Tramlines 2021: Worth the wait

The iconic Tramlines festival returned last weekend after a two-year wait, to thousands of ecstatic fans ready to get back into packed crowds after the pandemic forced cancellations. After showing our COVID passes and making our way through the gates, it was time to see all the acts we had been desperately waiting for. With around 40,000 people attending daily, so far, it’s the biggest music festival in Europe since the beginning of the pandemic.

The atmosphere was incredible over the course of the sunny weekend at Hillsborough Park in Sheffield. For many, it was their first time at a live show or major event since 2019. Expectedly, the festival was sold out – who would want to miss this moment? It was heart-warming to see such passionate performers, delivering speeches about how grateful they were to be in the presence of thousands of adoring fans, and enthusiastic audiences, for the first time in 18 months.

As part of the audience myself, it was a pleasure to witness first-hand how important this moment was for everyone; the atmosphere was immense. Despite nightclubs re-opening recently, this felt like the first big moment for live events since we went into lockdown. As soon as you stepped through the gates, the unbeatable festival feeling immediately resonated, as the smell of a hundred different food vendors wafted, faint screams from fairground rides could be heard in the distance, and red and blue smoke flares drifted over crowds of thousands, surrounding the constantly electrifying main stage.

With social distancing out the window, mosh pits opened up for the first time in a year – especially for mental sets from The Streets and Dizzee Rascal. The crowds were diverse, from teenagers who couldn’t quite handle the moshes, to seasoned festival goers. The only downside with such a huge line up – there were bound to be headache-inducing clashes, as unmissable acts ranging from indie, punk, grime, R&B, and garage took to the many stages.

The Streets performing at Tramlines. Credit: Lorna Bristow.

On the first day, we caught a glimpse of Circa Waves and The Kooks, who delivered impressive sets and took hold of the crowd with a remarkable stage presence. But, more important for me, was rushing off hallway through The Kooks to catch ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ by Sophie Ellis-Bextor at T’Other Stage, as the sun set and everyone got gradually drunker. After her set finished up, we stumbled onto the ghost ride, which was definitely much scarier than anticipated and probably worth the £4.

The standout of Friday was The Streets – Mike Skinner’s incredible UK rap/garage project responsible for classics like ‘Fit But You Know It’, and ‘Has It Come To This?’. To no surprise, the set was full of bangers and the crowd was hectic. Even their more classic, slower tracks like ‘Dry Your Eyes’ and ‘Blinded By The Lights’ were absolutely beautiful to see live for the first time. In the best way possible, it was chaos, being shoved around amongst hundreds of people in a huge circle as the sound of The Street’s ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’ rung through everyone’s ears.

Mike Skinner was himself the whole set, with the same charm and charisma heard in all of his music, spraying champagne and handing out jokes and one-liners. Of course, he ended with ‘Who’s Got The Bag (21st June)’, the ‘freedom day’ classic – “they fucked up the title though” he claimed during the chorus. The crowd loved every second and it was a perfect end to the first evening.

Saturday’s highlight was, of course, Little Simz. The female emcee’s set was intimate and mesmerizing, with standouts like ‘Introvert’, the deeply introspective ‘I Love You, I Hate You’, and fan favourites ‘Venom’ and ‘Selfish’. She even previewed an exclusive new track which had the soul and heart of College Dropout era Kanye. Her set closed with the uplifting anthem ‘Women’, a powerful moment that seemed to click with many audience members. When the set ended, we waited by the gates for 20 minutes, but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to meet her.

Little Simz performing at Tramlines 2021. Credit: Lorna Bristow.

After this we headed off to the main stage, thinking we were about to see Mahalia. When Royal Blood came out, we realised our mistake and quickly rushed back to the stage we were at previously… Whilst some might scoff at us missing out on Royal Blood, we did get to see tunes like ‘I Wish I Missed My Ex’, and meet Mahalia who was delighted to see so many fans, and happy to take pictures. 

After being indoors for so long, it felt amazing to see so many great acts in the sun again, but this was only day two of the acclaimed festival! Sunday still awaited us as we planned our next day at our cosy Airbnb.

The next day, after just arriving too late for Hip Hop Karaoke, no one quite expected a mariachi band to show up and have such an impressive, joyous set. The tent was crammed full of people, with hundreds more spilling outside. Everyone had come for The Mariachis (the stars of an old Doritos advert), who put a Latin spin on classics like ‘Living On A Prayer’ and ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’. It was definitely the most unexpected highlight of the weekend and worth every second, even if it meant rushing for Dizzee Rascal amidst the chants for “one more song”.

Dizzee Rascal took to the stage with grime classics like ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ and ‘I Luv You’, as well as timeless hits like ‘Dance Wiv Me’ and ‘Holiday’. Although the star is now 36, it felt like seeing him in the peak of his career with the number of great tracks he got through in just an hour, including playing ‘Bonkers’ not once but twice to close off his setlist, stating “I’m gonna do this again”. Everyone was going crazy, the sun was beating down on the sweaty, packed crowd. We were in desperate need of a water refill.

Tramlines 2021. Credit: Fanatic.

After catching a bit of Everything Everything’s fantastic performance, closing off the weekend was Supergrass, who replaced The Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft (who dropped out for a pretty pathetic reason). It wasn’t too bad of a trade, considering we got to relax on the grass as day turned to night, watching all the dads dance to ‘Alright’, with gleeful smiles.

The only downside to this weekend was all the clashes, we had to miss out on some truly great musicians like Billy Nomates, R.A.E, Otis Mensah, and Chubby And The Gang. With 5 stages of music, art, comedy, and performance, we were constantly spoilt for choice, and had to inevitably make some hard decisions when it came to what acts we should see (but if anything, that was just a sign of the quality this year’s line-up has to offer).

If you’re worried about the safety of events like this, Greg Pell, Director of Public Health Sheffield said:

“I’ve been impressed by the efforts of Tramlines in terms of Covid testing. It was a mammoth task which was carefully planned for and has been implemented really well. The feedback from attendees has been great, the Covid checks at the gates have worked, with attendees more than happy to show proof of a negative test or double vaccination. This has led to a well-received test event. Thanks to all involved for making Covid testing a priority, whilst allowing people to enjoy one of Sheffield’s biggest and most loved events.”

Whilst some of the bucket hat wearing teenagers got too rowdy for the family friendly event, hopefully this festival (as part of a government research programme) will mean that even more of our favourites can go ahead at full capacity and make this summer one to remember. Get your tickets for Tramlines 2022 now (only Tier 3 tickets remain already) – if it’s as good as this years, you won’t want to miss it. It was a special festival after so many lockdowns and cancellations. It felt amazing to be in a crowd again and, if we all work together to be safe, we can have many more weekends like this.

“Thank you for looking after your elders for the past 18 months, but this weekend it is time to look after yourself” – Mike Skinner.

Header image: Tramlines 2021. Credit: Fanatic.

Press ticket provided by Tramlines 2021.

Listen to the highlights of this year’s Tramlines lineup below: