Camden Rocks 2014 Roundup

By on Friday, 13th June 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Camden Rocks‘ mission? To raise the studded standard for the borough’s rock heritage, past and present. Two hundred fifty bands across 20 venues and infinite beer pumps is a heady combination for just over half a day’s entertainment, especially when the bands are mindful of competing to be remembered in the same breath as the district’s forerunners, from The Rolling Stones to The Ramones. But, who might use one of these cider-soaked stages to write themselves into Camden folklore? No matter how big the band, this historically eclectic setting means all bets are off.

The Underworld is transformed into something in between Frankenstein’s lair and Dexter’s lab for the on-rushing psychofest that is Hounds. (Read my interview with Olly Burden of the band here.) Adorned only in sterile white, the throbbing lights and monotone hum of their entrance creates a sense of mechanised power fused with intriguing unease that would continue throughout the set. Trivial sound trouble aside, a track list including the likes of ‘Stigmata’ and standout tune ‘The Witch is Dead’ ensure a powerful reception for the boys from the countryside.

Sonic Boom Six, by comparison, is kid’s TV. The lighting engineer back above ground at The Electric Ballroom turns the contrast up to maximum as the predominantly suited and booted troupe from Manchester – fronted by the anomalously naked Laila Khan – has the day’s largest venue bouncing to their unique reggae/rock/hip hop crossover. ‘Drop the Bass and Pick it Up’, ‘Piggy in the Middle’ and ‘All In’ are undoubtedly floor-fillers, but there is an element of style over substance in their scramble to cover every genre and aesthetic within half an hour. It’s a small world, after all.

A quick licking by The Howling‘s resident axe man The Rev, and it’s off down to Purple Turtle for the force of nature that is Palm Reader. This is not a gig. This is a tumultuous, chest-thumping display of disenchanted machismo: a charmingly anarchic right of passage requiring limitless energy, plus a promoter willing to pick up the tab once the dust and debris has settled. Towards the heavy end of the South’s resurgent punk nouveau riche, to call them abrasive would be an insulting underestimation. With bassist Josh Redrup in the crowd and singer Josh McKeown emitting some kind of primal scream, it hardly matters which track they were playing (although ‘Spineless’ and ‘Uncomfortably Lucid’ somehow stood out in the malaise), and signing off “let’s get a beer or something” could not be a more welcome sentiment.

Managing to avoid the pitfalls of Sonic Boom Six despite their penchant for eyeliner and a statement fringe, the choreography of Fearless Vampire Killers feels somehow more sincere. A product of the My Chemical Romance era, the five boys from Beccles are theatrical in both dress and attitude, spitting water and multi-layered vocals across the youngest crowd of the day. A smattering of tracks from 2012’s ‘Militia of the Lost’, alongside a curious cover of Wham!‘s ‘Club Tropicana’, is clearly a release after the relative confinement of an acoustic set earlier in the day.

There’s only one way to describe the next band: ‘Shit Just Got Real’. Fittingly, this is already a song title from their debut album ‘You’re Listening to The Hell. Starting off as a smarmy joke at the expense of the hardcore scene, the band’s modus operandi is to instigate moments of raw, self absorbed aggression. Appropriately, the first act of their set at The Black Heart is a man with a deadpan look nonchalantly chucking his pint into the anonymous singer’s face from point blank range in an almost silent room.

Needless to say, it only spurs them on to incite more carnage through the likes of ‘These Butters Bitches’, ‘Groovehammer’, ‘Everybody Dies’ and ‘Hanneman’ – dedicated to the late Slayer shred machine. It could be their unique aesthetic – the guitarists play on just four strings between them and their merch tag is ‘…You Dick’ – that seems to unite the crowd in an anarchic union bound only by the uniqueness of their reactions. In any case, a joke about similarity has come to encompass a definition of individuality.

Rap metal maestros Hacktivist (pictured at top) openly admit that theirs is an act to be witnesses live before it can be fully comprehended. (Read my interview with Ben Marvin and J Hurley this way.) Chastised on occasion by elements of both the hip hop and metal scenes, their model doesn’t include a Chester Bennington or Fred Durst to bridge the gap like their noughties forerunners. This is more for the UK purists. With a thick smattering of London grime vocalists Ben Marvin and J Hurley machine gun out syllables that hit the crowd consciousness square between the eyes.

It also becomes evident who The Hell had sold their strings to, as the band’s Korn-esque rhythm section wove through the likes of ‘Fight Fire with Fire’ and Jay-Z‘s ‘Niggas in Paris’ on their six-string bass and eight-string guitar. Onlookers tear the place apart metal-style, and trying to envisage this same set getting an identical reaction amongst a room full of hip hop fans is tough, but that shouldn’t detract from a massive performance by the boys that have clearly been welcomed in to this scene with horns raised.

What organiser Chris McCormack have achieved in this year’s edition is quite possibly the most biggest buzz you can get in Camden for £25. And, as just a short walk amongst the shady characters around Camden Lock will tell you, there are plenty of ways to get your kicks in this borough.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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