Following last year’s balmy weather, 2012’s Camden Crawl meets grey skies and drizzle that suit its low-key vibe.
Once a magnet for secret gigs by the likes of Madness, the mainly indoor weekender has passed its heyday. With the London scene’s centre of gravity moving ever eastward, the Crawl has expanded into comedy and a comics fair, though music remains the pulse of lairy NW1, ranging from experimental rock to the latest r’n’b hopes. Mid-afternoon, Brummie MC Lady Leshurr looks baffled to find herself in a sparsely-filled park, yet still delivers enough rapid-fire wordplay to suggest Nicki Minaj comparisons are not wide of the mark.
While seven-piece Clement Marfo & The Frontline’s feel-good urban pop-rock is the most defiantly commercial sound on offer, the rapping frontman’s charisma is disarming and the rousing ‘Champion’ sounds a genuine contender. Elsewhere, strolls down Camden’s scruffy avenues bring more unheralded thrills – notably We Are Evergreen’s underground disco groove finale. Niki & The Dove’s epic electropop comes buoyed by chunky synths and tribal percussion, though Malin Dahlström is more exuberant than her icy recordings suggest.
On a smaller scale, Kyla La Grange leavens her Celtic-tinged, goth-lite anthems with a skittish demeanour. Despite warnings that some venues would quickly reach capacity, queues are rare and depend on size of venue – an orderly line forms for fey eighties indie revivalists Veronica Falls, despite some hesitancy as they reshape Velvet Underground and sixties girl group tropes. Solo artist Bastille, though, should soon find himself playing larger venues than the crammed pub where his silky tunes take flight.
Micachu & The Shapes entrance and baffle in almost equal measure with Mica Levi’s growling vocal and a guitar treated beyond recognition. More populist is the label-less Glasvegas, with a proud defiance adding edge to their Spectorish retro rock. The weekend’s headliners, though, have more scope to challenge the audience. Without Johnny Marr, The Cribs have turned to a fuzzy, early nineties US rock sound. Unconvincing on more freeform moments, their controlled fury still carries the day.
Saturday’s highlight is Futureheads’ acapella-inspired set. Not completely without backing, often relying on unamped acoustic instruments is still brave in a packed Koko, though the Sunderland foursome are commanding. “This is a drinking song, which is what this shit is all about, isn’t it? ” Barry Hyde wisely remarks as his group freewheel through a millennium of song, from ‘Sumer Is Icumen In’ to Kelis’s ‘Acapella’.