Camden Crawl crowns decade of new music in streets of north London

This year's bands will hope to walk in the footsteps of festival alumni Mumford & Sons and Amy Winehouse

Its early days amounted to a gaggle of obscure indie kids playing to beer-soaked youngsters in pub back rooms, but Saturday will see a rather more slick, and vastly extended, Camden Crawl celebrate 10 years at the coalface of new music.

More than 300 acts are to perform in 50 venues over the bank holiday weekend as part of the London music festival, including sets from urban star Tinchy Stryder and a new comedy circuit.

It is a far cry from the largely chaotic scenes that accompanied the first crawl back in 1995, said founder Lisa Paulon. It was set up by a group of friends who ran small independent labels and were struggling to find venues for their acts, she explained. "We thought we'd pool together to get some gigs put on, but it was ultimate chaos," she said. "We were just five people who didn't know anything about putting on a gig, and less about health and safety. It was definitely a lot noisier than it is now."

Cans of lager sold like hot cakes in an unlicensed Scout hut, while the Saturday night nearly saw a riot after more than 1,000 punters turned up for a gig in a venue designed for half that number, she explained. "We had kids breaking the windows, spilling out on to the street fighting … when I see the photos now I just put my head in my hands."

That event had just 15 bands, playing in five venues, and covered a stretch of road no longer than 200 metres. This year's Camden Crawl will stretch for more than two miles and will feature fringe theatre, with more than 100 comedians including Robin Ince and Rufus Hound.

Alongside the laughs and the tunes, the East End film festival is linking up with Camden Crawl for two days of "sonic film" during which movie-savvy musicians – Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne and indie band Guillemots – will show special selections, accompanied with live sets at The Forge.

"We attract a much wider scope of people now," said Paulon. "Before it was just people who were very into the underground music scene, but now we have every type of punter under the sun from all over the country. It's like the Camden version of the Edinburgh festival."

The festival gives music fans a taster of relatively unknown bands: you may not yet have heard of Lulu and the Lampshades, or the History of Apple Pie, but a few years ago a little-known band called Mumford & Sons played a set to around 70 people and this year played the Grammys with Bob Dylan. The queen of Camden, Amy Winehouse, has also performed at the festival, slurping tequilas while belting through an electrifying set in the Dublin Castle pub back in 2007. The band Paulon is backing to provide the spine-tingling moment of the festival go by the rather catchy name of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, sometimes abbreviated to Odd Future, or the equally memorable OFWGKTA. The hip-hop collective from Los Angeles, California, are playing the outdoor stage on Sunday.

"I think there will be about 2,000 people in the audience and I'm pretty sure I'll look at it and think: I can't believe we've done this," said Paulon.

Andy Ross, who curates the crawl lineup in the Spread Eagle venue and in a former life signed Blur to his indie label Food Records, said the ethos of the event was to give people the chance to see next year's hot acts, via serendipitous methods. "It's sometimes hard to get in venues for the bigger names, so you often end up stumbling into a bar to hear something. It's a testing ground for up-and-coming bands and there is a lucky-dip element to it, and that's really quite entertaining."


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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