It’s that time of the year when several thousand people descend on Camden for the weekend to enjoy sunshine, good music and great company. As the yearly multi-venue festival in the heart of London saw it expand to a second day this year, stamina is needed. And once the tickets are exchanged for wristbands and programmes and the first beer of the weekend is consumed in The World’s End, all around, all different sub-genres are represented by its people as everyone is deep in conversation. It’s good to be back at Camden Rocks.
One of the best and worst things about Camden Rocks is its wealth of bands – there’s more clashes than bands you’ll actually get to see. So as a challenge, for me, it’s a chance to fit in as many different genres I enjoy over the weekend, balancing new finds with those ever-so reliable great acts and catching up with friends. First up, however, once we all go our separate ways is into the thick of Camden and the Doc Martens Boot Room where a lucky few of us are treated to some bloody marys and bagels and we get a chance to admire some of the memorabilia in the glass cases around the room.
It’s all cleared away before the snarling punk of Sleaze become the first band of my Camden Rocks weekend. They’re suitably named, grimy and energetic in equal measure, they’re tight and make good use of the stage, complete with some acrobatics and shoes being ditched early in proceedings. It’s a catchy and engaging set and one you can’t help but nod along with as they chug their way through their set.
Next, it’s down to The Underworld and the dark room is packed out. Why? Ginger Wildheart is treating the capacity crowd to an acoustic set and with the number of shirts in the crowd, the cult of The Wildhearts is out in force. From the minute he takes to the stage, he seems to be in high spirits and having been a regular fixture of Camden Rocks, he’s wanting to have a little bit of fun. Which he does by working his way through an acoustic rendition of the new Wildhearts album, Renaissance Men. He doesn’t even change the running order, but why should he have to? He’s Ginger fucking Wildheart! Tonight’s headliner, Frank Turner joins Ginger for “Let ‘Em Go” and since he appeared on the album version, it’s only fitting. However, by the halfway point, the heat of The Underworld becomes unbearable and it’s out into fresh air and to venture on the chance of finding something else to delight the eardrums.
And it’s found in Doomsday Outlaw at Kolis. As they hammer through their set, they’re tighter than ever. It may be your standard classic rock with its blues tinges but they’re damn good at what they do with the set passing in a blur and the final song comes as a surprise. The larger venue from last year at The Good Mixer is more than well-deserved and ironically enough, The Idol Dead are the next band and it’s just like Doomsday Outlaw’s set from last year. Before the punks even kick off their stage as they’re crammed into a small space, people are being turned away. They hammer through their upbeat set and having caught them at Wildfire a couple of years back, they’ve upped their game by several notches. The five piece are killing it, full of passion and energy with everyone in the room enjoying the set and the band
It’s time for more punk and this time, it’s Rascalton up at The Monarch. However, now, it takes on a more indie slant. The Glaswegian quartet discuss their love for Camden and apologise, explaining they’re talking slow so they can be understood. On the flip side of that, as a fellow countryman, it’s actually harder to understand for me. That aside, this was one I wasn’t expecting to see, thinking there would be massive queues but by the time they’re finished, the crowd has increased and they’ve enraptured everyone there with their snappy, angry punk tones. If The Clash had come from Scotland and existed in the 21st century, this is what they would sound like. The four of them provide a hefty dose of melody and like so many other bands, such a high standard of performance, it’s impossible to find fault with them, clearly showing improvement since last time.
The highlight of Saturday and it’s The Hyena Kill at The Lyttleton Arms. It’s fitting since the first ever band I saw at the festival was this pair, mere weeks after being told about them by our Rachel. It may have been some time since I last saw them, just after the release of last year’s Spun, but it feels like it was days ago. And as for Steve Dobb and Lorna Blundell, they’re as impressive as ever. Whilst they’ve been writing and recording, they’ve come out of hiding especially for this to deliver a set full of unbridled fury.
As they hit the ground running with “Panic Womb”, they only seek to build on the momentum with “Exit Mask” and “Ribbons” before the glory that is “Tongue Tied”. It’s an all-too brief set which is closed with “Pound of Flesh” and “Still Sick”, the noise rock duo have smashed the place apart. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a performance from a band at the end of an intensive tour, at the top of their game. As Steven and Lorna work in perfect sync with each other, their guitar/vocals and drum combo works perfectly. It’s quite possibly the rawest and filthiest I’ve ever seen them.
