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Disney+ documentary ‘Camden’ is a shallow look at the area’s music history

Updated: Jun 14

Shallow, ignorant and pop star focused, we’re left to look elsewhere for a deeper dive into the musical history of Camden. Here’s our review.

Oh Camden Town. The mystical corner to the north of London’s city centre, forever idealised by the music press and regarded a mecca by many a music fan the length and breadth of the UK. Its gritty romanticism has long held it up as the authentic heart of the Big Smoke’s music scene. A place with an impressive gig venue count and watering holes that could tell endless tales of debauchary from legendary rock ‘n’ roll stars of yesteryear.

You don’t even need to be from London to understand Camden’s importance. The NME, in its ‘90s and ‘00s heyday, was particularly full of awe for the area’s artistic draw and party ethos. And, over the years, British rock literature from The Libertines Bound Together to The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the demise of English rock placed Camden as centre-stage to the writing as the rock stars themselves.

Today, many tourists still make the pilgrimage to Camden. They soak in the non-conformist atmosphere and experience the bustling nightlife, seeking to follow in shadows of Amy Winehouse, The Clash, Elastica, Oasis, Blur and The Libertines.

Camden has been further glorified in a newly released four-part Disney+ documentary of the same name. Directed by Asif Kapadia and produced by Dua Lipa, unfortunately Camden fails to scratch below the surface of the area’s most iconic artists, providing inadequate insight and context behind the romanticism. A lack of focus ultimately disappoints the series, instead awakening then unfulfilling that desired satisfaction.

Mainly, coming out of the documentary provides more questions than answers. Aside from Suggs’ story about Madness’ early ‘80s residency at The Dublin Castle bar and fitting in with the area’s large Irish community (who, of course, as is mentioned, enjoyed drinking), the documentary fails to grasp what fostered this boisterous reputation.

Why were so many “outsiders” drawn to the area in the first place? As many leather jackets and multicoloured mohawks as we’re shown, where did the association with Punk come from? Dua Lipa doesn’t seem keen to get into the gritty history, rather desiring a more sanitised outlook.

The guest features are pretty impressive, in fairness, although force an impression through star power that comes across superficial as a result. The Black Eyed Peas discuss Camden’s acceptance to their brand of hip hop over their American homeland and Nile Rodgers admits to being inspired by Roxy Music album covers found in a local record shop. Coldplay are another you wouldn’t automatically associate with Camden and Chris Martin’s appearance feels like more needless pop polish. On the other hand, hearing him discuss playing Dingwall’s and the following music industry buzz is genuinely fascinating from a band we have to remember once (albeit briefly) had indie kudos.

Dua Lipa’s story less so. As a bonafide global superstar still in her 20s - and with her Cheshire cat smile constantly on show - her words make for an interesting side story at best. As a main event it feels awkward and straw clutching to truly associate her as someone who lived and breathed the world of Camden (albeit probably the price to pay for getting this project made).

Still, its great to see a fair amount of time given to Amy Winehouse and her legacy even if it’s bit over the top in positivity and neglectful of darker elements. Mark Ronson warmly discusses producing Back in Black and her omnipresence around Camden is noticeable. However, crammed into a short segment amongst so many other artists, it’ll more likely drive you to seek out Asif Kapadia’s 2015 Amy documentary for more detail.

The second episode - entitled ‘Rebels and Misfits’ - is probably the most well-rounded of the four, albeit there’s enough content for three episodes alone.  The always entertaining – and in this instance underused - Noel Gallagher recalls moving to Camden from Chiswick, using fans to do his weekly shop and being chucked out Britpop favourite The Good Mixer for “good naturedly ribbing Graham Coxon at the bar” (turns out it wasn’t so “good natured”…). However, Britpop is heavily associated with Camden so it’s disappointing the likes of Blur, Suede and Elastica don’t feature.

Pete Doherty and Carl Barat provide their poverty-stricken early Camden memories and a funny anecdote about Up The Bracket producer Mick Jones falling asleep twice while they roared through the album title track. The episode only glosses over the riotous years of these two iconic bands and ignores their wider scenes, but it at least pulls matters back towards contemporary artists – namely the excellent punk duo Bob Vylan and the slightly annoying pop punk singer Yungblud.

Third episode ‘Pioneers’ is stretched out in comparison and by now we’re into barrel scraping territory. Too much emphasis is placed on American artists The Roots and Public Enemy and their relocation to Camden in the ‘90s. This, in turn, leaves little room for upcoming UK hip hop artists, again seeking approval through misguided star appeal.

The final episode is then as sporadic as the first two, leaning into the partying side of Camden through the new romantic era of the likes of Boy George, the introduction of Chicago house music in the ‘70s and ‘80s and modern dance. It all just feels too much.

In Camden “you can be anyone you want to be” states Dua Lipa in the first episode. It also “provides the truth – that’s the point of this f***ing place” (whatever that means) suggests Yungblud in another. However, its these cliched and vague statement that sum up much of the documentary itself. By trying to cover too much ground, yet still ignoring iconic scenes and forcing star power over historical context, we’re left to look elsewhere for a proper deep dive into the themes all too briefly covered here.



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