Sunday, 22 June 2014

Camden Crawl 2014 - Review

When we previewed this year’s Camden Crawl festival here (rebranded as CC14) we suggested that the event had lost its way, falling behind to other multi-gig festivals that had more vision, a greater sense of identity and more ‘must-see’ acts on their bill. Certainly on the Friday of this two-dayer it seemed that our opinion was correct, the lack of crowds in any of the venues showing the lack of support for the event.  However, on the Saturday things were noticeably busier, the one day wristbands obviously being the preferred option for most – perhaps if Camden Crawl runs again next year running on just Saturday may make more economic sense?

With wristband collected (where we were able to watch 80’s pop crooners ABC soundcheck from the ticket exchange point at Koko) and phone app timetable in hand (which thankfully was a lot better than the events poorly designed website) we swerved in between the tourists taking pictures of Camden punks being used to advertise Doctor Marten boots and grabbed as much live music as our time would allow.

Here are 10 things we learnt about Camden Crawl 2014 (A review of sorts).

1. It Isn’t As Good As Brighton’s Great Escape

As another multi-day, multi-venue, wristband access festival, comparisons with Brighton’s Escape (the UK’s market leader in terms of this type of event) are inevitable. Certainly in terms of value for money Camden Crawl was some way behind. At Great Escape we saw over 40 acts, at Camden Crawl we witnessed just 16, yet ticket prices for both events were about the same. Whilst both festivals had reasonably good quality in terms of the acts, Great Escape shaded this as well with more must sees, buzz band and overseas bookings.

We also witnessed a few organisational problems at Camden Crawl. On Friday the show at The Lock Tavern started half an hour late with no information to inform punters of this - we saw several people walk away and head off to other venues because they weren’t clear what was going on. We also entered two venues (one again being The Lock Tavern) who weren’t properly checking wristbands, leading to quite a few punters watching shows who hadn’t paid for tickets.

2. Being Not As Good As Great Escape Has Some Advantages

The lower attendance meant that at no point did we witness any queues to get into venues. One in one out was a phrase that didn’t need to be used.

3. Anneka Could Be The UK’s Answer To Grimes

Combining laptop, pads and percussion Brighton’s Anneka (no not the jump-suited sky runner from Treasure Hunt and Challenge Anneka, but a different one) provided one of the more interesting sets of the weekend. An example of how a modern ‘band’ operates Anneka pulled pretty much all of her equipment out of a small rucksack, set up in just a few minutes and created a mix of warped experimental electronic pop that was both innovative and challenging but still laced with pretty melodies. This was D-I-Y pop of our times and rather good it was too.

4. Violet Skies Could Have Won X-Factor

Why? Because this Welsh lass has a pretty much flawless voice. Thankfully she hasn’t gone down the ‘this means everything to me, I’ll suck Cowell’s corporate cock for success’ route though. Instead last weekend she played to a small half empty room above a pub in Camden . If there’s any justice she won’t be playing that size of venue for too much longer though. Her slick modern electronic pop would sit comfortably alongside the likes of Jessie Ware and Banks  and seems designed for much bigger places, if she can get the exposure. Let’s just hope that Cowell doesn’t get his slimy hands on her first.

5. We're Not Sure What A Hipster Is These Days, But We're Pretty Sure Camden Crawl Was Relatively Hipster Free

Silly glasses, perfectly groomed facial hair, retro clothed 20 somethings were notable by their relative absence at Camden Crawl, which seemed to have a slightly older than average demographic than the majority of multi-venue festivals we've attended. Maybe bigger acts like ABC, Atari Teenage Riot and Steve Mason on the bill helped, or maybe because of the lack of 'of the moment bands' the cool kids stayed away? Or maybe it's just Camden itself - once the mecca of young London, now it's just not the got to place for those in the know perhaps?

6. Sometimes Playing Early In The Day Means Hardly Anyone Will Turn Up To See You

Arrows of Love faced the near impossible task of playing an early doors set at The Electric Ballroom (one of the larger venues on the Camden Crawl) to a sparse crowd on the Friday night, but they hit it as hard as they could. What Arrows of Love lack in tunes they made up for in sheer physicality, from lead singer Nima’s attempts to create a one man circle pit stumbling/ grabbing / falling / leaning onto selected punters in the crowd, to the band’s Mad Max dragged through a hedge in just their underwear styling. Raw, chaotic and leaving you numb afterwards, Arrows of Love are the vodka and arsenic cocktail of rock and roll. Brutal and sexy at the same time.

7. Sometimes Playing Early In The Day Means Some People Will Turn Up To See You.

Relative newcomer Eloise Keating has already featured on Breaking More Waves with her haunting electronic production Be My Ghost. For her reasonably well attended and received early afternoon low-key show in the Camden Eye things were strapped back to just a simple guitar backing and Eloise’s sultry and syrupy voice, demonstrating that Be My Ghost is no one off, although we may have to wait some time before we hear more in the recorded form. 

8. Sometimes Playing Early In The Day Means Lots Of People Will Turn Up To See You.

24 hours after Arrows of Love, in the same venue, Dry The River’s brand of heart pumping pastoral folk, including a number of songs from their forthcoming second album, found a big crowd. Perhaps it’s not just about what time you play as to what size of audience you’ll get at a festival then?

9. Sometimes What A Pub Needs Is Pom Poms And Dance Routines

Down at the Beatrice (formerly The Wheelbarrow) Femme’s take on sassy day-glo pop was a d-i-y explosion of fun. Imagine Angel Haze, M.I.A, Charli XCX and Gwen Stefani bringing ridiculous energy and booty shaking pom pom punching dancing ladies (The Bullet Girls) to a Camden boozer. By the end we had to get a bucket to catch all of our sweat, if there was a thermometer in the room it would have exploded. Hear Femme's recently released cover of Sophisticated Boom Boom below.

10. Important Chicken Update: There's Not As Much Chicken In Camden As At Shepherd's Bush But There's More Than In Brighton

See item 5 and 6 of Bushstock review here, but there's still more than in Brighton. So Camden Crawl beats the Great Escape on that one, but Bushstock wins overall.

All in all Camden Crawl was a straightforward and enjoyable event. The lack of queues, the relative closeness of most of the venues and the overall quality of the acts were all in its favour. What it lacked was the crowds in numbers and the 'bands of the  moment' to make it feel really exciting. With a few modifications (turning it into a one dayer, reducing the number of venues slightly and a better sense of curation with more must see acts) the Camden Crawl could still be an important date on the UK festival calendar, but for now it still has some catching up to do.

Acts seen at Camden Crawl 2014: Paul Orwell & The Night Falls, Voilet Bones, Arrows Of Love, Violet Skies, Anneka, Brolin, D/R/U/G/S, Blair Jollands, Eloise Keating, Japser Mook, Kill Moon, Dry The River, Au Revoir Simone, Femme, Farao, Rainer

Femme - Sophisticated Boom Boom

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