By Chris Patmore, Rock At Night London Correspondent
VENUE: 20 across Camden Town, London
The down side of Camden Rocks is it is in Camden. On a Saturday it is possibly one of the worst places to be in London, unless you are a tourist or someone catering to their whims and needs. The up-side of Camden Rocks is that it is Camden, with its proliferation of music venues, many of which have achieved cult/legend/iconic status, and all within short (though not necessarily quick) walking distance.
With the one-day festival offering offering more than 200 artists across 20 venues, some judicious planning is required. Do you camp out at one venue and take whatever is on offer there? Do you find the artists or sub-genres you like and hope they don’t clash, or there is enough time between sets to make it between venues? Or do you search out new bands, or stick with names you recognise?
Being at the festival with a mission (to get some great photos) I went for the safe option of bands I’d seen before that I knew would put on a good show, in venues that generally have decent sound and lighting.
One of the strange things about a festival like this one is going to a pub gig at midday, while the sun is shining (or at least desperately trying to), especially when the first act of the day at The Dublin Castle was Nova Twins, whose music is an amalgam of metal and rap, with some solid riffs and beats, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bass guitar being fed through so many effects pedals.
After such an aural blasting so early in the day, it was time for a few minutes’ respite as I headed down Camden Road to Belushi’s for more grrrl power from The Pearl Harts. Power duos (drums and guitar) are proving as commonplace as power trios, and with the aid of some judicious looping, Kirsty can seriously let loose on her Gibson SG, with some hard-rocking vocals to match. Old friends Mystified were due to play the same stage at three o’clock, so I popped over the road to Be At One to catch Flight Brigade for something more melodious. This seven-piece play complex, soaring songs that verge on being prog, in a line up that includes two keyboardists, two guitarists and a violinist. The space they had to play in was tiny, and the red flashing lights were not only hard on the eyes, but also terrible for taking pictures. The music was top notch, but visually it was a wash out, so it was back to Belushi’s.
I’ve seen Mystified many times, and they never disappoint. They are loud, fast and intense, but without sacrificing good songwriting. All the bands were given 30 minute sets, but Mystified tore through theirs in 20, leaving you wanting more but almost glad for the respite. I was going to head back to Dublin Castle to see Cold in Berlin, another photographic favourite, although they are prone to turning the lights off, but Jess from Mystified said that the band following them at Belushi’s were really good, so I deviated from my carefully laid out plan with the promise of S.E.X (the band’s name and not a bit of afternoon delight). They played some solid, loud stoner rock that was, as their name suggests, down and dirty.
Through coincidence, more than intentional, clever planning, the rest of my afternoon/evening gigs were happening in venues that were all within spitting distance (well, it is a punk stomping ground), so I headed back up Camden Road, negotiating the tourist hordes, for Dingwalls. Sonic Boom Six are a band I’ve been wanting to catch for some time and the opportunity finally presented itself. Primarily a heavily ska-influenced sound, they also make diversions into metal and rock, creating an amalgam that gets the crowd moving, driven by the energetic Laila Khan. They definitely didn’t disappoint.
A quick dash through the market to The Cuban to see an act I knew only by reputation: Starsha Lee. Her set was already underway and it is safe to say she is something of a force of nature. Wailing and taunting the audience, she bared her soul, and fair amounts of her body too. It was loud, and spectacular, and a little bit dangerous.
Deadcuts followed and, by comparison, were subdued, but still put on a show of old-school rock.
The energy was turned up a notch or two when Jim Jones and The Righteous Mind hit the stage. There was no easing into their set. From the get-go they were belting out their brand of what could probably be called rockabilly, but with a much harder edge. Regrettably, I had to cut the set short because the powerhouse that is Queen Kwong were about to hit the stage back at Dingwalls, and her shows are not to be missed.
Carré Callaway, the creative force behind the band, is also a force of nature when on stage, whether she is bouncing and screaming across it to the accompaniment of Wes Borland’s jagged guitar, or more tranquilly strumming her Gibson Firebird.
My intention was to, afterwards, head straight to Electric Ballroom for festival headliners The Cribs, which I duly did, but it seemed that everyone else was having the same idea. One look at the packed photo pit I turned around and headed back to Dingwalls for their headliners, Young Guns.
This young London band have been making waves in the US and are part of the massive mobile festival that is Vans Warped Tour. They clearly have a huge fan base here, and the band was there to play for their fans. There was definitely none of the “indie” posturing that The Cribs reportedly displayed, just crowd-pleasing entertainment.
Being something of a grassroots festival, bands would go and watch other bands, and it wasn’t uncommon to see bands walking between venues. And like Brighton’s Great Escape, it is also a festival of discovery, as well as a chance to see “name” bands in intimate settings. Like the London music scene in general, Camden Rocks has too much on offer, and FOMO is definitely an integral part of it. For us hardcore gig-goers that are out several nights a week, we know we can catch these acts on a regular basis, but for the casual gig goer Camden Rocks is a chance to see these indie circuit regulars in one compact, concentrated event.
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I do lots of things, some better than others, and one of them is taking photos of bands. Contrary to popular belief, I will work for money.