LIVE: Camden Rocks Festival 2019

By Louis Kerry

Camden Town; arguably the geographical epicentre of the British music scene. There’s nowhere quite like it. As soon as you walk out of the dusty tube station and into the equally dusty streets, it’s like stepping into an alternative dimension compared to the rest of London. That, however, is exactly what Camden has always been, and hopefully always will be: a place to celebrate the alternative.

Walk over the lock and you will encounter no-end of characters who anywhere else would be sniffed at. From the old school punks to the street hustling locals and even the completely oblivious tourists, Camden comes with an acceptance for one another that should be cherished.

There is no better occasion to epitomise the diversity, culture and heritage of the local area than the annual Camden Rocks Festival. Having reached its milestone tenth anniversary, this year the festival has gone all out by doubling in size and making it a two day extravaganza, featuring over four hundred acts.

Camden town is the spiritual home of UK punk rock, as well as acting as a proving ground for any musician worth their weight. Taking over every bar and venue in the area, the festival does its utmost to present the true live music experience that Camden offers all year round in the space of a weekend-long marathon. showcasing the very best punk, rock and metal bands from the past and present as well as emerging artists from all genres, Camden Rocks Festival leaves no venue empty, giving us the full Camden experience.

Punktastic has been lucky enough this year to sponsor the stage at The Good Mixer, one of the bars most deeply rooted in the Camden music scene. The bar was one of the regular boozers previously frequented by Amy Winehouse as well as a go-to spot during the Brit Pop era (supposedly where the Blur and Oasis feud kicked off). With this in mind it is more than fitting for Lincoln rockers Albany to perform on the stage. Their heavily Oasis/Stereophonics influenced sound is an enjoyable getaway from the city chaos during peak time on a Saturday afternoon. Despite the sweltering heat (hottest day of the year and no air-con), the large crowd cram in to enjoy their simple but stylish melodies. Closing track ‘Kingpin’ is the only song that makes the dripping sweat worth it, bringing out the fire in both crowd and band thanks to a punchy riff and an infectious chorus.

Later in the day, the venue is no cooler but The Idol Dead make you forget about it thanks to the punk n roll band’s incredibly fun set. Full of huge choruses that have a slither of 80s glam metal cheese to them, their high energy and endless enthusiasm wins the crowd over to the point that it is bursting through the exit doors.

Carrying on with a similar good time vibe, Funeral Shakes bring in the biggest audience the small makeshift stage sees all day as everybody has seemingly put on their dancing shoes ready for 30 minutes of non-stop furious rock and roll singalongs combined with an element of punk swagger. Despite various calamities throughout the set (drums falling off the stage, going to the outside ‘storage’ to change a string…) it’s taken in jest as frontman Calvin Roffey’s endless charm and effortless humour makes it all forgivable. In matching outfits, the band rolls through some favourites including ‘Love Birds’ and ‘Gold Teeth’ that sound so huge they almost blow holes through the Good Mixer windows (it would have at least let some air in). Funeral Shakes prove that they have the tunes, the fan base and the personalities that could land them on much bigger stages at the festival in years to come. By the end you’re surprised there aren’t puddles of sweat on the floor.

Elsewhere at the festival, ska punk veterans [Spunge] woke an early crowd up at the Electric Ballroom with a full hour of nostalgic chaos. Almost at their twentieth anniversary, the band kicks off the day in style with an upbeat collection of summer anthems as well as some awkward dad dancing from front man Alex Copeland. Old school favourites – including ‘Jump on Demand’ and ‘Kicking Pigeons’ – send the Ballroom into a frenzy.

Over the road in the heart of Camden market, opposite a sea of confused BTS fans queuing at a limited pop-up shop, the bizarre rumblings of alt-rock band Asylums are heard. Their brash and psychedelic soundscapes take the audience on an expressive journey that leaves many captivated. With bordering on politically charged lyrics on tracks ‘Millennials’ and ‘Missing Person’, the cohesive unit delivers a stunning set that is heavy, experimental and has riffs bigger than the singer’s wild hair.

