INTERVIEW: Sarah Nulty & Kate Hewett of Tramlines


Tramlines festival announced their first wave of acts just the other day, with Dizzee Rascal, Young Fathers, and Field Music heading up the bill. Taking place on the weekend of 22nd – 24th July, Tramlines will see performances across Sheffield’s city centre – making it a festival with a difference, catering to an eclectic mix of people. I caught up with festival organiser Sarah Nulty and head of programming Kate Hewett to talk about what 2016 has in store for Tramlines, and what makes it so unique.

Pre-Tramlines, Nulty and Hewett were both separately working in Sheffield as promoters for independent venues, and noticed that the city had a tendency to go particularly quiet in the summer. Hewett tells me, “it has a student population which is over 10% of its overall population, so it gets to June and there’s just this exodus”. The lack of people was making it harder to put on gigs and club nights, and thus Tramlines was born from a desire to give something back to the city in the quiet summer months, and to give people a reason to keep them in the city.

The pair certainly seem to have been successful in their aims, with the population of Sheffield increasing by 70 to 80 thousand people on the Saturday of the festival. Nulty modestly admits that it’s “given Sheffield a bit of a new lease of life. I mean obviously there are other things that happen in Sheffield but musically it’s a big deal”, with Hewett adding that “a great thing about programming in the city is that you are able to directly see the economic impact that it has had”.

“Having such an enormous weekend and the days around it impacts local businesses and helps them throughout those summer months, and it’s great to see that it is actually having an impact beyond providing a big massive rave up for people.”

So Tramlines isn’t your typical mud and wellies festival. Venues range from clubs to cathedrals (where soundchecks have to work around choir practice and church services, and lyrics can’t have swearing in them). Hewett tells me, “there are so many really different spaces. The way that we programme it is to work with the existing venues, work with existing promoters, with people we know who are doing exciting things in music in Sheffield, to make sure that we’re putting on the right kind of acts in the right kind of space.”

There are open air venues too – Hewett laughs, “you’ve got a welly option if that’s what you want”. A wet Saturday at Tramlines 2015 saw Nulty wondering if they were going to have to call in a tractor. “I got all excited and thought ooh it’ll be like Glastonbury getting a tractor and then I realised oh no, it’s a park, we’re probably not allowed to drive a tractor over it.”

The inner-city location also gives the festival a unique atmosphere in terms of the audience it draws. Nulty points out that “if you go to a greenfield festival, obviously you’ve got the throngs of people but everyone is there for that festival, whereas in Sheffield you’ve got a mix of people.

“You’ve got the festival goers, and then a mix of Saturday people who are just going into town to do their shopping, to go to John Lewis, and then suddenly they’re like ‘oh this is great, let’s leave the car and go join in!’”

With over 200 acts across the festival, a danger of its city-spanning and eclectic nature is that you couldn’t possibly hope to see everything that Tramlines has to offer in just a couple of days. This might leave a festival-goer, having paid the full price of a weekend ticket, feeling slightly short changed and like they’re missing out.

To remedy this, the organisers have introduced a brand new ticket system for this year, tailored to the needs of all the different types of people who attend the festival. “We wanted to try and give people as many options as possible,” says Nulty, “so we’ve changed the tickets so that if you’re just interested in the stages and the bands and the live music, you can just buy a day weekend ticket, or if you’re only into dance music you can buy a ticket just for the clubs as well.

“Or if you’re a non stop party goer and you want to party for 72 hours you can buy both which is the best value version. We just wanted to try and give people more and more options, because not everyone does want to stay out until three in the morning – or eight in the morning! Some people are getting up at eight in the morning.”

Some of those 200 acts have already been announced, but even if the headliners aren’t grabbing your attention, there’s still loads more to come. “We’ll probably try to make at least one more announcement in February. But we always kind of keep announcing right up until the programme goes to print, because we always go ‘oh I think we’ll just find somewhere to squeeze them in.’

“It’s tended to be the case that new venues will come through every year and you’ll find yourself with this amazing space, and you’ll get the scope to put on a whole new bill.” About half of the line up is made up of unsigned artists, as Kate feels that they “have a responsibility to put those kind of acts on. Festivals are really important as a platform for emerging artists.”

The headliners themselves include new and exciting artists, (Mercury Prize winners Young Fathers being among them), but they’re not the only thing attracting people to the festival. Hewett notes, “we tend to find that our audience is really tuned into new music, and really keen to come along to the festival as a means of discovering new bands.”

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