Camden Rocks is not a festival for the indecisive. With 200 bands playing in 20 venues running in a rough and wiggly line between Mornington Crescent and Chalk Farm tube stations, there are many decisions to be taken throughout the course of the day, sometimes at speed.
While preparing for the festival, it became apparent that there were broadly two schools of thought on how to approach the day: either turn up with a devil-may-care attitude and see where the day takes you, or to plan out one’s movements with near military precision.
I wanted to get as much bang for my buck as possible, so I fell into the latter camp. With a list of the stage time of all the bands I might be interested in seeing set as the wallpaper on my phone, earplugs, wallet, phone charger and smoking supplies in my pocket and a stout pair of hiking boots on my feet, I was ready to try and wring as much fun from the day as I could.
I also took the decision that it was better for me to see the start of larger number of partial sets, but tried to watch at least fifteen minutes of everyone I saw. Here’s a record of my movements throughout the day. Not that type of movement, you filthy urchin.
11:00 – Arrive at my local tube station
11:25 – Arrive at Camden Road Overground station. Camden Town tube on Saturdays gives me the horrors.
11:30 – A delightfully painless wristband exchange process at The World’s End gives me plenty of time to make my first walk up the High Street, picking my way past the tourists having their pictures taken with Batman and the Mad Hatter, ready to catch my first set of the day at the Barfly.
11:40 – Arrive at the Barfly. The door to the downstairs bar is blocked by an enormous pile of kit. Find the Shields posse unloading their car, and joining the hundreds of musicians wandering around throughout the day maneuvering their gear through Camden’s substantial weekend foot traffic.
12:00 – Continents @ The Barfly (Upstairs)
Continents launch into their set absolutely bang on time, and their furious metallic hardcore is a blistering way to start the day. Pleasingly, a good sized crowd has made it up to this, the northernmost venue in use today, in time to catch their set.
They pile through a relentless procession of big riffs, topped off with an unmistakeable Fuck-You attitude from frontman Phil Cross. Phil prowls around the stage, and takes a brief foray into the audience. He does his best to whip up a bit of movement from the crowd to the band’s satisfying breakdowns, but it’s probably a bit early for moshing. Their assured, no-nonsense performance reminds me a little of the much missed Black Dogs. This assurance is made all the more remarkable by the fact that not only were they performing as a four-piece, thanks to an absent guitarist, but also with a last-minute replacement bassist. A great start to the day.
12:30 – As much as I love going to gigs in Camden, the bar prices are a source of constant irritation. As someone who has chosen to abstain from alcohol, paying sometimes north of four pounds for a pint of ice and fizzy water, with a just a squirt of vaguely cola-flavoured syrup feels like a bit of a rip-off, to say the least. While I don’t mind buying one or two at an evening gig, to prevent the need for me to take out a second mortgage in order to remain hydrated for the whole day, I choose to refresh myself in between sets from one of the many off licences and newsagents instead. So I grab myself a can of Coke for a quarter of the price, and drink it standing outside The Monarch.
13:00 – Shields @ The Monarch
Daytime shows in The Monarch are a bit strange. The stage backs immediately onto the front window, and immediately outside that is a bus stop. So, throughout the day, people watching bands were in turn being watched by a constant stream of curious passers-by. Like an exhibit in a zoo. Very strange indeed.
However, on the inside there is a surprisingly big sound, which Shields put to maximum effect. The quintet has definitely been busy over the last year or so, and the pay-off is that there is tangible improvement all round. Guitarist Sam Kubrick’s clean vocals are becoming particularly strong, and provide some much-needed melodic hooks to their slightly doomy metalcore.
Despite the slightly incongruous setting, they project a strong stage presence, full of bouncing and some mighty stomping. It would be fair to say that what they’re doing is not really my thing, but it’s equally hard to ignore the progress they are making.
13:20 – Heading back to the Barfly. I’ve never seen a band in the downstairs bar before, nor did I think there was space for a band to play. With 30 minutes between sets, the changeovers are rather more relaxed than at your normal festival stage. As I arrive, the members of Bad Sign are dotted around venue chatting, all set up and ready to go. Ginger Wildheart can also be spotted in a far corner.
