Camden Rocks is one of the UK music scene’s most unique and exciting festivals, and as such is a highlight of any music fan’s calendar. The idea is simple, 200 of the finest bands rock and indie have to offer, spread across more than 20 Camden venues, ranging in size from the 1000 capacity Electric Ballroom, to tiny pubs that barely hold 70 people. The festival always promises an eclectic line up to cater for an extremely wide variety of musical tastes, and this year’s batch of bands was no exception.
Getting things started in The Cuban (a bar and restaurant that had been hastily repurposed into a music venue) were London locals Star Scream. The lunchtime slot at an all day festival can be something of a difficult one, especially at such a spread-out festival like Camden Rocks, but Star Scream manage to get things off to a suitably entertaining start with their sparkly punk tinged glam rock. They’re certainly a very visually striking unit and their songs are catchy, jaunty and sexy, which provided a very fun start to the festival.
Next up were local Southampton boys Creeper, a band who always know how to put on a fantastic show, and their Camden Rocks performance to a packed in and excitable crowd at The Stillery was no exception. Dark punk tracks like ‘VCR’ and ‘Gloom’ leap into life when performed live, and the band provide a hefty dose of gothic fun. By the time they performed their closing number, the atmospheric wonder ‘Novena’, Creeper had proved why they’re one of the most exciting new bands out there.
After Creeper, it was time for something completely different over in the tiny Fifty Five pub, where one of Camden’s two acoustic stages was located. There, in a cramped, busy and dingy upstairs room, lit only by candles, is acoustic troubadour Mark Mathews. Even separated from his band, The One Ts, he’s still a charismatic and engaging performer, and his charming acoustic indie provided a welcome palate cleanser in such a rock heavy bill. It’s straight back in the deep end after that though, with some good old-fashioned heavy metal from Northern bruisers Glamour of The Kill. They played The Underworld, one of the festival’s biggest venues, and still managed to pack it to a frankly dangerous and uncomfortable capacity. Those who were being turned away at the door by security were missing out on a treat, as the band were on fine form as they pounded out modern metal anthems like ‘Break’ to an enthusiastic crowd that contained a suitably violent mosh pit.
It was a double whammy of ‘new grave’ on the bill for lucky Camden punters after Glamour of The Kill, with Ashestoangels leading the charge. These Bristolian boys have often been deemed one of New Grave’s brightest lights, and are famed for the raw energy of their live shows. Their festival performance at Camden last weekend was even more rambunctious than usual though, and featured human dynamo frontman Crilly spending as much time in the crowd as out of it. Straight afterwards it was time for Fearless Vampire Killers to show a joyous hometown crowd exactly how good they can be. The band gave a polished performance, with guitarist Cyrus Barrone on particularly fine form as he slammed out virtuoso guitar solos like it was the most natural thing in the world. As the crowd walked out of Dingwalls after FVK’s fantastic performance, they were treated to an impromptu performance from indie rock newcomer Longy and his band, who performed a fun, if slightly ramshackle surprise set on the Camden Lock, much to the confusion of the canal boats trying to pass through.
As the sun begins to set, it was time to trek right up to the other end of Camden to catch female-fronted welsh rockers The Dirty Youth, who put on a brilliant show for the many festival punters who crammed into The Monarch pub to watch them. Even the fact that their slot overlapped with festival big guns like Bullet for My Valentine didn’t stop hordes of people flooding in to appreciate the band’s punchy hard rock sound. They called to mind a harder rocking, ballsier version of Paramore, and after their incendiary performance at Camden it’s clear that they deserve to see similar success. Songs like ‘Alive’, ‘Darkest Wedding’ and ‘Just Move On’ already come packing stadium sized choruses and incite a serious head banging frenzy among the audience. For the older rockers in attendance (and plenty of the younger ones too), there was former Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe; a man who appears to have been pickled in whatever mysterious substance has kept Keith Richards alive since the late 80s. However, he may have looked slightly undead, but Mr Monroe gave the young pretenders a run for their money, as he leapt all over the stage while giving rousing performances of timeless glam rock ear worms like ‘78’ and ‘Same Shit Different Day’.
The choice of headliners is large for a festival as diverse as Camden Rocks, but this reviewer chose to end the day with a rousing set of hard rock anthems courtesy of Jettblack, a band whose merciless touring schedule has refined them to a well-oiled performing machine. Coincidently, well-oiled was also the best description of guitarist Jon Dow, who spent most of the band’s set shirtless, and seemed intent on distracting the ladies in the audience with his gleaming, well-muscled torso. However, even Mr Dow’s magnificent pectorals couldn’t distract from his band’s magnificent show. Songs like ‘Disguises’ and ‘Get Your Hands Dirty’ all contain stadium-sized choruses and compulsive chugging riffs, and they certainly had a powerful effect on the Camden crowd, inciting enthusiastic dancing and head banging for the duration of their set.
And with that, a day of fantastic music and packed out venues came to a close, proving that what we hear on the radio really isn’t the full story, and that the UK’s rock scene has never been healthier.