Camden Crawl 2014 – Live Review
aaamusic | On 25, Jun 2014
Friday 20th – Saturday 21st June, London
Cymbals are the first band I have the pleasure of viewing live at the Camden Town Brewery, their first show of two for the weekend. Live, the bass is heavier and each layer of their music has such clarity that the synths, keyboards, guitars and drums can all be heard, which adds a lightness to their set. Though the funkiness and the disco vibes of some of their best songs such as ‘Erosion’ and ‘The Natural World’ are evident in their music, you kind of hope for a bit more personality from the band as a unit, as the majority of the set is held together by their charismatic lead singer and guitarist Jack Cleverly, who carries the majority of the performance. However, I cannot help but wonder if some of this is down to the fact the crowd seem disinterested and lack warmth.
After travelling in the wrong direction to find the Enterprise for approximately 15 minutes (as festivals go, there are always hiccups on the way), I only catch the last song of Charles Howl’s set, which is unfortunate as the song is a ripper of punk-surf rock featuring a combination of chugging melodies and riffs, which seem to complement the stuffy, humid space.
My next trek brings me to the Purple Turtle, where Whistlejacket are set to take the stage. Musically, the band have such a commanding force as their woozy lo-fi with hints of psyche music slinks through the room, as tie-dyed washed-out visualisations to match their sound are used as the backdrop. Their sound is vast and they play so tightly that they look like they have been doing this for years, as the members get lost in their own world; as the saturated gradients of sound are luscious to ears. The depth of Whistlejacket’s music is further highlighted as one member of the crowd profusely contorts as he headbangs faster to the growing intensity of their closing song, ‘Swimming Lessons’ – an indication of just how poignant their music is.
I head across to the road to watch what is left of Yuck’s set at KOKO, one of the more popular acts of the weekend, though the crowd is more sparse than expected. The band sound the best they have in years, even with the departure of Daniel Blumberg, who left the band in 2013 to concentrate on solo work. They cover New Order’s ‘Age of Consent’, which is handled well instrumentally and vocally – something I can particularly appreciate, as it is one of my favourite records. As they finish their last song I can’t help but think how much more enjoyable the band is to watch, now the lead vocal reigns have been taken over by Max Bloom, who brings a new lease of energy to the band’s live performance.
PINS are exactly what festivals such as Camden Crawl are made for: showcasing the finest talent the UK has to offer. Reverberation pulsates through Underworld’s dark, dingy venue, as the all girl group (Faith Holgate: Vocals/Guitar, Lois Macdonald: Guitar, Anna Donigan: Bass and Sophie Galpin: Drums) from Manchester play feisty punk, with a fierce and intimidating attitude that could rival any all-male line-up on the same scene. Their songs are broken up with spoken word and singing intersected every now again with a yelp from Holgate, her stage presence recalling artists such as Joan Jett.
Atari Teenage Riot, the second biggest headliner for the weekend and digital-hardcore pioneers from Berlin, take to the stage at 10pm at the Electric Ballroom. Walking in, I enter the most rowdy assembly I’ve seen for the whole day as everyone at the front is frantically raving; however, again I’m shocked by the relatively small amount of people present at the show. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to diminish the ravenous qualities ATR’s music has on the furious rampage of people throwing themselves around, as the trio incite chants of “Atari Teenage Riot” – as they bound around onstage they seem unstoppable. Alec Empire, Nic Endo and CX KiDTRONiK circulate around the turn tables, each member getting an opportunity to be at the centre of the action and play a vital role in unleashing the chaos cult-like mantras, which swallow you up whole. Watching Nico beckoning to the crowd and screaming into the microphone, “too much blood”, it becomes obvious where Alice Glass of Crystal Castles takes her inspiration from. Strobe lightning isn’t spared and the concentration of the bass is unrelenting, slicing you in half, but one thing for sure is their live show is on another level of intensity I have never experienced.
Grumbling Fur couldn’t be more dissimilar to what I have just experienced during ATR. The duo craft discordant beats and visceral sounds, which contrast yet complement each other, while Daniel O’Sullivan and Alexander Tucker’s voices overlap and harmonise at various points in their songs. Experimental is an understatement for the group, as I witness a instrumental set-up which features a viola, laptop, guitars, synths and bass to create music with soft tribal melodies with Asian influenced rhythms and electronic trance. What also adds to the likeability of the show is the pairing’s dry sense of humour and wit, as they make strong comebacks to their hecklers in the room and the loud chattering group of people who have just left the outdoor of the Lock Tavern: “…go back to your horrid little balcony”. Harsh but honest.
As it enters the early hours of the morning I again find myself at the Electric Ballroom, where I catch a snippet of the DJ and producer D/R/U/G/S’ set, as the last few remaining tracks to an ever-depleting crowd. After an hour of debating, I stick around to catch Orbital’s Phil Hartnol shut down the first night of the festival. Again it’s a fairly poor turnout, which is a shame as the quality of Hartnol’s DJing soars, as exhilarating and euphoric throbs and sample cuts of Orbital’s discography such as ‘Halcyon + On and On’ are at the heart of the set that is keeping the last couple of bodies moving until it hits 2 am. I leave the show on a high but I also leave knowing a hell of a lot of people have missed out on catching a top attraction.
