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Camden Rocks 2015: The Big Review

Bullet For My Valentine pull out the big guns at raucous London all-dayer

It’s 2pm, the sun is shining, and Camden is inundated with a variety of football fans, tourists, miscreants, and rock ‘n’ roll partisans from all walks of life. It could actually be just another Saturday in the beating heart of London’s rock scene. Except it’s not. It’s Camden Rocks 2015, and the scene is set for another almighty annual celebration of rock.

There’s no time to enjoy the nice weather or the plethora of local attractions on offer, however, as Wolverhampton’s God Damn are about to play the dingy confines of Camden’s Electric Ballroom, which seems like the perfect setting for the uncompromising music this Black Country pair supply. Fresh from supporting Foo Fighters at their Old Trafford Stadium show in Manchester earlier this week, they appear dressed like a hillbilly Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee straight out of a modern day remake of Deliverance, after which they proceed to treat (if you can call such an onslaught of noise a ‘treat’) punters to a short but provocative set of monolithic tracks from their astonishing debut album Vultures. They open with an earth-shattering version of Shoeprints and close with the album’s title track, which showcases the band’s fervent ear for melody despite all the distortion and menace in their music. You couldn’t ask for a better, or indeed more ear-bursting start to the day. (MS)

The Barfly is amply full for the heroic return of Attention Thieves. They’ve had a turbulent time lately, with vocalist Alex Green battling prescription drug addiction due to a slipped disc, leading to a heart attack at 27. With arm in sling, Green and his bandmates pull out a storming set, their post-hardcore tinged rock receiving louder cheers as their set progresses.Tracks from their debut album Year of the Jackal soar loud and proud from the PA as the band begin to rewrite their own history; there’s a bright future ahead for this lot. (CG)

An overly bassy sound cannot hide the fact that Baby Chaos leader Chris Gordon is one of the finest songwriters of his or any other generation. Neither can the 3pm slot prevent this reunited mob from delivering what feels like an arresting and impassioned headliner set. It’s one killer song after another, from mid-90s gems like Sperm and She’s In Pain, right up to newcomers like Blackbirds and riotously cool scorcher P P P Peaches. (JA)

Around the corner from Camden Town station, things are hotting up in The Black Heart. People are cramming in to see former Rise to Remain chaps** As Lions’ **fifth-ever show. Pulling double duty as they take a quick detour from their opening slots with Wovenwar, the band impress with their main-stage ready, festival-strength metalcore. Austin Dickinson is a born frontman (wonder where he got that from?) and his vocals on The Suffering and The Fall sail across the thick chunks of metallic riffery pumped out by the band. (CG)

Another band pulling double duty at Camden Rocks are Creeper. The Stillery fills to capacity and it’s one in, one out on the door as people clamber over furniture – and each other – to see the Southampton goth punks. Their brief set comprises almost entirely of their debut EP, which is sang back to them by the highly vocal audience. VCR is a standout and Novena is a spine-tingling closer, with vocalist Will Gould’s poetic lyrics coming to life through his charismatic stage presence. (CG)

Back in The Stillery, **Rival State **manage to pull off a raucous set filled with high-octane rock ’n’ roll stompers. Mixing the old sensibilities of classic rock with fresh, low-end riffs, the New Zealanders whip the crowd into a frenzy. Wiry frontman Luke Van Hoof keeps the onlookers wholly entertained as twin brothers Joe and Stefan Einarsson thrash out some momentous riffage on guitar and bass respectively. Tracks like Aces and Modern Living whet the audience’s appetite and the finishing blow of Sweet Talker sees Van Hoof parading through the audience and climbs the central pillar with ease. (CG)

