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Live review: Camden Crawl

Various venues, Camden, London Saturday, May 1 - Sunday, May 2

Andy Willsher
Pic: Andy Willsher
Saturday
Sam Wolfson’s Day

Camden is unique, not just because punk, goth, metal, trance and Britpop all passed through here, but because it’s the mass grave for all these defunct musical genres. It’s where subcultures go to die; the Eastbourne of rock’n’roll.

Yet the one thing these traditions would agree on is that a performance by a girl band with none of its original members is a fucking bizarre way to begin a festival that’s supposed to pay tribute to Camden’s alt. heritage. And yet here we are, about to watch Sugababes open the Camden Crawl 2010. You can’t fault the tunes. ‘Freak Like Me’ and ‘About You Now’ are some of the best British pop songs ever written. But these women never recorded them (well, Heidi did, but she doesn’t count). So we’re essentially watching a Sugababes tribute act, that should be playing weddings and bat mitzvahs, not the bleedin’ Roundhouse.

Things aren’t much better with indie girl bands. The Like are showcasing their new Pipettes-with-guitars shtick to a rammed Flowerpot. They remain sullen throughout. “I’ve just woken up from a nap,” says lead singer Z Berg by way of explanation. After they close with lacklustre new single ‘He’s Not A Boy’, we could do with one ourselves.

Back at the Roundhouse, Plan B’s flaunting his own new direction. His singing seems strained but when he’s rapping he’s a commanding force. Just as we’re starting to think that, actually, a rapper in a suit backed by a horn section isn’t a terrible idea, he announces he’s doing a Paolo Nutini cover and we have to leave.

The big surprise of the night is Ms Dynamite’s confident set at Dingwalls. Highlights include a dubstep version of ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee’ and her version of So Solid Crew’s ‘They Don’t Know’ although what really gets us in a tizz are the snippets of her new breakstep material.

We swing past Male Bonding – whose pummeling assault on The Purple Turtle has boys getting sweaty and girls hot under the collar – before arriving at the Jazz Café for Summer Camp, whose knowing teen-movie lo-fi sounds better live than it does on the demos (and those were good to
start with). SW

Leonie Cooper’s day

The first Drums show of Saturday is a lesson in how acting like a plonker can still somehow make you cool. As Jonathan Pierce flings himself around the Barfly to the goth-beat of ‘Best Friend’, and indulges in some synchronised finger-clicking with his band during ‘Don’t Be A Jerk, Johnny’, it’s evident that not giving a toss is totally the new giving one.

Manchester madam Julie Campbell, aka LoneLady, does give a toss, but then with her kind of Factory Records frottaging and taut intensity, it’s pretty much essential. Like the Gossip if they were writing tunes in a Moss Side flatshare in 1981, ‘Nerve Up’’s highly-strung soul fits perfectly with the grey drizzle outside Jazz Café.

We meet with a familiar face at the Cuban Bar – that of Frederick Blood Royale, ex of Les Incompetents and Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man – doing an unfamiliar thing, slick yacht rock and doo-wop pop: Club Royale are all Tony Bennett panache and cruise ship slickness. The Smoke Fairies’ KOKO set, though, is more sombre – the duo’s deadpan banter aside – with sultry Sandy Denny sonics lighting up ‘Frozen Heart’ and their Wicker Man-worthy blues riffs equally thrilling and chilling. LC

Sunday
Sam Wolfson’s Day
We return on Sunday for Gaggle. Twenty-three women booming through punk poetry is life-affirming stuff and the sizeable crowd leave beaming. Their nerves are uncomfortable to watch, but their lack of cynicism has rubbed off on us.

Well, for 10 minutes anyway: the next few hours are comparatively mediocre. Lightspeed Champion plays what sounds like a half-hour indie version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ but is actually
a medley of songs from new record ‘Life Is Sweet!…’. The odd juxtapositions mean ballsy Thin Lizzy-style guitar harmonics are up against Dev Hynes’ kooky acoustic material, like listening to 6 Music if all the songs were performed by one guy.

Comanechi look spectacular (Akiko in floral leotard and Simon in a giant woolly jumper with Aztec print) but their ‘screechy, screechy, bash, bash’ approach tires after a few songs.

We finish with Yuck, a band so desperate to pay homage to Sonic Youth, Dinasour Jr and Pixies they’re in danger of pastiche. But isn’t that the spirit of Camden? At least Yuck have found a creative outlet for their admiration. SW

Leonie Cooper’s day
Sunday starts with Kyte at The Black Heart and the sort of humourless, looped synth-indie by numbers that we can blame Snow Patrol for. It makes us love Surfer Blood at The Underworld even more, thanks to their unponcified friendly frat-house fun.

A baby-faced scuzz-punk Weezer, it’s impossible to deny the amazingness of ‘Swim’’s Pavement-high-fiving-the-Beach-Boys slacker pop.

Taking on jangling guitars and teenage angst, Veronica Falls’ ‘Found Love In A Graveyard’ is lo-fi gold. Their Blues Kitchen set is infused with a vintage fuzz which extends beyond the bedroom psych of ‘Beachy Head’ to the way Roxanne Clifford sings from behind her veil of hair and the polite request for “more reverb” from the tech. It leaves us with a warm feeling. Warmer than the Bank Holiday chill outside that’s for sure. LC
Camden Crawl 2010 Launch Party
Video: Camden Crawl 2010 Launch Party

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