Camden Crawl is an annual event held up and down the main high street of Camden, where all of the venues, large and small, open themselves to wristband-wearing festival goers and put on an assortment of events, focused around live music, but including a bunch of other competitions and activities. The idea of Camden Crawl is to promote up and coming artists while also inviting some more well-established acts who have had a big influence on the music scene or may have once upon a time played Camden Crawl in their formative years. In the last few years the Crawl has grown to incorporate some of the really big venues and now sprawls into Kentish Town, too. For me, though, the idea has always been about seeing bands on the rise, playing the kind of show where in a few years you’ll be able to brag to your friends “I saw them in a pub barely bigger than my bedroom.”
Hence, I (and my friends) investigate every single band that’s on the lineup before we decide who we’re going to see. This year provided a bunch of unfortunate clashes, but that led us to discover some other things that we may never have given a second chance to after hearing their MySpace. Conversely, it also led us into the presence of some performers that made us regret ever crossing the threshold of the venue.
The History of Apple Pie
Most of the live music is saved for the evenings, but you can find performances by some bands throughout the afternoon in slightly more off the beaten track venues. For us, the first of these was a place called The Forge where The History of Apple Pie were set to kick off our weekend. Having heard their MySpace, we thought they’d make pleasant afternoon music, and the partly glass roof of the cafe-come-cinema venue meant that the sun shone in, which would only add to the relaxed vibe. The History of Apple Pie had different ideas, however. The young fivesome looked a little shy onstage but their music certainly was not; loud, melodic dream pop of the highest order. The neat vocal interplay of the two females in the group, Stephanie Min and Kelly Lee Owens, added a lot of charm to a kind of music that is often derided for its lack of clear vocals. The factor that really gave them some edge, though, was guitarist Jerome Watson, whose squealing solos weaved their way around the vocals and added another layer to their sound. Watson himself never looked up, focusing entirely on his music and teetering on his toes as if he was about to break into a dead run at any moment. Some of The History of Apple Pie’s songs came a little too close to aping the sounds of My Bloody Valentine and their ilk, but there was certainly enough there to suggest that this band has the potential for success, especially in the current resurgence of dream pop.
I don’t think any other band worked harder than Team Ghost over this weekend; playing four sets in two days where most would only play one. This was their first of the weekend and directly followed The History of Apple Pie on to the sunlit stage of The Forge (after an intermission). A lot of the talk around Team Ghost is about leader Nicolas Fromageau, who was a founding member of M83, before leaving to tread his own path. The sounds of the two bands are based in the same dreamy rock, but whereas M83 has focused more on exploring the dreamy, textural sound on their last couple of albums, Fromageau and Team Ghost seem to have continued along the rock trajectory.
The formula for a Team Ghost song is pretty simple: start relatively calmly and end by blasting the audience with three guitars’ worth of noise. On some of the more adventurous tracks some samples were incorporated, but were drowned out by the guitars. The set, though not very varied, was enjoyable due to the passion of the Frenchmen onstage, writhing in the throes of the noise they were creating. Overall I felt that Team Ghost would, as their name suggests, be better seen in the dark.
After a quick break, the proper programming started and we headed for a more traditional venue, The Jazz Cafe, to see DELS. DELS is a young British rapper with a talent for conjuring vivid and fantastic imagery with his lyrics. Prior to this performance I had seen him perform in this exact venue just a couple of months before, and on that occasion his accompanying band were tellingly newly formed, fitting around DELS’ flow in an unwieldy fashion. This time around there seemed a little more comfort and recognition between the band members. DELS’ flow often got lost in the chatter, particularly on the slower songs, but when he stepped up and brought out his A-game on the bigger numbers like “Shapeshift,” we saw the potential of the dominant MC he could one day become.
Dry The River
We stuck around in the Jazz Cafe after DELS to see Dry The River, one of the most highly recommended bands from friends going into the weekend. And those recommendations were certainly not misplaced. In the studio they seem to be quite a standard folk-rock band, but upon their taking to the stage, their dishevelled, bearded, tattooed appearance suggested something a little more, and their music confirmed it. Sure, their music focused around acoustic guitar, violin and harmonies like most folk, but when these guys want to get loud and emotional they don’t hold back. Their enthusiasm caused the stage to shake and their no holds barred-vocal deliveries probably nearly burst their lungs; it was impossible not to get swept up in the excitement. Peter Liddle’s lyrics are earnest, undoubtedly, but when sung with such passion, and joined in harmonies, you can hear a gospel quality to them. This was one of those moments where you can’t help but feeling in the presence of true talent that will eventually lead them to big things.
