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Camden Crawl 2012: Day 1 – Ben’s Roundup

 
By on Thursday, 17th May 2012 at 2:00 pm
 

Music is so deeply hewn in to the tapestry of Camden’s past that even if a rogue bulldozer were to somehow escape the Olympic park and flatten the lot, the Camden faithful would still gather on the detritus (like Kevin Costner in the film Field of Dreams) to watch the ghostly echo of gigs passed. Camden Crawl has managed to do away with wrestling the country/city festival debate that plagues the likes of Hard Rock Calling and SW4 – those who assume the hardware set up should remain universal – by setting up in the across the attics, backrooms and great halls of this cultural nucleus. Since 1995 this festival has showcased the best of the new alternative scene, and this year is set to kick off the festival season with more than 100 artists across 27 venues.

If there’s a better way to kick off a festival than staring down the barrel of two trombones and a trumpet, then I don’t want to know about it. North London eight piece ska punks Imperial Leisure bring a touch of Madness to the opening bout of Camden Crawl 2012 shoehorned, like jostling commuters, on to the wooden floorboards of the archetypal Wheelbarrow pub. As afro sporting singer Denis Smith leers over the baying home crowd, they blast through the likes of ‘Bitter and Twisted’, ‘Landlord’s Daughter’ and ‘Man on the Street’ at a frenetic pace and set an almost unsurpassable benchmark for interaction and tempo.

On the way through the assault course that is tourist dodging up Camden Road to the hallowed turf of the Roundhouse, Hip-Hop Shakespeare have taken to the stage in the cool blue oasis of the Jazz Cafe. With razor sharp wit and tongue, MCs and poets alike take to the stage with the house band to recite their works and challenge the stigma surrounding hip hop as an inferior art form.

At the Roundhouse, the enigmatic Sam Lee has taken charge of the mezzanine and roof space to claim in it in the name of folk for the day. He regales the cross legged crowd with old folk tales before introducing the quintessentially English but bright and almost painfully innocent melodies of Magic Lantern. He then returns with his own modest troupe of eclectic musicians to tell stories and sing, choral and otherwise, to the appreciative gathering. It is an achievement that all festivals should strive for, where for a moment or more people experience the universality of musical and social understanding.

The greyish afternoon sun begins to dip towards the rooftops behind the indoor stage as people are ushered out on to the terrace for Melodica, Melody and Me. Close your eyes and this could be the Champs-Élysées, with people milling and reclining on the steps as the melodica strikes up. Tracks like ‘Hold On’, ‘Ode to Victor Jara’ and ‘Plunge’ are lyrically modern but classic in style, given a Hawaiian twist with the omnipresent (so much so that I’ve already missed a few) ukulele, and despite the dropping temperatures the wax jacket parade has turned out in force.

Pint-size French synthpop three piece We Were Evergreen will surely be one to watch this summer and, having come on in place of Atlantics at the Wheelbarrow earlier in the day, anticipation was growing to see how they would manage a full set at the Roundhouse. Band members Fabienne, Michael and William work independently as masters of their instrument sets – be it guitar and vocal loops, ukulele and banjo, or synth and glockenspiel – to produce a sound with the same good time vibe as the Ting Tings on tracks such as ‘Baby Blue’ or the infectious ‘Eggs’.

Back in the centre of Camden at the Black Head, and Antlered Man are laying down their own crunching brand of hypnotic metal through a loudspeaker to a packed upstairs, whilst round the corner at Underworld post rock instrumentalists Brontide are nailing a precision piece of musical hardware to the largest and loudest crowd yet gathered. In this dingy basement layers build on loop pedals in time with a surge in energy levels, driven by the relentless crash of ex-La Roux drummer Will Bowerman’s sticks.

Hindsight is a wondrous thing, a precious commodity that is lacking as band of the moment Big Pink took to the stage as only second headliners under the shimmering beams of Koko’s mammoth mirror ball. The atmosphere has gained a synaesthetic sheen to match the soundscape of this peculiarly appropriate line up; now the sound has the power to reverberate through chest cavities, and there’s enough dry ice to Beadle’s About a house fire. It is their first time in London, and with material from their acclaimed debut ‘A Brief History of Love’, as well as tracks from 2012 release ‘Future This’ such as ‘Hit the Ground’ and ‘Rubbernecking’, had the audience blown away. And, while lead singer Robbie Furze intermittently sounds like Richard Ashcroft in space, floor filler ‘Dominos’ has every pair of hands up.

Rounding off Saturday of Camden Crawl 2012 are a band who stand out on the bill as somewhat mainstream, even slightly ‘one hit wonder’ for a headline slot. It is an absolute joy to find that the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ saying rings true and that ‘Hounds of Love’ was merely a marketable peak the PR team let puncture the surface of the Futureheads’ (pictured at top) early career. Below is a hulking mass of traditional folk music done as nature intended, through multi-layered harmonies and classic acoustic instrumentation. There is the oldest song in the English language, ‘Sumer Is I’cumen In’ (the one Edward Woodward is chargrilled to in ‘The Wickerman’) and ‘The Machem’ before the crowd start to lose their nerve and begin an unfortunate smattering of boos and (ironically) a capella versions of ‘Hounds of Love’. But, with an a capella album of their very own to flog in the coming months, the Futureheads continue unperturbed and round off the Saturday admirably with a more inventive, acoustic version of their biggest hit. This appeases the now swaying crowd, who leave with both cheers, and murmurs of anticipation for what Sunday could hold.

