While planning the route for today's crawl, it occurs to me that I've only hit the well known venues. To get a better taste of Camden this Sunday, I resolve to see some acts off the main drag. This first leads me to the It Came From Japan showcase at The Fiddler's Elbow. It's a regular boozer with a little raised stage that's the farthest out on the venue map. The old soaks for whom this is their local are hiding out back from the crowd full of Japanophiles, and bizarrely, two stag parties, drinking Guinness and watching the football.
It's a pretty safe bet they haven't come to see Sputniko, a singer with a laptop that she's somehow triggering remotely with a Wii remote. She's playing skewed J-pop songs that'll never make the charts, about being shy and searching for someone on google, about penises, and armpit hair. She even bring out a knitted armpit hair monster for that one. She's kooky and charming, and very brave to be taking this on solo anywhere, let alone in an underlit pub on Sunday afternoon. There's a free sushi buffet, and the crowd disperses to consume it. As they do, Sunset Drive start setting up. A three piece with a tall Kiwi lead singer, they're traditional rock, and are definitely old pros. They race through their set, working the crowd at will (God only knows what they made us say about them in Japanese), not missing a beat or dropping a note. They lacked the invention to set them apart from the pack, maybe; but you can't have it all, all the time. There's a second course of sushi, and the crowd forms an orderly queue. The final act in this showcase are Natccu, and they seem the one most likely to cross over in to the mainstream consciousness. Their lead guitarist has got the choppy Smiths guitar sound down right, and their lead singer, Natccu herself, has the crowd in her pocket from the second she steps onstage with her tiny Fender. Their basslines have a hint of The Rapture, even, say it quietly, a bit of Red Hot Chili Peppers to them. Despite having influences that put together really shouldn't work at all, against the odds, they come up trumps.
Missing the final round of sushi, I head to the Bedroom Jam 'Arena' to see Rolo Tomassi contort, convulse and throw themselves about a bit for their last few songs. Looking around the crowd, I can see what appear to be extras from Skins going into hysterics and generally losing their shit. Some are almost frothing at the mouth. This is no surprise, with Eva Spence effectively channeling Satan via her throat as the band give the corpse of Nu Metal a damn good thrashing. There's still a hint of prog rock in their sound, but they were always a band for whom verbs like pulverise were invented. They mention they're headlining the Barfly tonight, and I can't think of a place where I'd rather be. But my plans have already been drawn up.
And next in line are Gaggle at The Electric Ballroom. The queue snakes back a fair way by the time, and for a group without an album to their name they've filled this place in no time at all. But then again, they're no ordinary group, an all girl alt-choir for one, and winner of the Best New Band from the Emerging Talent Awards for another. You can see why they're a big draw. They're unique, and speak to the women in the crowd with their lyrics, 'How do I tell if my man's a liar?', in group voice. It's powerful stuff, but I'm pretty sure that a fair percentage of the other half of the crowd are here to check out pretty girls on stage. That's their loss, because they nail their Marina and the Diamonds cover, Mowgli's Road, and are a welcome change from more white boys with guitars.
Speaking of which brings me directly to Kyte. Having never heard of them meant I could review them from scratch, and it's a safe bet they'll be going on to better things, even if they aren't to my personal taste. They've got the U2/Snow Patrol vibe about them, but mix it up a little with post rock build up and release. It's an alluring mix, sounds good, and should by rights sell records by the shedload. Sadly, they're a quite bland live, more than a little on the beige side. The crowd disagree, and they leave to a wall of cheers and applause. Three days later, and it still doesn't make any sense.
John and Jehn are a different kettle of fish altogether. Even if they tried to be bland, they would still make blandness look sexy and French. Swelled to a four piece by an extra guitarist and drummer, they run through their brilliant new album 'Time For The Devil', and it's jaw dropping. The whole group look like models, and I admit to being swayed by this. But that doesn't detract from the icy cool they exude during 'The Ghosts', or their exquisite new wave leanings on 'Vampire'. The extra players give the music room to breathe, and John and Jehn a little more license to perform. Everything works perfectly, and they're my band of the day, hands down.
Sadly, by the time I get to The Roundhouse, Stornoway have already finished. Still, We Are Scientists make up for that disappointment by playing the kind of upbeat indie rock that's made their name over here. Unsurprisingly, it's the early hits that get the crowd moving and singing, and the new stuff follows in very much the same vein. Despite the grey hair on Keith Murray (which actually looks great on him), they show little sign of slowing down, and are the most mobile, frenetic showmen all weekend, using the whole stage and virtually wearing through the soles of their Hi-Tops. Devonté Hynes aka Lightspeed Champion joins in for a few numbers, and gets brutally ribbed by Chris Cain for having a guitar that doesn't quite match his outfit. Those New York boys and their acute style senses. Then in a flash, they're gone, and finally, so is the Crawl for another year.
Read Part One of Tom's Camden adventures here