LIVE: Camden Rocks

By Chris Marshman

The return of Camden Rocks Festival, following its inauguration back in 2009, coincides nicely with the removal of the Camden Crawl to Dublin. Despite not boasting the major names associated with the Crawl, Rocks comes in at a comparable bargain of £20 per ticket, with the website boasting a disseminated cost of less than 20p per band. There are still big names here, but at its essence, curator and 3 Colours Red guitarist Chris McCormack has created a showcase for up-and-coming bands from across the UK club circuit. We headed along to spend the day in Camden and with the hope of seeing some exciting new and established talent.

12:00 – We arrive at the train station to head into central London. Something isn’t right…

12:10 – The announcement is made; our train is cancelled due to that reoccurring “signal failure” that plights our journeys far too often.

12:36 – A slower replacement train arrives that not only is going to take us a hell of a lot longer, but also means two changes along the way. It’s lucky we brought something to keep us occupied… oh wait, we didn’t.

12:37 – The new Jimmy Eat World and City & Colour albums are all set for repeated listens.

13:10 – We change trains. The next train is full. We find a little standing space in the carriage stuck between a guy stinking of booze (undoubtedly us on the returning train) and a crying baby. We turn our headphones up and settle in for an agonising forty minute journey.

14:00 – We emerge from the underground into sunny Camden. At least the weather has been nice to us this afternoon, even if we plan on spending most of the time in some of London’s smallest live venues. It is nice to have sunshine for the confused meanderings between bands, undoubtedly with map in hand trying to find those pesky side street locations.

14:10 – It’s been a long journey. Beer on a rooftop terrace is in order.

14:30 – Over an hour later than expected, we collect our wristband from the headline venue, The Barfly. Armed with our unexpectedly snazzy wristband and glossy programme, we pop in to the Lock Tavern a few yards away to make our plan for the day.

14:31 – We grab another beer to help us decide.

15:10 – With the first three acts all-but complete across the twelve venues, we make the executive decision to start at the Barfly at four to witness Dingus Khan. Before that, there’s probably time for another “planning beer”…

16:00 – Finally, the first band of the day. Dingus Khan build their reputation on having three drummers and a penchant for unusual instruments. As a whole the band sound excellent, with Ben Brown belting his distinctive indie-tinged vocals over a combination of erratic up-beat rock and pop inspired melodies. The three drummers and three bassists do little to add any depth to the sound, but the emergence of an electronic ukulele a couple of songs in leads to some laughs, alongside a welcome shift in style. This is a great showcase for quirky British rock.

16:30 – We have been told to catch The Elijah by a few people “in the know” at the festival. We were not told that The Elijah are playing a venue on the opposite side of Camden. With our map in hand we navigate our way to The Purple Turtle.

16:45 – Actually, it’s not too far. We grab a pear cider (it is sunny after all) and survey our surroundings. The Purple Turtle is one of Camden’s premier live music venues, especially for breaking bands. It’s a shame that there are only around 15 people in the room as The Elijah take to the stage, but perhaps the venue’s comparable location to others and the dinner time slot has taken its toll. Either way, it’s a poor turnout.

17:00 – Boasting impressive soundscapes, the dual vocals delivered by The Elijah switch from visceral screams to clean melodies at deliberate moments. Each vocal switch, orchestral crescendo and bleak pause is meticulously considered to heighten the atmosphere. Drawing more from post-rock than hardcore, the band are consciously less forceful than the likes of Devil Sold His Soul – an inevitable comparison. Some of the ambience is frustratingly lost in the sparse venue, and the clean vocals fall short of the mark on occasion, with it all ending up a tad repetitive. It’s clear that The Elijah have a keen eye for atmospherics, but a busier room would undoubtedly help.

17:30 – We grab a beer (these are subtly building up it seems) and head over to the Black Heart. Tucked down a side street near Camden Station, the big open front brings some of the summer inside. After getting overly confused by the unisex toilets (urinals what?), we head upstairs to check out Bad For Lazarus.

18:00 – The garage rock and roll feel suits the intimate upstairs space at the Black Heart well. This is the first venue we have been to today that really captures the festival feel. It’s gruff vocals galore, as the band pick and strum their way through blues inspired tracks with an impressive energy.

18:10 – Stomachs rumble… concentration lost… food, yes?

18:25 – Camden market acts as probably the best food stalls we have seen at a festival. Essentially a pick ’n’ mix of world food, we fill up our plates with spring rolls and pizza, some fresh orange juice. Time to find a park…

19:00 Hawk Eyes have been off the radar in recent months, yet from their opening riff it’s evident they have been using this time to hone their skills. Thundering through their unpredictable fusion of straightforward rock and hardcore, the band put their all into the short thirty minute set. The Barfly is considerably busier than earlier shows, and judging by the band’s performance, deservedly so. This is the first time we witness any real crowd participation as the four members whip the onlookers into a frenzy. Hawk Eyes are certainly still going strong.

19:30 – Time for another drink in the park. Camden is buzzing this evening.

20:30 – We head a little further down the road to The Monarch to grab a spot for Turbowolf’s imminent set.

20:45 – It’s hot in here.

20:46 – We are pushed onto the stairs as eager fans spill into the reasonably intimate venue. The sheer panic on the bouncers’ face is priceless.

21:00 – Turbowolf take the stage in what can only be called a shitstorm. With nothing separating the audience from the band, one merges into the other. Frontman Chris Georgiadis uses any surface as a podium, at one point hanging from a beam above the crowd to the bewilderment of the bar staff and security. The crowd sways from side to side, controlled by the ever increasing pit front and centre. ‘Read & Write’ and ‘A Rose For The Crows’ sound perfect in the environment, heightened by the on and off-stage antics. As the disappointed festival goers queuing outside look desperately for a view through the window, Turbowolf truly excel – this is not just their best live performance to date, but quite simply one of the greatest live performances we have seen… ever.

21:30 – We start to forget what oxygen feels like.

21:45 – There are band vans being loaded and unloaded everywhere we look. Camden really does feel like one big party right now – it’s excellent.

21:55 – After some deliberation, the decision is made to go and catch Straight Lines at The Camden Head.

22:00 – We walk into the venue. They are playing a lot of dancehall and RnB downstairs. It’s time to quickly make our way upstairs into the… sweatbox.

22:05 – it appears Straight Lines are headlining the acoustic stage, which is news to us. With the majority of fans finding space on the floor around the band, there is a distinct intimacy normally associated with campfire performances at outdoor festivals. As ever, Thomas Jenkins notes are pitch-perfect, supported by an accompanying female vocalist; ideal for this type of environment. We hang around for three or four songs before the heat and beer begins to take its toll.

22:20 – It’s far too hot.

22:20:30 – More dancehall.

22:21 – Outside! Fresh air!

22:30 – After an extensive internal monologue, we reluctantly decide to call it a day. The after party is scheduled to continue at The Wheelbarrow until the early hours; however an annoyingly early last train home means it’s the end of the road for us. Camden Rocks, it’s been emotional.