Camden Rocks returned this past weekend for another year of what has become one of the more consistently strong days out available on the British rock calendar. With twenty stages firing on all cylinders for one huge day of live music, and a few farewells thrown into the mix as well – the day would see Sikth’s final show with their original lineup, as well as the last stand of the Camden Barfly, which would close its doors after the festival came to an end – it wasn’t difficult to see why all the streets and venues from Chalk Farm to Mornington Crescent were packed as the afternoon progressed.
It might be early doors, but South Wales’ Continents (3.5) aren’t letting a midday start throw them off their stride. Ferocious and aggressive, the metalcore crew are on the front foot from the off, with vocalist Phil Cross stalking the stage with brooding and wild-eyed abandon. He’s a showman too, finding himself in the crowd and singing from the floor of the Barfly on more than one occasion. They could do with a little more light to their relentlessly punishing sound, but it’s a solid start to the day. (RM)
A quick hop to The Cuban and we’re in within plenty of time to enjoy a brutally strong dark and stormy for the appropriately heavy industrial/post-punk noiseniks This Be The Verse (3.5) The London quartet look the part and can certainly throw out a pounding bass line to go with some monstrous grooves. Despite a shaky start, they soon have the audience on side and visibly grow in confidence with every subsequent song. By the time they finish, vocalist Cyrus King is standing on the bar and waving a tambourine about like a maniac. Great stuff… (RM)
Elsewhere, Damn Dice (2.5) might have thrived at a different time of day, but in opening the festival’s biggest venue you’d be forgiven for thinking the London outfit floundered somewhat. As Lions (3.5) fare much better in their Underworld set, the close quarters working in the favour of Austin Dickinson & co. just as much as the Ballroom atmosphere seemed to work against Damn Dice less than half an hour earlier. (AL)
It’s a much more vibrant venue when Evil Scarecrow (4.5/5) storm in however, and it couldn’t be easier to see why. Like Lordi re-envisioned through the mind of Devin Townsend, an Evil Scarecrow live show is one of those things that has to be experienced first-hand. Whether it’s the eight-foot behemoth mascot that invades the stage mid-song, the corpse paint, the anti-gravity machine or the robot pits, the sheer absurdity of each element of the set just works so well, and gets eaten up by one of the best crowds of the day; a raucous reception that Evil Scarecrow deserved every iota of. (AL)
Back in the Underworld and Zoax (4/5) whip up a different kind of frenzy. Early rumblings ahead of their debut album release had foreshadowed a different sound that Zoax seemed to be flirting with, but with the self-titled record out and the band back on the live circuit, there can be no doubting that this is the same old Zoax, just with a few new tricks up their sleeve. Frontman Adam Carroll is as electric as ever, and the whole ensemble belt out the kind of set that the Underworld was built to accommodate. (AL)
It’s a bit cosy in The Good Mixer for New Zealand’s (via Finland and London) Desperate Measures (4/5), as they play only their fifth show in 35 years. Throwing out some classic, agitating punk rock, the quartet blast through a set filled with politicised, socially aware punk songs. It’s remarkable that a band that’s the best part of 40 years old can still sound so fresh – but urging everyone to “fuck David Cameron” will always go down well… (RM)
Another band to find themselves playing to a packed venue – and playing similarly stirring punk rock – are Leeds’ Brawlers (3.5/5). Having seen them a couple of times, it feels like they’re on their best behaviour. Indeed, instead of lobbing guitars into the crowd or antagonising the throng, they instead set up a wall of death only to urge people to make friends with the people opposite. It’s crowd-pleasing fun, if a little contrived, yet pit-friendly tunes like ‘I’m A Worthless Piece of Shit’ will always be winners. (RM)
The Dublin Castle isn’t one of the easiest venues to track down but upon finding the place it’s OhBoy! (3.5/5) who await and the quintet are a welcome reward. After the likes of Evil Scarecrow and Zoax, the UK’s answer to Johnny Foreigner are precisely the change of pace the day required. Taking the stage next are Cold in Berlin (4/5) who are a quite different beast indeed. No stranger to bringing a London venue to its knees, vocalist Maya is a phenom throughout the band’s mesmerising set. Easily amongst London’s best kept musical secrets, the quartet are well worth keeping tabs on. (AL)
After the relentless noise, Black Foxxes (4/5) make for a cerebral change of pace. They still rock – hard – but there’s plenty of artistry to go with their clatter. A great take on ‘Suffragette City’ in tribute to David Bowie goes down a storm, and it’s easy to why the South-West mob are hotly-tipped to break out from the underground. (RM)
With the aforementioned weapons-grade dark and stormies now wreaking havoc to our addled minds, a trip to see Sonic Boom Six (4/5) at Dingwalls seems like an ideal chance to have a bit of a dance and let our hair down. And so it proves, as the London-via-Manchester oiks deliver a set that’s all about getting people moving. With the temperature on the up, Dingwalls becomes something of a sweatbox, but Laila and Barney Boom (who finishes stripped down to his vest) never let the intensity drop as they rip through a set of high-octane anthems. (RM)
Tellison (4.5) deliver anthems of a different kind, and it’s heartening to see a room full of people sing along to all of their songs. A few technical problems could derail lesser acts, while Stephen Davidson’s chat about mopping the floor shows just how at ease – and charming – the London quartet are. And the songs; Tellison are the absolute masters of intelligent indie-rock, and songs like ‘Orion’ sound life-affirming when sung by a room of adoring fans. (RM)
Battling illness, BarCreeps’ (4/5) vocalist Bannister jokes that he sounds like he’s swallowed a bag of gravel, and he’s not wrong. In fact, he could give Jawbreaker’s Blake Schwarzenbach a run for his money as he growls his way through a spiky set of skate-punk hits. Armed with a slew of killer songs, including debut single ‘The Hour Between Dog and Wolf’ and the brilliantly infectious ‘Joey Smokes’, there’s a bright future ahead for these ‘Creeps… (RM)
It’s a trek down to the Camden Cavern at Belushi’s, but it’s worth it for Irish alt-rock/post-hardcore heroes Making Monsters (4/5). Emma Gallagher has an astonishing voice, switching between a candy-sweet croon and terrifying bark and seems happiest flailing through the crowd causing a scene. Musically they kill it too, taking cues from Deftones and Thrice and creating a sound that hits with the force of a neutron bomb, but which possesses plenty of light and softness to go with the crunch. (RM)
Camden Rocks continues to go from strength to strength each year, and 2016 can go down as no change from that fact. The Underworld and Dublin Castle lineups made for some very special sets and while next year’s festival will be unfortunately without one of Camden’s most famous music venues in the historic Barfly, you can be sure that the rest of the borough will come alive once more for another incendiary day of celebration for the best of Britain’s rock and metal scenes.
Words by Rob Mair (RM) and Antony Lusmore (AL)