Richard Cameron and Karin Ras reliving their Eureka-moment
My wife Karin Ras and I have known each other for 18 years. We were pretty young when we met. Karin was at art school and I was touring around Europe as the singer in a band. I'd been involved in photography and the visual arts, but I never felt much at home at the art school in Groningen. Karin, too, left the Maastricht art school after two years. I went on gigging and Karin got into fashion and shoe design. Neither of us was particularly successful, but we weren't all that surprised. Groningen had any number of unsuccessful artists at that time. Nobody we knew had a job or actually supported themselves with art. We had no lack of ideas, but they got smothered in Groningen's provincial lethargy. This lasted for ten years.
The first Eureka-moment
Karin and I moved to Amsterdam, and from the very first moment everything was different. I got work as a beer glass collector in the Roxy and I quit the music scene. After five years in bands and another five years as a singer/songwriter, having worked every club in the country and put out two unsuccessful CDs - independently, of course! - I decided to leave my life as a musician behind me. And though Karin had real talent, she'd never earned enough in the fashion business either.
Our first month in Amsterdam turned out to be more exciting than the previous ten years had been in Groningen. We had given our names to a local house music label as video makers, and to our amazement they asked us to start right away. I think we made three videos that first month, and it went on like that for quite a while. Then we started organising parties in places like the Roxy and Paradiso. They were a big success and actually launched an intense, if brief, hype - Easy Tune, a sort of Dutch forerunner of today's lounge. These Easy Tune parties - which we organised together with VOLVO, the art collective we'd set up with Lennart Vader and Pinky Keijser - were real multimedia events. Besides DJs and bands we had art performances, cooking workshops, juggling shows - and the TV cameras and press photographers always turned up in large numbers. We even had a press gallery, as a kind of joke.
Moving to Amsterdam turned out to have been a really good idea. Our first Eureka moment was when we realised the obvious: It really matters where you are
The second Eureka-moment
As I said, I was working as a beer glass collector in the Roxy. Lennart Vader worked there too. He was a member of the legendary set design team that was responsible for some of the best club decors ever designed and built - as anyone who went to the Roxy between '93 and '97 will tell you. Anyway, Lennart Vader's dad was a high-ranking general in the Dutch army, but in a dim and distant past the guy had actually had a couple of hit records with a singing duo, the Padre Twins. Lennart found this out by accident when he was poking through some dusty boxes of stuff in the family attic and found old newspaper clippings and articles on his dad's pop group. You can imagine how astonished he was. Lennart hatched a plan to start a band himself, with the sole aim of getting written about in a couple of serious music papers. Don't ask me why, he just liked the idea.
There was a problem, though: Lenny wasn't a musician and never had been. So he started looking around for some musical assistance…
He'd heard about my musical past, and asked me whether I'd start a band with him. I wasn't that keen; I'd only just decided to jack it all in, and the idea of starting another band - the rehearsals, the soundchecks, playing to empty halls and indifferent audiences - was not one I relished. For a joke I suggested starting a band that didn't play anything. Lennart thought it was a great idea: Alright! A virtual band, a band with no music! We developed the idea and decided that it would be a band that existed only in images. We would have publicity photos, magazine article layouts, flyers, art performances. And we wanted to provide a platform for other artists with similar ideas. We called our project Vereniging Onder Leiding Van Ons, or VOLVO. We told everyone else it was a pop group. A pop group with no music… VOLVO's been around for two years now and we have a shedload of photos, a CD-ROM (the Mediamatic VOLVO CD-ROM), magazine covers and articles, parties, placemats, our own brand of beer (Fluid VOLVO), our own brand of condoms (VOLVO Safe), and even paintings to show for it. I've lost count of the number of people who've worked on all this. And we made a real debut CD. It's a double CD with one number on it - our only number, Airbag - in 19 different mixes, put together by a bunch of famous DJs and Gerry Arling. I'll come back to Gerry later.
The title of this double CD was Airbag - a tribute to safety. The airbag stands for surface without content, the hollow shell that is the VOLVO project. Oh yeah, did we get into a serious music magazine? You better believe it! Three months after we'd set the band up we had an article and a photo in the OOR (Holland's biggest music mag).The title was The first virtual band in Holland! So there I'd been, slogging away as a musician for ten years to get my name in OOR - and it happened the moment I stopped actually making music.
So our second Eureka moment was the realisation: Don't take yourself too seriously
The third Eureka-moment
While making the VOLVO CD I met the jazz musician Gerry Arling. I started having fun again, making these recordings, and Gerry has been around to help most of the time since then. Our first recordings after VOLVO were concept albums, in the sense that they served as soundtracks for the Easy Tune parties that VOLVO was organising in Amsterdam. Later, Gerry and I went on to do stuff under our own names, Arling & Cameron, but the conceptual stuff stayed important. For instance, two years ago we made an album of soundtrack music for imaginary films; together with nine graphic artists and a writer we made film posters and a synopsis for each imaginary film. The records came out in America and Japan, and it all came full circle when the music was used in real Hollywood films and bigtime American commercials. Karin supervised the Arling & Cameron visuals with me and ran the office.
Like VOLVO, Arling & Cameron has lots of people involved in the visuals. VOLVO's idea of the virtual pop group also returns in Arling & Cameron's alter egos, AC3D.
Like any pop group, Arling & Cameron can't spend all their time in the studio; they have to promote their records, too. They have to do interviews, do photo shoots, make videos, do live gigs. And since their records are found all over the world, this means a lot of travelling. We were looking for a way of getting out of all these chores, and we hit on the idea of giving Arling & Cameron two virtual alter egos. These two alter egos, AC3D, should soon be doing most of our promotion work. As it stands, everything they do takes loads more work than doing it ourselves; a 3-minute appearance in Arling & Cameron's new live show took two months' work and cost a packet, but we're hoping that technical developments in 3D animation will soon allow us to use AC3D quickly and interactively. And so far AC3D have done the album cover, a couple of web and radio interviews and some announcements for MTV and TMF. Not bad for three months, come to think of it.
In a couple of years, VOLVO, Easy Tune and Arling & Cameron have shown how music and image can support each other and give each other extra meaning. The fact that we recognise that and make use of it is what makes our work distinct from most pop music. And Karin and I, Mrs and Mrs Cameron, have never asked ourselves which pigeonhole our work for VOLVO, Easy Tune or Arling & Cameron belonged in. As far as we're concerned, music and image - art, if you like - is an area with no clear boundaries. Karin and I have worked as a DJ duo on art projects in museums like the Boijmans van Beuningen, where we made the lost sounds soundscape for the Mitigating Circumstances exhibition, and the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art, where we made a soundscape for the Big Soft Orange exhibition. We've worked for PS1 in New York and on the Chiko & Toko Cooking Project at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam. But we're just as happy at the Montreux Jazz Festival or doing soundtracks for Alexander van Slobbe's SO fashion shows.
We just finished an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam. It was called We are showing and it was a presentation, without music, of Arling & Cameron's new album, We are A&C. Different artists have worked on this project, too. I think it's a logical continuation of the work we've been doing over the last few years.
So - are we artists? It's a silly question, really, but let's just say that we are. After all, for the last three months it's what we've been saying to anyone who'll listen.
It's our third Eureka moment: Hey, we're artists