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LIVE REPORT: Camden Crawl
Oobah Butler , June 26th, 2014 13:04

As Camden Crawl returns from its extended holiday, Oobah Butler heads down to test the waters of its reshaped ethos. Photo thanks to Camden Crawl.

Racks of plastic sunglasses, hoards of unsheathed Natwest cards beneath the red line and that impotent lock; Camden is a kind of Mecca for the malevolent. You can't help but feel that the stagnant personality of the place has something to do with the fact that firstly, a couple of years back the Camden Crawl folded and secondly, not many people cried about it.

So why resurrect the festival? As I thumb through the schedule, the organisers' ambitions soon becomes apparent: to conceive a festival with an identity as far away Camden's own as possible. This year's line-up is far more indicative of current musical climates in Britain than it has been in the past, and thus possesses awareness, as opposed to an absolute self-awareness. So, despite the miniature bottles of Blue Nun white wine dotted around the place and pseudo-Hard Rock Cafe type effigies nailed to the wall (Squier guitars, yes, Squier guitars), I sit in the press office feeling both welcomed and, as I glance at the Squier again, still not entirely certain of their target market.

There's a significant onus placed on the curatorial aspect of individual stages at most modern festivals; they're key to the appeal. In this instance, it encourages a larger palette with strong, distinct identities for the different stages and venues. Where the colours of an individual institution burnish bright and the publication or promoter or whomever wears their taste as a badge of honour, the festival takes a charming form.

After a tame induction at the hands of new-wave revivalists Cymbals, I begin to crave that mentality. The clashes that I face between Baba Yaga's Hut and Dummy's Jazz Café become entertaining ones to flitter between. Though future cheese enthusiasts Charles Howl tested my resolve, the prospect of Henry Blacker is attractive enough to invest in Baba Yaga. Decorated by an abstract arrogance, they write in a potent, archaic musical language that not many on the current alt-scene seek to understand. Whether it's radical rhythmic suggestions, pelvic-jarring drones or interchanging vocal performances, their ideas often evaporate the moment they're conjured. It's unusual for a band to be as mutually fulfilling as they are frustrating. With Fis opening, and the likes of Visionist, Laurel Halo and Larry Gus scribed on the itinerary for Dummy's Friday offering, we see the demise of a CC that neglected modern electronic music. Olly Peryman (Fis) performs the regenerative, unremitting pulses he produced for last year's Progressions EP. He shakes off the stink of predictability by massive extensions at cardiac arrest pace, while inversely, Larry Gus' following floor tom thumping set leaves very little to the imagination.

"Blah, Blah, Blah. Why don't you go and have your boring conversation out on your horrible little balcony?" Alexander Tucker says into the microphone, preempting Grumbling Fur's Sisyphean struggle against the continuous Friday night drawl of the Lock Tavern. From the bottom of Camden High Street to the top of Haverstock Hill, there are some ghastly and unusual venues on the crawl. For the most part, this makes difficult decisions easier ones and, for the other part, renders them entertaining. On the off chance, I decide to see a band at the Black Heart and throughout the show I giggle about being in the Black Heart. A proprietor who refuses tips crouches behind the shoebox-sized bar, serving Camden Town Brewery. It's canny, and the band, Michael A Grammar, aren't bad either. Like a brain fart from the New York post-punk revival; the only constant throughout the set is the hostility at the centre of the pieces. Allowing the raw physicality and abrasive percussion to dictate from underneath a duvet of delay, these songs are deceptively expansive, and this middle-English band are – perhaps unintentionally - more sonically expansive than many of the self-subscribing knob twiddlers I stumble upon over the weekend.

