How To Socialise & Make Friends by Camp Cope

Release date: March 2, 2018
Label: Poison City Records

Artistic ability gets you off the hook as far as sexual assault goes, and Melbourne trio Camp Cope are really pissed off about it. There are stories in their second album, How to Socialise & Make Friends, with punchlines that are aimed fair and square at sexism and misogyny, much of it in the frame of the music industry the band is shaking up. It’s not the only topic, but I think it’s fair to sum up a key theme of this album as “It’s not my fault and fuck you for trying to make me think it is”.

There is a counterpoint to the anger though, and a celebration of friendship and standing together in unity, not only in life but you hear it in the way the band has gelled in such a short time into such a noticeably cohesive unit. The songs might be serious but the three of them are clearly having a lot of fun in the space they’ve created for themselves.

The record brings to life raw and personal emotions as it continues the style established in their first album by the lyrics and vocals of songwriter Georgia Maq, and the drive of the solid rhythm section comprising Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich on bass and Sarah Thompson on drums. It’s not pure punk or emo or hardcore, and it’s that rejection of norms that reflects the way Maq tells her stories.

There’s a very honest quality that comes through this collection of songs. It’s not deliberately lo-fi like a lot of the genre. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s punk and garage sounded like it did because that’s all that having no money allowed, and I’m not a fan of trying to contrive sounds that are of lesser quality than you can achieve with everyday devices. Instead of following this fashion, Camp Cope keep it simple, record quickly, but don’t degrade and muffle the wonderful range of vocal styles Maq is capable of, or bury the sound of a crisp snare or melodic bass.

Part of the reason the songs work so well is that the instruments provide the canvas rather than the subject of the artwork. But don’t think I’m understating  the importance of an unobtrusive background or the skill needed to navigate a song to its conclusion so carefully and engagingly that it’s almost sub-conscious. Just check out the bass and drums in ‘Anna’ to see what I mean. Yes, in these songs you can hear ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘A Forest’ and other classic tones, phrases and playing styles, but play the songs back to back with those roots and the differences hit you fair and square.

You don’t need guitar solos, discord and middle eights when you are telling stories with this subject matter and with this lyrical style. The absence of verse/chorus/verse in favour of flowing storytelling allows sublime use of crescendo, slipping back and forth from what’s almost spoken word with that strong Australian accent, through crystal clean singing, to angry or frustrated croaky shouting, all the while retaining broad modulation except where stressing a point. It’s simply magical, and I’m happy to fight anyone who doesn’t think slightly imperfect vocals are the best vocals. I want to write another thousand words about the way the lyrics and the tunes are constructed, (like the bookend of the ‘no handlebar’ image as a constant alongside the day/night dichotomy), but I do actually need to finish this review and there’s lots more to cover.

Did I mention emotion? First person stories are always going to stir the emotions more than generalisations or third person tales, especially when you share some or all of that experience, and Maq knows how to share. ‘The Face of God’ is the story of how men in positions of power can get away with sexual assault because of the indifference of others. ‘The Opener’ deals with the excuses rolled out for denying opportunities to women.

Obviously these aren’t things I’ve had to experience first hand so any response is as an observer, but what I can say is that In the 22 years since my father died I’ve never read or heard anything that captures my feelings, that lays it out so clearly and exactly, and so beautifully, as ‘I’ve Got You’ does. Maq knows what you’re thinking and knows how to express it, and I wish I’d heard this 20 years ago. I’ve listened to the album close out over 20 times now and the goose bumps and tears show no signs of slowing down. It’s a safe bet a great many women will find a strong connection with the rest of the album.

Is it a political album? Well yeah I suppose in the way the word “political” has become commonly used, but it’s far from being about changing laws and using power constructs to fix society, given those constructs and those with power protect or are the instigators of those problems in the first place. It’s not a call to march on Canberra or a detailed manifesto that spells out a political path to change. It’s about not being an arsehole, not about devising a quota. It’s about shared experience of half the population and standing together, not about educating the other half. It’s an angry demand on individuals to check their behaviour. Well, more specifically, for men to check their behaviour. It’s a voice saying; “we are the ones affected by this and we’ll decide how to fight it”.

And fighting it they are. There’s bands and artists who sing about social change and this is often seen incorrectly as leading a movement. That guy with the round glasses might have provided an anthem for the peace movement after it was already running full steam and there was a bandwagon to jump on, but he wasn’t doing the work on the ground and wasn’t risking anything for the cause. The one with the leather pants asks for your money and spends his time rubbing shoulders with presidents and billionaires, yet what has changed? With Camp Cope, not only do they sing about injustices in life, but they get their hands dirty backing up their words with action.

It’s artists like Briggs and Camp Cope that are actually driving real change side by side with other grass roots activists. They connect with people and they do it on their terms. There’s growing distrust worldwide in the organisations that start as social change agents but come to exist for their own sake and for the power of those in control.

Not only are Camp Cope forging their own path and driving change, they simply make beautiful, powerful, interesting music. They deserve success on multiple levels, and I’ve got a feeling they will find it.

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