One of the original city festivals, Camden Crawl has come a long way;from humble beginnings back in 1995, when 20 bands played at a handfulof venues across Britpop’s heartland, this year’s line-up sees hundredsof bands sprawled across 22 venues.
Over the years it’s been a barometer of cool, playing host to buzz bandson the cusp of big things. Those who’ve paid their dues include AmyWinehouse, Moby, Florence And The Machine, Klaxons and LauraMarling.This year’s line-up, in contrast, is lacklustre at best, with headlinesetsfrom bands who played the festival back in 2005 and 2006. It’s a feelingthat seems to echo around the streets of Camden, and the energy thatgave the Crawl its edge, that promised to unearth something amazingupstairs in that pub around the corner, just isn’t there.
As if to compensate, it’s expanded its repertoire with a healthy dollopof fringe events including comedy, cabaret…and everything in between.From hula-hooping at The Cuban Bar to hip hop Shakespeare at The JazzCafe,the early crowds opted for some light entertainment instead of trawlingthe drizzly streets of north London, and the comedy venues wereespecially busy early in the afternoon.
Looking through the programme was an easier task than it should be for afestival of the Crawl’s size and stature, and “must see” clashes werefew and far between. The best billing wasn’t part of the officialfestival; an opening party at KOKO on Friday was topped with a briefshowing from Richard Fearless’s Death In Vegas, withup-and-coming popsicles Icona Pop and Echo Lake propping upthe night.
The next afternoon, Food Records founder Andy Ross was installed in theEarl Of Camden, curating an acoustic line-up that mirrored the weatheruntil a newly mulleted Tim Ten Yen, complete with a stuffed catandcrow, brought his trademark karaoke-pop po-going into action. ThreeTrapped Tigers‘ noise-rock shook KOKO with tracks from last year’sdebut, Route One Or Die, while over at The Monarch, Fear Of Menofferedup something altogether more low key, blending lo-fi Breedersbass lineswith C86 jangles. While they’d got the raw ingredients, they lack themelodies essential to lift the sound out of murky, shoegazeterritory.
They could do with checking in down the road, at The Barfly whereStealing Sheep, fresh from supporting Field Music on tour,were pluggingthe first single, Shut Eye, from their long-awaited debut album. Combining folkish harmonies with sometimes dark, kookyCocoRosie-ish popnuggets, the trio cast a psychedelic shadow over Veronica Falls,whofollowed them. The release of their self-titled debut last yearconfirmed VeronicaFalls’ place at the head of the indiepop table, and tracks like BeachyHead, Come On Over and Fell In Love In A Graveyard sound like classicsalready. No strangers to this part of town, Johnny Foreignercrammedinto the tiny Wheel Barrow and offered a glimpse of the Crawl of yore; araucous set of brattish teen-angst anthems like Feels Like Summer, theythrew in a few new tracks that suggest that, after a quiet year, it’sbusiness as usual.
After waiting awhile at Dingwalls for Daley and seeing little, atrip south to the Jazz Cafe presented possibly the most commercial offering of theweekend, ClementMarfo And The Frontline. A hip-hop front man sparking off a singerand a rock band, hispresence was as big as his punch-the-air choruses. He lost no time intelling the packed, bouncy audience where else they could see him this summer – Wireless andLeeds/Reading, inevitably – and looks every inch the star. In contrast, back at Dingwalls, Swedishmoodmaker Loney, Dear, aka Emil Svanangen, takes to the stage with little more than a 12-string guitar for company; thevenue is all but empty.
Anyone expecting to witness Seb Rochford’s big fro behind a drumkit atPolarbear‘s set would be on a hiding to nothing; Rochford’s jazzy operation have a spacein their name. Instead, theEarl Of Camden witnessed a Brummie wordsmith do some telling-it-how-it-is rapping. There was more of its like, though with many more faces and legs, at the Camden Rock in the shape of Jehst.
Micachu And The Shapes‘ blasts of lo-fi synth-pop feelbrilliantly athome at the Jazz Cafe, with fresh tracks from their upcoming secondalbum that crackle and bleep with the same charm and intelligence thatmade 2009′s Jewellery an unexpected delight. While you get theimpression that for her, performing is an unfortunate by-product ofmaking music, Mica Levi has an understated but demanding stage presencethat marks her apart from much of the rest of the bill.
In perhaps the most misjudged scheduling of the festival TheFutureheads, peddling their a cappella album Rant, headline theCrawl’sbiggest venue, KOKO. Warming the crowd up before the band came on bypumping through tracks by the likes of Arctic Monkeys and TheKillers, it was obvious that after a day supping warm Red Stripe, anacappella version of Summer Is Icumen In was the last thing the crowdwanted. It was a disaster. The usually witty, chatty Ross Millard lookedmortified as he tried to lead his band through acoustic versions ofRichard Thompson‘s Beeswing and Television Personalities‘A Picture ofDorian Gray. Top marks to him for trying to win them over withtraditional drinking song, The Old Dun Cow, but when the booing startedand the beers began to fly, he ushered off the choir who’d joined theband on stage for a barely audible take on Sparks‘ The Number OneSongIn Heaven. Instead they opted to close with more upbeat versions of TheBeginning Of The Twist and Hounds Of Love, before Millard skulked offstage, presumably asking who on earth thought that would all be a goodidea.
By way of contrast, Sunday’s crowd was in complete awe ofGlasvegas,whose moody set looked to last album Euphoric///Heartbreak\ for muchof its content, but ended with a heart swelling Daddy’s Gone. Earlier,Stockholmers Niki And The Dove slipped the early-The Knife electro foreboding of their debut album Instinctinto a pop costume at KOKO, while upthe road at the Enterprise London trio Fanzine beardily playedtheir take on slacker pop to a small but attentive audience.
Anyone who’d missed Swedish duo Icona Pop at the opening party wascompensated with a more intimate – and packed – run throughof why they’re amongst 2012′s big pop hopes at the Camden Rock,overcoming interminable sound problems to deliver a bubbly, singalongset. Over at The Cuban Bar, sometime Supergrass front man GazCoombes, a Crawl veteran, had his own sound problems to deal with, in a set delayed by nearly an hour and performed with scarcely any vocals discernible. He deserved better.
Back at KOKO, headlinersThe Cribs, who played Camden Crawl some seven years ago, gavewhat thecrowd wanted on the previous night, and they leapt around the stage,lairilylaunching themselves off amps and thrusting out the likes of HeyScenesters! and We Share The Same Skies. And with after show eventsrunning into the night, the ingredients for another successful Crawlought to have been evident. But this multi-venue event needs a burst ofnew ideas and a little more attention to details – sound, scheduling,bookings – if it’s to regain the edge it once effortlessly displayed.