The next venue was the upstairs of the dark and dingy pub The Black Heart. Despite darkness outside and the unglamorous, black-walled surroundings, Rainbow Arabia still felt like they needed to act like they were soaking up the sun on a tropical island. They started nonchalantly 20 minutes late, keyboardist Danny Preston donning his fedora, and vocalist Tiffany Preston wore sunglasses. Aesthetic prejudices aside, Rainbow Arabia’s music just didn’t work in this environment. It was an unfortunate scheduling for the band, being placed in a small, dark space while trying to play colourful world-influenced, electronic music. The crowd watched and clapped politely, but it’s unlikely that they won any new fans on this occasion.
The Purple Turtle was the next locale; a dirty rock club at the extreme end of Camden. Despite its unattractive appearance, it was the perfect place to see a band like Civil Civic. The duo of Australians write their music by posting ideas to each other. This showed in two ways: the way that the bass and guitar intricately wove around each other told of the careful planning that went into the songs’ creation, and the pure enjoyment that the pair seemed to be having performing together suggested that they don’t get as many opportunities as they’d like to do so. The whole crowd was in good spirits (and more than a little intoxicated in many cases) so the breaking of a guitar string early in the set was met with grins. Once they got going, though, they really rocked. Accompanied by their trusty central-hub of a light-up drum machine they didn’t hold back in their performance, but were patient in their build up, teasing the audience into moving their feet before drilling their point home. Civil Civic’s music doesn’t include any vocals, but is catchy nonetheless. If only their method of writing and recording allowed them to bring out music more frequently they may find a strong fanbase.
Ghostpoet was one of the most hyped artists heading into the weekend, having recently released his acclaimed album Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam. The promoters smartly put him on after the majority of other music had ended, but stupidly put him in the Barfly; a small venue outside central Camden. We managed to make it inside just after Ghostpoet kicked off his set to find the venue unsurprisingly rammed. What was surprising was just how much people were managing to move around to the music given how disgustingly sticky the floors were. Ghostpoet, like DELS earlier in the day, produces a melodic kind of hip-hop and is also accompanied on stage by a band, however his is only a guitarist and a drummer with Ghostpoet handling more sonic textures himself on his laptop. This relatively small setup worked wonders and the tracks, which in the studio are quite minimal and introspective, became large and danceable in this small-yet-energetic atmosphere. Ghostpoet’s flow has a melodic quality to it, and this was emphasised as he writhed along with his words, feeling every line. The choruses of the songs, particularly “Cash and Carry Me Home” and “Run Run Run,” were sung along by the crowd. By the time he left the stage, Ghostpoet seemed absolutely delighted with the performance, both from his band and the crowd.
On Sunday there was no doubt who everybody wanted to see; Red Bull had blocked off a whole street for their Bedroom Jam, and the main attraction was Odd Future. They weren’t due on until 4:20, but people knew they needed to get there early to get a good view, which meant watching the artists that came beforehand.
We turned up just in time to catch the act on directly before Odd Future, Cerebral Ballzy. This New York hardcore band’s music had about as much tact as their name suggest, but they effectively knocked people out of their mid-Sunday stupors with their own brand of fast and angry guitars. While the band onstage rocked as hard as they could, roaming around and pummelling their instruments, their singer, who goes by the name Honor, pouted and posed at the front of the stage. He’d introduce each song by saying something like “this song’s about pizza,” “this song’s about skating,” or “this song’s about drinking and skating.” Even with their singers relative apathy, the band managed to incite a circle pit, which Honor joined when he could be bothered. The band were certainly not everyone’s cup of tea but they were potent performers, nonetheless.
Regardless of what people thought about Cerebral Ballzy’s music, they certainly helped to excite the crowd for Odd Future. More or less as soon as they left the stage the group of fans closest to the stage started chanting “wolf gang!” repeatedly. Not long before Odd Future’s set was scheduled to begin Syd made her way on to the stage to test the sound system, pushing it to it’s limits with some serious bass that teased the audience. Not long after, Hodgy Beats and Tyler, The Creator burst onto the stage with “Sandwitches,” and straight off of it to greet the crowd up close and personally. Left Brain joined halfway into the song, and completed the number of the collective that had made the trip across the Atlantic.
After the first song, Tyler gave a warning to the crowd of photographers standing directly in front of the stage that if they didn’t move all their shit would get broken in the next song. The cameramen begrudgingly obliged and for their next request the collective tried to encourage the crowd to come over the barrier and fill in the sizeable gap in front of the stage. During the next song it seemed things were about to reach tipping point, which prompted the organisers to bring in a load of reinforcements, effectively ending the potential onrush. Nevertheless, Tyler and co. continued to berate and wind up the security, visibly getting on their nerves. The set remained high-energy, packing in the ‘bangers.’ For much of the set, Tyler and Hodgy stood atop the high speaker stacks overlooking the crowd, seeming unsure as to whether they could make the jump (a good eight feet to twelve feet high). Eventually, Hodgy tried it. And got dropped. Going in feet first probably wasn’t wise. When he returned to the stage he looked visibly shaken and completed the set with slightly less fire in his delivery. For the concluding “Earl,” Tyler implored the crowd once more to overrun security. This time enough people went for it that they did successfully, crowding the stage and having a good laugh at the helpless guards. It was a triumphant end to a spectacular set.
