Camden Rocks Festival 2016 [Festival Review]
UPDATE: TMMP has been reborn! This video has the full story:
Camden High Street is a busy place at the best of times. Bargain hunters crowd its world-famous market; tourists take selfies in front of outlandish shopfronts; alternative fashionistas strut around in their latest cutting-edge purchases.
Add in Camden Rocks, a twenty-venue, two-hundred-band music festival stretching from the vicinity of the Roundhouse down to Mornington Crescent, and you’re talking the coolest kind of chaos imaginable.
Deep in the belly of The Underworld, The Algorithm (90%) kicked off my Camden Rocks experience in appropriately overwhelming fashion. Made up of producer-composer-guitarist Rémi Gallego, his laptop, and drummer Jean Ferry, The Algorithm is/are synonymous with brain-breaking electro-djent, a mashup of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s mathy complexity, crushing Meshuggah heaviness, and Aphex Twin’s taste for the twisted. It’s not for the faint of heart or ear, but put it this way – it’s one way to wake yourself up.
Anyone struggling to cure their Friday night hangover will have found it miraculously dissipated by The Algorithm on Saturday afternoon. By comparison, InMe (70%) were completely chilled out – although given their status as kings of early-millennial alt-metal, they’re hardly lightweights in any sense of the word. At The Underworld, InMe suffered severely from poor-quality sound, but pulled through it on the back of ball-breaking energy and a closing rendition of Firefly that got the room singing their hearts out.
From this point, Camden Rocks threatened to turn into the London Marathon as I checked my map to discover that Dorje had been criminally stuck in a venue next to Mornington Crescent, which a helpful local informed me was “…faackin’ miles away, mate” from my next stop, Dingwalls. Since nobody’s invented a teleportation app for iPhone, there wasn’t much choice but to acknowledge Festival Commandment Number One (“At least one of thy favourite bands shalt be forced to play so far away from the main festival site that they might as well be in New Zealand”). Fortunately, the rest of Camden Rocks more than made up for it.
Blood Youth (85%) have spent the last year or so making waves with seriously cathartic tunes which mix modern hardcore with groove-heavy millennial metal. Hearing the likes of 247, Mood Swing, Failure and Dead Space up close and personal in Dingwalls’ canalside section was an experience few present are likely to forget anytime soon. Five seconds away in Dingwalls’ main room, Sonic Boom Six (92%) made the first Precisely Rehearsed Pro Band Entrance of the day, obviously hyped up and ready to go in front of an oddly subdued crowd.
No band sticks around for as long as Sonic Boom Six have without resilience – and despite playing to a packed room, SB6 had to draw on that same quality to win Camden over. Dropping into new song Do What You Wanna Do with a stripped-down, raw ska-punk sound, it felt like the punters in attendance had gone into Dingwalls with expectations that didn’t quite match what was being delivered. That was also the case for me at first – but then it’s normal for bands to adopt different sounds on the stage versus in the studio, so adjusting to it was easy, and made the set as a whole a lot more enjoyable.
Beyond Bigger Than Punk Rock came No Man No Right, a feminist-friendly track I’ve already written enough about introduced by a cheeky rendition of the riff from Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. The reaction to that particular tune – which is basically about men attempting to control women, and makes a lot of valid gender-relations-related points – actually got more men moving than women. That was pretty badass. No Man No Right was the point where things first started to pick up – as well as one of the tightest songs in the set.
Since “…this is Camden Rocks, not Camden Skanks,” Sonic Boom Six deemed it time for “…a bit of rock,” in the form of The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions. Slowly, Dingwalls came to life in time for brand new disco song L.O.V.E., the frantic Meanwhile, Back In The Real World, the bouncy All In, and truth-speaking early song Monkey See, Monkey Do. Then, things dropped down a level for…
…From The Fire To The Frying Pan. I’m still scratching my head about the response to this one – or more accurately the lack thereof. Fast forward to Kids Of The Multiculture, which marked the point at which Sonic Boom Six emerged victorious crowd favourites after running through one of their most prominent anti-racist songs, and then back to From The Fire To The Frying Pan. Which was met with studious concentration at best, and disconnected dismissal at worst. It’s impossible to know which or why without a crystal ball, but my hunch is that while Kids Of The Multiculture highlights cases of people from different backgrounds getting along, From The Fire To The Frying Pan points out that even though we can all get along, it’s still extremely easy for people to get sucked into the world of racist extremism. One song optimistically looks at the bright side, the other acknowledges that there’s still work to be done; one might give the impression that racism isn’t an issue anymore, while the other forces listeners to consider the uncomfortable reality that racism is still an issue.
