The second day of the seventh annual opportunity to traipse around Camden and go see bands and stuff, or ‘The Crawl’ as sticklers for brevity would call it, begins almost entirely like a real festival: raining and cold.
They do say it’s always best to start things on a total downer – then things can only get better.
Helpfully then, opening proceedings today at the Electric Ballroom were Boy Kill Boy, who plodded through their early set to general murmurings of “Boy Kill Boy? Are they still going?”.On record the added synth swooshes may send them careering towards the unwanted sobriquet of the British Bravery but tonight, with the keys barely perceptible, the barrage of meat-n-two-veg rock and cacophony of oh-oh-oh’s can’t help but remind you of The Enemy. Still, at least they aren’t fronted by a hobbit.
Down the road at KOKO, the evening’s entertainment opens with Cardiff scamps Los Campesinos! playing to a packed house. There seems to be something like nervousness to begin with, but they’re well into their stride by You! Me! Dancing! and dispensing exclamation marks like so many smarties.
Heading north, a brief stop at the Oh Bar was enough to catch just three songs from Jay Jay Pistolet. The acoustic troubador’s songs, reminiscent of Micah P Hinson, never had a hope with a Saturday night crowd bent on yabbering and braying, and his calls for quiet went unheeded. One of the venue’s staff loudly asked us if we’d “heard the football scores”. No, fuckface, we’re trying to watch a gig. Fuck off and work in a football stadium if you’re going to be such an ignorant twunt. JJP left the stage, by all accounts, barely 20 minutes after taking to it. You had to sympathise.
A little further north still, NW1 already sported a queue of expectant crawlers wanting to check out The Wave Pictures. Hidden behind pillars, speaker stacks, a low ceiling and anything else that could be put in the way of an audience seeing a band, they gave their all with an upbeat set that blitzed the chatter and even threw in a spot of Spanish guitar. Directly after this at the Dublin Castle, a “TBC” in the schedule was revealed as Pull Tiger Tail – dashing rumours of Madness, The Last Shadow Puppets or The Enemy as secret guests. The queue was startlingly long.
Up at Dingwalls, The Bookhouse Boys, all nine of them, squeezed onto the stage along with a great big drum that beats us into the first song. Paul Van Oestren’s tar-black vocals, often compared to Nick Cave, are offset by the bruised sweetness of Catherine Turner. Rock chicks in dresses is still the sexiest look in town, and she has it set off to perfection with two-toned shoes.
If someone had put it to you that Babyshambles would have put in an appearance at this year’s Crawl, you’d have been suspicious. You’d have been wary. You’d have been putting in some phone calls to the CPS. But despite all that, it all happened. Fact. Okay, so Pete Doherty didn’t flitter in in an orange jumpsuit to do a quick cover of Caught By The Fuzz, so it’s all a bit misleading, but fellow ‘Shambler Drew McConnell did drop in to Dingwalls at the last moment to replace an unaccounted for Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong. Maybe Panda just couldn’t be torn away from the free catering, maybe someone got stuck in a particularly tight pair of jeans. The path of a middling indie band is fraught with dangers.
Johnny Flynn faces a similar problem at the Barfly as Jay Jay Pistolet experienced earlier. He wants to play his songs, but braying drunks are louder than he and his band The Sussex Wit. He looks disheartened, and so does his sister on violin. We catch him post-set and say we enjoyed his set, which we did – folky and rural, it made a pleasant contrast to the frenetic guitar-led indie elsewhere. He brightens.
Swedish loonies Slagsmålsklubben follow and have it better by proving the theory that, the louder your music, the more attentive your audience has to be. But nobody’s being forced to watch – there are all those other venues, of course. Their brand of off-kilter electronica, bereft of computers and featuring devices that occasionally need a shake to spark into life, wins the room over immediately. Despite one of their number surreally rambling about needing to urinate, and their – shall we say – individualistic taste in blazers, jumpers and hairstyles, they are surely the evening’s best act yet. A set that started superbly just gets better and ends on an ecstatic high.
Onward, upwards, or more appropriately down, down, down into the pits of gloom – aka the Earl of Camden – for Ipso Facto who, despite a set cut short due to a late start, were stoically brilliant. As perfectly stylish a band as there’s been for many a year, they also sound delightfully macabre, a vocalist with the cut-glass tones of the quintessentially English torch singer, a blend of spaced out surf-guitars, droning organ sounds and drums which skipped to a sacrificial beat. It’s all a bit like Sophie Ellis Bextor fronting the Children Of The Corn only better.
Back up at the poppier end of the spectrum, Lykke Li in the Underworld was an odd proposal, particularly as she was due to be followed by the somewhat heavier Cage The Elephant, but the Swedish popette was undeniably charming. Darting from sweet balladry to candy-coated modern pop, she had the honour of the first guest star of the evening, roping in fellow Swede Robyn to help with I’m Good I’m Gone, a song which is what you might imagine a candy-coated Depeche Mode might be like.
Back at the Barfly, Operator Please blow us off our feet with an aural assault of vocals and guitar from Amandah, a lady who looks as though she was born to be in a band. They open for The Futureheads on tour soon and should have no trouble warming up audiences with their frenetic though melodious musical stylings.
At the Bullet Bar, everything was going wrong. Fully 40 minutes after his appointed start time, M83‘s Anthony Gonzales has still not played a note. There’s a technical problem which seems to involve missing equipment. A stage manager risks audience ire every time he updates the crawlers on their progress (or lack thereof) in staging the Frenchman. Finally, Gonzales gets going, plays three tracks as though he were pleasuring his synth… and then gets bundled off the stage again because, we’re told, of the venue’s curfew. As a chorus of boos ring out, not for the first time this weekend it seems that artists need strong constitutions at times like these.
Without the equivalent of an Amy Winehouse playing to a minuscule audience in a venue you had no chance of getting into (as in last year’s Crawl), or a more obvious big name closing the evening (unless you count The Wombats, which we don’t) it was left to Crystal Castles to be arguably the hottest ticket of the night. Hell, of both nights.
The most talked about band on the planet? Maybe. The most exciting live band on the planet? You’d have heard few dissenting voices from the crowd packed into Dingwalls. From the moment Ethan crept, under hood, on stage followed closely by his kohl-eyed partner, it was a riot. The most exciting thing is that despite the additional attention, or perhaps because of it, they still performed in the most unhinged and uncontrolled fashion imaginable.
And, just as we were getting into our stride, it was over for another year (bar the aftershow party). And there was still Sunday left of the weekend. Maybe the Camden Crawl will expand to three days at some point soon? We don’t really need to sleep…