Last weekend saw the 3rd instalment of Sheffield's free music festival Tramlines. Over 150,000 people descended on the centre of a city famous for its music for 3 days that saw over 500 acts play across around 60 venues.

Created in 2008 as a means of attracting visitors to Sheffield during the student-city's 'ghost-town' summers, what began as a modest plan between a handful of venues along the tram route through central Sheffield soon snowballed to encompass almost every venue in the centre, as well as the lions share of local TV and radio stations. "We're in a unique position" stated festival organiser Sarah Nulty, "We're not in some field somewhere, we're in the dead centre of a city, with all the infrastructure and venues in place. We're also backed by Sheffield council and this year by Nokia, so we remain completely free - every venue is free for the whole 3 days."

The Line-Up

Tramlines' line up consist of a range of genres. Big names this year included Benga, Julio Bashmore, Roots Manuva and We Are Scientists. "We started out in 2008 with some commercial names, then we found a real demand amongst promoters for indie talent, so we brought that on board. Now we have a council chaired by talent local to Sheffield, including the Arctic Monkeys and Toddla T - these guys ensure there's a mix of music to satisfy the sub-communities within Sheffield"

Whilst Sheffield University & the Red Bull Stage provided a good offering on the electronic side of things - the linked 5,000 capacity venues hosting Squarehead, Benga, Toddla T, Jackmaster & Julio Bashmore among others, the main stage, hosted by Nokia as part of their Lumia Live campaign provided a real mix - with 8,000 festival goers listening to back to back sets of indie rock, dubstep, electronica and hip-hop on any of the given 3 days.

Step away from the main stages however, and the dominant part of this festival was the less well known, often local rock bands that remain a bastion of the Sheffield music scene. "It's not about the big names, about the ones you see everywhere. For me, what makes this festival special is the locals, the smaller bands that come together to put on this massive gig for the entire city" said Jon McClure of Reverend and the Makers. Chris Cain of We Are Scientists felt the same way: "Its really nice to play a festival where everyone's on a level - its not a typical arrangement of super massive bands then everyone else way way down the roster. It gives the crowd a chance to see new things and gives bands the chance to feel whats its like to perform as equals on the line up".

The Venues

The Nokia Lumia Live stage was the centrepiece of the event - sitting on Devonshire Green at the centre of the city with room for 8,000 people. The Nando's new music Stage sat about 5 minutes walk down West Street - itself a home to several of the 60 plus open venues. Meanwhile, a seven minute walk in the other direction takes you up to the Sheffield University campus - commandeered in this instance by Red Bull, populated by their usual offering of Big Haired Blondes and Tight-Jeans, Techno-Savvy guys. Slightly further out lay the Folk Stage and the World Music stages. Your best bet is to pick an act you want to see, then set off 2 hours before, moving in a bar crawl fashion through the pubs, bars and clubs peppered through the city. The Common Room and the Wick at Both Ends both put on a combination of bands, DJs and good drinks deals, whilst 'Revolution Square' - an open air shopping centre with Vodka Revolutions' sound system dragged into the central square and stacked on piled bar tables, played witness to some welcome tech-house courtesy of Sheffield's 'Supermarket DJs' among others. Meanwhile those fancying a good old-fashioned rave up in the archetypal large, smokey, crazy-cheap student club would be advised to hit The Plug.

The Vibe

City festivals are always a different animal to their traditional field rivals. Its often been hard to capture an atmosphere in the UK examples. Tramlines however seems to nail this. The combination of a city centre with its venues conveniently packed closely together along just a few streets, punctuated by a couple of well equipped stages and helped along by the fact that, with around 60,000 people a day hitting the festival, the place does feel like an occupied city makes for a great night out. Roll out of your hotel, start at the main stage for an hour or two before hitting the Wick for some close-in-pub-party-DJ action then stagger on up to the Red Bull stage to watch some bass-heavy madness. Worked for us.

Perhaps Tramlines biggest selling point is its philosophy of promoting the smaller acts equally among others. In a climate thats seen both the bottom drop out of sponsorship and funding thanks to the economy combined paradoxically with a total explosion in music festivals, new events are finding it ever harder to carve a niche. Tramlines approach, with its free entry and its huge line up of unsung acts may provide a solution. "The problem with the UK music scene is that they prioritise the brand new over the good. A band thats just formed 15 minutes ago and pushed out a few tracks has got a better shot at hitting the front cover of NME than a band that's been steadily working its way up for the last few years. That's why so many new acts are such a letdown live - they have no experience. Here the venues are smaller and people have a chance to get some experience - its better for all involved in the long run" said lead singer 'Tigs' of Chew Lips.

Best Moments:

Probably the launch night. Nokia teamed up with wristband maker Xylobands. Upon entering the main arena all festival goers were issued fabric wristbands, no explanation given. Then, at 9.45, as London bass DJ collective True Tiger launched into an electric dubstep set, 8,000 wristband-lights set off, flashing in time to the music to an ecstatic response from the crowd.


It's a free festival. Book well ahead and weekend stays in city centre hotels start at just £35 a night. Sheffield itself is a great night out with beers in some venues starting at £1.50. Dominos ran a promotion over the festival too at £3 a pizza. Time to hit the gym.


A 3-day session, for free, showcasing the best in up and coming and underground talent. Good weekend out.