LIVE: Camden Rocks 2014 [31/05/14]

By Ben Tipple

Apologies, I Have None @ Groezrock 2014

One of the first things students learn when training to teach is that all the planning in the world can’t prepare you for the unpredictability of a classroom (oh yes, us Punktastic writers have a multitude of hidden skills). Always have a plan B – one that you can easily, and without notice, fall back on when everything else in your meticulously timed and flawlessly engaging lesson plan goes out of the window.

A festival is nothing like a classroom… unless you equate the changeable moods and questionable ethics of students with the irritatingly inebriated rants of a handful of festival goers, or the spiralling chaos of distracted youngsters with, well, the spiralling chaos of distracted youngsters. But we wouldn’t do that, would we?

So it stands to reason that all the best laid plans at a festival, like those of a teacher, can switch from almost certainty to a pipedream with the click of the fingers. An itinerary becomes obsolete once the distance between venues and the hordes of punters and shoppers standing between you and the next big thing becomes evident. Nothing to say of broken camera equipment, and venue capacities. Our preview almost immediately becomes null and void in relation to our bands watched.

It’s an age old story that befalls all festival goers, yet one that leads many to discovering their new favourite band. Word of mouth (or blindly following friends as you may wish to refer to it) is an entirely acceptable way of navigating any event, not least one that boasts almost 200 bands across almost 20 venues. There’s a lot to see here… a hell of a lot (we did go and see The Hell, so this is a pun – admittedly one that won’t fall into place until sometime later in the article).

With our plans all but a distant memory, we begin our day proper at last year’s headline venue, which has since been overshadowed by the addition of The Underworld and the Electric Ballroom, the Barfly. Bearing eyes filled with sheer frustration, Straight Lines take to the stage 15 minutes late, having just rolled into the capital following what was, by all accounts, a bloody long journey. Despite the initial breathlessness, the band pull it together to power through primarily their new ‘Reflect’ EP. It’s a short set – “we’re not taking the piss”, frontman Thomas Jenkins proclaims. As far as we can tell, nobody in the packed out, mid-afternoon sweat pit thinks they are.

Just down the road in Camden, the host for today’s aptly named alternative extravaganza, Birmingham based melodic metal act Cytota are providing something a little heavier for the sun-drenched crowd. It sounds crisp, and frontman Joby Fitzgerald makes the switches from melody to screams seem effortless; almost elegant.

Blitz Kids are taking to the stage in North London’s iconic Electric Ballroom, welcome by a large and increasingly celebratory crowd. It’s testament to the festival’s identity as part-showcase. There are more people in all the venues we visit than would perhaps be at the band’s headline show. Presumably with that in mind, Blitz Kids give one of their strongest performances to date, exactly when it matters most.

With a range of guitar music on display, The Underworld is playing host to yet another band leaning towards the heavier end of the spectrum. Haven taken an inevitable knock with the departure of Ed Gibbs, atmospheric hardcore six-piece Devil Sold His Soul are well and truly climbing back up the ladder, supported by their newfound ferocity that’s engulfing the venue as the evening begins to set in.

One of the few bands that have found themselves in our plan A, B… all the way to Z, is London’s macabre pop-punks Apologies, I Have None. Despite a disappointing clash with The Xcerts, Apologies prove to be one of the highlights of our day – perhaps unsurprisingly, and certainly not unexpectedly. Track from their recent ‘Black Everything’ EP are perfectly suited to the intimately dank upstairs of The Black Heart. It still remains to be seen just how well the guys can pull this off on the bigger stages, but for now, they are the highlight of our day.

Back in The Monarch, Bleach Blood are ramping the pop-factor right up through their guitar music, and it’s a perfect accompaniment to the evening sun, and an alternative to the riff based music predominantly on display. Their energy and musicianship places them far above many of the other bands sharing the same bill.

As we become spoiled for choice – Nine Black Alps, Zoax, Hang The Bastard and Hacktivist are just some of the bands pulling at our attention strings – we opt for The Hell (remember that pun from earlier? No? Us neither). This is this reviewer’s first experience of The Hell, despite their name circulating for some time. After entering The Black Heart with some reservation, it is refreshing to hear their straightforward hardcore is well delivered, even inciting some scream-alongs from first-time onlookers. The image may imply more brutality and showmanship, but in essence The Hell make hardcore immediate and fun… to hell with everything else.

With the headline venue on our doorstep, we catch a little of The Subways, in fact entering just in time for their anthemic ‘Rock & Roll Queen’. It’s perhaps easy to forget how many iconic tracks the trio have delivered over the last decade, but it’s impossible not to get caught up in the party atmosphere contained by the Electric Ballroom’s walls. Had we not been suitably riled up by The Hell’s hardcore antics, The Subways would prove to be the perfect way to close proceedings, but we have other plans.

Wounds may only be playing to a handful of people, but that’s not stopping them from tearing their small stage apart. Loud, obnoxious and intricately perfect, the Irish dirty-punk rockers unquestionably know how to perform. Their short set gives us time to pop back to the Electric Ballroom for the end of The Subways, but by now our ears are ringing with hardcore reverb, and we’re happy about it.

The thing about teaching is that when plan A falls apart, the outcome of plan B often matches or surpasses your expectations. Camden Rocks was always going to be a nightmare – you place so much talent in one place and ask the audience to choose, and some great bands will get missed. Yet, you can hardly fault a festival for having too much choice. So here’s to Attention Thieves, Verses, The Xcerts, Zoax, God Damn and more… we’ll see you next year.