Of all the records carrying the now-iconic 4AD logo that are ripe for the deluxe reissue treatment, the work of In Camera is possibly the least predictable choice.
The London quartet were only together for four years between 1978 and 1981, during which they released a trio of singles on the label – ‘Die Laughing’ and the IV Songs EP, both from 1980, and 1982’s posthumously issued Fin EP – and played a smattering of shows in the UK before dissolving.
If the members of the group are known for anything, it’s the projects they took on after In Camera split up. Singer David Scinto (aka David Steiner) kicked off a screenwriting career that has included credits for Sexy Beast and Gangster No. 1, and guitarist Andrew Gray went on to form the more well-known 4AD act The Wolfgang Press with former members of Rema-Rema.
Listening to Era, the newly-minted double-CD set that compiles all of the group’s singles along with demos and live recordings from their brief existence, it’s not at all difficult to understand why the label would jump at re-releasing it. Though they are rarely name-checked as such, In Camera were a crystalline example of the early, expansive days of post-punk.
“We weren’t that kind of sexy band with a sexy sound.”
David Scinto, In Camera
Like many of their contemporaries, the quartet found inspiration in the motorik grooves of krautrock, dub production techniques, African rhythms, the guitar sheen of glam and the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM). The resulting sound was a dark, roiling soup driven by the insistent pulse and curiously danceable edge of the group’s rhythm section, drummer Jeff Wilmott and bassist Pete Moore. Gray’s shockingly minimalist guitar melodies lick and curl like flames, all the better for casting flickering light and shadows on Scinto’s paranoid lyrical visions.
“We weren’t that kind of sexy band with a sexy sound,” says Scinto, speaking over the phone. “We were much more tribal and metal in a sort of concrete headspace. It was all our influences pouring out at the same time.”
Scinto was the true catalyst for the formation of In Camera. Like many teens living in East London at the time, he fell in love with the immediacy and energy of punk rock, which led him to the rest of the underground music world, and groups like The Pop Group and Siouxsie & The Banshees.
“There were so many bands about, as you can imagine,” he remembers. “Everyone was getting out and meeting each other and taking part in a fired up spirit. A voice was found through music and it spoke very eloquently.”
That kind of youthful ardor kept Scinto buoyed as he spent a few months trying to lock down a permanent lineup and a sound for his fledgling group. The only mainstay for a while was Moore, a fellow Banshees fanatic who worked in a record shop and had never played bass before. But after a few months, the band finally solidified, pulling in Gray via an ad in Melody Maker and coercing longtime friend Wilmott to join.
Beyond the musical influences that the members of In Camera found common cause with (Scinto and Gray cited groups like Cabaret Voltaire, Public Image Limited and The Pop Group as three key sources), one of the biggest bonding forces was their love of cinema. The four young men would haunt London’s movie houses together and spend time picking apart the films they would catch on TV. The group started to see a kinship between their musical efforts and the freewheeling style of independent directors like Scorsese, Roeg, and Antonioni.
“It starts to affect the way you see everything,” says Gray. “You start thinking differently about everything, music and tones. And it helped us consider things more artistically because we knew we weren’t going to be number one. We could do what we wanted.”
“[4AD] were just so open to giving us 100% artistic control and that’s what enticed us.”
David Scinto, In Camera
For In Camera that meant writing drawn-out epics like ‘The Conversation’, an instrumental from IV Songs that centers on a gently-played piano ostinato but fills the edges with the occasional slap of a drum beat and a ghostly clarinet line, or ‘The Final Day’, which builds and builds on an almost disco-like groove for nearly all of its 11-minute running time before exploding in a rumbling stomp which Scinto wails and moans over.
Uncompromising as it often was, the group had little trouble finding fans. Amongst their musical brethren was Bauhaus, who brought them along as a support act for a club date that would introduce them to Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter King, the two men behind 4AD Records.
“They seemed to be very open to our sound,” Gray remembers. “They were very naive because they had never done a record label before. Basically Beggars Banquet had all this money they didn’t want to give to the taxman, so the easiest thing to do was to open a new business. Ivo and Pete were just the managers of the store. So they were new to the thing as well. They were just so open to giving us 100% artistic control and that’s what enticed us.”
The band took all the steps expected of a young indie band at the time. They released a couple of records, played gigs around the UK, and were invited to Maida Vale Studios to record a session for John Peel (these are the tracks that would wind up on Fin). For all that momentum, in 1981 In Camera simply ground to a halt. There were no big artistic arguments or petty grievances among the four men, it just quietly faded away.
“We still don’t really know why it happened,” Gray says. “I think that it was just life to a certain extent. Jeff had got this job and that took up a lot of his time. And I know Ivo was really proactive in wanting us to make an album, but Dave made a point that we didn’t have the songs at the time.”
Scinto quickly agrees. “No, I didn’t feel we did. And I was too exhausted from going through so many different phases of the band to really try and keep it together anymore. The musical tastes were shifting in the media. The New Romantic thing was getting thrust upon us. Suddenly the tide turns and it becomes hard to swim.”
Even with the successes that Gray and Scinto have had since the band’s split, they still find themselves coming back to In Camera with regularity. The four men reconvened to record some unfinished tracks that would get added to 13 (Lucky For Some), a 1992 CD compilation of the group’s work. And last year, they decided to take up the charge of sparking some new interest in the band after Gray stumbled upon tapes of a live rehearsal they recorded in 1980 and their first demos. Initially they intended to simply self-release it, but they found a surprisingly willing partner in 4AD’s current head Simon Halliday (with a little help from direct-to-fan funding service PledgeMusic).
“We homed in on that idea of what it was like to be in a band when you’re very young and there’s all that energy,” says Scinto. “It’s been interesting to revisit a time when you were so committed to what you’re doing. It’s like suddenly being on your own and you’re learning about the world together with a group of friends and comrades that were going out and performing together. It was an exciting time really when you put your mind there.”
Era is out now on 4AD.
Read next: an interview with 4AD boss Simon Halliday.