Words & Pictures: Karan Dutta
Each year, Camden’s numerous pubs and venues play host to one of the most intensely fierce and frantic music festivals in the country, Camden Rocks. Since Chris McCormack first brought this to life back in 2009, the first weekend of June has marked the start of the summer music jamboree of punk rockers, metal heads, old timers and the like, desperately navigating their way across the Camden’s venues to catch their favourite bands.
Having been to the festival a couple of times before, but never covering it for a publication, I decided to do some prep work and seek out some of the hidden gems that were turning up at the festival this year. The conundrum essentially began there as I found myself spoilt for choice with 250 bands to choose from the night before the festival. As I sat on my couch, endlessly sifting through YouTube clips of never before heard bands, I decided to go in a different direction to prior years and push beyond my stereotypes of genres like, J-rock punk, electronica infused rock / metal.
Armed with my schedule of times and venues, I started the day by sharing a pint of Camden’s finest, Camden Hells, with my mate and fellow MGM writer Adrian Hextall. Two pints later the fun began at Dingwalls with J-rockers Esprit D’Air blasting their sound at curious onlookers and the faithful few that have been following them since 2010. Returning from their three year hiatus in 2016, Esprit D’Air powered up the festival crowd with a tasty dose of hard hitting metal riffs overlaid by spacey Japanese vocal melodies. Accompanied by electronica intertwined with the heavy pounding of the double bass, sugar coated octave interludes and some biting solos, their sound reminded me of the fight sequences from the late 1970’s anime series Grendizer; giant metallic robots fighting grand interstellar battles set to the fast-paced rhythms of metal. As far as pushing my boundaries with musical genres went, the day was indeed off to a promising start.
Proud Camden was next on the bucket list for the day. Ripe with a well-placed stage, great acoustics and only playing host to the most talented musicians on any night of the week, I had a feeling that the Screaming Eagles set would be something special. With their crunchy guitar tones, the thick sound of the Les Paul, catchy riffs and Extreme-esque vocal lines, these Northern Irishmen were a contemporary specimen of traditional rock’n’roll. In both attitude and music, the energy on stage was electric to the point where screams for more were emanating from the crowd long before they neared the end of their set. Clearly influenced by the likes of AC/DC and Audioslave, Chris put every ounce of energy into delivering some truly spectacular vocal lines, which would have made Brian Johnson proud that there are still those in the world who will carry on in his vein. Not to worry Brian, Screaming Eagles are definitely keeping alive what you started back in the 80’s. Fittingly, these guys finished their set with an AC/DC cover which sent fans into a state of frenzy, again laying the foundations for a great festival ahead with so much good mojo being created so early in the day.
As I headed out and let the ringing in my ears adjust to the melting pot of sounds in Camden, I couldn’t help thinking of how deafening the day was about to get as the following acts promised to be thrashier, the equalisers inching closer to 11 and the crowds getting louder with every gulp of firewater they inhaled. A quick stop that The Underworld and light engineer Sploot sorted me out with some earplugs, which were a much-appreciated blessing by the end of the day.
Onwards to Be At One. Down by the Mornington Crescent end of Camden, I arrived slightly delayed for Massive Wagons, cheekily jumping the queue with my photo badge, only to be stopped in my tracks by the wall of fans that crowded the venue. For those who are not familiar with this Lancaster quintet, these gents delivered some straight up rock anthems which, on the day, clearly had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand. Being so packed, I wasn’t able to get anywhere near the stage or even catch a glimpse of the band (on account of the floor level stage) but that put me in the thick of it alongside some aged rockers who had brought their adolescent progeny to educate them in the ways of rock. As Massive Wagons belted out Radio, the windows in this tiny bar began to vibrate violently enough to where the naked eye could see the aged wood frames rattling with resonance. It was then that one of the adolescents turned to me and said, “Energetic and enthusiastic [email protected]$kers, aren’t they ?!”. I think that about summed up their performance in the simplest of words.
