The Hidden Cameras

Christopher Cwynar
The Hidden Cameras

The Hidden Cameras

City: Ottawa, Ontario
Venue: Barrymore's Music Hall
Date: 2004-09-16
I didn't know what to expect from the Hidden Cameras' performance here in Ottawa last week. As I waited for the band to appear, my mind was abuzz with memories of my previous Cameras' show, fragments of various media stories, and more than a few questions pertaining to the band's present situation. Questions like: Would we be treated to the audio-visual onslaught of the folk-pop orchestra that took Toronto by storm a couple of years ago? Or would we see a leaner incarnation of the Cameras designed to endure the rigours of the road? How would the restive sounds of the new album's more conventional rock songs interact with the more harmonic "gay folk church" music of the band's past? Would the Cameras be able to make the reserved Ottawa indie rock crowd take to the dance floor? All this uncertainty was understandable. After all, the Cameras have unveiled a new album -- Mississauga Goddam -- of surprisingly straightforward songs. They are also a week from embarking upon a major tour of Europe and the United States. There is the chance that, as the band's profile continues to rise, its increasing success might begin to impinge upon the very things that made it special in the first place. I am referring to the elaborate stage performances in unconventional venues -- like churches, porn theatres and old-age homes -- and the sense of community that has always been so integral to the Hidden Cameras project. My hope was that this Ottawa performance, one week prior to the start of the European tour, would provide some insight into where the Cameras are at this critical juncture and where they might be going. The upcoming tour will see the Cameras perform in many conventional music venues, like this evening's re-modelled movie theatre. Joel Gibb, the creative force behind the Cameras, has always placed a great deal of importance on the visual components of the band's performances. To my mind, the extent to which the Cameras' endeavoured to take over the Barrymore's space would provide a clear indication as to the sort of show that was in the offing. To that end, I was heartened to find that, while it had not been possible to bring the Cameras' infamous masked gogo dancers on tour, the visual effects for the Ottawa show included lyrics projected against the backdrop of the stage, dry ice and bubble machines, and an inspired light show. The extra visual efforts helped to make up for the band's reduced numbers. Where past Cameras shows have involved upwards of a dozen performers, this lean touring configuration featured just eight musicians. Fortunately, most of the regulars were in the fold, including cello master Mike Olsen, and Gibb managed to bring along occasional member Gentleman Reg, who provided excellent vocal harmonies and tender acoustic guitar parts. Of course, the Cameras invariably revolve around Gibb, and this night was no exception. He came on stage sporting a gleaming electric guitar and proceeded to lead the group through deliberately dispassionate versions of some new songs, including the new album's title track. The electric guitar melded with Gibb's nasal twang of a singing voice to create a harder, grungier sound than might have been expected. The other musicians tended to mirror their leader's focused approach, which more closely resembled determined professionalism than the unbridled enthusiasm of past shows. This staid demeanour, however, did seem to suit Gibb's newer material. The tight and focused Cameras tore through "Doot Doot Plan" and "I Want Another Enema", songs that come across as overly simplistic on record, but which found some purchase as concise, no wave-influenced rock ditties in performance. For a time, it seemed as though Gibb and Co. had truly traded spirit for precision. There was little dancing onstage and the newer songs didn't really get the audience up and moving, either. In fact, the first portion of the show more closely resembled a typical Indie rock show -- with abrasive music being played at a sullen crowd -- than the participatory happenings of Cameras' shows past. Perhaps Gibb sensed this. After consulting the others, he launched into an apparently impromptu version of the raucous "Steal All You Can Motherfuckers", from his lo-fi first album Ecce Homo. That three-minute charge seemed to loosen up the band in all the right ways; they began to switch instruments, dance, and banter with the crowd. Xylophonist Maggie MacDonald even exhorted the crowd to engage in more "happy dancing" after a few brave souls took to their feet. Fortunately, Gibb knew just how to build on that momentum. He donned his acoustic guitar and the band launched into "Golden Streams" from last year's The Smell of Our Own. This lush hymn forms the natural centrepiece of any Cameras' performance. With the stage bathed in yellow light and the bubble machines on overdrive, the divine organ tones mingled with gorgeous multi-part harmonies to create an expansive sound that drew the crowd in to the majesty of the Cameras. Audience members flocked to the foot of the stage as Gibb softly intoned his explicit lyrics about the revelatory powers of watersports. Though the song is ostensibly about gay sex, its greater message is that the only true path to redemption is to find and embrace our true selves. We must then celebrate our whole selves, including our perversions, for they are ineluctable parts of who we are. In performance, the inclusive nature of this subtext is borne out by the manner in which the song's ironic religiosity invites the audience to worship at the Cameras' altar of deviance. It was an invitation few could turn down. For their part, the Cameras were equal to the task of ministering to the growing throng in front of the stage. They seemed to find a way to marry the focused precision of the early part of the show with their newly re-discovered spiritual intensity. They continued to swap instruments, break out choreographed dance moves, and create soaring harmonies on exultant versions of several songs, including "In the Union of Wine" and the brand new "Awoo", which steals all the right bits from Talking Heads. By the time they arrived at the set-closing rendition of the sublime "Ban Marriage", everybody in the place was stamping their feet and singing along. The song's couplet "We aren't fools to fall in love / but let coupledom die" puts forth a message that many in attendance would undoubtedly not subscribe to under ordinary circumstances. By this point, however, Gibb was pretty much preaching to the converted -- and they were shouting the song's titular refrain right back at him as they danced up a storm. It was an inspiring moment and it demonstrated to me that I had been wrong to doubt the Cameras. They might go on to enjoy great success, but it will be on their own terms. Perhaps, it will even be in spite of those terms. The same defiant pride that first pushed Joel Gibb to start the project will ensure that its integrity is never threatened by its success. It was also at that moment that I realized that I needed to drop my pencil and join the congregation. After all, the church would soon turn back into a bar and the minister and his choir would take off in their tour bus in search of the next batch of world-weary souls in need of saving. All that was left was an encore performance of the new album's first single, the buoyant "I Believe in the Good of Life". As we bounced and sang along with that refrain, I caught the line that follows, "as I kneel down for a taste of man." I couldn't identify with the specific situation but, in that instant, I understood Gibb's message of affirmation in my mind, my heart, and my feet.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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