[18 June 2014]
One of the miracles of early Hidden Cameras work is how optimistic it was. Coming from a Toronto scene whose interests in magic worked somewhere between actual practice and kitsch reclaiming of ‘70s queer attempts at Utopia, there was a negotiation between all kinds of ritual practice. The ritual practices of Radical Faeries, leather queens, lesbian craft practitioners, disco club kids, and small town basements exploded into a scene that was earnest above all else. It never managed the toxic irony of New York or the superficial sheen of Los Angeles.
Things seem to have fallen apart. Part of this, is the death of Will Munro, club promoter, writer, artist, and well everything. He owned the restaurant the Beaver, which became a club, and which is still around. He started the club night Vazoleen (sic), which was marked as much by an aesthetic influenced by DIY punk, Riot Grrl feminism, and inclusiveness as it was by decadence. The Hidden Cameras played at the June parties that Vazaleen pulled off. Instead of Pride, they were called Shame. Shame for the shitty bands, for the trans-inclusion, for the corporate fears that nu-Pride engaged in. When Hidden Cameras sang about being pissed on, in the song Golden Streams, it was absent of the old kind of shame, it was full of a fullness of being human.
Will died of cancer, and his spirit, while still part of the Toronto scene, has cast a pall over the process. There are other problems. Queen West is now mostly condos, and expensive restaurants. The rents are insane. The collectors are less adventurous. People have moved to Guelph or Kingston or Hamilton in Ontario; to Winnipeg or Montreal, Los Angeles, and to Berlin (because everyone eventually moves to Berlin). It’s been more than half a decade since the Hidden Cameras released a new album, and this album contains material nearly that old (Gay Goth Scene is at least a decade old), and to understand it fully, is to understand the dissipation of the scene.
The album is an elegy. It is the darkest album, and the saddest they have given us. There is a collapse into the tragic throughout the work. When they call the album Age, it is more of a this is the end of the age, and less of a this is our age. Starting with the lyrics (the music complicates this narrative a little bit), halfway through the album, there is a song called “Afterparty”, which contains the lines, “had I known, I would have fled.” There is this sense that the party is over, that people have stayed too long, and that there might be little left. He continues, “to follow who. someone who is not you, / the need to follow who is not right,” in order to “reach the after party.” It becomes a Toronto scene equivalent of LCD Soundsystem’s “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”, but that was for one town, one scene. This is so abstracted, that one is never sure what the elegy is for. In a song earlier in the album, called “Doom”, Gibbs talks about the anxiety, singing “we don’t feel too rich,” that it is “our own mistake,” that “we want to please the man,” and that “we fool ourselves into feeling this is how it is.” He talks about bills to pay, parties to attend. The old Gibb would have never treated party as something so gloomy, something so obligatory.
I think that it is not only what he sings, but how he sings it, that makes this album so dire. He has grown into a melancholic yearning, and that is reflected in the music itself. Though the album begins with the atmospheric chorus comprised of syllables and not words, the production is quickly overwhelmed. The vocals are the usual, earnest, quiet rapture that we come to expect from the Hidden Cameras, and the first song, “Skin and Leather”, has the same instinct towards a radical humanism, but this is an exception. Much of the music is filled to the brim with drum infills, with synths, with instrumental singing, often with the vocals taking second place to awkward production. This can be seen especially in “Carpe Jugular”, which sounds metallic, and vacant, working somewhere between Donna Summer’s “Cat Without Claws” and Pet Shop Boys, which is an awkward graft to the Cameras traditional aesthetic. I wonder if it is a way forward for an aesthetic that now seems more like a trap, but this indie-disco has been done You can see this in “Ordinary Over You”, though some of the instrumentation is similar to “Ban Marriage”. The vocals in 2003’s “Ban Marriage” were placed in the background, providing a percussive beat for the general narrative of the song, but here the instrumentation functions as an opaque scrim.
The Hidden Cameras are a band I feel fiercely loyal to, because they made me feel like I could have access to a radical queer aesthetic that fit my needs, that was not nostalgia for, but understood a peculiar Canadian history. I appreciate that the place doesn’t exist anymore, and Gibbs instinct is one that respects the collapse. But it makes me homesick for a place that I can never return to.