Somnambule - Writing About Music

Camden Crawl 2006

Various venues in Camden
20th April 2006

If there’s one music that I’ve always professed to dislike, it’s Indie. Indie always seemed to be the music without the funk, a lame white boy’s attempt at excitement. Impervious to anything like philosophy or influence, it’s limped drearily onwards since its initial appearance in the late ‘80s. Indie’s current long, drawn-out ascendancy has horrified me as much as the names of its current spawn were monosyllabically anonymous: The Kills, The Dogs, The Strokes, The Young Knives and so on. And on. Whether you're thinking that the author of such a view is an awfully narrow-minded git or someone cutting right to the heart of the matter may indicate how old you are...

I’m in a new job and the bunch of lovely people I share an office with like to keep the radio on all day. Half the time it’s tuned to BBC 6, a fairly eclectic, adult-oriented station. The rest of the time it’s XFM. I’d say I get to listen to Indie for about 60% of my workday. I’m still here. I don’t have bloodshot eyes and I don’t twitch nervously (well, no more than before I started the job). I’m here to say that Indie’s not that bad. It’s often tuneful, it’s energetic and it’s not too distracting. Which is good because I need to concentrate on the strategy I’m writing. When The Camden Crawl was announced and one of my colleagues asked if I was interested, I vacillated. But tickets were selling fast and I thought what the hell. Let’s aim straight for the heart of the beast. Camden Crawl 06 offered the prospect of 12 venues and 50 bands from 4pm to 4am. We set off a little after 5 and collected our wrist bands and plastic bag (containing flyers, a free double CD of bands appearing in the festival and some button badges – button badges are back in...) There weren’t many bands we’d heard of so it was a bit of a lucky dip. We headed off to Koko, an attractive, recently refurbished venue close to Mornington Crescent where The Dogs were playing. We stood at the back and I watched the plastic beer glasses catch the light as they were tossed around the audience towards the front of the stage. It was more interesting than listening to the awfully unimpressive Dogs.

After a while some of us headed off for bigger thrills and ended up at the Electric Ballroom with The Young Knives. They were a lot more fun, looking a little older than the early 20s age group of their compatriots, the bass and guitarist wore stockbroker-type pink shirts with white collars and ties. They came across like a more off-the-wall version of XTC circa Making Friends For Nigel melded with a wilful early version of Talking Heads. The artier end of post-punk so to speak, but funnier. I liked them, but no time to stick around, more bands to see. So we were out of the door and across the street to a tiny basement for last minute booking, The Cord. They turned out to be Indie meets histrionic, the singer belting out songs with gusto while the band alternated between precision-tooled and flaring solos. Then back to the Camden Ballroom for the weirdly named Larikin Love whose singer looked like a throwback to Bow-Wow-Wow, with his asymmetric shaved haircut. The music was equally odd: a hybrid of, believe it or not, Indie meets hoedown. They even had a fiddler play on one song as they skipped and hopped round the stage. Great stuff. By this time long queues had formed for the more popular acts so there was no getting in to see The Slits. My evening ended at a Goth bar called the Purple Turtle where a band called ? sought to compete with The Dogs for the award of Most Uninteresting Band of the Evening.

On the limited evidence of Camden Crawl, New Indie is a stylistically catholic church. None of its hybrids appear to be breaking new ground, but as each musical generation – consciously or otherwise – seeks to confound its forebears, so New Indie rejects the established cycle of innovation, definition and pastiche. So it’s arguably unique, at least in the extent of its popularity. I’d suggest it’s a function of the maturing of popular music and the speed of change. Indie is a given: unthreatening, but enjoyable. It’s a culmination of the known that’s been a long time coming, but whose existence was predicted by the popularity of Oasis, Blur and Suede. And I enjoyed myself. Indie’s not the end of the world, it’s a good night out.

Colin Buttimer
Published by Me