An opening batsman sets the tone for a whole team’s innings. If they walk to the crease and hit a century the day is set to be a success, this is what it was with Imperial Leisure playing at the Electric Ballroom, a venue “big enough to fit (their) egos”. On stage Imperial Leisure are a feast for the eyes and ears, they have a brass section which gets their groove on big time, a mental keyboard player who acts like a hyperactive rabbit in sunglasses and a rock solid rhythm section and guitar providing the backbone of the sound. On top of that comes the legend that is Denis Lawrence, proving that with age doesn’t always come wisdom and that combat shorts and walking boots are suitable attire for leaping from stage, across photo pit and barrier, into the crowd. Upbeat, optimistic, cheeky and fun, the tone of the day was set.
Next stop was Dublin Castle, at the opposite end of the spectrum sizewise. As you passed through the swinging doors into the windowless music venue the temperature dropped and the volume went up. On stage were Frauds, a Croydon based two piece punk act who rely on humour as well as talent, they enjoying talking to the crowds between acts with a tongue firmly in cheek. The terrific ‘Suck Jobs’ is a song about stag dos and is the only time I’ve heard ‘front bum’ being used as a lyric, another song started with 30 seconds of crying, lasted for another 15 seconds of a killer riff and utterly mental drumming, then finished with a very polite “Thank you Camden” from drummer and vocalist Chris Francombe, it’s this kind of surreal lunacy that make them an entertaining live act. As one fellow crowd member put it “I loved them, especially the song about eating a sandwich”.
The buzz which precedes any performance by MOSES is thrilling and so it was on entering Koko, a new venue for this year’s festival. The surroundings were absolutely exquisite, being as it is an old theatre with all the original features and the performance on stage from the band was as good as any other on stage today. It is impossible to hear MOSES and not tap your feet, if the Devil has all the best tunes then MOSES have no souls. Victor’s voice is something to behold and Juno’s athletic gymnastic routines whilst not missing a note of the intricate singalong melodies are unbelievable. The energy on stage was phenomenal and the atmosphere is the room palpably rose during what was a 30 minute set showcasing quite a few of the new songs which will presumably end up on their debut album. Arena worthy, I implore you, see them soon.
Across the road is the Crowndale, the antithesis of the grandeur of Koko, it was hot, far too bright but somehow perfect for the next act Massmatiks. George Peploe, the front man, teaches kickboxing and it’s the same balance of aggression, energy, endurance and anger which go into his performances. The room filled, everyone was engaged and the guys flew through their current repertoire with aplomb, they are becoming accomplished performers now and have earned their right to a headline tour which indeed they have coming this September. Watching Massmatiks is like the aural equivalent of that drunken night in the boozer with all your mates when you set the world to rights, there’s frustration and anger and joy and laughter but you’re safe to lash out because you among friends, equally it is very possible George may climb on the bar in both these scenarios, he certainly did in the Crowndale. Absolutely incendiary, Massmatiks are the real deal and are going to set fire to venues across the country with their charming (but hard to define) brand of funky rap punk metal.
Into the same room came Stereo Juggernaut and created an atmosphere similar to when you go to a friends house and there’s been an unresolved argument just before you got there. They struggled to get the backing track set up, the drummer had some timing issues but when they got going they performed pretty well but it just felt a bit awkward really, disappointing. The lead singer was in good voice and the bass player was obviously very talented but when an act start insulting the organiser of the festival it makes for uncomfortable watching. They finished and the room emptied of those who were still left, quietly.
Why would you put three keyboards, a guitar and a drum kit into a tiny room in the Hawley Arms for Camden ROCKS festival? Well, this was the question which was answered emphatically and at top volume by the intensely rocking LOSERS. They were fantastic and whilst being heavy on the keyboards, including one which was used for the bass track and was worn over the shoulder, they rocked as hard as any other act today. Paul Mullen was mesmerising and the music was original, intense and at times only just they right side of uncomfortable. Certainly for this writer they were the surprise of the day leaving you in equal parts stunned and slightly elated.
Black Orchid Empire were playing at the Dublin Castle and it was nicely full. BAE play straight forward virtuoso hard rock, they have simple drum rhythms, complex Muse like bass lines but the killer riffs are what elevate them from the ordinary. Live they sound as good as on record and the new songs they showcased are just as strong as their first album. Paul Visser is a superb guitarist and you sense he’s a really nice guy too. That maybe their only problem, what they were missing was that touch of jeopardy, the danger of a live performance, you can’t imagine BOE ever putting a foot wrong.
Reigning Days always look like they are having the time of their lives regardless of how poor the sound is or whether you can actually see them properly. This was the case when they played The Devonshire Arms. From a position both central and at the front it was possible to only see lead singer Dan’s head and shoulders peaking over a massive speaker that did nothing for his voice. This didn’t put them off and they smiled their way through a set list containing a mix of old and recent songs along with some which will be appearing on their upcoming LP on Marshall Records. One thing was very apparent though, live these guys are slick and tight. When there was a couple of minutes extra at the end they effortlessly extended their final track, the excellent Renegade, with a minute or so extra, giving bass player Jonny (who you could see all of) a chance to continue to show off his outstanding talents. His bass playing switches from a traditional bass line flowing under the track to using it like the lead guitar throughout many of the tracks, quite something to behold. In a difficult situation it was a terrific set from the west country boys.
Round the corner to the Electric Ballroom was a swift walk due to the threatening rainstorm and the impending stage time for The Damned, sadly both were a little wet. The venue was rammed to the rafters with new and old fans alike, The Damned fanbase had turned out in force. But this was half the problem, even though the sound was a bit muffled, you could barely hear Vanian and the band seemed a little jaded, they were still hailed as heroes after each song. They have a new album due to be recorded soon, finance and distribution are all in place, let us hope that this rabid sycophancy does not dampen creativity because when they are at their best The Damned create genre defying music tainted not whatsoever with the weight of expectation.
Disappointment turned to optimism when the future of toe tapping melodic indie music started their set at Lyttelton Arms. Faers are just boys at the moment waiting for their first beard to grow but despite this they put on a charmingly understated but energetic show to finish the night. The sound quality was crisp and clear and it certainly suited the young band from London who managed to illicit a response from a festival jaded crowd. Ones to watch for the future in the Two Door Cinema, Youth Club vein.
While they were playing their set some lunatics three miles away were causing terror and taking lives but today, everywhere in Camden there were smiles, optimism and a shared love in music. The opposite of terror is joy and that’s what music brings, joy and a shared spirit of community. In these unsure times it is more important than ever that events like these bring people together. Hate never wins.