Beth Jeans Houghton
From the high-energy Odd Future we calmed down with the relatively laid back set from Beth Jeans Houghton and what she jokingly referred to as her “gastric band” in the intimate Abbey Tavern. The set drew heavily from her old material but gave a few glimpses of what’s to come on her Mute debut later this year. Houghton had brought her Northern charm with her, indulging in dialect with the intimate crowd. The highlight of the set was the refrain “Looks like cum / smells like flowers / I use shampoo in the shower,” repeated with gusto until a mother and her young children walked past on their way out, leading Houghton to choke on her inappropriate lyrics. Houghton was able to laugh about it with everyone once the party were out the door, and we left in a cheery mood.
Tom Williams & the Boat
Another pub, this time The Black Cap, was our next destination. The setting for live performances was even more cramped, meaning that the majority of Tom Williams’ band had to stand behind him while they played. Nevertheless, they delivered a fierce set of standard indie-rock, with the added charm of Williams’ relatable lyrics and his clear comfort at being a frontman. My enjoyment of their set was hampered by the fact that I’d seen Dry The River the day before, who do a very similar thing, just better. The Boat don’t offer any vocal harmonies to their leader, and even though the odd inclusion of a sax was unique, their dynamics were not as memorable as other bands.
Following on from Tom Williams and the Boat in The Black Cap was 2.54. This band are all about bringing back grunge, from their low slung fenders, to their loose fitting dark clothing, not to mention the music. I had seen this band perform on a bigger stage before, which allowed them to move around and rock out to their riffs, but on the small, constricted Black Cap stage they struggled to excite the crowd, but they still entertained them. Hannah Thurlow’s vocals, low in the mix, mingled nicely with the scuzzy guitars, but on a Sunday evening of a weekend of alcohol ingestion for many onlookers, this served more to put them into a trance than engage them. Not that that was necessarily a bad thing, 2:54’s music can be soothing to a numbed mind, but it probably wasn’t what the girls were going for.
Electric Ballroom was the host of Slow Club, and several hundred extremely chatty, semi-interested viewers. Fortunately the band seemed prepared. Since I last saw Slow Club they’ve doubled their numbers. What was originally a duo of Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor, who played twee pop, now includes a drummer and a bassist. Having someone else to drum allows Taylor to dominate her role as a singer a little more, and shows off that she has a powerful voice. The newer songs are filled with more energy in a live atmosphere and drowned out all the posers. However, they did reduce themselves back down to the core twosome for some of the older numbers, which were more or less stifled by the chatter. The hard core bunch at the front were appreciative nonetheless, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the band goes on their next release.
Gablé were undoubtedly the discovery of the weekend for me. This ostensibly French trio (though I’m sure one of them is English) are hard to pin down, but if I had to I’d describe them concisely as hilarious sample-laden freak folk, emphasis on the freak, who are willing to pull out all the bells and whistles. Literally. The trio consistently garnered hearty laughter from the crowd, who had undoubtedly not seen anything else quite like this all weekend, or, probably, ever. Their lyrics ranged from imagining they were different types of food to haunted houses. Their additions sonically included squawking like ducks and ripping up boxes. Amazing was the earnestness on all of their faces during these deliveries, and all the intricacies of their performance that added to the humour. It’s lazy to say “you had to be there,” but truly you did. Perhaps best of all was their pleasure at the reception they were receiving, going three or four songs beyond what they had promised would be their last.
Simian Mobile Disco
The final band of the weekend was a choice between Razorlight and Simian Mobile Disco. That is to say, the final band of the weekend was Simian Mobile Disco. The duo brought their huge lighting rig to the old theatre that is Koko and set up in that relatively cramped space they made it look larger than I’ve ever seen it. In my slightly intoxicated state, seeing the duo run around their control hub twiddling knobs and pressing buttons , in front of the huge light setup, I pictured them as spacemen frantically trying to steer their ship away from the impending flashing vortex. While listening to dance music. The rest of the audience that absolutely rammed the venue seemed to be enjoying it as much as I was (though I doubt they pictured it the same way I did), with “Audacity of Huge” and “Hustler” going down particularly well. Each crawler deserved the massive send off, I just hope they didn’t get so drunk as to forget all the amazing music they undoubtedly saw over the weekend.