Next up in the town’s old Stable Market, it’s “rock dad” Ginger Wildheart. Not our words Ginger, but the words of Johnny Hall from Baby Godzilla, who’s just one of the countless number of people crammed into Proud hoping to catch a streamlined version of Wildheart’s critically acclaimed Songs & Words tour. Just like in the full version of the show, he runs through acoustic renditions of Wildhearts classics (Turning American, Miles Away Girl, I Wanna Go Where the People Go and Sick Of Drugs) and songs from his numerous side-projects, interspersing them with tales of debauchery from his eventful and prolific career. He thanks everyone in attendance for coming to see him instead of all the other acts on at the same time, and jokingly applauds their “impeccable taste”. With his back catalogue and the respect and admiration he garners from fans and fellow musicians alike (Frank Turner can also be seen in the crowd eagerly singing along), we’re inclined to interpret this jest more as a statement of fact. As ever though, his faux-arrogance is underscored with sincerity and humility as he proclaims, “You won’t find a more grateful motherfucker than me”, and Wildheart proves yet again why he’s one of the most loved figures in rock. (MS)

By the time Derbyshire punk rockers **Max Raptor **hit The Barfly stage, the venue is at capacity and the queue bleeds out into the street. Those lucky enough to be inside jostle for position as the quartet blast out some politically-conscious belters, new song Concrete fitting in perfectly with underground classics like Obey the Whips and England Breathes. New song Population sees a wall of death break out and The King is Dead inspires a frenzied circle pit that the venue can barely contain. Max Raptor deserve much more prominence in the scene, and hopefully they’ll be rattling the brains of bigger crowds when their new album emerges. (CG)

You’d be hard pressed to find a better good time rock ‘n’ roll band on today’s bill than Black Spiders, and the 10-legged party machine take to the stage just as day is turning into night and the time is right to crank things up a notch. By now the Electric Ballroom is heaving, and their outlaw anthems get the room singing, drinking, fist pumping, and generally having a damn good time. Frontman Pete ‘Spider’ Spiby encourages everyone to stick up their middle fingers and say, “Fuck you Black Spiders”, before launching into the anti-authority of Stick It To The Man, and after the frankly genius lyrics of “Eat thunder / shit lighting” in What Good’s a Rock Without a Roll there’s not a person in the place without a smile on their face. St. Peter, Balls and set-closer Kiss Tried to Kill Me round off a thoroughly entertaining collection of tunes that leave the crowd well and truly rocked to the core. (MS)

Next stop is the Jazz Cafe on Parkway, which traditionally houses hip-hop, blues, reggae, soul, and of course jazz music. But we’re here to see Dinosaur Pile-Up and they deal in loud and belligerent rock ‘n’ roll. We arrive as the band performs Mona Lisa and My Rock ‘n’ Roll off their debut album Growing Pains, before going into some brand new material, which frontman Matt Bingland makes no bones about hyping in the intro. They proceed to tear their way through Anxiety Trip and Eleven Eleven – both of which are unfamiliar to the majority of people in the crowd – before putting down their instruments and exiting the stage as the feedback from the amps still lingers in the air. The bar staff appear bewildered and bemused by what they’ve just witnessed, but seemingly grateful for a respite from all the distortion, whilst the crowd look delighted by the stripped back, turned up, no thrills barrage of punk rock unassumingly laid out before them. Top stuff. (MS)

“We’ll be playing adult contemporary music for your enjoyment,” explains …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead maestro Conrad Keely as they take to the Electric Ballroom stage. A huge coup for the festival organisers, the Texans proceed to bewitch and bedazzle those in attendance with their complex alt-rock offerings, playing a fiery set that takes in highlights across their illustrious back catalogue. The crowd is relatively static compared to the often frenetic music washing over them, but with a band like …Trail of Dead, it’s hard to do anything except get lost in the music and simply appreciate every second. (CG)

Over at the Proud Gallery,** GUN **ensure that Camden Rocks gets an earful of solid, rowdy rock. Tracks from their latest album Frantic like Labour of Life blend well with old standards Money (Everybody Loves Her) and their cover of Cameo’s Word Up!. Guitarist Jools Gizzi belts out solos while his brother Dante’s sultry vocals satisfy a receptive audience. Much like Anvil, they could once have been the biggest band in their genre, yet circumstances led them down a different path. Despite this, they step up to the plate and deliver a worthy set. (CG)