Or maybe one song has been around a while, and people know it, while the other is still new, and Sonic Boom Six’s listeners are still getting used to it.
In any case, the remainder of Sonic Boom Six’s set – Piggy In The Middle, Drop The Bass (And Pick It Up), Sound Of A Revolution, Joanna, Kids Of The Multiculture and Virus – aided the biggest victory of the day as Dingwalls shifted from apathy to appreciation. No matter the subject matter – partying, transgender identity crises, corporate greed or the Conservative government – Camden finally embraced Sonic Boom Six before bidding them farewell with applause earned through pure sweat and a lot of great music. So many other bands would have imploded or even turned abusive in the same situation; Sonic Boom Six just kept on doing their thing, waiting patiently for everyone else to catch up and catch on. There’s definitely a lesson to be learnt there.
One trek down to The Black Heart later, I was faced with a very, very different band. The Hell (87%) are above all else a comedy band happy to heckle their fans at least as much as they get heckled themselves. Unllike most comedy bands, though, The Hell are heavy as hell, dealing out short and sharp tech-hardcore tracks with family-unfriendly lyrics. If your idea of a rollicking good time involves headbanging to filthy riffs while being called a dick, The Hell are for you – and getting crammed sardine-like into a tiny room above a pub while half the room moshed and crowdsurfers were sandwiched between outstretched arms and the ceiling (as the people underneath them probably labelled them “dicks”) is the kind of thing urban festival legends are made of.
Rest assured (or alarmed), The Hell are real.
Back in The Underworld again, I took a breather and readied myself for my Camden Rocks wild card: Zebrahead (91%), whose hard-partying pop punk fuelled the most happy-go-lucky set of the day. I’d never seen or even listened to those guys before, but it was instantly easy to understand why they’ve been around for as long as they have. Zebrahead keep things simple and direct, leaving their fans plenty of space to play with beach balls, create circle pits, and play-fight to their hearts’ content. Throw in a bit of non-didactic political passion and stage managers dressed as a pink bunny and Pikachu, and you have a band of winners who won one new fan over here.
After all that chaos, my brain just about had enough juice left to handle SikTh (100%), who gave literally everything they had over the course of their first Underworld show in almost a decade and a half. SikTh’s history has been eventful, to say the least – taking in one big split, one massive comeback, and one of the most respected back catalogues in metal – and this show will go down as yet another landmark event. More on that in a minute.
This was a set of three parts. First up: Philistine Philosophies, Part Of The Friction, Hold My Finger, Scent Of The Obscene, Flogging The Horses, Mikee Goodman’s a cappella When Will The Forest Speak?, and the annihilative Wait For Something Wild. That part alone – the kind of relentless rhythmic rampage that SikTh are known for and always, always deliver – was worth the price of admission, while the third section (Pussyfoot, Skies Of Millennium Night, and Bland Street Bloom) brought an emotional evening to a close.
In the middle of it all came a brief break. The news wasn’t technically new, having been announced via social media the previous afternoon: SikTh co-vocalist Justin Hill was departing to focus on his production career, while the rest of the band set to work recording their hotly anticipated third full-length album with Justin’s replacement, Joe Rosser (also of Aliases, alongside SikTh guitar wizard Pin). Before his bandmates presented him with commemorative old-man slippers and a pipe, Justin tore through the classic Peep Show alone, showing all in attendance that he’s still capable of the kind of performance many of his peers would envy, taking on not only his own parts but those of the absent-this-song Mikee Goodman while SikTh’s backline backed him up with focussed determination. Moments like that highlight an often overlooked truth about the metal community: underneath all the aggression lies love, respect, and a bond forged around vibrations in the air. It was obvious that to everyone in attendance at the Underworld, Justin Hill will be missed.
At the literal and metaphorical end of the day, life moves on. The divide between SikTh and Aliases has just gotten smaller; Justin Hill received the perfect send-off after singing and screaming his heart out at one of London’s most legendary metal venues; and tech-metal fans have a brand new milestone to look forward to in the future.
As for me, I emerged into the fresh air to find Camden returning to normal. How could I tell? Because I saw a bloke in a tracksuit walking up to random strangers and talking to them through a teddy bear glove puppet. Festival or no festival, Camden remains random as fuck.
Overall Festival Rating: 95%
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