Kristen Cochrane talks with musician Luke Howlin — aka Neocamp — about the essence of camp, playing a character, and his Enya obsession.
In Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay ‘Notes on “Camp”’, she describes camp iconography of her contemporary era: Tiffany lamps, Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, Bellini’s opera, The National Enquirer, and Cuban pop singer La Lupe. But what do we consider camp in the age of multiple browser tabs, memes with short life-spans, and the thriving electronic music genres, which have certainly evolved and germinated since Sontag wrote about “Camp” in 1964? This is, in large part, what informs Neocamp’s (aka Luke Howlin) work, and what inspired the moniker “neocamp,” an allusion to the emergence of novel symbols of camp.
In Neocamp’s video “Info’BRAND” (2014), the signs of traditional camp and neo-camp explicitly merge. The video opens with Neocamp on the New York subway, where he takes a selfie with a smartphone, seductively posing. He has bunny ears on, and a dress with garish floral patterns that screams “old lady in a haunted house.” The video cuts from disparate urban locales, like a desolate parking lot, Times Square, and a garage with graffiti. Neocamp is twerking and squatting in exaggerated dance-moves that are parodic of the post-2000s club culture. The kinds of dance moves Europeans mock North Americans for practicing, yet simultaneously revere us for.
Neocamp’s video “Info’BRAND” (2014) – so lolz
“I was interested in the commonalities of what [Susan Sontag] was saying about traditional camp in the sixties, and how young people use culture to communicate with each other,” he says. “I feel like we’re so steeped in not just all these signs and entertainment tropes, but also a very ironic play of language and media. But it’s also this mixture of irony and sincerity.”
Left image by Michael Burk / right image by Ben McKernan
Just like the Europeans who love and hate us for the way we bend over and dance at the club, Neocamp seems to also get a mixed reaction, which is likely because people get so confused when they can’t tell if the message is ironic or sincere. YouTube comments on Neocamp’s videos range from idolatry, awe, and confusion.
As for intent, Neocamp began this project almost by accident. It started back in university at the Limerick School of Art and Design in Ireland, when Neocamp made a series of videos. At the same time, he was also musically immersed through various bands that he played in.
“I wanted to do a ‘neocamp’ album, which originally was supposed to be an offshoot from this video series,” he says. “I liked this whole idea of this ever-evolving set of works that were all interchangeable and interconnected.”
Photo by Slainne Linnane
But even before Neocamp became the current manifestation, Luke was sporting a bleached look—his beard and hair were completely white. Someone suggested that Luke take his new look into a video, calling it “strong.” The video got a way bigger response than he expected.
“It was totally by accident that Neocamp was suddenly this character,” Neocamp says. “But now I’m really interested in that. I’m still not 100% sure what that means in terms of what the work is doing. All I know is that people have definitely responded in a way that I never would have imagined before. Especially, like, all these South American teenagers? It’s all these sweet little gay boys and weirdos that are like fourteen, fifteen, from like Argentina, or Ecuador, or Brazil. It’s really heartwarming.”
Photo by Pat Bombard
Let’s be real. Neocamp’s look is original as hell. Shocking, even. So I wondered, where did a lot of the unique visual tropes come from? I remembered Luke’s obsession with new age Irish musician Enya. His Facebook name was the lolztastic “Luke Enya Howlin” for the longest time. So, obviously, I asked if it was a joke.
“It’s not a joke!” Neocamp joke-shouts at me. “We were working into the wee hours, you know, and you’re up all night, and you’re like, I just need some Enya,” Neocamp says. “But I genuinely love her music.” For Neocamp, female artists like Kate Bush were seen as pioneering artists in the art pop emergence of the 1980s. Meanwhile, Enya was dismissed as a “punch-line.”
“I really admire Enya in a very serious way because what she managed to do in 1983 was that she was literally synthesizing these brand new sounds. She managed to merge them in this weird, made-up kind of Celtic mysticism.”
This weird, made-up kind of Celtic mysticism is a noticeable feature of Neocamp’s new sounds. Neocamp’s third album is coming out this July—an effort called Wave Wave that will be out in two parts.
Listen to Neocamp’s new song “Tell Me What You Like,” premiering first here on Slutever, yay!
Photo by Michael Burk
Kristen Cochrane is a writer and academic in Ontario, Canada, who’s researching some very interesting things, like queer Latin American cinema, and the fetishization of the female tennis body. Read her recent essay for Slutever, “Why the Slut Always Dies” HERE :)