Bluffer's guide: Garage punk

Cheat your way through the leather-bound urchin-rock type world of garage punk

  • Bluffer's guide: Garage punk

    'Ice with that?'

  • What is it?

    Garage punk is a term applied to bands who are on independent labels, or who are unsigned, who play fast-paced, lo-fi music characterised by angular, choppy guitar sounds and energetic live shows.

    The experience

    It was with trepidation that I took the advice of our music editor and arrived in the grubby upstairs room at the Enterprise in Camden to see the Awful Sparks, headlining the Barfly B-sides night. I gave up on gigs in Camden years ago, when it seemed that every band consisted of posturing adolescents with names like ‘Imperceptible Shrug’ singing lengthy, miserablist ballads. They didn’t look like they were enjoying themselves and neither was I, so I quit.

    I arrive with the gig underway. I have never felt so old. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have headed down here on GCSE results night. At one point, Fire in Cairo (decked out in black suits and white ties) end a particularly rowdy number with a heavy guitar chord, and in the moment of silence afterwards a girl can clearly be heard saying:

    ‘I know – I can’t believe Letitia got As’.

    I track down the Awful Sparks listening intently at the front. They’re all in their mid-twenties: frontman Patrick, Dan on first guitar, Gareth on second guitar, Oliver on bass and Spencer on drums. I was told that they’re ‘garage rock’, but Patrick says they’re ‘art rock’, or ‘ideally people would refer to us as “office funk”.’ So is this a ‘scene’ per se, or a bunch of disparate bands flung together in the usual Camden circuit? ‘There is a scene, and it works well because you’ve got the same fans and the same venues, but very different bands,’ say the Sparks. ‘A typical line-up would be leather-bound urchin-rock teenagers supporting frilly doo-wop retro-girls supporting chipper rag-and-bone skiffle merchants. We love being a part of it. Not to be jingoistic, but nobody’s looking at New York and thinking: Shit, I wish we were more like that.’

    Tricksy genre titles aside, is the gig any good? Actually, it’s a bit of a revelation. The Sparks hurl themselves into the set with catchy opener ‘International Toughguy’, and don’t let up until closer ‘Chicken Jerk’. Patrick’s disarmingly polite offstage persona is a far cry from his microphone technique, which sees him flail spasmodically around the stage. The crowd – a nearly even mix of boys and girls – pogo along enthusiastically, the sprung floorboards flexing so violently that pint glasses vibrate along and off the tables, scattering a carpet of broken glass at everyone’s feet.

    So whether it’s garage punk, art rock or office funk, the current flavour of the Camden art scene is enthusiastic, not in the least bit miserable and – despite my initially feeling like a teacher at a school disco – utterly welcoming. I’ll be back.

    What to say

    ‘Have you heard the new stuff from Egg the Teens and Bolt Action 5? It’s amazing.’

    What not to say

    ‘Are Echobelly or Menswear doing any new stuff these days?’

    Where to start

    The Awful Sparks play Artrocker at Buffalo Bar (259 Upper St, N1, 020 7359 6191) on Sept 19 and Metro Bar (19-23 Oxford St, W1, 020 7437 0964) on Sept 23. See

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