Words & Pictures: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
Now in it’s 6th consecutive year, Camden Rocks Festival manages to amaze and frustrate in equal measure. The festival is THE opportunity to discover new acts or bands you’re vaguely aware of but have never had the chance to see live before. It’s also entirely possible that the weeks of research you’ve put in before the festival all come to nothing when 5 bands you’re desperate to see are all scheduled to play at the same time in venues at opposite ends of Camden high street. With the line up and stage times teased in the lead up to the main day, the anticipation of who, what, where and when makes the annual event and extended experience as you wade through YouTube videos and Spotify playlists based on the recommendations of your gig family who’ve been feeding you recommendations for weeks.
If you want to see what you missed out on or want a reminder of who played that day, click on the link below:
The day begins as always at 12:00pm. 9 of the venues have bands on from then with others opening their doors shortly thereafter. The smart money is on the bands who’ve been offered later slots in the day but elected to go on first. Dirty Thrills for one open at The Underworld despite being offered a much later slot in the day. Next door to the World’s End pub which is handing out the festival wristbands, a clever thought process that suggested people will be happy doing the first set as close as possible and it paid off. A packed venue saw long time fans and people who were there because it was an easy start enjoy a set from the band who delivered style, energy and a soundmix that simply blew me away. If ever a team up was necessary it was the person on the sound desk and Dirty Thrills. They made the band sound the best I’ve ever heard them. Note perfect and for saying there was no chance for a soundcheck, to simply go on, play and sound that good…. kudos to all concerned.
As fast as it began, the 30 minutes was up and we were off, the beginning of the first of many mad dashes around Camden to get to the next venue before it filled up and prevented us seeing one of the bands on the ‘must watch’ list, you remember, the one that’s taken weeks of preparation, hours of video watching so by now getting to the venue on time becomes all consuming. People are hurled in front of cars and buses. People stopping you asking for directions to the venue you want to get to are pointed in the wrong direction… well you can’t be too careful.
As it is, The Dublin Castle, by the time I arrived, was heaving. It felt like someone had tried to break the Guinness World Record for the number of people you could get into a Mini and succeeded three times over. Perched at the back of the room, without a drink [schoolboy error], we were entertained by Australians Tequila Mockingbyrd. Having recently had their gear stolen whilst on tour, the band acknowledged the support of a fan base that crowd funded the best part of £7,000 to replace the instruments. You don’t get that sort of support if you aren’t any good and the set the girls performed was heartfelt and by the time we crawled out of the sweat soaked venue, the view was that this was a band to watch in the future.
Thankfully the next venue, The Good Mixer is located just around the corner from The Dublin Castle so a quick walk round would hopefully see me well placed for rising rockers, Doomsday Outlaw. How wrong could I be. Perched on my knees at the front of the room by the monitors a one metre square patch was established to watch and photograph the band. Looking very much like a manly version of Jack Whitehall, lead singer Phil Poole manages to make the most of the tiny space afforded to the band and somehow twists, turns and slots perfectly between his bandmates who effortlessly avoid hitting each other with their instruments whilst delivering a huge sounding slice of rock music. Helped in no small part by bearded man mountain John Willis on drums Doomsday Outlaw are destined for big things. Catch them next at Bloodstock in August where you’ll be able to find slightly more room to watch them perform!
Nestled behind Mornington Crescent tube station, you’ll find Crescent Coffee. A great little venue that offers, coffee, beer and at the back, music. Strides, a London-based 6-piece indie/punk band have clearly had a few comparisons to Arctic Monkeys as the lead singer was sporting a ‘lol ur not Alex Turner’ t-shirt. It’s not a bad comparison as the band have some moves and they did look good on the dancefloor as well. Attitude fuelled music and the first unknown band of the day for me. A good choice for sure.
Across the road from the coffee shop and opposite the famous KOKO venue is a great pub called The Lyttleton Arms. Lupus-Dei, formed out of the ashes of The Howling and Hey! Hello! are an immense 3 piece punk outfit playing with the sort of energy that shouldn’t be allowed at 3pm on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The packed venue, with many fans that have followed The Rev (guitar) and Toshi JC (bass) and Gene Clark (drums) for several years were treated to 30 mins of fire that included a trip down memory lane with some great renditions of Howling tracks and new material which included the blistering ‘Valley of the Beast’. Ariel jumps, beer sprayed everywhere and topless band members which elicited a few screams of appreciation from certain members of the crowd.. something for everyone for sure!
Based upon a recommendation from a friend that suggested a crazy performance was likely, a wander over the bridge at Camden Lock took me to the Camden Assembly. Ryuketsu Blizzard hail from Japan and are quite frankly barking. They offer Japanese comic-shock hardcore punk and as a rough translation, the name means “spattering blood blizzard”. If you’ve ever watched Urotsukidoji the manga cartoon famous for the levels of violence and sex then you might get a sense of where the band are going. A hugely energised show, highly visual and if you get the chance, a must see next time around. Big thanks to Paul Fraser for the heads up.