From here we fight our way through the bustling streets to the other side of town to check out Eureka Machines at The Cuban bar. Like his old mate Ginger Wildheart, frontman Chris Catalyst is a man of the people. We just about manage to spot him in his trademark trilby through the packed out room of adoring fans who’ve travelled far and wide to see one rock’s great unsung heroes play another solid set of upbeat, catchy, power-pop classics. He dedicates the title track of his latest album Brain Waves to everyone in the room for supporting live music, but fails to mention the fact that it got to number three in the UK Rock Charts, which is an incredible feat for a band as DIY as his. But he doesn’t need to gloat because the sea of supporters who’ve shown up to see him perform is validation enough, and the way he charmingly refers to everyone as “kids” – despite the fact that half the heads in the crowd are bald – proves that rock ‘n’ roll is the music of eternal youth, and Catalyst succeeds in making everyone here feel forever young. He works outside the system and it’s clearly working for him, so long may his independent reign continue. (MS)

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Camden Rocks 2015: Hawk Eyes, Eureka Machines, Ginger Wildheart, God Damn, Skindred Photos: Alison Clarke

By the time Hawk Eyes hit The Stillery stage at 8pm, the venue has pretty much ran out of booze and there are no stage lights to speak of. Faced with a thirsty crowd, the band play their already chaotic, balls to the wall songs at breakneck speed. Sometimes a wild audience gives a band the fuel they need to ignite a set – and the Leeds quartet deliver a suitably volatile set. (CG)

We ahead across the road to the seedy pit of The Underworld next to witness punk legends The Dictators NYC bring their unique brand of original punk ‘n’ roll to Camden Town. They open with The Party Starts Now, which does exactly what it promises, before rolling out The Next Big Thing off their debut album The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!. That record turned 40 this year, but still sounds as fresh and exciting as when it first came out. During the following Avenue A, Who Will Save Rock ‘N’ Roll and (I Live For) Cars and Girls you can hear the influence The Dictators have exerted on everyone from the Descendents and Suicidal Tendencies to Beastie Boys and The Hives. Frontman Handsome Dick Manitoba is also one rock’s most charismatic and unpredictable performers, and at the age of 61 he shows no signs of mellowing out, whilst the band look and sound as though they still live for rock ‘n’ roll. Their set this afternoon feels like a real standout moment, and it’s great to see so many passionate fans so appreciative of their chance to witness a key piece of rock history kick it live. They don’t make bands like this anymore. (MS)

It’s back to Proud after this for the second set of the day from Richie Ramone. He performed a Ramones-only set earlier this afternoon at the Electric Ballroom and we can’t help but feel like perhaps booking him twice spreads the legacy a little thin, particularly as he only has one solo record to his name. Sadly, the half-filled room for his second show confirms our reservations about the double performance. Nevertheless, with right-hand man Alex Kane (AntiProduct) by his side on lead guitar, and a few Ramones classics from his tenure with the band sprinkled around some choice cuts from his debut record Entitled, those present for round two are treated to a gloriously ramshackle collection of garage rock belters that remind you just where punk rock came from, and also where it belongs: “In all the dingy basements / And all the dingy streets”, as The Clash once sang. With a second album already promised for later this year, we can’t wait to hear more material from the iconic sticksman turned frontman. (MS)

Meanwhile, Bristol freak-out merchants Turbowolf turn the Barfly into an undulating mass of sweat and illicit dance moves as day turns into night. Their latest album Two Hands continues the legacy of their eponymous debut and the way the tracks play out live is beyond moreish. The luscious, psychedelic riffs on Rabbits Foot and Solid Gold get the entire room wilding out together as moustachioed frontman Chris Georgiadas launches himself into their receiving arms. Band and audience become one as members of the crowd take to the stage, joining in with the frivolities and the volume dials are solidly turned to ‘party’ throughout. It’s no wonder the queue was round the block way ahead of their allotted stage time and by the looks of the dishevelled, grinning, panting faces of those that got to witness Turbowolf in the flesh, it was clearly one of the best sets of the day.

