Watch out for the Hidden Cameras

By Peter Hemminger

eople see pee and they just associate it with sex. But, oh no, no one likes water sports.’

It’s a common complaint, Lord knows it happens to all of us. You’re trying to express your belief in urine as a divine thing, but people go and take the perverted route. Suddenly the word becomes tainted, cheapened, if you will.

Joel Gibb, singer, lyricist and visionary behind Toronto’s Hidden Cameras is the latest victim of this age-old prejudice thanks to a single off their latest album, The Smell of Their Own.

“People have dirty minds,” he explains. “When I see that video [for ‘Golden Streams’], I just think of heaven. The song never references being peed on, it just mentions peeing. Peeing in the cold, getting to heaven through streams of pee connected in a grid, and they always say it’s ‘Golden Showers,’ but it’s not, it’s ‘Golden Streams.’ It’s classier, you know?”

I felt relieved when he laughed at that last bit, I was worried I’d hit on a sensitive spot. Luckily, Gibb doesn’t take himself too seriously, he’s too busy enjoying the unusual position he’s found himself in. After just two years on the scene, the Hidden Cameras have become something of a sensation in Toronto, drawing increasingly large crowds to their unconventional shows–think a Rocky Horror congregation with angels replacing the aliens, or one very twisted campfire sing-a-long.

In his own words, “the whole live show is about celebrating the body and celebrating the idea of excess; but innocent excess.”

The idea of indie kids celebrating anything other than horn-rimmed glasses and double-knit sweaters is frightening enough. Convincing a culture that revels in their awkwardness to sing and dance the night away is staggering work, and one that Gibb is justifiably proud of. In a way, he’s sculpting it into the scene he’s always wanted.

“People are insecure, especially indie rockers,” he says. “I grew up with that scene, and it was a really closeted environment. I almost resent the indie scene, in a way.”

There’s a long pause as Gibb searches unsuccessfully for a word to replace “resent.”

“Everybody smokes, which just makes me ill. And the clubs are really dark, and the bands are really drab, and they don’t talk to the audience. Everyone’s too cool for school,” he laments. “With Toronto, [the dancing] started as friends in the crowd. Then after a while we’d look out and realize we didn’t know anyone out there.

“They dance because people would rather have fun than be bored.”

The same applies to Gibb himself. Instead of finding a real job (when asked what he’d be doing if not for the band, he replies “something boring, probably”), he overcame a complete lack of formal musical training and now works with musicians of all skill levels, from highly trained string sections to dancers who’ve hardly played a note. Despite the band’s 15-or-so strong membership, depending on the night, the Hidden Cameras are clearly Gibb’s vision, and he’s quick to correct me when I describe them as a collective.

“I don’t use the word collective,” he says emphatically. A collective would imply structure through some sort of democratic decision making, and that’s not what happens with my band. We sit down and I tell them what the song we’re going play is, and it’s going to be structured this way. I’ve already demoed it on my four-track, people already know the song, so it’s just a matter of practicing the melody.

“We never jam.”

Without a doubt, it is Gibb’s vision that led British label Rough Trade to sign the group, the first Canadian band signed in the label’s 25-year history. While still independent in Canada due to “passive-aggressive record labels,” Gibb doesn’t believe he’ll have trouble reaching his audience. After all, no matter what venue he’s played so far, from churches to porno shops to an upcoming show in Regina’s only gay bar, people have been more than accepting–they’ve wanted to join in.

“Just because Calgary’s conservative doesn’t mean that our audience is. We’ve never played to a conservative audience,” he explains. “No one’s going to come to our show to be upset. It’s not like there’s any sort of angry or confrontational aspect, there’s nothing really perverted. We’ll have dancers in their underwear, but it’s really innocent.

“All the ideas that perhaps might ruffle a conservative’s feathers are presented in a really innocent way. That’s true of the music too, because the music’s presented in a really joyous, unassuming way, so that if you were to play it for a really conservative mum, she would probably like it–until she found out what the words are.”

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