Unofficially viewed as the UK's first major music festival of the year, the Camden Crawl has spawned many offshoots around the country such as Dot To Dot and The Great Escape where the simple concept of squeezing as many artists in as many venues as possible over a weekend remains the most singular objective. Now in its fifteenth year, the Crawl has come in for its fair share of criticism over the years, mainly due to overselling tickets particularly considering the size of some of the venues, ultimately resulting in ridiculously long queues sometimes stretching all the way from the Roundhouse down to Camden underground station.
There was to be no danger of that this year; slow ticket sales and the predictable bank holiday washout put paid to that, yet on the whole it would also be fair to say that the MTV dominated Roundhouse bill excepted, the rest of this year's line-up threw up a host of exciting names both past and present, resulting in several agonising clashes.
Although the majority of the live music isn't meant to commence before 6pm, there's always the odd impromptu set here and there and the arrival of Surfer Blood for a short acoustic set in Lock 17 proved a hearty appetiser for their slot in the Underworld later that evening. The outdoor Red Bull Bedroom Jam Arena also provided the odd Saturday afternoon thrill, Kasms guttural gothpunk sounding excitingly wired, despite the incessant downpour.
As the evening kicked in, and sadly the weather deteriorated, it seemed highly appropriate to set up camp around a couple of closely located venues. First up was the Blues Kitchen, where the lush lo-fi tones of Spectrals came wafting to the back of the room. Unfortunately it seemed like much of Camden had a similar idea making any kind of vantage point nigh on impossible. Nevertheless, having squeezed our way to the front for Billy Childish's homely honest John rock and roll, Contact are quite literally blown away by the sheer passion and energy of his half hour long set.
Batteries fully recharged, we make our way across the road to the Underworld where Surfer Blood's two-drummer led assault on early nineties inspired US indie is a pulsating treat, 'Swim' and 'Twin Peaks' causing the weekend's first sweat infested moshpit. Washington trio Dead Meadow follow and while it would be something of an understatement to proclaim ourselves as fans of their records, Saturday night in Camden just isn't the right time or place for forty-five minutes worth of Cream-inspired stoner rock.
In desperate need of a pick-me-up that duly arrives in the shape of Male Bonding playing an unholy midnight slot in the Purple Turtle, their buoyant no holds barred pop punk is a joy to behold that literally creates mayhem on the Turtle's tiny dancefloor, as pints, blood and several unidentifiable forms of liquid are spilt over the next twenty minutes or so. By this point a tired and battered Contact is in desperate need of sleep, one eye firmly cast on Sunday.
As the rain lashes down this Sunday lunchtime, the main motivation comes in the form of an all you can eat Chinese buffet and as much Tiger beer as can be consumed in the process.oh, and the (some would say daunting) prospect of interviewing all twenty-five members of Gaggle in the same building at the same time.but more of that elsewhere.
Frontiers incendiary post-punk draws one of the day's largest crowds to the comfy surroundings of the Black Heart, as do Leicester four-piece Kyte. Their mix of post-rock, shoegaze and discordant electronica is something of a revelation that makes forthcoming long player 'Dead Waves' one of the most eagerly anticipated releases this summer.
Our next stop is the Electric Ballroom where Speech Debelle is finishing her set to a half-full room of bemused faces many of whom have never heard of her and those that have still questioning how she became last year's Mercury Music Prize winner. The main reason we're here however is for the Gang Of Four, and their deliberately poised funk flavoured post-punk doesn't disappoint in any way, shape or form. Musically flawless and taut as they ever were, it's the boundless energy exemplified by Jon King that turns their set into a lavish performance. As expected, they largely focus on 'Entertainment' - 'Damaged Goods' and 'Ether' proving particularly rousing - and even throw in the odd new number for good measure. Despite their ageing years, the Gang Of Four are still one of the most engaging live bands Contact has witnessed in some time.
Onwards into the night, Yuck's slacker rock reminds us of why Urusei Yatsura remain one of the most underrated bands of the 1990s, and duly ensures we finish the weekend on something of a high.
All in all, despite the weather, Camden Crawl is still an invigorating festival that can hold its head high with the best of them. Here's to next year's sixteenth birthday.