Amyl and the Sniffers hit Camden’s Electric Ballroom on their latest UK tour
Two years ago, just before the great plague, Australia’s Amyl and the Sniffers were playing venues like Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach. Next year, they have dates booked in venues like Brixton Academy. Such is their meteoric ascendence. So Camden’s Electric Ballroom was going to be one of the last chances to catch them in a reasonable size venue before they become a household name. And even on this tour they had to play two nights at the venue due to demand.
Sitting in the heart of trendy Camden Town, the Electric Ballroom has been around for eighty years and during its time has hosted numerous iconic bands on their way up. With a no-frills décor, it is a cracking little venue, although with a 1,500 capacity it is on the edge of what I’m comfortable with. I’m amazed I’ve not been there more often than I have, I’ve probably been to its market more often than gigs there.
Situated next to Camden Underground station, it is no stranger to challenges. The powers that be wanting to knock it down to expand the station. Camden, once an organically cool town and a centre for counter culture, has been a victim of its own success over the years. The gentrification and commercialisation of the once grass roots market make it a plastic imitation of what it once was. The market in the old stables famously burned down a few years back and has now been rebuilt almost as a theme park dedicated to alternative shopping. The idea of knocking down the Ballroom to expand the tube station – which is undoubtedly too small – shows a typical lack of understanding of what makes, or rather made, Camden Camden.
But I digress, for now this iconic venue is still there, and tonight it shows it still has its finger on the pulse.
After a swift livener in The Good Mixer, we head over to the venue and find it packed out and ready to rock. The bar is busy, the crowd is up for it and the atmosphere in the ballroom is, well, Electric.
Thoughts of heading up to the front to get photographs were soon abandoned, most of the sell-out crowd were already in position ready for the off. Probably the most crowded gig I’ve seen since the easing of lockdown. And many down the front did not look like they were just going to be casual observers.
The Sniffers are not old enough to remember punk rock first time around (like this old git), which is a good thing. They have not restricted themselves to painting their picture using a book of punk rock by numbers. They have taken the concept of punk rock and created their own version, without paying too much attention to what has gone before. The fact that they hail from the other side of the world might have helped. Australia has successfully ploughed its own musical furrow over the years, developing their own take on things. It is often forgotten when discussing the birth of Punk Rock that Australia’s The Saints beat The Damned to vinyl by several months and Radio Birdman were punk before punk.
When they hit the stage, they are like a tiger being let out of a cage, energetic and barely straining at the leash. Front girl Amy Taylor struts around the stage in boxer shorts (as in the sort of shorts a boxer wears, rather than the type of undies you pick up in Tesco) and bikini top. Not some sort of erotic statement, more practical, as she bobs and weaves like Tyson Fury delivering lyrics like punches.
Considering their latest album ‘Comfort to Me’ was only unleashed on the world two months ago, the crowd sing along to the choruses as if it was an old classic – when taking a break from moshing, crowd surfing and smiling from ear to ear. And the new album accounted for a heavy slice of the set list.
Old punks never die, they only stand at the back. We were quite happy to stand at the back, but still felt part of a punk gig, as the waves from the mosh pit were lapping up against the shores of the bar. And not just for the first few songs, from start to finish.
It is difficult to tell who was more exhausted at the end, the band (who had given it their all), the young guns at the front of the crowd (who had given it all) or us old bastards, who had been keeping the bar staff busy (our wallets giving it all).
In twenty years time, when they are playing Wembley to mark the two decades since the release of the album, we will be able to look back and say – “I was there”.