Tramlines is a festival name that through connotation screams ‘connection'. Over the weekend not only were we physically transported by the famous steel carriages, but also by the genre-bending artists who played on a variety of stages (some inside, some alfresco) dotted around Sheffield.
One walk around the city, and you could instantly feel the buzz. Buskers playing in the streets. Acoustic musicians taking the stage in Sheffield Cathedral. Families watching and listening for free from play parks. The weather was the kind of hot and sticky associated with countries on the continent, and day drinkers lined the streets, as a jumble of music cavorted through the air. It gave you the feeling of being abroad, at somewhere like Primavera Festival in Barcelona. That was until we reached Peace Gardens, the city centre green space, where a local rapper began a chant through the crowd: "I'm not from New York, baby, I'm from Yorkshire!" – there was that unmistakable, undeniable Northern pride.
After roaming the roads and taking in the sights, first up on my official musical journey was George Clinton Parliament Funkadelic at the Main Stage. The highlight had to be when they played their Kendrick Lamar collaboration ‘'Ain't That Funkin Kinda Hard On You?’, and proved that the fathers of P-Funk still know how to groove. Next up on the bill were the Scottish Mercury Prizewinners Young Fathers. An impeccably dressed trio, their politically charged mix of pop and hip-hop was a treat to the eyes and the ears. When Kayus Bankole, shirt unbuttoned, said to the bouncing crowd, “If you’re not with the oppressed, then you’re the Oppressor” and that we’re all migrants, an electric current of rebellion ran through the park. Their rousing ‘Shame’ from the album ‘White Men are Black Men Too’ further propelled this powerful protest message.
Closing the stage on Saturday night was the Milkshake maiden herself, Kelis. Opening her set with a slowed-down, sensual version of Millionaire, the R&B songstress reminded us immediately why we were all there – primarily, nostalgia. While some artists would choose to turn their backs on their back catalogues (something Dizzee Rascal did during his Friday night show), Kelis embraced hers, singing her string of hits including her Calvin Harris produced hit ‘Bounce’ to an intoxicated gathering of people. Moreover, her cover of ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’, which faded into ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer was a very clever, fun choice for a headliner. Though she didn’t blow the audience’s mind, she definitely showed us a good time.
After this we walked with the throng of festival-goers out of Ponderosa and up to the Harley, the student hive, to wait patiently for Little Simz. We’d heard rumours of massive queues and so to avoid disappointment we got there an hour and a half before she was due on – something that a little annoyingly proved unnecessary. Elsewhere in Sheffield Mica Levi, who composed the soundtrack to the film Under the Skin, performed to rave reviews at the Millennium Gallery, and Craig Charles funked up the Foundry.
Seeing Little Simz, a rapidly progressing artist championed by the modern hip-hop greats (Kendrick, Jay Z) in a small bar was an experience that won’t likely be repeated. The audience yelled and swelled as she spat the bars to songs like ‘Wings’ and ‘Dead Body’. Hands flew in the air, as we went headfirst on a poetic journey with the modest 19-year-old from Islington. She’s definitely destined for great things. This performance was a stand-out for me in terms of defining what makes inner-city music festivals so great.
After this, it was time to find our night-time spot. With the choice of Big Narstie, Skream, and other prolific DJs, all playing at what seemed like completely different ends of the city, it was difficult to choose. Pick one, then, and you were in it for the long haul. We decided to go for Leon Vynehall at Hope Works, an infamous venue akin to the wonderful warehouse that is Canal Mills in Leeds. We slipped in at just the right moment, before it completely packed out. We definitely made the right decision.
Sunday brought with it a sprinkling of rain, and collective sore heads. Jurassic 5 (joined on stage by Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark) were the cream of the crop, especially when they dropped ‘Concrete Schoolyard’ which made me ecstatic. They provided the much-needed old-school Sunday vibes. Hinds deserve a mention, too, for treating us to an energetic, guitar-laden performance of songs from their 2016 debut ‘Leave Me Alone.’
Thinking about the weekend as a whole, I have to say that it’s impossible to see everything at Tramlines – there’s just too much going on. But, the best part of it was within the simple act of walking around, absorbing Sheffield. Every now and then you’d catch glimpses of the people on the fringes – the independent bands playing in bars, or the aforementioned buskers wowing the crowds with their harmonies and exotic instruments. Roaming the streets, by foot and on tram, you couldn’t help but feel connected, both to the music, and to the North of England and its cultural promise. I’m excited to see what Tramlines has in store for next year.