For the duration of the Saturday at KOKO, Last.fm provide an archetypal, progressive climax to Camden Crawl that is responsible for the festival's finest moments. With the utterly expansive, abstract and unpredictable nature of their work, it's a wonder that Grumbling Fur are able to recreate such rich canvases when they perform live. Yet the interchanging of Autoharp, scatters of violin and prehistoric synthesisers conjure a texture so rich it represents more of an exploration than a reinterpretation of the records. The pieces develop like the works of an Indonesian Gamelan: there's a skeletal theme which spirals and keeps the song intact, as bright abstract motifs explode and erupt into brilliant rhythms one minute and subside into nothingness the next. Whilst 'Photogenesis' is intoxicating, a three-minute section later in the set blows my mind. A complex round of claps circles as layers of rhythmical communication are gradually introduced; as the tension builds, two baritones begin to massage these developments with soft layers of harmony, before snapping into nonexistence. This unpredictably prevents a Grumbling Fur show from being boring, even if you have a roomful of dickheads chattering over the top of them (see above).

After Shabazz Palaces, I get the opportunity to catch a complete performance from Laurel Halo since her Friday set unfortunately overlaps with Grumbling Fur's at the Lock Tavern. After the success of albums Quarantine and Chance Of Rain released on Hyperdub, Halo is riding the crest of an electronic wave, and her presence in the capital is undeniably palpable. Performing on a hardware setup, Halo leads us through the deep dark of KOKO.

Though there are many electronic music artists present at the Crawl this year, very few of them manage to successfully deal with the physical disconnect between creator and audience that is intrinsically manifested when creating it. Halo, on the other hand, is one of those who can do so successfully. Considering that her work is driven by two great forces of complex tonality and autonomous warped rhythms, Halo manages to find space to maneuver and develop in the most remarkable manners. She shows a unique precision of touch, voice and an ultimate awareness that few hidden behind circuitry can replicate. As we break into 'Ainnome' the intimate relationship I had with Chance Of Rain is obliterated, transforming into something far more primal and physical. Whilst Halo has previously described her music in the past as a balance between "intricate texture" and an "intense spiritual anchor", she ultimately believes it to be inherently uplifting as it is "music that makes you want to move". Despite the aphotic nature of the Halo's recorded output, there is a kinetic energy shining through her performance, which redefines the keenest listener's interpretations of her work.

Unfortunately, a number of the weekend's bigger names seemed to struggle. Many of those who gave sixty something pounds to crawl through Camden envisaged Atari Teenage Riot being a highlight. However, from the midway point of the set you couldn't help but be burdened by an air of disappointment. As opposed to the flavours of noise, experimentation and sinister flurries that made recent record Hyperreal so challenging, it is more of an accessible, unadulterated techno set. Whilst this is incandescent and incessant, it feels like a conservative decision, and not indicative of the transitions the group have made since the beginning of their career. Elsewhere, Jagjaguwar's Wolf People struggle in the haze of Underworld in the early hours of Sunday morning, whilst PAWS' boisterous sound found on record folds under the heat of the lights.

A great degree of credit is owed to the defiant and energetic Of Montreal. The vociferous reaction that Kevin Barnes' band receives from the busiest crowd of the weekend is somewhat unusual, but entirely infectious. "Thank you to Jimi Hendrix for lending me this shirt." Barnes' sartorial fluorescence lights up the Electric Ballroom after a dramatic ten-minute version of 'Bunny Aint No Kind Of Rider'. The Of Montreal frontman uses his theatrical demeanour, volatile gesticulation and intermittent attention to annunciate the serious natures of these playful songs. This conflict is present throughout much of the night, and culminates rather abstractly: 60s organ, tremolo bass guitar and a soft tenor soundtrack a projected video backdrop showing a lady giving birth in a lake. A cult group rarely jet half way around the world and receive such a reaction without warranting it and, with such a charming performance, Of Montreal are difficult to dislike.

As I sway and lean back against the balcony of KOKO, Klose One pulls down the curtain on the resurrection of the Crawl. Are we likely to see another year of the festival and if so, for how many can it continue? Without managing to fully repel or rewrite the history of the place, the organisers of Camden Crawl have done their damnedest to conjure a weekend for the present, and it seems as though they have commendably managed. But all the great, longstanding festivals of this intense nature have a lure that compels people to return year after year, and I'm not sure whether Camden's pull ensnares the "music fan of today" that they seek to attract. Despite good intentions, it remains to be seen whether this year's resurrection of the Crawl was built on rock or sand. Only time will tell.

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