Very much Evolution’s older and wiser sister, Intro Festival is the reincarnation of what used to be Middlesbrough Live. With a notably diverse mix of music on show, featuring up-and-coming indie artists like Cloud Control, legends such as Neville Staple of The Specials, and a whole stage dedicated to the art of the circle-pit, over on the heavy metal Sumo stage, Intro festival is fast becoming the festival of choice for the North-East’s many music freaks.
Liverpudlian post-punk outfit Clinic perhaps don’t make the most normal of first impressions, arriving onto the stage of the atmospheric Empire clad in surgeon costumes, complete with surgical masks. However, you have to admire the band’s dedication to the gimmick, never failing to play a show without appearing as a St. Johns Ambulance tribute to Slipknot. Luckily, the band’s mix of forthright guitars, incessant keyboards and precision drumming combine to make the fact you have no idea what the band’s facial features are up to add to the overall sound rather than detract from it.
Next, a move to the Evening Gazette Sounds Stage over in the impressive Town Hall to see the Jools Holland starring Vintage Trouble. After the awkward restraint of Clinic, this group of booted and suited American gents, playing a mix of Stevie Wonder meets Ike & Tina Turner good-time rock ‘n’ roll, complete with a pelvis-thrusting nymph of a lead singer, are totally refreshing, granted what they’re doing isn’t particularly fresh.
Hurling ourselves over the musical genre fence to the Sumo stage, we find hardcore punk band Trash Talk providing another master class in rock performance. As lead singer Lee Spielman screams various incomprehensible things over cannonball riffs and manic drums, devoted ‘Boro teens throw themselves at one another in a mass circle pit, to the clear surprise of the concerned stewards. With the band’s bassist scaling the stage’s infrastructure, Speilman strikes a different kind of power chord when he tells the crowd “this set up you got here is pretty cool- support this sh*t and keep it going!”, and receives a rapturous cheer in response.
Back over the genre fence once again, we find the acoustic sweet-nothings of Benjamin Francis Leftwich soothing the ears of those at The Central’s Cosmos Stage. Making the female, and some male, members of the audience visibly swoon, Benjamin sings with a maturity that betrays his age (he’s 21). There’s no doubting that there’s an audience for his chord-based romantic middling, whether or not he’ll develop into the same calibre of distinctive young singer-songwriters like Laura Marling or Pete Molinari though will perhaps rest on how many more messy relationships he can cram into his formative years.
Closing the Town Halls’ stage, Darwin Deez manages to trump all the other performers on the day. Accompanied by a band of skinny (but practically obese when compared to Darwin himself) musically gifted extroverts, the whole band exuded confidence, especially on biggest hit ‘Radar Detector’. The band’s attitude to their set seemed to be to have as much fun as physically possible, peppering the performance with catchy riffs, extended rap freestyles and meticulously choreographed dance routines featuring all four musicians. With the audience deliriously lapping it up, the band were given an extra 15 minutes of stage time, allowing for more of those dance moves and a few extra songs that sound like the Strokes if all five of the New Yorkers were on an extensive course of Prozac.
By catering to a whole spectrum of different tastes, Intro festival successfully brooded an atmosphere where everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there, despite the shabby weather. I won’t be in Durham next year, but I’m still going to make the trip up/down from wherever I am to ‘Boro for this gem of a festival.