Tramlines is almost upon us and with hundreds of bands playing at dozens of venues you’ll be forgiven for getting confused as to what to see and do this weekend.
In this guide we’ll look at the best ways to approach this festival weekend and answer some of the big questions.
Everybody has different tastes in music so we’ll not preach as to which bands you absolutely should see, but we will throw in some suggestions along the way of who we think are the must-see bands this year and chuck in a few videos of the bands in the article to give you some idea of what you could be in for.
Main arenas or fringe venues?
The biggest question for many will be whether to buy a wristband for access to the main stage areas, or if there is enough quality at the fringe venues to keep you occupied throughout.
Without the main areas Tramlines would not be as big as it is for the city. Since losing major sponsorship, and thus subsidies, the ‘free for all’ festival has become a paid event. At just £12 per day it hardly breaks the bank and helps to keep things going.
That said, the beauty of Tramlines is that there is vast choice and spread of quality across the city. Unless there are a couple of specific acts you want to see in the wristbanded areas there is absolutely no point in paying up.
The lure of the likes of Public Enemy will be hard to resist for hardcore fans and those who head to the city for the big names, but do be sure to take a look across the full line-ups before committing to the price of a wristband.
For us, other than the headline names there are just two absolutely must-see bands on the main stage for those who plump for a wristband; Clubs & Spades (Saturday, 7:30pm) and Catfish & The Bottlemen (UPDATE: Unfortunately Catfish & The Bottlemen have had to cancel due to unforeseen personal circumstances. We hope its nothing too serious, best wishes to the boys!).
If you do decide to buy main area entry, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of staying there for the whole day/weekend. You will miss a serious amount of fantastic entertainment at the other venues (and even out on the streets). Plus, the food outside the main areas is generally much better over recent years!
Get a base and a plan!
With so many venues offering up so much entertainment through the whole weekend it would be easy to walk the entire length of the city like a giant pub-crawl with live music.
But its easy to get lost and end up being at one end of the fringe when there is something amazing going on at the other end.
The best way around this is to find a fairly central base where you can plan your days, hang out in any lulls and maybe catch a surprise or two. Preferably choose somewhere that already has a number of bands you want to see anyway.
For us, far and away the very best single-venue line up across the whole weekend is at Crystal on Carver Street.
It is the bar’s first foray into participating in Tramlines, but they have managed to do it with gusto. There are a number of must-see acts across both Saturday and Sunday; and its all FREE.
Not only does Crystal have some of the best local acts, they have managed to secure a number of the greatest out-of-town bands from across the country.
With performance values to match excellent music The Darlingtons and Moscow are our must-see picks on the Saturday (9:10pm and 10pm, respectively).
If you miss The Darlingtons on the Saturday you will be able to catch them again on Sunday (3:20pm).
Sunday’s must-see bands at Crystal include Manchester’s finest Puppet Rebellion (1:40pm), Rolling Stones’ recent support act in Paris, The Struts (4:10pm), and the brilliantly polished The Dunwells (7pm).
Once you have your base set up you can check the listings for where to head and when for the other bands you wish to see around the city, and quickly move on if there is something impromptu that you hear about going on somewhere else.
Keep checking in on social networks
In this day and age of instant communication you can help to curate people’s days and perhaps have your curated for you too.
Shared experiences are what Tramlines is all about so be sure to post your highlights using the #Tramlines hashtag on Twitter. If you think the band you are watching simply have to be seen then tell the world!
Likewise, if you’re not sure what to do next, have a quick look at the hashtag and see what others are recommending. You can often find some gems based on the recommendations of others.
Similarly, a band’s following on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are often their lifeblood online; if you enjoy the band you are seeing then make sure to like and follow their profiles. Tell your friends about the next big thing you have seen and share any videos they have posted online.
Support the bands
Many can be surprised to hear that the vast majority of bands and performers, particularly outside the main areas, take part in Tramlines with no payment.
That’s right, they perform for free to get exposure or simply to take part in the weekend for the experience.
For a lot of bands this comes at massive cost. Travelling to and from venues (moreso for the out-of-town bands), buying or hiring instruments and equipment, giving up work shifts; not to mention hiring practice facilities or studio space beforehand to refine music and performances. It all comes with huge costs.
Most venues are free entry and can be supported by buying drinks and food as a thanks for putting on the events. But what about the bands, the ones you actually came to see and that take the time to entertain?
As mentioned earlier, often a simple ‘like’ or ‘follow’ on their social network profiles will be enough to please most bands and is the simplest and cheapest way to show your appreciation.
Most bands will have some form of merchandise on sale following their set. Most budgets are catered for too, for just a few pounds you can usually pick up CDs and for a little bit more you can often get some excellently designed T-Shirts and other items.
Its a little thing, but often overlooked. If a band really stand out they would appreciate some form of support in return.
Food and drink
With the weather being so hot recently the best advice anyone can give for this Tramlines weekend is to keep hydrated and drink plenty of water.
Not wanting to sound preachy, but if you are drinking alcohol then do drink responsibly. Pace yourself throughout the day because you don’t want to be too wrecked to enjoy the later bands. There’s nothing wrong with just topping up with a bottle of water every so often.
In terms of food, there is plenty to be had around the city. The likes of Nando’s and Dominos have had mobile outlets stationed at points around the festival in recent years, however we would encourage you to try out some of the brilliant independents that will be splashed around the city.
For different tastes from around the world, head towards Fargate and the Peace Gardens where a number of stalls will cater for many tastes.
If you want a break and a sit down there are plenty of cafes and restaurants geared up to be busy in the city centre, but be aware there may be some wait at the peak lunch and tea-time mealtimes.
There will be food outlets available inside the main arenas, but these haven’t been too impressive in recent years.
The best of the rest
There is a never-ending list of potential acts to see and inevitably there will be some clashes. If you’re stuck from time-to-time, here are some more recommendations that we know won’t disappoint:
- Allusondrugs (Millennium Gallery, 8pm, Fri)
- The Verals (Tigerworks, 8:30pm, Fri; Peace Gardens, 2pm, Sat; Redhouse, 8:40pm, Sat)
- The Monday Club (Shakespeares, 9pm, Fri; The Green Room, 5:20pm, Sun)
- Redfaces (The Plug, 8pm, Fri; Crystal, 9pm, Sun)
- Stop Drop Robot (Peace Gardens, 2pm, Sat)
- Polkadodge (Leadmill, 5pm, Sat)
- Kartica (Crystal, 5pm, Sat)
- Roaming Son (CADS Blues Stage, 7pm, Sat; The Riverside, 9pm, Sat)
- The Sherlocks (The Plug, 11pm, Sat)
- The Rusbies (Melt, 3pm, Sun)
The brilliant Leeds-based promoter outfit Double Denim Live will also be at Tramlines for the first time in The Library Theatre. It will be worth checking out their set up with bands like the excellent The Bright Young Things, The Mexanines and Abandoned Faith playing. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for specific set times.
One final tip is to check out the Buskers Bus; a great and unique way to travel around all the Tramlines venues whilst being entertained for the journey by some of the festival's best performers.
Who do you plan on seeing? Are you in a band and want to plug your Tramlines gig? post in the comments below…