, September 5th, 2012 03:15
Just when you thought you didn't need another contemporary neo-krautrock outfit in your life... along come Camera, whose heavy kosmische grooves are not only near-irresistible, but who have more claim than most to be upholders of the kraut tradition, whatever that may be. Genuine Berliners, for a start, the three-piece have also been championed by Michael Rother of Neu! Rother gave the young band several early support slots before inviting them to play a joint show with him and his old Harmonia buddy Dieter Moebius, who was equally impressed with the way Camera have not only appropriated but extended the motorik machine music he and his peers pioneered throughout the 1970s.
The old school radical krautrockers may have been equally appreciative of Camera's liking for guerrilla gigs in public spaces, with stunts like gatecrashing the German Film Prize after show party, setting up and playing until security realised they weren't actually booked and booted them out, somewhat reminiscent of the anti-establishment, near-situationist streak that was such an important part of the make-up of bands like Neu!, Faust, Can and Amon Duul, but which inevitably has been filtered out as new bands take on the sounds without any of the political philosophy.
While setting up and playing in a Berlin underpass or public toilets may not equate with raging against the Nazi relics still holding public office in the late 60s / early 70s, or harbouring members of the Baader-Meinhof gang in your band squat, it does at least exhibit a taste for mischief-making and confrontation, and a disdain for conventional music biz careerism, that the old guard must have been relieved to find was still on the agenda.
Another quality of their forebears that Camera retain is a love of improvisation. Initially formed with no intention of recording or even of writing songs as such, the trio laid down Radiate! live in the studio, using just a couple of guitars, a synthesiser and a pared-down drum kit. The result is a muscular spontaneity that makes even the more by-numbers moments come alive, imbuing familiar musical phrases with an urgency and velocity that many more considered, reverential players often lose.
The pulsing bass and rumbling drums of 'Ego' merge with sonar echo and coruscating washes of distortion like an endless U-boat party, dark and rust-hued, an acid-damaged iron shark and the eternal nemesis of that psychedelic custard-coloured sub from the whimsical dreams of mid-60s boy bands. Wah guitars snake through the depths like torpedoes locked on target; the bloated corpses of velvet-jacketed mariners float towards the surface. 'Villon' is gentler, a hypnotic groove snaking in circles, a haunted lead guitar melody dancing to thudding toms and rattling tambourine, before a Klaus Dinger-like shout opens the none-more Neu! 'Ausland', hurtling at speed along the autobahn, disdainful of the workaday traffic jams that these days clog every lane, so in thrall are they to the motoric myth of linear freedom, even if it means veering on to the verge and forcing obstacles out of their way; a shunt to the Horrors' paisley-painted hearse here, Wooden Shjips Beverley Hillbillies style jalopy driven into the ditch there...
The synthesiser washes of 'Lynch' conjure the rain and neon of some Blade Runner like dystopia, relocated perhaps to corporate, urban mittel Europa, and 'RFID' is equally soundtrack-worthy, building up the tension via minimal but telling drum patterns and circling guitar distortion that grows more furious on each turn. But 'Morgen' ends the album on a surprisingly low-key note, conjuring the melancholy electronic pastoral of mid-period Kraftwerk, and leaving you with a sense of reflection, rather than climax.
Perhaps this is another example of Camera's healthy disregard for the rock rulebook; leaving us not with a narrative showreel, but with a series of progressively blurred snapshots, in which the past is no longer fixed but altered by our perception of it. Some would say that 'krautrock' as we currently perceive it, never really existed; that only with hindsight do certain German progressive bands of the early 1970s seem to have any common ground, and that the revivalists of the 21st Century are working to a largely imaginary template. If so, Camera capture the terrain more thrillingly than most. Another neo-krautrock band? Oh, go on then...