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Outlines Festival in Sheffield review

Henry Lewis looked on as Outlines Festival set the early precedent for when its big brother Tramlines sweeps Sheffield in July.

Henry Lewis

Last updated: 10th Feb 2017

Image: Thee Mightees


Sheffield’s Tramlines Festival has been an unqualified success since it first took place as a free event back in 2009. Even in its debut year it managed to attract the likes of The XX, Reverend and The Makers and Example as headliners and was praised massively by music fans, the organisers and councillors alike.

The festival has now become a much larger affair with the main stage being relocated last year to accommodate for larger crowds, eager to catch the headline acts.

While the cost of tickets has risen significantly in recent years, this has been reflected in the calibre of headline acts and Tramlines is undoubtedly one of the best value for money festivals in the country. 

Aside from the main stages, what makes Tramlines particularly special is its celebration of local talents who you can watch from the comfort of a bar stool in one of the many pubs used as venues across the weekend.

These performances are the ones that create the buzz around Sheffield during Tramlines weekend, bringing people from far and wide to a city that is immensely proud of its musical heritage. 

For the first time in its history, this year Tramlines debuted its sister festival, Outlines: a one day event that looked to continue the success story in similar fashion. The festival used some of Tramlines’ lesser known venues, as well as some new ones, to host its headline acts of Roots Manuva and TOY.

Before all that there was a perfect opportunity to enjoy the festival in the way the organisers had no doubt intended: in a pub with a pint watching a group of unsigned hopefuls having the time of their lives.

Thee Mightees, a jingle jangle four piece, brought their shimmering fret work and infectious melodies to The Harley, a bustling pub and the ideal surroundings for people escaping the bitter weather to enjoy some live music.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of an inner city festival like this is traipsing half cut from venue to venue and in Sheffield you are never too far away from live music.

This is undoubtedly one of the contributing factors behind the success of the festival, and stumbling down West Street at Outlines was a reminder of why Sheffield is so well suited to an event like this.

The cities celebration of musical diversity is another factor behind Tramlines’ success and this was continued throughout Saturday at Plug where some wonderful urban talent was on show. Not least was one of the hottest prospects in UK hip hop - Loyle Carner.

His performance was gimmick free with only himself and a DJ on stage. It suited his humble approach to life perfectly. His gentle flow and heart felt lyrics were well received, leaving the young rapper visibly moved at the crowd’s reaction.

‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ is the kind of hip hop track the UK needs right now with a beautiful saxophone sample, laid back beats and lyrics that the majority of people in their twenties can relate to.

Carner’s stark honesty and sensitive vocal stylings are an equally British yet more laid back alternative to the brashness of grime, and there are definitely enough people who want to listen to that.  This resulted in one of the best performances of the day and no doubt marked the first of many festival performances for the rapper this forthcoming summer. 

While Outlines was considerably less busy than its warmer incarnation, there was still a similar murmur of excitement around the city that appears during Tramlines. 

Roots did not disappoint as headliner and drew most probably the biggest crowd of the day. His onstage presence was undeniable and his immaculate black suit belied the amount he raps about smoking weed.

The warped beats and squelching bass lines that made the 43 year old famous were replicated masterfully by an impressively talented band whilst Roots stalked the stage delivering gritty vocals.

His quirky lyrics and dub stylings have well and truly put him on the map as a British hip hop legend. But disappointingly, if you wanted to catch the day’s last act, Toy, it meant missing at least the final 15 minutes of Roots’ set and no doubt this was when he played 'Witness (1 Hope)'. 

Those who missed out on the song that helped rapper earn a MOBO award to witness Toy may have felt a little disappointed come the conclusion of Outlines. This is neither a criticism of the festival or the band but whilst it was a brilliant idea to use Sheffield Skate Central as a venue it just didn’t suit the psych pop five piece.

It was somewhat disconcerting having people zooming about on rolling skates behind you as a band as unsmiling as Toy played in front of you. They would have been much more suited to darker, dingier surroundings to suitably accompany their psychedelic wall of sound.

As a live act Toy need more intimacy and at times their hypnotic rumblings got lost in a room where half were skating and the other half were at a gig. There is great potential for the venue in future years with the right act playing it though and it is a reflection of how innovative the festival’s organisers are.

With Catfish and the Bottlemen and Dizzee Rascal already confirmed as headliners for this summer’s Tramlines there is little doubt that the festival will continue to go from strength to strength. This can only mean good things for Outlines festival too. Despite seemingly appearing out of nowhere at the back end of 2015, it was still well attended and showcased some pretty big names. 

Furthermore, the novelty of hopping from venue to venue - or even bar to bar - rather than scaling a huge festival site, could be the catalyst for a whole host of alternative winter festivals in the UK. 

Outlines Festival 2017 takes place between Friday 3rd - Saturday 4th March, find Outlines Festival tickets below

Like this? Check out Outlines returns to Sheffield in 2017 with Jagwar Ma as headliners

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