Nightmare Festival

The highpoints from Camden's newest rock festival

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With 140 bands rampaging across NW1, the Nightmare on Camden High Street festival presented a wonderful opportunity to gauge the temperature of the grass roots British guitar scene. Gavin Lloyd and Callum Galbraith braved the post-Halloween madness on the streets to check out the best of the bunch...

The day gets off to an eccentric start down by the Camden Lock in Dingwalls, with oddities DUCHESS (7) bringing the aristocracy back to rock and roll. There may only have been 15 people in the venue, but that didn’t stop the four piece from putting on quite the show. Arriving on stage in a full on Victorian frock and a Kate Middleton mask, frontman Sir Freddie Vintage pulled out all the stops to entertain those in attendance as the band backed him up with some hefty funk infused rock. Vintage even managed to get two costume changes in during their half an hour set, showing off his penchant for sparkly catsuits. A strong performance, but sadly not stronger than the sun blazing across the London skyline, leading to many staying outdoors during the early sets of the day.

Those that were out in the sun might have caught a glimpse of STAR SCREAM (6) in the Dingwalls Canalside venue, peering in through the windows to get a glimpse of their fiery brand of rock and electronica in the flesh. The London trio made the effort for the festival, dressing in full Halloween get ups which befitted their theatrical rock perfectly.

Also taking the Halloween bull by the (devil) horns, THE DIRTY THRILLS (7) smashed out a set of heavy blues-rock in the newly opened The Stillery. Dressed as dead pirates, they made the most of the small amount of space they had on the stage, with guitarist Jack Fawdry stealing the show, climbing speakers and downing a beer he picked up with his mouth whilst still churning out chunky riffs. (CG)

The sort of pop-rock DEAD (7) deal in has produced so many mediocre, similar sounding bands it would be easy to lose faith. However the Southampton quintet actually prove to have real potential at their early afternoon Barfly show. Having a bit more bite to them than many of their peers, not to mention some damn catchy choruses, and bags of energy that sees them leave the stage drenched in sweat. (GL)

THE HYPE THEORY (5) are perhaps the most obvious choice to be the first UK band to follow in Paramore’s footsteps, and while they fit the part in many ways there is a major flaw with the lack of memorable songs. It does little to capture the crowd’s attention, with even vocalist Katy Jackson acknowledging how ‘awkwardly quiet’ it is.

Rap-rock is very much a slippery slope, it’s all too easy for bands who try their hand at it to come across as disingenuous and even embarrassing. It’s testament to TYLER MAE (8) to just how well they’ve managed to pull it off, matching riffs with heavy bass, along with capable and believable MCs at their helm. It flows seamlessly and there’s a dark side to their music, which results in them being one of the first bands to actually manage pairing riffs with the grittiness of grime. (GL)

Over at The Black Cap, post-hardcore quartet ACODA (7) created a huge noise. Although somewhat clinical, their approach is consummately professional and the heavy-era Thrice like songs they perform are massively complimented by vocalist/guitarist Damon Tang’s soaring vocals and visceral screaming.

REWILD (5) are the next band to fall victim of an empty venue and it’s a shame to see The Jazz Café so quiet. Despite this, the six members try to give it their all with some slick rock and roll that sees vocalist Corrado Mandoli donning a blonde wig and making love to the front stage monitor throughout the set. (CG)

Camden’s Good Mixer is a nice little pub for a quiet afternoon pint. Well normally, for anyone hoping for that today is in for a big surprise in the form of the four shirtless members of FALLS (9) causing a right scene. Sharing Baby Godzilla’s same reckless disregard for, well everything, but teamed with a greater focus on big songs, plus a devilish sense of humour thrown into the mix, they provoke an awful lot of headbanging and put smiles on every face. A definite highlight of the day from the little known Welsh four piece. (GL)

With no Halloween gimmicks in sight, CALLING ALL CARS (8) rock a relatively busy Dingwalls and it’s clear from the off that they don’t need costumes to impress the crowd. The Aussie three piece’s indie rock sounds far more raucous live and frontman Haydn Ing ensures the crowd get an extreme close up view, as he brings his microphone to the middle of the room and faces the stage for the final moments of their set. (CG)

