Sunday isn't quite up to the previous day at Camden Crawl

Camden Crawl review

published: Wed 11th May 2011

Saturday 30th April to Sunday 1st May 2011
venues in Camden, London, NW1 0NE, England MAP
2-day pass £63.50, or £39.50 for either day
last updated: Wed 6th Apr 2011

Ever-so-slightly bleary-eyed from the previous evening's festivities, efestivals decides to kick things off with a big, primary colours chunk of grunge pop, courtesy of Dinosaur Pile Up.

Streaming out a procession of straight up, catchy scuzz tunes such as 'Barce-loner' and 'Mona Lisa', there are few frills here, just tight, pleasingly DIY riffage and two-part harmonies. Emblazoned with rock clichés, these guys are so cartoonish they wouldn't be out of place on the Toronto band circuit in Scott Pilgrim Versus The World, but despite having some fun, heavy songs in their arsenal, sadly it all feels a bit limp. Singer Matt Bigland's stage banter doesn't help matters, amounting to a lukewarm start to the day.

One of the most attractive features of the Camden Crawl is the village feel of the whole thing. Compared with the supercharged commercial wallop of big, field-based festivals, the barrier between performers and fans is a little more blurred, both during shows and out on the streets.

No heavily-policed backstage kingdom here; instead it's the kind of event where it's not unusual to witness a jaw-dropping set by a previously unknown act before bumping into their bassist in the queue for the toilets. Over the course of this Sunday efestivals spots the likes of Giggs (shifty), Cerebral Ballzy (dopey) and Flats (grubby) wandering the tarmac, and even has a brief chinwag with the lead singer of S.C.U.M. (aloof) while watching Flats play. It's like the World Cup of musical b-listers.

It's this egalitarian spirit that finds me accidentally watching 80s pop stalwarts Squeeze's soundcheck an hour before a 'secret' Hawley Arms gig. After staggering upstairs in search of more bands I soon realise I'm really not supposed to be here, but by sipping a pineapple juice meditatively while concentrating really hard on my mobile phone I somehow manage to blend in. It lands me an interview (here) anyway, which goes to show there are worse things in life than having a generic face.

Back to the Red Bull stage, it's time for some Echo and the Bunnymen synth-love, courtesy of arty types S.C.U.M.. The word 'glacial' gets bandied around a lot by us wordpeople, but it's fairly justified on this occasion. Droning twin synthesisers mesh with gloomy basslines to produce menacing minor epics on the likes of 'Summon The Sound' and 'Paris Signal'. They could do with a few more stand-out tracks, the material they air today being at times indistinguishable, but it's still watchable enough.

With a name like 'S.C.U.M.' I was all ready for an insane punk band, which makes the gritty brutality of Flats a particularly appetising prospect. Franz Ferdinand may have aspired to make girls dance by way of sleek post-punk-styled indie, but this East London four piece seem to achieve the same effect with none of the posing. Crammed into The Black Heart's tiny upstairs room, their raw, aggressive punk channels the likes of The Exploited and The Sex Pistols, with songs like 'Lack Of Stature' revelling in bare-bones simplicity. It all follows a well-trod path, but is still definitely one of the most visceral, enjoyable performances of the Crawl.

But I'm almost forgetting Hip Hop Shakespeare. Before Flats I hotfoot it up to the Roundhouse to witness this intriguing project, helmed by rising star Akala. Pitched somewhere between a workshop and a gig, it brings the ideas and words of one William Shakespeare together with various hip hop styles. The results are somewhat mixed; a few of the songs fall flat, lacking the backbone or inspiration to make them anything more than an academic curiosity. But when it works, it's genuinely engaging, animating the bard's words successfully via some excellent, extended backing jams and solo performances featuring poetry and spoken world alongside the music. And who would have guessed Shakes is as big an influence on hip hop as Phil Collins?

It's time to brave the outer extremities of the Crawl for Guillemots, who are playing at the far flung Forum. As one of the bigger acts featuring this weekend expectations are high, and thankfully they don't disappoint. Opening with the majestic title track from third record 'Walk The River', released just the week before, there's a heavy focus on new material tonight, with the good stuff cherry picked. Live the songs are stripped down and energetic, as a balls-out version of 'Tigers' makes wholly clear. The double bass makes an appearance for the gorgeous 'Made Up Love Song # 43'. A simple opening builds in intensity as the song hits its stride, finally morphing into Dangerfield, decked out in a wedding singer's blue suit with gold trim, hollering "Yes, I believe you!" like a suitably delirious paramour at the close. 'Vermillion' is a little flat on record but spellbinding live, while a storming rendition of crowd pleaser 'Trains To Brazil' sees bassist Aristazabel Hawkes filling in for the horn section. An enormous glitter ball suddenly appears for closer 'Yesterday Is Dead', rinsing the Forum and its tired population in a kaleidoscope of dazzling light. A drawn out final crescendo sees the guitarist throwing shapes and an en masse singalong to the refrain "If only we believe in something". It's the best thing I see all day.

So, to balance it out, it's now time to share one of the biggest mistakes of the weekend. Rather than sticking around in the forum for The Lemonheads like any sane individual would (excuse – I know precisely one of their songs, and it's a cover), I head back into town to catch Jonquil at the Monarch. En route I'm surprised to notice that the queue to see Razorlight at the Electric Ballroom extends all the way past the entrance of Camden Market; Johnny Borrell may have fallen from indie grace in the past couple of years, but the masses obviously still hold a torch for him. Stopping for a while, who should I bump into at the back of the line but two parts of the aforementioned Bones, who are sulkily bemoaning their inability to get on the guestlist. "We're in a band and we can't even get in!" they grump. Indeed.

Anyway, back to Jonquil. Sadly their brand of run of the mill, sub-Vampire Weekend indie really doesn't do the job tonight. It improves as the set progresses, some trumpet thrown into the mix to spice things up, but ultimately it's not quite enough to get the pulse racing. Having said this, they clearly have some dedicated fans, a small group of diehards crying out for more at the end.

Determined not to end the weekend on a mediocre note, efestivals trots back into town in search of one last live titbit. After a brief meander past the Jazz Café, which is evidently still packed out for Tinchy Stryder's show, I head for dingy locale the Earl of Camden and the bursts of noise issuing from within. What a wise choice this proves to be; for a final flurry Sound Of Rum is an absolute knockout. Showcasing the desperate flow of wordsmith extraordinaire Kate Tempest, the band peddles vaguely funky electro that blends styles from jazz to indie to hip hop. I only catch the last ten minutes, but the audience is baying with excitement - an exhausted Ms Tempest is clearly taken aback by the justifiably ecstatic reaction. She launches into a stunning solo rap by way of a final request, spitting out dense rhymes like a human machine gun. It's an awesome moment and aptly sums up the best thing about the Camden Crawl as a festival – there's a vibrant, inspiring discovery around every corner if you make the effort to seek it out.

All things considered, the Sunday isn't quite up to the previous day in terms of new finds or earthshaking performances, even with such an amazing bonus at the finish. Frustratingly, it's only the following week that I realise I missed the biggest 'I was there' moment of this year's Crawl, namely the security-baiting bedlam of rap collective OFWGKTA that culminated in a stage invasion to make a health and safety official weep. Regardless, it was a vital experience, and by virtue of the Camden Crawl's unique charm it easily trumped a number of the bigger festivals I've been to in recent years. Bring on the next one.
review by: Nick Hagan

Saturday 30th April to Sunday 1st May 2011
venues in Camden, London, NW1 0NE, England MAP
2-day pass £63.50, or £39.50 for either day
last updated: Wed 6th Apr 2011


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