Why Camp Cope’s How To Make Friends and Socialise Is More Than Feminist Rock in a post #MeToo era

When Recording Academy President, Neil Portnow responded to an all-male dominated Grammy nominations list with the sage advice for its female counterparts to “step up”, women everywhere groaned at another straight cis man claiming to know more about the gender discrepancy than we do. “I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face”, he helpfully added to the reporters at Variety. No shit, Neil.

Earlier this month, 45 major music festivals have signed up to talent development heavyweight, PRS Foundation’s Keychange; a European initiative encouraging festivals to work towards a 50:50 gender balance. The new pledge finds 45 events aiming to achieve gender equality on their lineups by 2022. Meanwhile closer to home, Byron Bay’s Falls Festival maintain they have “a very conscious and strong agenda to book female talent”, despite the bulk of women musicians relegated to perform in the early afternoon slots with none affording sets post 7pm. Suffice to say, there is still a lot to do when it comes smashing those ceilings and Neil’s patriarchy.

Fitting then that something should be brewing on the sidelines of the punk scene in Melbourne. Something hellbent on providing an earnest dialogue to industry types everywhere who are seemingly having a one-sided (and two-faced) conversation about women’s shortcomings. Enter Melbourne trio Camp Cope. Since their formation back in 2015, front woman Georgia Maq, bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich and drummer, Sarah Thompson have been disrupting the dialogue with their razor-sharp song structures tackling systemic sexism, bigotry and the variable injustices they come up against. Indeed, during the band’s set at Byron Bay’s Falls Festival, Maq took the opportunity to slam the organisers for their dismal display of women artists in incendiary call out and recent single, ‘The Opener’ as she taunts: “Yeah, just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota”.

The track comes from the band’s sophomore album, How To Make Friends and Socialise which might claim to be the go-to-guide for keen networkers everywhere but is far more of an education in personal reflection. Feelings of resolution, (“Sometimes making love was the only time I’d ever feel real love”) remorse, (“I said that I was sorry about that line”) and recovery (“What would have happened if I’d done one thing differently?”) are palpable. Maq is outspoken but also heartbreakingly loyal. ‘The Omen’ sums up blind devotion and moments of pure and selfless giving to another as she admits: “I loved you like you’d never hurt me”.

But above all, this is a record of a grief. Not only the grief of losing her father but the grief of losing, or having to let go, of a part of yourself. And much like grief, it manifests itself in different ways. There is denial. ‘Anna’, “the sleepless muse” showcases Maq’s songwriting as a force when it comes to catharsis, and her struggles to connect former blissful memories into the lonely ones that stretch out in front of you following a break up: “Bedbound doesn’t feel the same without you”.

Then comes the anger: “Now you’ve got me questioning everything I did, that somehow what’s happened to me was my fault”. Standout ‘The Face of God’ is unabashedly intimate as the band aim to break the silence of survivors of sexual assault with a vivid and acutely distressing memory of Maq’s own encounters as she battles with the unjust culpability: “I slept in the middle of my bed with the comfort of my own choices” whilst the perpetrator remains guilt-free: “I bet you didn’t think about what you did”. The bargaining stage can come before loss or after loss, as an attempt to negotiate pain away. Within the melodic bass line brilliance of ‘UFO Lighter’, Maq longs for forgiveness (“I only wrote it because it rhymed”) and hindsight (“If we could take our time, we’d get it right”).

Depression hits in heartbreaking closer, ‘I’ve Got You’, Maq’s mesmerising acoustic ode to losing her father. Because that’s what grief does. It encapsulates you. Vivid recollections flash before your eyes as you try to make sense of the world. She remarks on the “casual blindness of man”. Poignant considering the recent global distress in Florida. Much like their alt-rock sisters The Breeders’ new release All Nerve, Maq’s lyricism captures the exhaustion of feeling both brazen, and numb to the bone. Admitting “when you go, part of me will go with you to the infinite unknown”, it’s hard not to feel the seismic impact of that loss. But there is some bittersweet acceptance in modest, ‘Sagan Indiana’ as she insists: “There’s nothing I don’t owe to the past”. And that’s a brutal truth for anyone trying to let go.

How To Make Friends and Socialise isn’t feminist rock in the #MeToo era. This is the voices and experiences of thousands of women finally amplified, through an expert handle on songwriting and a Fender Jaguar. And Neil’s right, that is a step up. From friends, at least. That’s a matriarchy in the making.

Cheri Amour

@thedivinehammer