13:30 – Bad Sign @ The Barfly (Downstairs)
When Bad Sign’s go-time arrives, the venue has filled to the point that bassist Joe Appleford and guitarist Jonathan Harris actually have more space on the tiny, makeshift stage than anyone else in the building. People arriving after the band have started playing have almost no chance of squeezing their way through to the bar.
Joe’s splendidly filthy bass tone fills the room as the trio piles through riff after riff after riff. What’s more, these riffs have all been bolted together into well crafted, memorable, hooky songs that make their upcoming debut release through our good friends at Basick Records a tremendously tantalising proposition.
13:45 – Reluctantly, I extricate myself from the packed house and head back down the high street, with the consolation being that I will get to watch a full Bad Sign set when they support Normandie at the Boston Music Rooms on 18th July. It’s also time for a quick Red Bull, too.
14:00 – Zoax @ The Underworld
You know the drill. Zoax emerge from the shadowy backstage area to whoops and hollers from the assembled crowd, and with a couple of brisk claps from frontman Adam, explode into “Ksychia“, the first of a number of choice cuts from their recently released, and outstanding, eponymous debut full-length.
Zoax are fresh from possibly the most important tour of their careers to date, providing main support to Funeral For A Friend’s farewell shows. It seems they’ve picked up a few new fans from that run, and the crowd can be heard singing along throughout the set.
Adam Carroll is perhaps a little more subdued in his on-and-offstage antics than we have seen in the past, and the fact he skips the falsetto sections of “Lonely Souls” also suggests he might not be at full fighting strength. Nevertheless, he still delivers a captivating performance, heading into the crowd during old favourite “Bitter Angry Fake“, trailed by a whole platoon of photographers, and emerging with a punter’s hat.
It’s perhaps a surprise that Zoax choose to include their gentlest track, “The Wave“, in this short and punchy 30 minute set, but they dynamic gear change does give set closing “The Bad Blood” a little extra kick. With the anthemic new songs now firmly bedded down in our consciousness, Zoax keep getting better every time we see them.
14:30 – For the first time, my schedule has two consecutive sets at the same venue, so I get to enjoy actually standing still for a bit. Delightful.
15:00 – The Algorithm @ The Underworld
Given the relatively spacious Underworld stage and half-hour changeover time, Jean has the luxury of being able to set up his full drum-kit in front of the house set, alongside Remi’s control desk, a rarity for mid-afternoon festival slots.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen The Algorithm perform, but I reckon it must be into double figures by now – but there has been a whole new album, Brute Force, released since the last time I caught a set of theirs. Brute Force may have dialled down the crazy compared to Polymorphic Code and Octopus4, but not by much. The new material is more straightforwardly dance-able, but has retained that characteristic sense of impending apocalypse evident in those previous albums.
I’ve probably said it before, but it is in the live environment that The Algorithm makes the most sense to me. This afternoon they are ably assisted by The Underworld’s particularly beefy sound system, and I can feel the pulsing bass rattling my ribcage. Brute Force, indeed.
Rémi has gradually been introducing more and more live guitar into the mix, and now has it strapped to his person for the whole set, spending more time playing it now than fiddling with the knobs and sliders on his onstage mixing desk. It’s a very positive development, and one that makes the set feel even more like an actual performance.
The set closes, pleasingly, with my most favourite Algorithm track, “Access Granted” from Polymorphic Code, and the inspired dub break is freshly embellished with a guitar solo from Rémi , which is a nice little touch before the all-out shrieking insanity of the final crescendo of the track.
15:45 – I’m hungry. Time for a crepe break. On my way back up to the Barfly, I stop in at my favourite crepe stand in the Stables market. For me, a cheese and ham crepe is just about perfect festival food; filling without being too stodgy, flavourful and hard to get wrong. Spotted Noel Gallagher wandering past amongst the stalls. The things you see.