Live Review: Camden Crawl

Various venues, Camden, April 30 - May 1

Camden Crawl started out in 1995 as the kind of ramshackle musical gathering that ended in brawls, smashed glass and the roar of sirens on its colourful streets. This year is the 10th time it has been held, and you’d be lucky to catch a whiff of street-side anarchy at this slick inner-city event, which boasts over 200 artists in over 40 venues as well as a comedy fringe.

Saturday kicks off with Norwich School of Art trio [b]Fever Fever[/b], who deliver a hefty blow of riot-grrl attitude through sawn off guitars. “Have you ever heard a girl from Norwich rap?” asks Ellie, before spitting out [b]‘Static’[/b] from their [b]‘The Bloodless’[/b] EP without stopping for breath. We have now.

Then it’s a trek up to the HMV Forum, past crawlers gathering on the banks of the canal for a breather in the glorious sun. After 10 minutes of slack-jawed hip-waggling from Frankie & The Heartstrings we’ve half a mind to stick a doobie in his po-face and point the way to the canal. Welcome respite from the hype comes from Big Deal. Their spiked adolescent musings on relationships coo through the camp surroundings of [b]The Black Cap[/b]. [b]SCUM[/b] turn Electric Ballroom into a pool of smoke and light at sundown. It’s a shame their audience is lacking in number. It’s not so for [b]MNDR[/b], who are in full flow when we creep into the busy Jazz Café. London’s own [a]Mark Ronson[/a] shows up for [b]‘Bang Bang Bang’[/b], inducing some of the best body-popping the place has likely seen in a while.

The mayhem intensifies with [a]Dananananaykroyd[/a]. New songs [b]‘E Numbers’[/b] and [b]‘Apostrophe’[/b] go down a storm. “This song’s about Camden, it’s called [b]‘Time Capsule’[/b],” frontman John Baillie Jr announces before the next onslaught. When we’re spat out of the gig to the sound of a drum’n’bass street party, the words ring in our ears. Good job the Crawl is here to drag these streets kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Sunday, May 1st Camden used to be the home of real punk subculture – before it got so overrun with market stalls selling shit T-shirts that you couldn’t move for tourists. It takes an LA hip-hop collective to bring anarchy home to the backstreets – namely [a]Odd Future[/a], who also happen to be the hottest ticket at this year’s Crawl. At least it is for ticket holders who got the memo – the rest are left queuing. Onstage, it gets messy immediately, [a]Tyler The Creator[/a] leaping straight into the crowd in a green ski-mask, spitting out [b]‘Sandwitches’[/b] while punters pull at his face. Hodgy Beats emerges spraying water from his mouth while Syd Tha Kyd holds down the show from decks at the rear.

“Fuck security!” they scream, goading the crowd to jump the barrier. Left Brain flings himself on a bouncer who tries to drag off a punter scaling the railings. “Fuck that!” Tyler concedes. “Even I wouldn’t mess with this fucking security.” Instead, they climb the speaker stacks during [b]‘French’[/b], Tyler swinging from the right while Hodgy Beats warms up to a feet-first jump, flying into the crowd as they scatter beneath him. A stage invasion ensues in [b]‘Goblin’[/b] – fists flying as the writhing mass struggle up to join the band, who promptly disappear.

You can still hear the tour manager begging punters to leave the stage 10 minutes after the gig. “Please get down,” he moans. “We still have lawsuits pending from Belgium!” Up the road a bit, Wolf Gang are delivering a set of pop songs so razor-sharp you could cut cheese with them. And there is cheese here, in the pop-pomp of ‘Something Unusual’ and the glockenspiel flourishes of [b]‘Dancing With The Devil’[/b]. But it’s delivered by Max McElligott with inscrutable confidence – the kind that comes when your debut album is produced by David Fridmann, no doubt.

Down at Proud, Graham Coxon pulls another huge crowd, leaving hundreds queuing outside. They miss sweaty, intimate renditions of several killer new tunes – [b]‘The Truth’[/b], [b]‘Advice’[/b], [b]‘What’ll It Take’[/b] – from a new album we’re yet to hear details of. Elsewhere, [a]Tinchy Stryder[/a] is going down a storm at the Jazz Café. The star doesn’t take his sunglasses off for a second – not even when the Ibiza synths of [b]‘In My System’[/b] raise the temperature to saturation point. We have to leave before the end, which totally sucks, but Johnny Borrell waits for no man – apparently not even his [a]Razorlight[/a] band members, which have been changing faster than his modelling contracts of late.

New recruits Gus Robertson and Freddie Stitz lack the confidence of their frontman, who continues unperturbed when a two-litre bottle of something very wet smashes off his guitar in the intro to [b]‘In The Morning’[/b]. The hits are delivered slapdash, but with crowd-pleasing energy. After the heartbeat encore Borrell’s back for a brooding rendition of Edwyn Collins’ [b]‘A Girl Like You’[/b] before closing on [b]‘America’[/b]. There is no time for more. And, while out on the street things look like they’re about to get lawless, one look at those bouncers says the Crawl is in safe hands for another decade at least.

Hazel Sheffield

Camden Crawl 2001 – Photos from all the action on and off stage