Camden Town has always been a diverse makeup, a ‘hometown’ for many close and afar, a place which perhaps best demonstrates London’s embracing of the alternative. The commencement of the now annual Camden Rocks Festival doubles down on this reality, attracting music fans near and far to witness the best of the alternative music scene.
Camden Rocks is a festival like no other. Whereas the likes of Reading, Wireless and others occasionally feels like being spoon fed a corporate mix of already very famous bands, a greater emphasis is placed on giving a platform to the best up and comers, offering a refreshing opportunity to get a taste of what’s developing on the scene. That is not to say that there were not still impressive headliners, with Public Image Limited taking centre stage at the Electric Ballroom and a glorious post-Britpop experience at the Koko with Maximo Park. The beauty, however, lay in the emphasis on the new.
After collecting my pass I began to plan for the day deciding first to head down to the Monarch to catch The Towers of London. The atmosphere in Camden is always inclusive and electric, but my ten-minute walk from Camden Town Station made the festival vibe even more apparent, with music fans out to enjoy not only the music but the company of like-minded people. Just because this was a one-day urban environment, doesn’t mean the camaraderie of a muddy field was lost.
Upon reaching the Monarch I awaited the emergence of the Towers of London, the venue at full capacity. To my shame, I must admit I had come fully in the hope lead singer Donny Tourette would yet again claim he could ‘d*** on the Sex Pistols’ and that he was not to be messed with. Notorious for his (to put it kindly) humiliating experience on Never Mind The Buzzcocks at the hands of Simon Amstell, Tourette, in the eyes of many, forever tarnished the name of the Towers, sending them into the realms of obscurity. After blaring through what was, to their credit, an actually very good rendition of ‘I’m a Rat’, then being followed by a heckle with Amstell’s infamous ‘down with Thatcher’ put down, I thought I knew the direction of this gig – a band past their time desperate to stay relevant. It was only when they played their new single ‘Green Eye’, however, that I began to get it. Gone was Tourette’s hairspray heavy barnet, and gone (in their new singles at least) were the Towers desperate attempts to be punk. Good enough was ‘Green Eye’ that I have since given it a spin on Spotify, an outcome of a Towers of London gig I was not expecting. No longer does Donny Tourette appear to be a wannabe punk, desperate in wanting to rebel but not quite hitting the mark. Instead, lies a man who has matured and actually seems to be producing decent music. Say what you like about the band’s style, but they can definitely put on a show, with Tourette diving into the crowd and climbing around the venue as if it was his own. I managed to have a brief chat with Tourette after the show, who as well as being surprisingly humble also provided a thoughtful if brief description of the Towers’ new direction- ‘been through a lot, have to sing about it’. It is important not to overstate the praise laid out as the Towers are hardly doing anything new. However, in a still-thriving scene of bucket hats and Strongbow Dark Fruits, the Towers could well have a place in the realm of alternative music.
The Skinner Brothers had arrived not only with an riotous unpredictability but also a fantastic sound
Up next was a band many had been waiting for, the Skinner Brothers. As an atmosphere of ecstatic unrest built, the fans of one of London’s most dangerous up and coming bands began to flock, creating an impressive audience for a group who currently only have a few live sets under their belt. Renowned for their impressive gigs supporting the Libertines in Scotland, and notorious for their post-gig fights and antics, The Skinner Brothers have made quite a name for themselves on the London scene. Twenty minutes before their set time, bassist ‘Piff Spice’ emerged, bouncing down the main road, shortly followed by Slade Gabbici, Chino Pola and lead singer Zachary Charles Skinner. As their ‘creative director’ Patrick Lyons stirred up the crowd with a rousing introduction, The Skinner Brothers crack straight into ‘Nothing But an Actor’ establishing the frenzied energy that would continue. The Skinner Brothers had arrived not only with a riotous unpredictability but also a fantastic sound. In a musical landscape dominated with highly produced recordings, it’s refreshing to hear a band who sound just as good live as in the studio, while maintaining the rawness that rock ‘n’ roll is so desperately lacking. Following the action-packed set which included hit single ‘Watchu’, as well as a performance of their now released single ‘I Wanna Get High’, the intensity hit its ultimate peak. With the growl of Piff’s bass thrashing the entirety of Camden Rocks, crowd favourite ‘Chelsea Boy’ descended the venue into true Skinner Brother chaos. Climbing the bar and (much to the dismay of the barmaid) pouring a pint on the house, Skinner and Piff then surfed the crowd while Slade and Chino maintained intensity on the stage, leading to a phenomenal end to a wonderfully unpredictable gig. One must not forget the real force behind the Skinner Brothers – great music. Speaking briefly to Skinner, he perhaps best summarised what they bring to the table. ‘Soul, I’ve got soul’, he tells me, agreeing when I ask about influence from Sinatra. With songs as good and attitude as dangerous as this, the future for The Skinner Brothers can only be bright.
After exploring Camden’s up and coming for a while longer, soaking up the atmosphere of the fantastic smaller venues hosting a range of fantastic bands, the time approached to pick my headline show. With the queue for Public Image Limited at the Electric Ballroom lining down the high street, I decided against trying my luck while trying to sneak my way through a sea of former 70s punks and instead headed down to the Koko to see Maximo Park. Unable to squeeze my way down to the main standing area earlier in the day when watching Twin Atlantic, I was eager to get a better spot this time. Arriving halfway through their blazing set, the venue truly managed to extract the energy the band deserved. Their blistering set brought my Camden Rocks experience to as close as I’d hoped- with loudness, rawness and honesty.
As I made my way back to the Underground, I fully realised the uniqueness of Camden Rocks as a festival. As fantastic as the headline acts were, the talk of Camden wasn’t Public Image, Maximo Park or Twin Atlantic. It was the bands dragging their own gear on the tube and playing in a ram-packed venue the size of a pub, to a crowd of people who might not have even known who they were. It was that dynamic, the rags to riches ambitions of aspiring icons, which truly ignited the spirit of Camden Rocks.