered something of an anomaly amongst the slew of UK festivals that seemingly arrive out of nowhere every year in that not only did it have a fully fledged and comprehensive line-up, but it actually appeared to be completely free. Needless to say it went rather well and now, in 2012 it has more stages and acts than ever before and, remaining gloriously free, it still won’t make your bank account look like you attempted a booze shop at a Waitrose… Unless you did in fact buy your drink for the weekend at a Waitrose. But that’s your lookout.

Jul 20th, 2012 at Various, Sheffield / By Matthew Bayfield
Tramlines Festival @ Various Sheffield 20-22.07.12 The other completely unique thing about Tramlines this year, Bearded gleefully observed as we navigated the fast thickening crowds at the Red Bull Studios Stage, sat outside on the concourse of the Student Union, was that not only were there not a pair of those godforsaken Hunter wellies anywhere in sight, but the sun was actually shining to the point where you didn’t look like a complete dick if you had sunglasses on. This could only bode well for the Steel City’s flagship festival and in particular this stage, the line-up for which had been hand selected by none other than local lad Toddla T, a man involved in the festival from its very beginning in 2009.

Bringing in the crowds early (as was expected he would) Rinse FM regular Oneman was busy further securing his status as the world’s most reliable DJ with his usual blend of anything and everything from the bass spectrum whilst working the crowd up into a sweat to the point that even the early flakers sat in deckchairs on the hillside (yeah they do it posh up North too) felt compelled to get up and do something rhythmic, no matter how uncoordinated it may have been to the rest of us. Keeping the momentum running from here was not as tricky a task as it could have been, as following on from Oneman was L-Vis 1990, one half of the peerless Night Slugs label, who not only dropped some of the tracks of the day in the shape of recent outings from label signings Jam City & Girl Unit (whose Club Rez EP has proved to be one of the collections of the year thus far) but was also sporting the finest Hawaiian shirt of the day bar none. Next up was T Williams displaying why he was rightly awarded a coveted spot at the Red Bull Music Academy by taking things in a slightly new direction with a deeper house sound, to which revellers at the front of stage were quite frankly going a bit mad for. Closing out proceedings on the outdoor section of the stage was Bristol native and new 1xtra signing Julio Bashmore whose prime selection of many mutant strands of house were just perfect for a ‘Beard whose Ibiza tan was just starting to peel.

With the sun setting, the bass from Bashmore’s set rattling the inside of the Portaloos and a drunk reveller swinging his Finland-in-winter pale penis from the University flyover it was clear Sheffield wasn’t quite ready to settle down just yet, so it was time to take things indoors to the Octagon, which was already queued round the corner and out onto the road ahead of the evenings acts.

Rolling into the already queued out Octagon a bit late (it was essential we had some jerk chicken and a G&T) Bearded discovered a rather hyper (and already huge) crowd moving to the selections of Mr Oris Jay, whose inspired dropping of the always welcome ‘Hip-Hop’ by Dead Prez was a moment we were glad we didn’t miss… Even if our gin & tonic was confiscated on the way in. Numbers mastermind Jackmaster was next into the fray, the room now thoroughly at capacity, and not only pulled one of the wheel ups of the night on The Streets classic ‘Blinded By The Lights’ but also wound up his set with an inspired hand clapping, foot stomping bit of Spanish guitar based audience participation.

It was then onto headliner, line-up selector and Sheffield lad dun good Toddla T with his new ‘Toddla T Sound’ taking the stage. Adding to the hometown vibes was an opening video introduction from Jarvis Cocker, but from there on out things took a decidedly less industrial north, more tropical feel with a wonderful selection of reggae and dancehall, splashes of moombahton and anything else fancied by Toddla’s gumbo selection style. It’s also interesting to note that for a man sometimes scoffed at by “serious” music followers Sean Paul’s ‘Gimme The Light’ still sent the place into orbit when it was dropped, but nothing compared to the reload of perennial favourite ‘Witness (One Hope)’ by Roots Manuva (who was also performing down on the main stage that day) which suitably took things through the stratosphere. Not content to take all the praise however Toddla was accompanied throughout by emcees DRS & elastically tongued ball of energy Serocee, both on hand to keep the vibe lively; a particular highlight of which being the deranged speed garage vibes of ‘Manabadman’. Old school garage vocalist Shola Ama, who dropped both new single ‘Alive’ and ‘Take It Back’ which was chewing up dance floors all last summer was also a particularly clever addition giving the set a nice change in tempo and a providing a sultry Yin to the Yang of the emcees. There’s a reason Toddla’s shows have been queued round the block every year and it’s inherently clear why he was given his own stage this time round, next year he might just need his own festival.

It was then left for bass titan and general all round cheerful chap Benga to round up Bearded’s visit to Sheffield, alongside partner in crime Youngman with an adrenaline soaked set of tunes ranging from a storming bit of old school in the shape of the Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ through ‘Detonate’ by Dismantle (a tune that can probably be considered a classic based purely on the number of DJ’s that I’ve heard play it in about the last two weeks) to ‘Night’ Benga’s collaboration with DMZ member Coki which is without doubt already a classic, as proven when the audio was dropped out leaving an entire sweaty Octagon, led by emcee Youngman, to hum the bass line by themselves. Tramlines has grown substantially every year since its inception and with the way the queues were still looking outside at gone 3am it would appear Sheffield University may need to start thinking about getting planning permission for an extension before 2013 rolls around.

Lastly: Admittedly we forgot the majority of his set due to over familiarising ourselves with Sheffield’s plentiful range of gin during Benga’s set, but shouts to Mele too for keeping the dance going right up ‘til 4am!