Review: Camden Rocks Festival

Camden Rocks festival has now steadily established itself as one of the must-attend events of the summer. After a one off event in 2009, the festival returned in 2013 and has grown year on year ever since. Now encompassing 20 or so of Camden Town’s most popular venues the event attracts diverse established acts such as this year’s legendary Public Image Ltd. fronted by John Lydon, and new up and coming talent.

So first up was the iconic Underworld. Once inside we find the dirty blues shenanigans of Dirty Thrills, who deliver a stunning set that reaffirms why they are one of the hottest tipped bands of their genre. Clearly the word is getting out about the band as they attract a huge crowd for so early in the day.

Having kicked off the day so well, we stay rooted in Underworld and await the next act. Ducking Punches are another young band who hail from Norwich and have been busy making a name for themselves over the last couple of years. Although they attract a slightly more modest crowd they still deliver a blistering set that has the audience bouncing and singing along.

Re-emerging from the depths of Underworld and we are greeted by glorious weather as we make the short trek across the road to another of Camden’s many famous venues The Electric Ballroom. Inside we discover a lovely little surprise in the shape of Colt48 who run through a hard hitting, foot stomper of a set to the delight of those in attendance. The duo explains that they have only been a band for 1 year which makes their performance even more incredible.

You can easily walk from one end of the festival strip to the other in under 10 minutes which is great when there is so much to see. We take a stroll next past the historic Camden Market to a great little venue called The Monarch. Inside we are packed in like sardines as we await our next act. Towers of London burst onto the scene to mixed reviews way back in 2005 and reached the headlines in 2007 with the antics of their frontman Donny Tourette on a certain reality TV series.

Since then the band could be described as on again off again but in reality they have been mostly off again. Anyway for whatever reason they are back and apparently planning on releasing a new album, their first in 10 years. As they make their way on stage I expect a car crash of a performance, instead they deliver a decent set of punk rock music. It’s a performance that makes me wonder where the band may have gone if Tourette hadn’t acted like such a pillock all those years ago.

Another short stroll and we find ourselves inside another of my favourite small venues, Dingwalls. Located in the beautiful surroundings of the market and the lock it hosts another great young act next as Press To MECO take to the stage. The band blast through a perfectly crafted set built on the power of the mighty riff that gets heads banging and fists pumping.

It’s time now to head up Camden High Street to the fabulous KOKO, which is the largest venue on the festival circuit and the de facto main stage. Here we shall remain for the rest of the day as we await three of the bigger names of the bill. Up first are Cambridge’s Mallory Knox who have been through some pretty big changes of late. Back in February with the band seemingly at the height of popularity they announced the departure of their vocalist Mikey Chapman with bassist Sam Douglas taking up the reigns.

Clearly a period of rebuilding is necessary and the band has been slowly introducing themselves back into the world with a low-profile tour and a handful of festival appearances including today. Although I’m somewhat hesitant to begin with the new look line-up wins me over by the time they blast out ‘Ghost In The Mirror’ to the delight of the audience.

The set list is a good mix of the old material with some new tracks such as ‘Black Holes’ and ‘Livewire’ thrown in for good measure. By the time the band end with ‘Lighthouse’ and ‘Better Off Without You’ they have convinced me that this band still has life left in them even without the charismatic Chapman at the helm. For sure Douglas needs time to grow into his new role but today they have removed any doubts I had that he could.

Scots Twin Atlantic are the penultimate band of the evening and take to the KOKO stage with the venue packed to the rafters. The band hit the stage hard with singer Sam McTrusty prowling the stage and spitting the lyrics to ‘Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator’. Twin Atlantic are in magnificent form at the moment and with ‘Make A Beast Of Myself’ coming early they have the audience enthralled, hanging on every word and up for a great time.

It’s a great time that they get for the next hour as Twin Atlantic deliver fan favourites both old and new. ‘GLA’, their most recent album is featured heavily and rightfully so with the likes of ‘The Chaser’, ‘Whispers’ and ‘You Are The Devil’ to call upon. ‘Brothers and Sisters’ from predecessor ‘Great Divide’ provides one of the loudest sing-a-longs Camden Rocks has likely ever seen, before ‘No Sleep’ and ‘Heart And Soul’ bring a stunning performance to a close.

This provides us a moment to take stock of the day so far. We have witnessed some great young acts in some pretty tiny venues and have just ended with two of modern rocks big hitters delivering the goods in the largest venue on offer. Two ends of the spectrum that Camden Rocks delivers so perfectly. In a day that is essentially a series of gigs as opposed to a traditional festival each band appears to get a greater spotlight then they would get at the likes of next weekend’s Download Festival. The audience appears to embrace the actual music to a far greater extent as well which creates a delightful atmosphere.

Anyway before we head to the tube we still have another act. Headlining the festival this year are indie heroes Maximo Park, who attract another large crowd despite the competition on offer. Elsewhere you could catch the likes of PIL at the Electric Ballroom, Sikth down at Underworld or British Sea Power over in Dingwalls. Not to mention the plethora of young up and comers still gracing stages up and down Camden.

Maximo Park have set themselves apart from their contemporaries with their ever evolving sound and preview that well during a career spanning set. ‘Graffiti’ starts proceedings well followed early on by the likes of ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ and ‘Books From Boxes’. Although the classics get the bigger receptions, even the newer material is strong enough to captivate the venue.

With the night drawing to a close, Paul Smith and co send the crowd home on a high with a run of favourites ‘Going Missing, ‘Risk To Exist’, ‘Our Velocity’ and the classic sticky dance floor anthem ‘Apply Some Pressure’. On this evidence Maximo Park showed they could still bring it home.

The obvious next step for the event is to add Camden’s largest venue the Roundhouse to the circuit. Whatever they do though it’s clear Camden Rocks is here to stay and Camden itself will remain as vital to our country’s music scene as it always has been.



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