Review of Camden Crawl Festival which took place on Saturday 30th April & Sunday 1st May 2011

Like pre-season friendlies that herald the start of a new football season, the Camden Crawl's status as the ultimate precursor to a long summer's festival activities remains pretty much unblemished. As with an expensive new signing or youthful protégé about to make the step up from the ressies, the Crawl has regularly given punters their first glimpse of artists that have gone on to represent an entire season's worth of entertainment and beyond, highlights in recent years including the likes of The xx, Adele, Gaggle and The Big Pink.

Camden Crawl

Now in its tenth year having first opened its doors in 1995, which saw twenty bands spread across five venues for the best part of a day. This year's event included a staggering two-hundred-and-fifty plus acts scattered across forty-four venues as far and wide as Kentish Town Forum over two full days, with even the daytime schedules proving a more attractive proposition than previous years.

Of course such variety has its downside, with inevitable line-up clashes being more prominent than ever before, and what appears to be a surprising dearth of punters, as very little queues appear at any time over the course of the weekend, many venues struggling to reach even a tenth of their capacity even when the bigger names take to the stage.

However, as a voyage of discovery the Camden Crawl is second to none, and the delectable tones of Evi Vine serve as a welcome introduction to this year's festivities. Straddling the middle ground somewhere between 'Dress' era PJ Harvey and a lovelorn Liz Fraser, her 'And So The Morning Comes' long player is one of 2011's underground gems, and when the eerie 'How Time Flies' brings her set to a close, a packed Spreadeagle nods approvingly in agreement.

Margate's Two Wounded Birds also leave a more incisive dent on proceedings. Having first come to our attention opening for The Drums at the tail end of last year, their C86 themed indie pop has blossomed into something altogether more menacing, one song in particular sounding like The Cramps attempting a Spacemen 3 arpeggio and vice versa.

Suitably impressed, the next stop on our travels is the Dublin Castle where a reliably enthusiastic Steve Lamacq greets all and sundry announcing the arrival of French shoegaze ensemble Team Ghost. Now extended to a five-piece, the extra member more than making up the numbers as their maelstrom of effects-laden beauty reverberates around the room. Did we mention that one of them used to be in M83? Not that it really makes any difference whatsoever. An acquaintance from their label assures us their long-awaited full debut will be one of the records of the year, and on this showing, who are we to argue?

Heading to the Electric Ballroom in order to get a good spot for Killing Joke, we're greeted by a near empty venue. Maybe the try-too-hard methodology of S.C.U.M has proved too grating for some. On record their Nick Cave meets The Horrors shtick works fine, but here they sound bereft of tunes, and subsequently all interest is lost.

Killing Joke however are an entirely different proposition. Anyone fortunate enough to have caught them on their recent tour a month ago will know exactly where we're coming from when we say their current live show is not to be missed, and once again they do not disappoint. 'Love Like Blood', 'Wardance', 'Requiem' and 'Pssyche' are all delivered with menacing aplomb, while the welcome re-appearance of 'Eighties' during the encore is greeted with all the fervour of a long lost relative returning home from a ten year sabbatical in Goa.

Sunday's line-up got off to a similarly cathartic start, Spotlight Kid's semi-acoustic set stripped of its usual sonic attack, yet revelling in a more blissful manner aided by the intimate confines of the Spreadeagle. 'Creeps' and 'All Is Real' offer a more sophisticated insight into their craft, and with it a firmly delivered message that Spotlight Kid are anything but one-trick ponies riding the shoegaze revival express.

Graham Coxon also seems in a perky mood, and why not too. Seven albums down and number eight reckoned to be on the way later this year, he launches into 'Standing On My Own Again' like a man possessed, ably assisted by his long term backing band (no, not THAT one). New songs come and go interchanged with more familiar material from 'Happiness In Magazines' and 'Love Travels At Illegal Speeds' suggesting the rumoured return to the lo-fi punk rock sound of his roots isn't that wide of the mark.

If it's authentic punk rock intensity you crave then look no further than The Chapman Family. Hailing from the arse end of nowhere (Stockton-On-Tees), the disdain they show to the capital's scenesters probably resembling a typical day in the life for Kingsley Chapman. From the outset, their intentions are crystal clear, 'All Fall Down' and 'Something I Can't Get Out' being just two of the sublime cuts they deliver from underrated debut 'Burn This Town'. By the end, the frontman having wrapped the chord of his microphone around his neck several times, The Chapman Family's status as the most intense live experience currently trawling the UK's gig circuit is fully assured.

The evening (and weekend) drawing to a close, and far too many former Big Brother housemates in close proximity for good measure, we leg it to Dingwalls to see the ridiculously monikered MNDR. Thankfully, her Peaches-gets-violent techno onslaught doesn't see her resort to text speak and a pulsating 'Fade To Black' leads to all kinds of shapes circulating across the tiny dancefloor.

With daylight fast approaching, and news of Osama Bin Laden's demise seeping through, sleep is the only feasible option left open until we do it all again at The Great Escape next weekend.

Bye bye Camden, see you next year.

Dom Gourlay

Site -