Camden Crawl review – less buzz, more original spirit

Various venues, London
Lack of star billing cut the queues to reveal a cornucopia of underground talent at this year's edition of the Camden mainstay

Traditionally, the one thing you couldn't do at the Camden Crawl – north London's two-day, 22-venue urban festival – was bar-hop. Oversubscription and a tendency to book big names into shoebox venues created delays at every door, prompting the event's nickname, The Camden Queue. But after decamping to Dublin for 2013, CC14 returns home having eradicated the problem by surrendering the buzzier new bands to Shoreditch and Brighton rivals, and booking no major contemporary draws at all. The biggest names are alternative relics like Mouse on Mars and Atari Teenage Riot. A colder ticket, but the original spirit is revived; now you can roam NW1 watching each band for the length of a Jägerbomb, thus living the A&R dream, minus the crippling cocaine psychosis.

What you find among the 200 acts is a cornucopia of underground talent, thriving despite the prospect of never giving up the day job. At Camden Town Brewery, Thumpers have found the "anthemic" button on the current wave of Afrotronica, cohering a disparate age with euphoric Jungle-meets-Two Door Cinema Club pop; at the Black Cap, School Is Cool's maniacal gypsy clatter resembles Dexy's on dexys. It's often a head-spinning whirl: a short Saturday stagger takes you from Dancing Years destroying a sweltering Good Mixer with cataclysmic folk, to the topless psych wig-outs of Michael A Grammar at the Black Heart. Au Revoir Simone shimmy cheerfully through popping candy synthpop in the Electric Ballroom while, a hundred yards away but on a different musical continent, Cut are tearing up Belushi's with greasy-groined rock'n'roll in their nans' old blouses.

Of the bigger draws, the millennial Talking Heads that is Of Montreal put on a tropical pyjama party at the Electric Ballroom, full of neon wrestling-mask visuals, effervescent electro-pop and Hunky Dory knees-ups about being immortal. And the rave-free solo set from Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor at the Roundhouse studio is stunning, taking in pastoral pop, acid folk, sparse electronica and krautrock to weave intimate, bewitching break-up tunes. CC14 is a rejuvenation of sorts – now it's learnt to crawl again, it can think about running.


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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