There’s something unnerving about turning up to day two of any festival showered, with clean pants on and without the obligatory dried coating of mud. It lacks a sense of escapism, but such is the nature of the modern urban festival scene. Camden Crawl 2012 has so far proved itself to be far removed from these trappings and with today’s line up holding just as much promise as Saturday’s, alongside the odd wild card, it’s time to knock back the last of the Alka-seltzer and hop on the Northern Line for 13 more hours of sound, kicking off with Brighton’s own Tall Ships back at the Wheelbarrow.
It may be that they are reminiscent of such a recent revolution on our great spinning top – counting bands as recent as Battles and Minus the Bear among their contemporaries – that it feels like they’ve been around for years. With this subconscious respect for a band’s longevity that has yet to play itself out, it raises question marks as to why Tall Ships have been given the first slot in one of the smallest venues at the Crawl. Luckily, human nature is as predictable as this nautically minded indie three piece are talented, and the tide rises until the crowd touches the back wall in wide eyed appreciation. The sound is soaked in reverb; the bass is metronomic whilst the drums fly off machine gun paradiddles, back to their dynamic roost.
Evidently, hardcore survivors Rolo Tomassi miss the memo regarding ‘Action on Hearing Loss’ that is pasted across posters, pens, lanyards and loudspeakers, all the way down Camden Road. Koko lights up like the ungodly opener to a Luddite horror spectacular, with an incendiary mix of confusion and beauty played out across instruments subservient to the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ synth and blood curdling hardcore wail. Singer Eva Spence ducks and weaves in an interpretive coil as they blast through tracks such as ‘Takes You’, announcing their return to the studio next month with possible single ‘Romancer’, and finishing with the classic ‘Party Wounds’.
General crowd pleasers Kids in Glass Houses fail to fully ignite as they kick off in the wake of Rolo Tomassi’s set at Koko. There’s something not to be trusted about Welsh bands singing in American accents (cough…Lostprophets), and the crowd seem largely disinterested in this Kerrang! friendly brand of alt-punk, much to the annoyance of frontman Aled Phillips, who cries out for some kind of response. They start with the fist pumping single ‘Sunshine’ and (ironically) ‘The Best is Yet to Come’, before moving on to material from their 2011 album release ‘In Gold Blood’. At the front there are signs of life (mainly from people not old enough to be at the bar) that are seized on as Phillips plunges into the crowd after one stalwart female fan. But, looking like the opening scene from School of Rock, the majority of a baffled crowd parts. It’s a shame for such a critically acclaimed live act to endure a performance where both the crowd and the band have noticeably different expectations from one another.
At the far end of Camden, the hotly tipped art rockers Cymbals take to the stage at the Monarch and, in gluttonous royal fashion, the place is bursting at the seams. There are echoes of Talking Heads and Devo in the plucky syncopation of this sunny East London three-piece, with a Kraftwerk synth and smattering of regional charm. There’s just enough time to catch tracks ‘I Don’t Know Why You Bother’, the infectiously harmonised ‘Summer Escaping’ and ‘Jane’ (the closest this smiling trio will get to a ballad), before the trudge back to Electric Ballroom for some more up-and-comers, Dog Is Dead.
The boys from West Bridgford mix folk tinged indie with anthemic rhythms that, fused with panning lasers and backlit cloud of dry ice, temporarily render the Electric Ballroom otherworldly and limitless. Unlike your typical folk harmony of light intertwining melodies, there is a choral, almost Gregorian simplicity as all five members pitch in on tracks ‘Hands Down’ and ‘River Jordan’. Debut single ‘Glockenspiel Song’ is forged from the Arcade Fire mould, with a brave but complimentary return for the much maligned saxophone, and is received rapturously by the on looking crowd. Having gained national coverage on Huw Stephens’ Radio 1 show, as well as supporting acts such as OK Go and Bombay Bicycle Club (not to mention a cameo on Skins), the band are set for a hectic festival season and should not be missed.
Upstairs at the Enterprise, Zun Zun Egui (pictured at top) form a cheeky interlude before the pinnacle of the night’s proceedings. It may be the claustrophobic setting of this damp attic; the lyrics in English, French, Creole, Japanese and pure nonsense; or the frantic pace with which they kick off, but you can’t help imagining some kind of back story. Were these the Bob Dylans of mariachi, exiled for the electronic hoodoo they now embrace? Or, perhaps they learnt to play as a means to infiltrate a South American drug cartel? The reality – I’m sure – is far more sensible (springing by chance from the Bristolian avante garde scene), but there is an undeniable sense of mystery to this up tempo, energetic four-piece. With a capacity of no more than 100, the modestly gathered crowd are infected with rhythm from the complex sweet picked arpeggios and male/female call and response between guitarist Kushal Gaya, and Yoshino Shigihara on keyboards.
And finally, back in the cavernous surroundings of the Electric Ballroom it’s time for post-rock conquistadors And So I Watch You From Afar to call time on Camden Crawl 2012 with bombastic attack of instrumental progressive metal. As the boys from Belfast blast in to their opener there is the first whiff of an old school mosh, before the crowd begins to settle and chant their riffs as if they were lyrics. There is raw energy to this five piece; stabbing electronic connections like a Tesla Coil to their dedicated fan base on the final night of their tour. Almost fully silhouetted by a blood red glow, they dive in to tracks ‘BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPION’ and ‘Set Guitars to Kill’ in triumphant style as word inevitably spreads and the crowd begins to swell. There is something in ASIWYFA that will always desire to be of niche appeal. But, with the room filling ever quicker and compatriots This Will Destroy You and Explosions in the Sky also in the ascendency, it seems that for the moment the fan base they are so thankful for will continue to grow. There is some truth in their track title, ‘A Little Solidarity Goes a Long Way’.
So, there it is. A festival of convenience with an eclectic line up that showcases the benchmark of music today. The skill though, is in keeping that and sense of escapism and adventure that are so integral to the rite of passage that is the ‘festival experience’, but so often lacking at inner city events. Camden Crawl 2012 shows that while the geography of Camden has arguably changed for the worse in recent years; in the tapestry of attics, back rooms, regency theatres and great halls of the borough’s iconic venues, there is still an abstract quality that is spawning our collective musical future.