Au Revior Simone’s soundcheck cuts into their set time massively, only really leaving the band to have 25 minutes, instead of the approximately the 45 minutes they were originally designated. Fortunately, the annoyance of this situation disintegrates once the group start their performance, as the show lights come on and the girls are in great synchronisation, swaying behind their keyboards and synths. Their vocals are on point, as their delicate tones merge with one another during the opening feel-good track. Erika Forster, Annie Hart and Heather D’Angelo are gracious creatures – each one of the members’ long hair flows to the soft tempo as they teasingly dance. It’s fun to watch them loosen up on stage. Au Revoir Simone’s harmonies are also to be commended – they are a well rehearsed team and it is simply beautiful to listen to the group’s vocalisations. The trio become adrift in their own music at times, closing their eyes, as if they are feeling every essence of their songs, which creates a warm atmosphere. Third song in features big percussion and throbs, while ‘Somebody Who’ is cool yet innocent with tiers of drum machine and radiant synths, supplementing the sexiness of the lyrics: “somebody who can turn me on”. ‘Crazy’ plays out the short but sweet set, a standout track taken from their current album Move In Spectrums.
I hurry across the road to Camden’s renowned Jazz Cafe to catch the last 15 minutes of Jay Prince’s rescheduled show. It’s great to hear his songs live as they are more animated and the addition of a live DJ makes all the difference to the audio qualities of Prince’s infectious rhymes and rhythms, which manifest themselves in the form of closer ‘Stay On My Cool’.
The Beatrice is packed out when I arrive for Femme’s show, where she is dressed in an all-black outfit covered in an oversized gold jacket. Here, liveliness is hard to ignore as the Goldsmiths graduate performs with every ounce of energy in her soul, hitting notes and carrying out her own ’60s girl group-inspired dance routines. ‘Fever Boy’ is an enigmatic presentation of just how talented Femme is – her confident personality shines through and gets the crowd dancing. Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ is totally revamped – the rendition is sexier and cut with a modern brashness owning the song as if it was hers, as the multitude of people sit in the palm of her hands. The upbeat, catchy hooks are hard to dislike and her voice is so imposing she is a talent to be challenged. Her phenomenal dancers, The Bullet Girls, join her on stage for the last couple of songs, which adds even more to the exaggerated nature of Femme’s music as they hit every single momentous beat. The whole show is a fantastic experience and it’s obvious from the reaction of the room that big things will be coming from this young lady.
The brutality in Slaves’ music is so raw that it’s refreshing. The originally of Isaac Holman drumming standing up and Laurie Vincent’s aggressive guitar playing make for an unconventional and mesmerising watch. The passion of the duo takes over the space of the Underworld, as a mini-mosh pit takes place just centre stage. The band’s bluntness and honesty also adds sheer entertainment to their show – ‘She Grew Old’ is introduced with the line, “…the song is about those ladies who struggle to keep their knickers on”, as Vincent viciously growls the end of the record. Their stage banter is laughable as they both talk about feeling like as if they are in a discotheque, which is far from it. ‘Where’s Your Car Debbie?’ and ‘White Knuckle Ride’ are two of my high points of the show, as the duo request dancers to accompany them on the stage since it’s one of their “danciest songs”, which in all fairness is justifiable to a certain extent – it features a pounding drum beat to eat you alive, the epic moment coming from the slow, powerful thumps Isaac unleashes on the cymbals until there is nothing more left within him, shirt open and sweat dripping from every pore. As they treat the crowd to a new song titled ‘Okay’, the crowd are summoned to think about their favourite biscuit – another utterance that sends laughter around the room. ‘Hey’ begins with spoken word and the lyrics are penetrating, “…tell me of your pain, I promise to listen…” – it is almost a strange sort of therapy session. With riffs that could raise hell, drumming so primal and two lads that are extremely likeable, Slaves are an exciting prospective.
When I approach to see PAWS at the Lock Tavern, the band’s second show of the weekend, there is already a queue outside the venue – an indication of the popularity of the band – and once I’m in room it’s at full capacity, as more people try to squeeze in behind. ‘Catherine’ is a pleasure to hear in this cosy space – it’s happy and has an air of positivity around it. They play optimistic punk rock, which gets your pulse racing. PAWS make a lot of stage talk and you become of aware of their down-to-earth nature ,which is nice to view and hear. Lead-man Philip Taylor gets really into the music as he intently focuses on playing. Though the set on the whole is enjoyable the instrumentals almost drown out the vocals at times, which is a shame as one of the biggest pulls about the group is their cutthroat honest lyricism.
Big Deal plays the Black Cap, starting their set with their heaviest numbers from June Gloom to get the attendees warmed up. As usual, the band are professional at channelling the grungy youthful angst, which melts right through the majority of their songs. The guitars are gritty and Kacey Underwood’s sweat stained T-shirt demonstrates just how much effort he is putting into the performance, as well as Alice Costelloe, although she still looks pristine in her black dress. Big Deal perform a new song from an upcoming EP – it’s mellow and has a pretty subtlety. They end their set with ‘Talk’ – the fuller sounding version; the one and only time the band revisit Lights Out.
Lady Lykez’s ‘I Love My Butt’ is the last artist and song I catch of the weekend from her performance at the Beatrice – it’s a fun catchy track, though after checking the timetable it is noticeable she has finished her set approximately 15 minutes early.
Overall, Camden Crawl offered a platter of amazing new rising talents such as Slaves, Femme, Jay Prince and PINS, as well as established acts like Au Revior Simone and Atari Teenage Riot. Despite some minor issues, such as artists’ sets being cut short (at least in comparison to the allocated times in the timetable and CC14 app), the overlaps between artists (which meant most festival-goers only ended up roughly seeing three-four acts a day), and the relatively small turn out for certain shows (especially the Friday headliners), the weekend was genuinely thrilling.