Buzzing from the energy inside Be At One, it was a chore tearing myself away from the vibe, the cold brew and newly made acquaintance but what lay in store was definitely worth the trek over to The Dublin Castle (The Castle). The back room setting at The Castle was in stark contrast to the brightly lit setting of the last gig, yet made for the ideal environment for Lupus Dei’s upcoming set. Dressed in all white with suspenders and make-up straight out of a gothic sonnet, I was truly blown away by the way these guys had managed to mash together the energy and essence of punk with melodic vocals and some ripping guitar solos, both of which were rather uncharacteristic of punk. Valley of the Beast was one knockout track; kicked off with a simple guitar riff, energised to 6.87 x 1041 Joules in the blink of an eye and screamed about waking as a werewolf, what more can one ask for at The Castle! With harmonised choruses, shredding guitar solos and a relentless bass and drum rhythm section, their music overwhelmingly powerful to where my organs were rattling about in my rib cage. A quick glance across the room convinced me that I wasn’t the only one feeling the energy as groups of fans huddled around the stage, feeding off the sounds that burst forth from the stacks. I emerged from the darkness of The Castle onto sunny Parkway feeling as if I’d just returned from another planet where the men wore mascara on their faces and belt out tunes with the ferocity to rival Bruce Banner’s alter ego.
After a quick pit stop for some much-needed lager, I was ready to face another feverish act at The Dev. Having reviewed their debut album back in November 2016 I had been looking forward to checking out Exist Immortal for a while and was finally getting the chance to be face to face with these guys. Trying to photograph them was more challenging than I expected especially as I found myself head banging to the beat and singing each song with the band. It being slightly later in the day, a lot of the crowd was in a similar place and on a couple of occasions, Meyrick held the microphone up to screaming fans to sing, or should I say growl, the vocals. Sceptics may have viewed that as him giving his vocals chords a rest, with all that alternating between clean melodies and blood curdling guttural passages, but Meyrick is a trooper and I was truly amazed at his ability to replicate live, that which I’d heard on the album. For me, the test of a band’s prowess has always been their ability to reproduce and better their studio efforts in a live setting, which was exactly what Exist Immortal delivered that evening. Solo’s that sent sensations of army ants crawling up one’s neck, double bass drumming rhythms and deep bass lines tied off with the aforementioned vocal prowess made for a great evening set by these metalcore prodigies. The only downside to the gig was the setting, with big panel windows brightening up the place, the lighting just didn’t seem to fit the mood. Had we been back at The Castle, mosh pits would have definitely broken out in front of the stage. Leaving their gig before it was over was perhaps the hardest moment of the day but rumours of a maniacal wolf taking over The Underworld had emerged and an investigation was warranted at the very least.
Back in the sound and light box with Sploot (remember earplugs guy) I entered to a packed Underworld where the likes of Kate Moss would have found it difficult to squeeze past the entrance to get a view of the stage. A mix of psychedelia, electronic keys, thrashing drums fronted by a Freddie Mercury’s doppelganger, Turbowolf were tearing up the stage with Rabbits Foot. It being their first gig of the year, the band were on promptly at 6 and were there to entertain. At certain moments, I could hear shades of early RATM guitar riffs crossed with the passion of the Foo Fighters laced with some punchy vocals and ripping bass lines. I guess their sound could be defined as a mash up between hard rock, metal and electronica with a psychedelic edge in both tone and song structures. Stage presence and swagger were also in ample supply, more akin to what one may expect from a punk act minus angst. With each band member blissfully grooving to the music, front man Chris Georgiadis took the opportunity to engage with their fans by embarking on a crowd surf. Like a scene straight out of Almost Famous, The Underworld transformed into a sea of hands propping up their idol as he sang into their ears. I’m certain there was a moment there where Chris must have been thinking to himself, “you know what, I am a Golden God” because let’s be honest, if there had been a pool around, Chris would have been up on the roof screaming just that before leaping to the cheers of rabid fans. What a performance to top off a great day of music, truly entertaining from both a musical and theatrical perspective.
As I headed back to my apartment, brimming with all the new talent I had discovered at this year’s festival, there was a small sense of sadness that it was all over so quickly. Questions kept replaying in my head, had I missed even more amazing bands than the ones I saw, likely, did I miss a moment at CR 2017 which may never be recreated, possibly. In the end, however, I managed to focus on the positives of the day. Five new sounds, which I revered and was blown away by, along with the opportunity to catch a band whom I had been waiting to see for months, was a good way to spend a Saturday in June. Safe in the knowledge that in 12 months’ time I would find myself navigating the maze of Camden’s streets doing it all over again, I pulled out my earplugs and let the silence ring in my ears till I passed out on the couch, spent, exhausted and supremely exuberant about an awesome Camden Rocks 2017.
Thanks again to all the bands and organisers for making the festival possible and see y’all on the flipside net year.