The cold wet streets of Camden are awash with drunken hordes tonight, but that’s just a typical weekend here. Thrown into that mix is a bunch of wristband wearing music seekers who are staggering their way between the pubs, clubs and venues of north London’s pleasure streets. Yes, you know it can only be the Camden Crawl.
The legendary multi-venue multi-gig festival may be the oldest swinger in town these days, imitated by many others that have arguably become more prestigious (Brighton’s Great Escape now lays claim to being the UK’s biggest and best of these sorts) but the Camden Crawl still packs some weight. Maybe it’s because of expert advance planning, maybe because of the double-dip recession or maybe that this year’s bill doesn’t hold so many must-sees as previous years, but the criticisms past of over long queues and crammed in likes sardines venues don’t transpire.
“This is really unhealthy to be playing this early,” announces frontman Denis Smith of Imperial Leisure for their 1pm set in The Wheelbarrow. You wouldn’t think it though. The 8-piece, brass wielding band may be crammed on to a tiny stage but they give it everything. It may be as subtle as a Katie Price underwear photo shoot, but their mix of sweaty shouty ska-rap-rock mix goes down a treat, especially with the two loons dressed as dancing monkeys po-going in the front row.
Up at the other end of town hard-touring Peace take to the stage and look every ounce the indie band. There are floppy fringes, fur collars, leather jackets, converse boots, skinny jeans and pale boyishness a-plenty and some half decent tunes that flourish with a crowd that is not yet too drunk to pay attention. They’re followed by Elle King who imports her songs about heartbreak, love and crap towns in Ohio with gravelly country vocals, banjos and trumpet sounds and who is gorgeously affecting.
Destroying the ideology of the Camden Crawl, a short bus ride rather than a long walk takes us to Koko where The Milk are packing as much as they can into their day with three shows. With this half hour set they’re like DJ’s with guitars – there’s no break for applause, just a continuous stream of music until the end. The Milk can play. They don’t need to soak their sound in reverb to hide their inadequacies like so many bedroom groups today. Instead there’s tight playing and great songs full of call and response vocals, slabs of 60’s r ‘n’ b influences and straining soul. Their best song Chip The Kids doesn’t even get an airing and yet they still sound on top of their game.
The Crawl is not all about indoor gig venues though. Camden Gardens hosts the Red Bull Bedroom Jam Outdoor Arena whilst down at the Roundhouse a tiny dome canopy has been erected on the outside terrace. It’s here amongst the palms, patio stonework and over large sunshade that the Melodica Melody and Me coax the sun out for a short while with their twee folk sound and We Were Evergreen charm with cute xylophone led French pop melodies. However by the time it’s over it’s become as cold as Christmas and the warmth of a grotty Camden boozer seems very welcome.
It’s at the Monarch where we get a dose of Lo(ish)-Fi indie guitar work from Fear of Men. Vocalist Jess sings some lazy but lovely pop melodies like The Primitives or The Shop Assistants with slippers on and it’s all quite pleasantly appealing. The addition of a new female backing vocalist fleshes out the bands nostalgic sound somewhat and it’s only a lack of interaction with the audience that lessens the groups regency a little.
By now things are starting to get a little messy and Polarbear, Brum’s answer to Scroobius Pip, has to battle with the chattering drunk masses in the Earl of Camden. There may not be a raised stage but Polarbear creates one with a mix of spoken word, beats and on one track the use of the word bum-hole repeatedly. Giving out free records to the crowd and taking the p*ss out of MC’s who rap about girls “when technically they’re women,” he’s funny and endearing. His rhymes about teenage snogging in the park perfectly capture the excitement and confusion of a first kiss, his words strangely romantic and evocative.
There’s a gaggle of girls at the front for Swiss Lips (yes, it’s slang for vagina) whose short, sweet , synthy set shows a band with much promise - file under ones to watch. The band might be from Manchester but their sound doesn’t take any reference from their home cities past. Instead there are hints of Fenech Soler, The Killers, MGMT, The Bravery and Passion Pit in their catchy sound. “We’ve never seen so much movement in a London crowd,” they announce. They’re lucky to get that, some people here can hardly stand up let alone move.
Willy Moon finishes us off for the evening and the hope is he’ll answer some of the questions we’ve been asking about him, namely is he a one-trick pony? Is it all clever studio trickery? Is he actually some sort of record industry in joke?
With his sharp white suit and slicked back hair, Moon and his band look like they’ve stepped straight out of a magazine photo shoot. His guitarist is a seductively vampiric looking lady and behind them is a legs-apart-hit-‘em-hard drummer in space age bra-top and black and white striped trousers. Hidden away in the corner is a DJ who seems to have forgotten to dress for the occasion and maybe as punishment his sounds seem somewhat turned down in the mix. Moon’s studio releases to date have found a niche that mixes 50’s rock-n-roll with daft hip hop beats. Live his set is rawer, rougher and leaves us as perplexed as we were at the beginning of his set. My Girl sounds like a potential hit in the making whilst Yeah Yeah predictably gets the biggest audience response. He walks into the crowd, does some of THAT crazy dancing. It’s momentarily ridiculous and brilliant and by the end we’re still none the wiser if his blend of retro-modern cartoon pop is genius or rubbish. It’s probably a bit of both.
Listen to some of the bands mentioned in this review below.
Elle King - Good To Be A Man
Fear Of Men - Green Sea
Swiss Lips - Grow