Words by Damien Russell / Pics by Denise Wilson
The plan is simple: meet my friend, get to The Old Crown – the pub we’re staying in, check-in, pick up the tickets left behind the bar for us, head to Eastside Park, enjoy the event.
However, plagued with overdue work the preparations to get to Beyond The Tracks are not going well. What should have been leisurely packing and hearty breakfasting has instead become telephone calls and frantic typing but, nevertheless, through more luck than judgment, at the absolute cut-off of 11:30 I’m closing my flat door behind me with a few mismatched items of clothing and a toothbrush stuffed into a hold-all and I’m on my way.
Step 1: to meet Paul Gallear in Wolverhampton centre, and with timing to a ‘T’ we hop onto a train at Wolverhampton Station. The trip into Birmingham is a good one and we arrive at New Street Station with spirits high. Birmingham is surprisingly busy for that sort of time of day on a Friday and I wonder casually if many more people milling about are here for the festival.
I’m mindful of that John Fell said, in our recent interview, that about 40% of the people with tickets for the Friday are from outside the area; it does seem like too much of a coincidence to discount. We head across town to The Old Crown and check in to find that our tickets are yet to arrive. The decision is made; a warm-up pint is in order.
Our tickets are being brought by Birmingham Review’s editor, Ed King, and our anachronistic EDM expert. Sadly, we are set to experience Beyond The Track’s dance music throwback without him, as Ed is booked at another event. But with a pint prepared for his arrival, we vow to try our best to convince him to join us… Several hours and several drinks later, no avail. Ed is immovable on the subject and despite our best efforts we say our farewells, part ways, and Paul and I head on to the festival.
At this point it’s only fair to address my experience and enjoyment of dance music. Little on both counts, I’m sorry to say. I was too young for the 80’s and 90’s rave scene and coming from Wolverhampton, there was little of that sort of thing around. That being said, I’m always open to a new experience and if the atmosphere is right, it could be great.
So, somewhat delayed but still looking forward to what lies ahead, we find ourselves at the transformed Eastside Park. The site itself is set up as I had imagined; tall solid fencing surrounds the arena with the main entrance on the city side. The entrance is predictably flanked by security and there is the usual ticket collection, ticket inspection, with body/bag search 3-tier entrance system that we’re all largely used to these days. Not as heavy on security as I was expecting given the political climate these days, I must admit, but to my knowledge the event is entirely trouble free all weekend so all’s well etc, etc.
In no time at all we’re in and at the bar. Leftfield are in full swing and with the day still being quite bright it does seem a little incongruous listening to the sort of music usually hear at around 3am. Being the Leftism album performance tour, the music is more chilled out than what dance music can bring to a greenfield site, but with the festival ‘vibe’ still in full force. The field is full, not shoulder to shoulder but comfortably so, and with everyone seemingly very good natured about getting around.
Leftfield’s performance is interspersed with live vocals and songs like ‘Inspection (Check One)’ stand out from the set as having that extra edge because of it. The sky is grey and a bit drizzly but still fairly light, so while the lighting is far from lost the live vocal performances bring a welcome depth to the stage show.
The crowd are warm and receptive but if I’m honest, both they and Leftfield themselves are a little more subdued than I am hoping for. I know that the plaster ceiling of the Brixton Academy was always going to be safe at this distance, but somehow I still find myself wanting a little more. A little more bounce, a little more volume, a little more energy from the audience. I’m not sure which. But something. That said, Leftfield close their set to solid applause and pave the way for Sister Bliss to begin on the second stage.
The second stage is borrowed directly from Moseley Folk Festival, as, I’m reliably informed, are the bar and the catering stands. Not having been to Moseley Folk it’s not something that bothers me, but not giving this new festival more of its own identity seems a bit of a shame, if a forgiveable one given that it’s Beyond The Tracks’ first year.
With the crowd affording us little chance of getting close enough to see Sister Bliss in action, it becomes cocktail time, and as the strains of ‘Insomnia’ float over the field (one of my favourite Faithless songs) I can’t help but smile. I wasn’t sure if Sister Bliss would play it but I’m glad she has. Not the full song, of course, but enough.
Happily hydrated, centre of the arena and far enough back to see the full main stage in all its glory, the night feels like it’s picking up and I watch the crew building the tower of scaffold that is to be Orbital’s lighting rig and stage for the Friday night headline performance.
Orbital, brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll, take to the stage with trademark specs fully kitted out with headlights and kick straight in with ‘Lush 3’ which to me is a bit of an unusually mellow choice but gives them a long build into their performance. Plus while Sister Bliss has perhaps raised the bar slightly with regards to tempo and dynamic, she is the odd one out and Orbital and Leftfield are both bringing similar performances in many ways.
If I’m honest, I don’t feel their set ever builds much beyond that initial entrance and as track number two, ‘Impact (The Earth Is Burning)’ starts, again it’s more subdued than I was expecting. Somehow I thought there would be 8,000-10,000 people all jumping up and down and going mad but it’s far from the reality. The Hartnolls have some of the old ways still going strong, and I can see their heads bob and their hands raise through the lighting, but whether I’m a few drinks short of where I need to be I don’t know, the set just seems a bit flat.
Orbital’s main set ends with ‘Belfast’ and I expect that to be all for the evening, but to my surprise there’s an encore scheduled in. I think the Leftism experience has thrown me; while an album based set is unlikely to squeeze out an encore, I have assumed that all dance music acts play a fixed set and that’s all. Not so. Not tonight anyway. Orbital have two more tracks on their agenda, finishing with ‘Where Is It Going?’ to a warm appreciation from Beyond The Tracks‘ Friday night crowd.
A very apt track to finish on too, as Paul (Gallear, not Hartnoll) and I are decide that where it’s going now is back to The Old Crown. We’re largely dance-music’d out for the day and a nice warm sit down and a drink is in order.
I remain conflicted on the walk back ‘home’, and Paul and I have a fair old discussion about the EDM evening. A discussion that extends into several G&Ts and some Belgian Beer. In the end, I remain unconverted to dance music and electronica for now. But as the saying goes, tomorrow is another day…
Jagwar Ma – Beyond The Tracks @ Eastside Park 15.09.17 / Denise Wilson
For more on Jagwa Mar, visit www.jagwarma.com
Leftfield – Beyond The Tracks @ Eastside Park 15.09.17 / Denise Wilson
For more on Leftfield, visit www.leftfieldsplash.com
Sister Bliss – Beyond The Tracks @ Eastside Park 15.09.17 / Denise Wilson
Orbital – Beyond The Tracks @ Eastside Park 15.09.17 / Denise Wilson
For more on Orbital, visit www.orbitalofficial.com
For more on Beyond The Tracks, visit www.beyondthetracks.org