Live Music + Gig Reviews

Camden Crawl 2008 @ Various Venues in Camden, London: Day 1

18 April 2008

Day One of the seventh Camden Crawl officially got going at 1pm.

An afternoon of events, ranging from unsigned band showcases to comedy shorts and busking, amiably enlivened NW1’s windswept streets.

Up the road in Kentish Town there was also Enter Shikari at the Bull & Gate, at the jarringly early time of a quarter after three. MySpace are behind this “secret” gig, and a bus was laid on to ferry fans north from the Roundhouse.

They claim not to have rehearsed, or even to have a set list, but the moshpit doesn’t seem to mind. Metaller yowlings are mixed with electronic elements to create what might have ended up as dull college-boy nu-metal but has more to it than that. They’ll never be to everyone’s taste but, as they continue to be unsigned, they don’t seem to mind.

Also in the afternoon, on a chilly outdoor stage near Solo, Hadouken! and Bombay Bicycle Club make the case for youth over experience. Various pubs are meanwhile entertaining a selection of acoustic sets from acts as diverse as unknown buskers, Soko and Mumford And Sons.

As for the evening, the first gigs with times on the schedule begin at 6pm. There’s a choice of Ida Maria at KOKO or Sam Sparro at the Electric Ballroom. As we soon discover, to get a party started, you could do worse than beginning your evening in the company of Mr Sparro. With recent Number 2 smash Black & Gold and an impending debut album swelling the huge queue outside the Electric Ballroom, Sparro’s first festival appearance was also his first London gig.

Such inexperience was far from obvious. Attired in a smock that wouldn’t be out of place on Nelson Mandela at a barbecue along with sparkly, figure-hugging leggings and specs surely raided from Timmy Mallet‘s personal collection, he minced about the stage like Jamie Lee Curtis at a gay disco. The rest of his songs aren’t quite in the anthem league of Black And Gold, but they had the packed Ballroom shimmying anyway. With a voice imbued with impressive baritone-to-falsetto range, the only bum note was when he decided to big up the festival’s title sponsor Red Stripe, announcing it was his favourite beer. Such blatant commercial plugging was, rightly, loudly booed. But he’ll get over it.

From commercial pop to the happiest of hardcore. Agaskodo Teliverek took to the stage at the Black Cap and either made people flee for their lives or stay and grin, depending on their music proclivities. Hungarians Miki Kemecsi and Tomi Szabo, on guitar and bass, were dressed as though they’d just been rejected from a 118 118 audition, in boxer shorts and the worst hairstyles seen in Camden this year. Hell, any year. They flanked tiny Japanese Hiroe Takei on vocals and keytar, who smiled sweetly and thanked the audience between songs and then howled and screamed at them, eyeballs bursting from her face in demonic rage. And then she smiled sweetly and giggled some more. It was like discovering the sweet child next door moonlights secretly as a psycho who carves up 118 118 auditionees after she leaves school for the day.

Up the road at the Cuban Bar, Thecocknbullkid get off to a nervous start, but they soon find their feet. Anita Blay has a beautiful, soulful voice. They lend an interesting twist to the Talking Heads‘ Psycho Killer. The Metronomy-produced single On My Own is surprisingly laid back affair, while There’s A Mother In Our Bed hints at a pop-rap direction last successfully trod by Neneh Cherry.

After such youthful sassyness, at the Barfly The Shortwave Set are a little more on the mature side, a splendid mix of modern tailoring and hippy chic, which carries over into their sharp, haunting music. Their new album features appearances by John Cale and Van Dyke Parks, which sounds like ringing endorsements to us. We like what we hear, but want to dash to catch search-engine-challenged London three-piece William at the Dublin Castle – and singularly fail to get there in time. That’s unfortunately the nature of the Crawl.

Elsewhere a strangely under-attended Underworld is playing host to Esser, who are ace. Ben Esser looks about 12 years old, but he’s styled himself a little teddy-boy quiff – a hangover from a childhood performing at Pontin’s? – and variously occupies himself with cowbell, snare and vocals. He’s joined by his (even) younger brother on drums, a guitarist and a Yannis-from-Foals lookalike on sampler/gizmos – funny then that Esser have just finished touring with said little horses. The single I Love You is aired second but proves to be just one of a set chock-full of poppy melodies, eccentric experimentation, nods to dancehall and music hall and more than a smattering of ska-lite pizzazz last tried by Lily Allen. Headlock and Satisfied, both on their MySpace page, are amongst the many highlights. So where the hell were the crowd?

Well, quite a few of them were lining up outside the Earl of Camden in the hope of catching buzzy, behatted New Zealander popstrel Ladyhawke, a recent signing to Modular whose mother preferred to call her Pip Browne. What follows turns out to be one of the best sets of the night. During Back Of The Van there is a striking essence of Suzi Quattro and a nod to Blondie – good old fashioned rock’n’roll attitude with a radio-friendly chorus set gem-like into an electropop backdrop – but in looks, under her black hat she’s a Stevie Nicks doppelganger. (A killer remix of this track from antipodean big noises Van She can be found at her Myspace page.)

Back north to Dingwalls for Make Model, who have three guitars and a bass pumping. They’ll appear as tour support to The Fratellis later this year – the Chelsea Dagger boys are playing at just this moment back south at KOKO. Make Model’s upbeat, major-chords offerings keep flagging energy levels up, and they win new fans.

Meanwhile, a couple of tube stops south, attempts at accessing Soko‘s set at The Crescent come to nought. At the door a selection of media people wave passes at an immovable bouncer while wristbanded audience members say things like “Oi” and “there’s a queue” and “we were here first”. Ultimately, nobody gets in, but happily solace is at hand across the road at the Purple Turtle – Crystal Castles are in town.

It doesn’t matter that we’ve seen Alice and Ethan several times already. Their sets are never less than dynamite. It’s only partly to do with the strobes, and only partly to do with Alice’s magnetic stage presence that seems as dangerous as it is compulsive. But every available space of the Turtle contains squashed forms craning for a better view as she bounds across the stage, threatening carnage during Alice Practice. Unlike on their far-too-long debut album, there’s a brevity to this set that leaves the audience needing more.

And then, taking to KOKO’s stage at gone midnight, Robyn. It’s a weird choice – she played here only a few weeks ago and she’s still plugging a record that’s now years old. Her band seem to be replicants beamed in from planet Island Records. There’s the unmistakable feel of going-through-motions with this set, which is widely talked over, and the urge to hug her and say nice things to her is nearly overwhelming, but there’s none of the spunky attitude of her Dingwalls set of last year. Robyn can do – and has done – better than this. She needs to go away and write new songs, and her label needs to stop working her to death.

All of which is a bit anti-climactic, after the night we’ve had. But tomorrow is another day.

  1. The Camden Crawl 2008:
    Day 1 | Day 2

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Camden Crawl 2008 @ Various Venues in Camden, London: Day 1
Camden Crawl 2008 @ Various Venues in Camden, London: Day 2