 

Camden Crawl 2012: Day 1 – Luke’s Roundup

 
By on Tuesday, 15th May 2012 at 1:00 pm
 

Camden has always been known for music. From the hallowed venues of The Underworld and Electric Ballroom, to the local legend of Amy Winehouse, music has been the beating heart of the Town for years. To celebrate this heritage, the concept of Camden Crawl was produced. Now in its eleventh year, the annual 2-day festival has invaded no less than 27 venues hosting over 100 artists for 16 hours a day. It’s hectic, intense, and eye-opening; what else would you expect?

Kicking off the Saturday are the London-bred purveyors of Rancid-esque ska-punk Imperial Leisure. Almost filling the Wheelbarrow at the unholy gigging hour of 1 PM is no mean feat, but the skankers – young and old – are supporting some of the finest local music on display today. Managing to cram an eight-piece band on the tiny stage, including a three-piece brass section (which, incidentally, the band hasn’t had fully for years), frontman Denis Smith stands aloft pumping out crowd-pleasers ‘Man on the Street’ and the sing-along favourite ‘Landlord’s Daughter’. After half an hour of early afternoon beer chugging and foot stomping, it’s back into the daylight for another round.

All the way at the other end of Camden High Street is the Roundhouse, that today is showcasing an abundance of calmer musical outfits. Winchester’s This is the Kit‘s serene, ambient acoustics float over the 100 or so people gathered in the upstairs room. Initially the shows at the Roundhouse were scheduled to take place outside, but thanks to the lovely English weather it’s been relocated. Although the band are five-piece, today they’re a duo. The delightfully heartfelt, majestic tones fill the room that is sat on the floor soaking up the banjo and guitar like a hippy commune: if a drum circle were to start, no-one would bat an eyelid. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition to the hustle and bustle of the streets below that are just getting started.

Over at Koko, the biggest venue of the weekend, XFM’s John Kennedy is hosting Xposure, highlighting some of the hottest UK acts today. Headlining the first half of Saturday’s showcase are the incredible instrumentals of Three Trapped Tigers. Described by the Guardian as “A garage band bashing their way through Aphex Twin”, the London trio power their way through an 8-bit tinged, bass heavy assault. Reeking of dubstep dirt undertowed by rib-shaking bass, Three Trapped Tigers blast through 30 minutes of new material before uttering a single word to the pumped crowd. Sounding like the bastard child of Sabrepulse and 65DaysOfStatic, the futuristic noise and blinding strobe lights are reminiscent of the rave scene in The Matrix: Reloaded. As the three-piece keep lashing out on their keys and effects pedals – to the tune of Sonic being bitch-slapped by a subwoofer – the music suddenly stops and the house lights come up. It’s over, leaving Koko in a dazed but wholly satisfied state of deafness.

After a much needed break for food and yet more beer, Camden is ready for the evening. Taking to the stage at the most metal venue in town – The Underworld – Brontide are serving mesmerising post-rock opuses to hundreds of onlookers. The darlings of Holy Roar move seamlessly between twinkly soft sections and ball-busting, heavy breakdowns – they even throw in a few bars of ‘No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn’ during ‘MFBT’ for MCA. Flirting with ideas of metal and prog, the driving force behind the three-piece is the drummer Will Bowerman (who also moonlights for La Roux). The big, pounding drums ricochet off the walls of The Underworld as the guitars drown the audience and prove the London favourites still have more to offer.

Down the road at Dingwalls, one of the most hyped bands of the day are treating the three-quarters’ full room to a half hour of light-hearted, Caribbean vibes. Theme Park‘s dancey tones flow with a summery feel akin to ‘English Riviera’ era Metronomy. Despite having four string-players on stage, the delicate nature of the London quintet sounds as though only one guitar is playing. Combine this with the minimal drums and you’re left with a soft, yet uplifting sound. Strumming their way through the likes of ‘Milk’ and ‘Wax’, set-closer ‘Two Hours’ leaves a smile on everyone’s face.

Ending the first day’s festivities are the Japanese purveyors of psychedelia, Bo Ningen (pictured at top). Since moving to London, the erratic J-rock meets hardcore quartet have been carving a niche for themselves across the city for the past few years. Tonight their domain is a packed-to-the-rafters sweatbox called the Monarch that has bodies crammed into every corner vying for a view. Merging the styles of Deep Purple and The Mars Volta, with hints of everyone else in between, Bo Ningen highlight the versatility of Camden Crawl.

Delayed Japanese vocals echo over the frenzied guitar and drums that are thrashed out with all the intensity of a car crash. The band have a real adoration for their craft and aren’t in it for the fame – it’s a very niche audience. As the ethos of chaos leaks from the stage to the floor, the beer-drenched pit full of shape throwers and party goers get the floor bouncing. The performance culminates in a flurry of free jazz, prog, metal, kraut-rock and funk that transcends into a hypnotic breakdown that never knowingly feels like ending. But for Camden it has come to an end, for Saturday at least. Tomorrow brings on another day of new music from varying ends of the spectrum to devastate venues all over the music capital of London.

Stay tuned for Luke’s review of Sunday at Camden Crawl coming soon.

 
 
 

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