By now the sun has set, everyone seems sufficiently lubricated with liquor, and the prospect of seeing Skindred at The Underworld has us chomping at the bit. Understandably, queues go from the front door all the way round the street to the back of venue, whilst those lucky enough to be inside know that they’re about to witness something special. The trademark Thunderstruck by AC/DC and a remix of The Imperial March from Star Wars play out before Skindred emerge one-by-one, the band’s illustrious frontman Benji Webbe appearing last to rapturous applause. Before they’ve even played a note it’s obvious the place is about to erupt with excitement, and over the next hour an eruption is exactly what takes place. It’s not the tightest set we’ve seen the ‘Dred play, but it is pure punk rock, and the mix of established singles like Doom Riff and Ratrace with more recent deep cuts like Proceed With Caution off their latest (criminally underrated) album_ Kill The Power_ ensure there’s something for the casual listener and the hardcore fans. As ever as well, Webbe is on fine form both vocally and during his razor sharp interactions and provocations with the crowd. Time and time again, Skindred demonstrate why they’re so often referred to as one of best live acts this country has to offer. Good job, lads. (MS)

As the festival’s scheduled events draw to a close it’s back over to the Jazz Cafe to watch one of the UK’s most innovative and original bands bring procedures to a suitably epic close. As enigmatic frontman Justin Sullivan confirms, New Model Army have around “220 songs to choose from”, and fitting such a vast and varied discography into an hour’s set is no easy task, but it does ensure wall-to-wall soundscapes of enchantment for the diehards gathered forming human pyramids – which is the sight we’re greeted with as we walk through the door. Songs off their latest album Between Wine and Blood(Angry Planet) accompany older tracks from No Rest for the Wicked (No Greater Love) and Impurity (Get Me Out), but the majority of the set list is lifted from albums released over the last few years, substantiating New Model Army’s ongoing relevance to the contemporary musical landscape, as their billing on Camden Rocks festival further attests. They finish with I Love The World, and we’re left feeling a very similar way. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable day characterized by an exceptional line-up of bands and artists from every end of the rock spectrum, spanning multiple decades and genres. Now it’s on to the after party to continue the festivities into the wee hours. (MS)

The two bands closing out the Electric Ballroom tonight both have something to prove. For While She Sleeps, it’s that the colossal momentum behind them that climaxed with 2012’s stellar This Is The Six debut wasn’t shattered by the horrendously bad timing of Loz Taylor’s double throat surgeries, and while the Ballroom isn’t quite packed to the rafters, there are enough people here to suggest that there is plenty of interest and goodwill left for the best young British band in heavy music. And, luckily, from golden oldie Crows to cuts from excellent new opus Brainwashed, they totally crush it. **Bullet For My Valentine **are perhaps in more serious need of a pick-me-up after the mostly bobbins Temper Temper, and the arena-worthty lighting rig they bring with them suggests they are most definitely not fucking about. Kicking off with a ferocious debut airing of No Way Out, the modern metal titans effortlessly steam through a hit-stacked set that, for the most part, has a now packed Ballroom singing and screaming its head off. New boy Jamie Mathias has slotted in seamlessly and knocks his backing vocals out of the park, while frontman Matt Tuck struts around the stage like a man all too accustomed to playing venues ten times the size of the Ballroom. It’s not quite as punked-up and firey a set as you’d hope given such intimate surroundings, but Bullet have their craft well-honed by now, and the ecstatic response that greets the likes of Tears Don’t Fall, Scream Aim Fire and Waking The Demon underlines the considerable impact that they’ve had on our world – while promising, heavy newie Broken hints that they may well have steered themselves back on course. Don’t count them out yet. (MA)

Rounding out the proceedings at Dingwalls, Welsh post-hardcore legends Funeral For A Friend hammer out their third set of the day. The good thing about a festival like Camden Rocks is that fans get the chance to see some of the country’s biggest bands in intimate surroundings. FFAF decide to make the most of this opportunity, and immediately kick in to Roses For The Dead as the whole venue bounces in unison. The band seem well aware that most people have been watching music for the last 10 hours, so they bring out the big guns: Rookie of the Year, Streetcar and Juneau are all aired and the quintet seem in fine fettle considering the physical demands of their day. A euphoric rendition of Recovery sees Matt Davies-Kreye’s voice sounding stronger than it has in recent years and an emotional closer of Escape Artists Never Die sends the Camden Rocks faithful into the night with fond memories and full hearts. (CG)

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Camden Rocks 2015: Bullet For My Valentine, Black Spiders, Creeper, Dinosaur Pile-Up, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, While She Sleeps, As Lions, Funeral For A Friend Photos: Sandra Sorensen