The middle of the market also sees upcoming UK pop punk band The Bottom Line fill up Gabetto; a Latin bar better equipped for much calmer experiences but the band wastes no time in transforming the swanky venue into a rock show. Over the last few years, the four piece have honed their craft and learnt how to put on a live performance to remember as proven by putting on one of the festival’s finest sets of the weekend. With classic pop punk covers in the Camden sun, jumping on the bar and pouring Fireball Whiskey in the mouths of some lucky fans like it’s water, as well as giving in to all the classic audience participation gimmicks, the band puts so much effort into their set and they get everything back from the crowd in return. Tracks ‘I Still Hate You’ and ‘Call Me Crazy’ erupt with a large singalongs to match the high energy on-stage. With a new album named ‘No Vacation’ out this month and a live show that packs a punch, The Bottom Line won’t be described as ‘upcoming’ for much longer.

Speaking of emerging new artists, over at The Dublin Castle, metal quintet Wars shock the venue to its core with their blisteringly huge sound. Despite having what must be the hardest band name to find on google, Wars deliver a set that demands to be remembered. With a Bullet For My Valentine flair, unquestionably proficient songwriting, in your face metal riffs, and two vocalists who can go from soaring clean to intense screaming in seconds, the band have all the markings for a very bright future.

Finishing the day off back at the Electric Ballroom (which has a queue almost all the way back to the market) sees forever loveable Americans, Wheatus. The veteran pop-punk band will never be able to get rid of the ‘one hit wonder’ badge they’ve been labelled with for almost twenty years, but the eclectic eight-piece leave you wanting more than just ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. Of course when they do play the iconic noughties banger, it goes down as what may just be one of the biggest singalongs Camden has ever seen, but the entertainment provided by the rest of the set shouldn’t be ignored. Led by Brendan B. Brown, the frontman’s looney tune mannerisms and cheery stage banter makes their set of bright and upbeat pop-punk songs even more endearing. Taking fan requests for songs, the reinvented unit (that is even complete with backing singers) offers a live experience full of the passion which embodies the community spirit of Camden Town perfectly, despite being from across the pond.

Headlining the night is punk rock troubadour Frank Turner. Treating his besotted fans to an increasingly rare solo acoustic set, the singer wastes no time in making it known what a deep connection that he has with Camden. As a young anarchist teenager, Camden was Turner’s sanctuary, inspiring him musically and stylistically, and to this day remains a source of inspiration as he treats the eager crowd to a new song ‘Jinny Bingham’s Ghost’ based on a tale that took place just around the corner at The World’s End pub. Covering his seven album deep back catalogue, the set is full of old favourites and greatest hits as well as forgotten gems, making it the ultimate sing along for the euphoric crowd who find themselves squeezed into the Ballroom.

Turner has a range in his songwriting that is unparalleled. In one moment he can take you on a journey of spirited rebellion and the next moment you’re immersed in tales of heartbreak. The singer knows how to create deep emotion with just an acoustic guitar and fascinating lyricism. Once everyone has lost their voices from screaming the words to classics like ‘Photosynthesis’ and ‘Long Live The Queen’, Turner excitedly unveils a very special (will probably never happen again) encore set with his temporary one-night-only new band featuring members of The Virginmarys and the festival organiser himself Chris McCormack. Together they rip through a set of punk rock karaoke to end the night and what was a somewhat laid back audience just moments ago, has now transformed into a whirlwind of mosh pits and headbanging on the dance-floor as the party vibe is cranked to its max. A quickfire rounds of Camden classics including ‘Pretty Vacant’ and ‘Teenage Kicks’ creates a mass sea of sweat and soaked shirts in the air. Not often does Frank Turner go back to his extreme roots, but there has never been such an occasion more fitting, finishing the Camden Rocks festivities in the triumphant style that it deserves. Here’s to the next ten years.