A recipe for the perfect music festival:
Take a borough which originated from the site of a murderous witch’s final resting place (the seventeenth century Old Mother Red Cap Inn), add in a side order of gruesome (a gibbet stood where the underground station now is ), flavour with a generous dollop of literature (Orwell, Dickens, Mary Shelley and Alan Bennett all lived here ) sprinkle with musical royalty (The Clash, Amy Winehouse, Oasis, Madness, The Libertines and Prince all have connections) and mix this wonderful ingredients list with the variety of fashion and cultural influences which London is renowned for, then serve up where there is a plethora of drinking houses which originally afforded the local piano makers a well needed pint of ale (apparently making pianos is dry, dusty, thirsty work).
The resulting delicacy is Camden, a setting which properly reflects the attitude and atmosphere of the Camden Rocks music festival.
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Having just released the first round of acts for the 2017 line up, it is fitting that in the year which commemorates 40 years since punk exploded worldwide, that The Damned and Ruts DC are among the first few acts to be announced. In 1977 Dingwalls was a favourite of the first round of punk bands, the Stranglers famously getting into a spot of bother there. An alleyway in the market near Proud Camden is immortalised on the first Clash LP and Captain Sensible, founding bassist and now lead guitarist, of The Damned has recently referred to Camden Market as being “partially responsible for the sartorial disaster which is Captain Sensible “. The Clash and The Subway Sect used to rehearse on Chalk Farm Rd and though Sean McLusky didn’t join The Subway Sect until later he now manages St Leonard’s Horses who played Camden Rocks 2016, no-one ever entirely escapes Camden properly, it has seeped into the pores of the music industry.
Camden is a punk borough through and through, not in terms of Mohican haircuts and safety pins through noses, but in the way that in 1977 society was shaken up by an attitude which called for people to be individual, be themselves and kick back against conformity, narrow-mindedness and the elitist inclination of the musical industry. In short, Camden was fighting against the mundane X-Factor mediocrity long before Simon Cowell was wondering how to turn pop music into the audio equivalent of a microwave meal; brightly packaged with an excess of artificial additives, lacking in substance but still able to seduce the unwary inexperienced away from proper sustenance.
The first Camden Rocks was in 2009 and was not seen as a yearly event, it returned in 2013 with Irish alt rockers Therapy? heading the bill as it spread itself across 13 venues. Following on from the massive success of the previous year by 2014 it had enlisted twenty venues and around 200 bands to make it one of the biggest multi-site festivals in Europe and never looked back. Now in 2017 it is growing again, boasting 250 bands over 25 venues including for the first time KOKO Camden.
2017 is set to be a cracker, it’s obvious that with each passing year the eclectic mixture of old and new, established and unheard of acts seduces more and more bands and promoters to want to get on this particular bandwagon. The gradual release of names allows for a bit of a fanfare for everyone so the mid-sized acts don’t get lost under the heavyweights. Along with The Damned and Ruts DC other early announced acts to look out for are MOSES, a very promising young band who have a taste of Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian about them and who, after a year touring with established acts garnering lots of praise and new listeners alike, look set to explode into the public eye in 2017. Fizzy Blood, a hard rocking bunch of guys from the North who could easily fill the hole left by Black Spiders (look out for the flame hair gurning bassist, worth the admission money alone), the stoner rock gods known as Orange Goblin will be doing their own unique thing as well. As in previous years there is a Wildhearts connection, this year being Hey! Hello, alongside these there are bands such as Broken Witt Rebels and Oxygen Thief who haver had rave reviews for their performances in 2016 so their appearances are bound to be highly anticipated. Also confirmed are Camden favourites Hands Off Gretel who are riding a wave of enthusiasm following their terrific debut album ‘Burn The Beauty Queen’. Some of these bands will include members whose parents weren’t born when punk kicked off, it is truly a line-up with multi generational appeal.
The criticisms of any multi venue festival are primarily a lack of organisational efficiency and capacity issues at particular venues. This writer’s experience of both have been exemplary. The queue to exchange tickets for bands at 11am was at a brisk walking pace and whenever there were capacity problems at a venue it was quickly made clear and allowed you to make swift decisions. But You, the gig going public, need to be organised yourselves. There is no point going to a 200 capacity venue to hear a band your mate says will be the next best thing and arriving ten minutes before they go on. If indeed they are next year’s Nirvana then it will be packed and you will miss out. My advice is to obtain a map of Camden (you could buy one but unless you want to look like you’re doing a rocked out version of the three peaks I’d suggest a smaller printout) and mark where the venues are, there’s no point in travelling from one end of Camden to the other if it’s not essential. Secondly, be selective with your ‘must see’ list and leave spaces in your schedule. If you want to see a band at 4pm get there in good time to see the act before. You can fit 5 ‘must see’ acts in with the group before them on the day and this probably means you’ll get to see 5 bands you would never have considered and one may be your next favourite band. Finally, enjoy your homework, if there are 250 bands playing you will not have heard of every one, that’s what YouTube is for. By May you should know who you like and who you don’t, if band A is packed you’ll know whether you like band B or C and adjust accordingly, you don’t want to get to a venue see some rubbish then hear something spectacular next door when you leave.
Most importantly, take chances on unknown acts, you’ll see some absolute class acts and what’s more there is nothing better than being the subject of a ‘before they were famous’ conversation.