Silverkord kick Sunday off with some 90s grunge vibes laced with hints of prog, alternative and metal for good measure to wrap it up into one succinct package. After catching up with Trash from The Red Paintings who recommended them, there’s a real sense of them trying to channel Alice in Chains and Soundgarden without veering into emulation. As powerful vocals range from growls to higher-ranged screams against the dirty riffs, it’s an excellent choice to blow out the cobwebs and The Devonshire Arms makes for a perfect setting.
Much like last year, Rews have drawn a massive crowd to their performance. However, unlike last year, they’re now a three-piece with the biggest change coming in the shape of a bass player. Whilst the bass lines flesh out the pre-existing music, it feels less organic than if they were to play material with the extra four strings added. And the bassist’s backing vocals completely over-powered Shauna Tohill’s leads. Other than that, it’s faultless with Tohill providing plenty of energy, the pop-glossed alternative rock taking on a more gritty tone as they work their way through most of Pyro. Sure, it may not have the same power as last year’s set but if this is the line-up for the band going forward, in time, it’ll have the same heft as the trio bed in together.
“Tidy as fuck!” Ally Dickaty of The Virginmarys declares halfway through their set. It simply wouldn’t be Camden Rocks without this trio and it’s the single reason why so many people are at the festival. The heat of Dingwalls has the band playing one of the sweatiest gigs of their lives. From the minute they hit the stage, the band give it their all in their trademark impassioned performance, playing out of their skin, to deliver their best Camden Rocks set. There’s nothing but love in the room and compared to their last couple of appearances at the festival, the crowd are pretty well-behaved.
As both the band and crowd feed off each other’s energy, just like every time they play, it’s like the entire room acts as one unit. They cram as much material from their catalogue into the hour set as possible, covering all corners with songs from Northern Sun Sessions such as “Look Out For My Brother”, “Step Up” and “Eye For an Eye”, Sitting Ducks and Divides are represented with “Sweet Loretta” and “Motherless Land”, respectively and King of Conflict has the staples of “Just a Ride”, “Portrait of Red” and “Running for my Life”. However, they also delve as far back as “Thousand Times”; it’s an absolute treat for the die-hard fans. And for the family assembled at the front, and any newcomers, it’s the perfect set.
With palpable chemistry between the trio, their unique, aggressive hard rock has them blowing the place apart, once again leaving their mark on Camden with another triumphant set at the festival. It’s a masterclass of a performance and by the time they’re finished, it’s a tough call to decide who had the better time – the band or the crowd.
After catching up with the faithful roadcrew of The Virginmarys – Azda and Mr Trackside, Stu, it’s back down to the Electric Ballroom for Ash. Immediately, I’m reminded of one of the things I love about this festival: despite my fourth year of attending, I’m still going into venues at the festival for the first time. Having seen them at Hardwick Live last year (where I first saw Saturday’s Rascalton, too), they know this is a crowd more up for it. Where the songs seemed more laidback last year, here, they’re heavier with more of an edge to them but still firmly in the indie camp and the band seem to be enjoying it far more too. It’s a quick hour which passes before I head back round to The Black Heart for the other extreme.
Acres may not have garnered a massive crowd but to those who do show up, they’re incredibly grateful. It’s a set full of aggression and the five-piece fill the stage and the people in the room, they know. They knew this would be a good one to catch and as I walk in as the band are already partway through their set, there’s a great atmosphere in the room. They’re a tight live act and remind me of The Hyena Kill with more melody. Like the aforementioned two-piece, they don’t let up on the crowd, keeping the momentum at the proverbial eleven and wanting to end the evening on a high. Full of aggression and filling the room with their sound, it helps fill out the room with their post-hardcore sound.
And after watching The Wonder Stuff in The Underworld and catching the last couple of songs from Longy in the basement of Brewdog, it’s the end of another Camden Rocks. Whilst I did manage to catch more bands than listed here, it was normally just in passing or you can read about them in Rachel’s review. With the second night coming to its end, it’s been another great weekend and with not a bad band among what I saw, you can’t complain. Now here’s to next year!