Camden Rocks 2016 @ London, 04/06/2016

Camden Rocks 2016Despite the fact that I lived and worked in Camden for two years I have never attended Camden Rocks. This year I have finally managed it, so as I exit wristband exchange I resolve to make as much of the experience as possible.

Local knowledge lets me dodge the crowds by taking the back route to the Hawley Arms, where Sisteray are due to perform. The room is packed five minutes before the band is due onstage, and it’s clear that festivities have started early. Beside me a group raises a toast – one of them with a ‘Libertine’ tattoo on his arm. It’s unsurprising, considering Sisteray cite the band as influences. Sisteray are forged from the mould of The View with their indie-riffs and love song lyrics. It goes down well with this crowd, and people spill out onto the terrace and down the stairs. Despite April’s Indie Amnesty, it seems the genre is alive and well after all. I can’t say I’m disappointed.

Back on the High Street I’m reminded why this festival once set my teeth on edge. The crowds in Camden are already bad enough, but add a slew of rock fans to the usual tourists and you’re presented with a sprawling, drunken horde. Living in the area it’s easy to become jaded about this, but in truth very few people who live in Camden are there for a quiet life. Seeing the festival from this side drives home how much I have always loved it here, and that is one of the strong points of Camden Rocks. It fosters a sense of belonging without charging fans through the nose for the experience. Besides, there is something to be said for a festival that has a bar and bathroom at every stage.

The evening starts with my top picks for the day Black Foxxes. I get down early, which turns out to be a wise move as the band have been so well hyped that droves of punters have to be turned away. For those of us that make it inside the Exeter trio deliver a storming half hour set. They are continuously interrupted by whistles from the crowd, and while the phrase "metal cover of Suffragette City" should strike fear in the heart of man, they make it their own. Frontman Mark Holley impresses with his wild-eyed, tortured vocal, but no member could be considered a weak link. The raucous applause is well deserved.

After a quick meal in my former local I dash down to catch Cub Sport at Barfly. The venue’s sound engineering hinders their set, with feedback howling through the speakers. As a result guitarist and vocalist Zoe Davis’ contributions are all but drowned out by the keys and percussion. It is a frustrating situation, but there is no fault on the part of the band. Like Black Foxxes they perform a cover, but go the traditional route with their version of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place”. Lead singer Tim Nelson’s voice settles comfortably into the grooves left by David Byrne’s original, and this coupled with the performance of their single “I Can’t Save You” is enough to remind me why they are so well-liked in our shared hometown.

Down the street Carl Barât and the Jackals deliver everything you’ve come to expect with mumbling charisma. A personal highlight is their rendition of Barât’s Dirty Pretty Things track “Gin and Milk” but naturally the biggest crowd reactions greet The Libertines songs “Death on the Stairs” and “I Get Along”. After the Libertines’ recent rebirth and redemption fans were curious about what would become of the Jackals, but here they prove once again to be much more than a side project. Their joy at performing here seems genuine, and judging by the crowd’s response the feeling is mutual. They leave the stage with much backslapping, and are replaced a short time later by festival headliners The Cribs. The Cribs are made for this setting and their fans are frenzied as usual. Having been crushed at their shows more times than I care to admit, I hang back from the roiling mass. Songs like “Cheat On Me” and “Girls Like Mystery” are met with the usual enthusiasm, confirming that, in this part of town at least, rock and roll never really goes out of style.

I step away a little early to see dark pop act Lock. With their doll’s house electronic bent they are an odd choice for Camden Rocks, so when I arrive I’m pleasantly surprised to see the room almost at capacity. People stand on benches in order to see, and those whose toes don’t quite boost them high enough stretch cameras in the air to get a visual. An airing of their single “The High Life” is a high point for many.

I close the festival at Belushi’s with the newly rebranded Saint Leonard’s Horses. Despite the hour the turn out is strong, and Leonard’s particularly confessional brand of rock and roll strikes a chord. The band’s most recent single “Rise Up” is gothic grunge at its best, and sets the tone for the rest of the performance. They are an energetic live act, with each of the ‘Horses’ running at full tilt. The sense of belonging is palpable as a number of people mill around to chat with the band after their set. It’s a fitting end to a festival that prides itself on community, and could convert even the staunchest non-believer into a fan.

After 12 hours at Camden Rocks I’m ready to find a taxi, but if next year’s line-up is anything like this there’s little doubt that I’ll be back.

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