Of all the odd scenes there have been throughout today the worst surprisingly comes from BRAWLERS (6) at the Electric Ballroom. While the party punk of Instagram Famous and Two Minutes have the potential to be a lot of fun, a sever dampener is put on the mood when about half way through the set, while in the crowd frontman Harry George Johns forcefully pulls a girl to the floor and wraps himself around her despite her friend trying to pull her away. It seems highly inappropriate and is uncomfortable to watch, leaving an unpleasant atmosphere in the room. (GL)

Keeping it Yorkshire, we find ourselves back over in Dingwalls for HAWK EYES (8). Taking in elements spanning the vast landscape of metal and rock including sludge, prog, speed, tech and everything in between, Hawk Eyes deliver a storming set that cements them as one of the finest and most diverse bands of the UK underground scene. New song Die Trying sounds like a striking step in the right direction and although their chaotic nature makes it relatively difficult to pick out certain parts of their sound in the live setting, they fill people with enough intrigue to make sure they go home and check them out straight away ready for the release of their new album and next UK tour in February 2015.

The Underworld has certainly begun to fill up by the time THE ALGORITHIM (7) takes to the stage. The 25-year-old French man’s frenetic electronica spiked with heavy doses of djent guitars and drums stuns the crowd into submission as they stare open mouthed at the stage. Joined by Uneven Structure drummer Jean Ferry, Rémi Gallego’s mind melting rhythms are given a new lease of life in the live setting and the cheers he receives as he leaves the stage show that he definitely gained some new fans after his set. (CG)

Another wild card comes in the form of the electro rock of JESUS FUCKING CHRIST (3). It’s a sound that’s catching people’s attention, in particular the folks at Gallows’ Venn label who are putting out his EP, but his live show leaves a lot to be desired. It essentially boils down to a man running around on his own shouting over a backing track, something that takes considerably less talent than a child learning to colour between the lines. (GL)

MAX RAPTOR (8) are one of those bands that have been around for a while, floating around supporting other bands and playing at small festivals, and ultimately being easy for a lot of people to overlook. Today though the band are a revelation, better than they’ve ever been, full of energy and playing with the steely determination of an act that you simply have to pay attention to. It results in a crowd that is nothing short of riotous provoking some of the most vicious circle pits seen all day.

The career of INME (6) has been a funny old thing. While there is something admirable about how they’ve stuck to their guns and done things their own way long after their early status as magazine cover stars faded, a few more crowd pleasers would have been nice today. The likes of Firefly and Faster The Chase are set highlights, it’s just a shame there aren’t more. (GL)

Back from the dead for the Halloween weekend, ELLIOT MINOR (6) round off the Nightmare proceedings in The Underworld by playing their third set in 48 hours. Clearly favourites to many, the band prove that they’re still relevant, playing pop rock anthems old and new, with Parallel Worlds sitting neatly alongside new song All My Life. They came back once before earlier this year for two sold out dates at the Underworld in March and pretty much repeating history over seven months later, it seems as though Elliot Minor could be back for good. (CG)

While the blue collar rock of COLT 45 (6) is clearly delivered with real heart and has moments that hint at anthems for a disenchanted British youth, the down side comes in them sounding far too similar to the indie punk of bands such as The Enemy and The Ordinary Boys. That’s a bubble that burst a while ago resulting in a new band that already sound dated, having arrived at the party about eight years too late. (GL)

A packed summer schedule of festival appearances has helped cement exactly what THE HELL (8) are all about. Taking to the stage in brightly coloured wigs, armed with inflatable penises, and with plenty of foul mouthed banter at their disposable, they’re a lot of fun in a scene full of bands that take themselves far too seriously. They have also come a long way in proving that this is more than just a joke: today they sound huge and make a serious claim to be the heaviest band of the day.

Bonus review: Obviously anything can happen at a festival like Nightmare, but one of the surprise highlights of the day was seeing rock trio ERICA (8) blast out some huge riffs travelling around Camden as day turned to night on the back of a pickup truck. An ingenious way of getting their music heard and making sure people remembered them, the band kicked out some heavy rock and roll whilst just about maintaining a steady balance at all times. (CG)