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Camp Cope’s Intimate, Empowering Indie Rock Will Live On

There’s something about Camp Cope’s music that feels inherently illicit.

At times, listening to the Australian trio’s songs can feel invasive, like walking in on two people having a special moment, like on the dejected “Stove Lighter” on their 2016 self-titled debut: “And I would sneak him into my mother’s house / Where he would draw the things I’d talk about / And we only ever made out / And listen to Tigers Jaw and UV Race,” Georgia Maq relays like a close friend on the phone, name-dropping bands you’d never expect to hear in a song.

On their 2018 LP How To Socialise & Make Friends, “The Opener” and the title track can catch the listener off guard as they call out sexism in the music scene: “It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up the room / It’s another man telling us to book a smaller venue.” These meta moments have a bewildering effect — a brazen crashing down of the fourth wall that didn’t seem possible until it happened. It finishes with the frustrated shout: “Yeah, just get a female opener / That’ll fill the quota.”

Formed in 2015 in Melbourne, Camp Cope is made up of Maq on vocals and guitar, Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich on bass, and Sarah Thompson on drums. They are often described by fans as underrated, which makes sense considering they’re label pedigree. While most Run For Cover acts end up with a devoted cult-following, Camp Cope never quite achieved the same success as their peers, perhaps because they weren’t as easily categorizable. In 2022 they unveiled the triumphant record Running With The Hurricane that opens with the razor-sharp line: “I’ve been seeing my, I’ve been seeing my / Seeing my own death / I’ve been laying down, I’ve been going down / Giving strangers head.” Then, nearly a year after its release, the band announced their breakup on Instagram: “CAMP COPE 2015-2023,” but still assuring that there’s “more to come.”

One of the most common forms of misogyny is the casual condescension from men for women to set aside the emotional from the logical. To separate the personal from politics. Camp Cope knew this is B.S., exploring the complex overlap between the two. Intimacy and vulnerability exist on the same plane as anger and protest. Complicated feelings mix with poetic images. On “How To Socialise & Make Friends,” Maq sings about riding her bike in the dark with no handlebars while reflecting on a complex relationship from her past: “Yeah I guess we both got our problems / And areas to improve / And I know one of mine is to go a night without sympathizing with you.” Never do Camp Cope come across as bitter — they are conflicted, in solidarity with one another and reaching for answers, redemption, and peace — especially as they lift each other up: “Show ’em, Kelly!” Maq howls on the climax of “The Opener,” one of the band’s most iconic moments.

The crux of Camp Cope can be found in the therapeutic ballad “I’ve Got You”: “There’s still some things I don’t understand / Like the casual blindness toward the cruelty of man.” Awash with empathy and persistence, the group’s material was a refreshing broth that approached rough issues with a rare nuance. Sometimes they were too honest for their own good: “And I said that I was sorry about that line / I only wrote it cause it rhymed,” Maq drawls on the impactful “UFO Lighter,” a poignant song buoyed by haunting guitars and capricious bass.

While their outspokenness was a big reason that most fans adored them, it’s possible that it’s also what kept them from getting further. When Maq unleashed “Joe Rogan,” a solo, pop-leaning song about a sh*tty dude (“There’s nothing more dangerous than a man who thinks consent is lame,” she sings), it was met with a wave of backlash over its “wokeness,” boasting a little over 500 likes on YouTube with dislikes at more than half of that and a slew of comments about being desperate for clicks. More recently, Thompson called out Bluesfest for the inclusion of Sticky Fingers, a band who have a history of abuse allegations. This raised the question of how intensely bands can engage in activism without suffering because of it.

The disbanding of Camp Cope can’t help but feel like a massive loss for the indie world. However, their impact remains. For The Conversation, Freya Langley reflected on all they’ve done for gender equality in the music scene in Australia, especially by spearheading the #ItTakesOne campaign, which focused on safety and representation for women at festivals. Merely their existence was empowering; they would have a whole room of music lovers yelling about sexism in productive, inspiring catharsis. Those anthems will live on.