PiL may have been one of the festival headliners but John Lydon wasn’t the only former Sex Pistol on the bill. Paul Cook’s post Pistol’s outfit The Professionals now sports Camden Rocks founder Chris McCormack in its ranks and they also played to a packed Electric Ballroom. At the same time, ska punk outfit Sonic Boom Six bounced off the walls in the Underworld where they had, again, forgotten to switch the air conditioning on leaving the room gasping for air. The lighting at the festival at the Underworld this year was an unusual choice. Backlit reds and blues with the odd dash of green thrown in meant it was nigh on impossible to get from the floor to the bar without trampling on people as it was near pitch black unless you were on stage with the band. A bit of white light on the bands wouldn’t kill you guys!
MGM favourites the Kris Barras Band played at The Lyttleton Arms and delivered a sublime blues set that reiterated our viewpoint that they’ll be huge this time next year as they cross over the blues and hard rock spectrum perfectly. Kris Barras has the perfect voice, the right look and the tunes to go with it all. Surrounded by Josiah Manning on keys, bassist Elliott Blackler and Will Beavis on drums, the four piece are as tight as can be and a must watch if you get the chance. Pick up both ‘Lucky Thirteen’ and latest album ‘The Divine and Dirty’, you won’t regret it.
With the stars finally allowing me to see Scottish act The Rising Souls play an electric set in London, my only other experience being a sublime acoustic show a few years ago at Enchanted Festival, the day time shows came to an end and I headed over to the Electric Ballroom to see Beatsteaks and headliners Public Image Limited.
Beatsteaks, a recommendation from the festival organisers were great fun. Difficult to pigeonhole in any way shape or form the band were a glorious mash up of sounds that somehow combined to produce some of the best tunes I’d heard all day. Part pop, part indie rock, part punk the best comparison is this the band that would be born if you mixed Richard Ashcroft, Supergrass and the Stray Cats together. A complete unknown for me and yet again a recommendation gratefully received. That really is the beauty of Camden Rocks, recommendations have to be listened to if you’re going to get the most out of the festival. Knowing that, at any point, there are around 10-15 bands on stage with only the shortest of gaps to allow the journey between venues means that your organizing game must be strong. Your legs and feet must also be in good working order and, if you intend to visit KOKO and The Fiddlers Elbow on the same day, your teleportation skills must on top form!
And so to the final band of the day for Camden Rocks Festival 2018. Public Image Limited, born out of the ashes of The Sex Pistols when John Lydon decided to try something markedly different. A hugely innovative bands and influential band, following no genre paths yet managing to fuse rock, dance, folk, pop and dub, their music saw then achieve 5 UK Top 20 Singles and 5 UK Top 20 Albums.
After a 17 year break, which saw Lydon reform the Sex Pistols for a world tour and star in some questionable ‘butter’ adverts, he reactivated PiL in 2009, releasing the critically acclaimed album ‘This is PiL’ in 2012. Their 10th studio album ‘What The World Needs Now…’ came out in September 2015.
Their relevance is still absolutely clear as the Ballroom was packed tight. A queue of some 200-300 outside desperately queuing to see if they could gain entrance.
With 27 former formal members of the band, an additional 20 session musicians and 10 non-musical members, the door whilst not revolving has certainly been a busy one for PiL. The current line up comprises John Lydon, Lu Edmonds on guitar who played on Happy? and 9 , Bruce Smith on drums who, like Edmonds, also played on Happy? and 9 and bassist Scott Firth, a man John Lydon has declared a “Genius at work!”
The combination worked well. Lydon front and centre and the band spread out behind him, with Bruce Smith’s kit immersed in a sea of gloomy red and green lights. The spotlight on Lydon is pronounced and deliberate and it’s only after the photographers have disappeared that the lights bring the whole band to life.
The first two thirds of the set are quite intense and definitely contain songs for the fans. Given this is Lydon on stage, we’re not overly surprised that he’s not playing by the rules and putting the radio friendly stuff in early. The last third of the show however is a revelation and the band turn in the performance we were hoping for. Love Song, Rise and Public Image all follow in quick succession and remind us just what a creative force John Lydon can indeed be.
A great end to a great festival. Every year the calibre of artists and the size of the headliners increases. After 6 consecutive years, 2019 will see the festival become a 2 day event. Whether this means 400 bands over 2 days or 200 split a little more evenly allowing us a greater chance to see the ones we really want to remains to be seen. Either way if this was your first Camden Rocks I’m sure it won’t be your last. Roll on next year!