It’s a bustling Friday evening in Camden Town, a part of North-West London struggling to hold onto its identity in the digital age. What was once a haven for anything or anyone that challenged the mainstream is now a relatively generic high street with some tattoo parlours thrown into to make it seem ‘edgy’. In reality, there is very little that’s gritty about Camden in 2019. The bars are overpriced, the night time economy relies on endless ‘throwback’ events and the once thriving markets have been reduced to carbon copy food outlets selling overpriced gourmet burgers as the once-familiar stench of Nag Champa wafts over the derelict stalls where once you could purchase refrigerated magic mushrooms but now you’ll be lucky to get your hands on a packet of Rooibos tea for less than eight pounds.
Despite the opening tirade though there is something still wonderful about Camden and that’s the Barfly. However, it’s no longer called the Barfly. Now it’s called The Camden Assembly. The upstairs still retains the same charm of the venue I saw countless forgettable two minute punk bands play at in the mid-2000s and every time I venture in I’m taken back to those sweaty shows. I’m older now and I can buy beer at the bar but I still feel giddy when the lights go down and the band comes on stage. Tonight I’m here to see Balay, HorseThieves and the headline act Coach Hop, the new project from Flordian Charlie Laurence that has been stepping into the public eye since the release of their fantastic single ‘I Like Taylor Swift‘ late last year.
Opening act Balay, the pseudonym of visual artist and folk-horror enthusiast Aaron Jolly, is a lesson in sonic warfare. Loud and violent, his twenty minute set is frightening at its darkest points and uplifting at its brightest. Lyrics blasted out are peppered with esoteric references to donk music and vampires and he commands the audience with aplomb. A member of The Round Tower Collective (Instagram: @roundtowercollective), Jolly is known for his love of English mysticism, and the music does not stray far from this wiccan delight. There is an undercurrent of warning in this set, almost as though he is laying his own spells on you and the pulsating beats and arachnid rhythms leave the hair on end. A must-see on future sets this summer, Balay astounded and left the crowd reeling.
The evening ends with the ascent of Coach Hop, who take us through an extensive back catalogue that showcases a true pop-rock mastery. Lead singer, Charlie Laurence, is an electric force, sweat dripping from every pore as he blasts through Coach Hop classics like ‘Everything’s Fine’ and ‘The Valley’. The latter is a particularly wonderful song, with the final refrain of “I fear no evil” being particularly apt in these modern times. Backed by a strong band, Coach Hop are the kind of live act you can’t help but get involved with. They captivate the crowd with songs that range from slow-burning ballads to in-your-face garage rock bangers, as in the case of ‘Am I Free?’, a new cut that is sure to impress.
With all eyes on Laurence, stood manically at the front of the stage, it is easy to see Coach Hop growing in stature as the year continues. There is a playful quality to them that invites adoration – they don’t take themselves too seriously. In many ways, it is the polar opposite to the corner of North West London that they play in this evening. Whilst Camden still clings on to all that once was instead of just being what it is, Coach Hop know their qualities and push them to the forefront. An electric live set that must be seen.
Review & Photography by Alexander Sarychkin