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‘There is no rock and roll anymore; it’s all about money. It’s a little sad, I think.’ Thus speaks Camera’s Michael Drummer down a shaky phone line from rural Germany. He’s gearing up for another European tour with two new band mates in town – ‘like going to war’ as he puts it – but first he has to do some car repairs for his parents. Glamorous, eh? But it’s clear this is how he wants it; striving, and barely surviving, his art comes first, an attitude he’s immensely proud of (and, you imagine, would defend to the bitter end). It’s also led to the band’s best work yet, the utterly uncompromising Phantom Of Liberty.
Camera is now three albums in; how has your music, and you as a band, developed over that time?
I can’t be a performer if I make music.
I’m the only original member in the band. Now, our new members are older than me, and they have a different way of making music; they show me stuff I never learned playing on the street, but the stuff we played before was really negative and spontaneous.
The music has changed as well; when we play live we have more ideas, and there’s more of a feel for trying new things. But I like it because now when things go wrong, it’s really interesting; when we play live there is a lot of pressure and that’s good.
You come from a busking and a street performing background. What do you take from the hours you spent doing that into the band and performing on the stage as Camera?
When we started Camera it was my idea to go on the streets, I told them: ‘Let’s go there and play to everybody.’
Punk is trendy , but the whole thing is not attractive.
But the thing is; making music is a different world. It is not performing, it is living. You can do everything, but it’s not performance. I can’t be a performer if I make music.
Talking about performance, you’re known for putting on Guerrilla gigs and some interesting stunts in unusual places, like in toilets of film award shows. In the difficult and turbulent times we live in, do we need more bands with an ‘in your face’ attitude?
Michael: If you mean live it 24/7, 365 days a year, then yes. Otherwise it’s not real. If you don’t want to be commercial, and everyone goes the commercial way… I find it really weird if they play with that word. It’s actually punk, you know? Punk is trendy , but the whole thing is not attractive. It is big business and they know exactly what to do. If you don’t use the word punk, then you are more likely to struggle and they destroy you.
Is it easy to resist going down the commercial route?
Easy to resist?
Yeah, to have to constantly struggle for your art. Are there days when you wake up and think: ‘If only I could make more money doing this!’
Yeah I do. I think it’s easy for me because I think of the big posh area. When I have money I will buy posh things, but destroy them. There was one band who got £1 million in cash and they burnt it.
For me, getting your art out there is fucking war; it is everyone against everyone.
That was the KLF.
Yeah, the KLF. I really liked that and I do it a lot; I destroy what I build up, that’s me. It’s the only fun we have now – chuck it out of the window or something. Things that we have actually built up.
What’s it like, trying to get your art out there, to tour and play to people?
My mother and sisters told me: ‘Don’t just play drums in a band, you’ll go on tour with your music and struggle all the time.’ So, you want freedom and then you struggle with all the stuff, then you act to fight that. For me, getting your art out there is fucking war; it is everyone against everyone. That’s the story for all bands now.
Does the struggle make for better art in the end?
Struggling is really important, but I don’t know if it makes better art though. If you look to the past, there are a lot of artists who haven’t struggled and made good stuff, but maybe that’s just a story around them because everybody struggles. I guess struggling is important.
Camera play at De School, Amsterdam on Wednesday, 21 September. Phantom of Liberty is out now on Bureau B.