Carouser Coverage: Camden Rocks 2016

June 16, 2016

For one day only, Camden Town overspilled with rockers and music fans rather than the usual confused tourists. It was only right that we sent Mandy Morello to check out the damage at Camden Rocks.

It was 12pm on a Saturday and the bouncers in Camden Town already had bags under their eyes and were yawning beyond comprehension. One tells me they’ve had a 9am start and already the bars were full of black-shirted wanderers chugging back endless jars of Kraken rum. Camden Rocks was back for another year and claiming back the streets for a whole day of bands and debauched mayhem.

People came in packs with blow up guitars and wristbands wrapped tightly around their tattooed wrists, piling out the tube station like swarms of illustrated flies. Each pack hovered around one of the twenty venues that each had their own line up. Electric Ballroom was to host the best of the acts with Carl Barat & The Jackals, The Cribs and Penetration. The nightclub venue Proud followed in close second with acts like Billy Bragg and The Graveltones while other venues contained a few small gems, but was only worth visiting if there was a spare hour to kill.

I headed to Electric Ballroom in search of my first drink and a fistful of punk. There was a big display of Kraken Rum in the centre of the venue, securing their place as Camden Rock’s official sponsors for the day. The irony was, that it was a challenge to find a bottle of Kraken in any of the venues, including Electric Ballroom. I laughed as the bar tender said they didn’t stock the rum and continued laughing all the way to the stage with a fresh pint in my hand.

A few people were scattered around the stage and it was a fairly good turn out to see the the punk band Penetration that found fame with the ’70s hit ‘Don’t Dictate’. After a 36 year hiatus, they had begun touring for their latest album Resolution. The lights seared from the stage and the band began playing. The petite Pauline Murray popped up in a black hat with her still, youthful sounding voice. The crowd was a mixed bag of younger curious fans and a wealth of old retired punks who still danced to the music like it was 1979, reaking of attitude and rebellion. Penetration kept the audience engaged with quips about their new music and their angsty older songs.

After, I decided to go somewhere with a better alcohol choice and one of my favourite Camden spots, The Black Heart. unfortunately this venue was serving up screamo with a side dish of shit, so I only went there for the grandiose selection of drinks – and they actually served Kraken. On the etched up tables, I spied a leaflet with the most appetising of words – FREE ICE CREAM. According the leaflet, there was a Kraken Van on the prowl, and for the lucky people who found it, free rum ice cream was distributed. So I downed my drink and went to find the damn thing. It wasn’t hard to find. It was located in the markets at the mouth of Soloman’s Yard but they had run out quicker than the time it took to down my last pint. Bastards.

I walked into Proud to find an unusual set up. People had their fists raised high in the air to the sound of an acapella left-wing folk song. It was Billy Bragg‘s moment at Camden Rocks and quite predictably, he was using it to impose his political views on the crowd with much success. He also found time to give a quick book plug before exiting the stage.

Shortly following them was The Graveltones, thrashing and thumping their way on stage. Before too long, I had to leave to find a good spot back in the Electric Ballroom for Carl Barat and the Jackals. The room had swelled in numbers since my last visit, and everyone was sufficiently more drunk. I chose a place behind some short Asians, which is as good a place as any. Though they giggled and whispered to each other with their hands over their mouths so frequently that it was mildly distracting.

Carl Barat and The Jackals jumped on the stage to a roar of cheers and burst out with original Jackals tracks. They were full of sweaty energy and Carl Barat kept a humble narration throughout the show. He catered to all members of his audience with songs such as ‘Bang Bang’ for the Dirty Pretty Things fans and ‘Death On The Stairs’ for those with a love of The Libertines. The setlist was like the second CD of a greatest hits compilation, but it kept a good mix with his new stuff and ensured everyone stayed to drink some more shit beer throughout. It was definitely a highlight of the whole day.

Straight after, many packed themselves into the outside smoking area to talk about the events of the day. With the fog of smoke, the tight enclosure and the humidity, it felt a little Holocaulistic so I left promptly before I started scratching  at the walls, putting me off smoking for a good hour.

Headlining in the Electric Ballroom, and the main event of Camden Rocks was indie band The Cribs. Fronted by the Jarman twins, the band crawled on to the stage and began a sporadic performance. One of the twins (the one with long hair, I couldn’t tell difference by this point) came out, as drunk as the audience now were but still put on a great performance with songs such as ‘Men’s Needs’. Crowd surfers with beers still clasped in their hands were being throttled to the front to the sound of ‘Different Angle”.  They were better than I expected and the audience were having a wild time. Despite their intoxication they put on a show that rivalled some earlier bands and aptly closed the curtain on a long day.

The drink began to hit me and I soon began prying my eyelids open to watch the end of the performance. On the way to the night bus, the streets were littered with the bodies of drunks, empty cans and cigarette butts – just an average night in Camden. Camden Rocks has upped it game this year, but hopefully next year’s line up will be even better and perhaps actually stock their sponsor.

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