With Camp Cope and Idles at the helm, modern punk’s compassion is its greatest strength

Punk used to be about nihilism and gobbing on people. Nowadays, it’s about inclusivity and hugging people – and all the better for it

There are few arguments more tired than what constitutes ‘punk’. A debate that’s been rattling on for decades, spurred on by the mainstream’s occasional dabbles with the likes of Green Day and latter-day emo, there’s always someone about to tell you that, unless it’s printed onto a single blank cassette and set alight on a stage in front of two paying punters, it’s not ‘real punk’. Through all the grumbling, however, a new thread of compassionately-minded young punks has wriggled out of the mire – ones who are remodelling the genre for a new, more socially-conscious generation.

Take Idles, the Bristolian punks whose friendly-yet-fiery punk is currently setting the UK album chart ablaze. ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’, their second LP, is a masterclass in making aggressive music inclusive. A swirling cacophony of guitars and a frantic rhythm section buoy frontman Joe Talbot’s on-the-nose pontifications on society, politics, and the numerous points where the two intertwine.

Rather than hiding behind anarchy and needless provocation, ‘Joy…’ finds strength in unity and inclusivity, the likes of ‘Danny Nedelko’ and ‘Cry To Me’ acting as rallying cries for the disaffected. No less pissed-off than their old-school punk counterparts, they’re simply redirecting their anger and energy into a (hopefully) more positive future – a constructive end-point that the snotty, spitting punks of yesteryear never really quite hit upon.

Idles at End Of The Road Festival (Photo: Jenn Five/NME)

It’s not just a British thing, either – this revolution is worldwide. Camp Cope, a Melbourne-based trio who made their London debut at a sold-out Tufnell Park Dome last night (September 4), are arguably at the forefront of this punk rebirth. This year’s ‘How To Socialise & Make Friends’ captured attentions with its raw depictions of both personal trauma in the wake of assault (‘The Face Of God’), and ingrained sexism in the music industry (‘The Opener’). Both ‘How To Socialise…’ and their 2016 self-titled LP are essential insights into how punk has evolved into an inclusive, welcoming space for the fringes of society.

Georgia Maq, who formed Camp Cope as a means of bolstering her solo work, looked in total disbelief as she took to The Dome’s stage, in front of 500-plus punters on the other side of the planet to home. As she and her bandmates – bassist Kelly-Dawn Helmrich and drummer Sarah Thompson – erupted into ‘Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams’, the trio wasted little time in planting their flag. That particular highlight from ‘Camp Cope’ is a spine-chilling depiction of rape culture, but comes delivered in a buoyant punk-rock package.

“Hearing cat calls from police cars, and they say ‘What you gonna do about it dressed the way you are?’ / Yeah, it’s a very common line – they say you’re asking for it when you’re walking home alone at night” sings Maq, while Helmrich (who also runs the anti-assault campaign #ittakesone) wields twanging basslines which call to mind the urgency of a young Peter Hook. Thompson, meanwhile – self-proclaimed ‘band mom’ – thrashes at the kit, giving things a cacophonous appeal. It’s an energy that most stories like this aren’t granted – one that thrives on defiance of the established, sexist order, rather than despondence.

“Thanks for rockin’ out with us,” grins Maq after a spirited rendition of ‘How To Socialise And Make Friends” title-track. “Now, we’re gonna rock out in our minds, but also have a little think,” she continues. “Every man in this room – I’m talking to you. I’d like you to go home and have a talk with another man in your life about the space you take up, and about how you can help prevent rape and sexual violence. Because it starts with you.” It’s a statement that’s met with a room full of cheers, as Maq recounts a tale of assault in ‘The Face Of God’, brought chillingly close-to-home by the lines “Could it be true? You don’t seem like that kind of guy / Not you, you’ve got that one song that I like”. In an era where rock music is seemingly plagued by countless assaulters and apologists – even seemingly untouchable deities of the scene like Brand New brought down by their sexually improprieties – it’s a stunningly strong counterweight.

In much the same was as Idles balance their grislier numbers with buoyance and joy, though, Camp Cope are every bit as fun as they are thoughtful. The pacey emo-punk of ‘Done’ sees singalongs that prompt a visible grin on Georgia’s face between lines, while ‘Footscray Station’ is delivered after a tittering speech about how Kelly once pissed herself outside the train station of the title. It’s that light relief (and perhaps overly-long account of the perils of pissing oneself as a fully-grown adult) which helps Camp Cope’s inclusive message truly take root.

‘The Opener’, penned using lines quoted at the band by men who thought they knew better, and wheeled out this evening as a closer (oh, the irony), remains Camp Cope’s most brilliant statement. “This song is like ‘Sk8r Boi’ by Avril Lavigne,” grins Maq, “but instead of glorifying the boy who writes songs about hating women, Avril starts a band with the girl who does ballet.” It’s a track that, exhaustingly, came to life once more back in January after the trio hit out at Australia’s Falls Festival for a lack of female-identifying artists – a statement which was, predictably, met with evasiveness and blame-shifting. As Maq rattles off a list of men “telling us we can’t fill up the room” and “telling us to book a smaller venue”, each one met with a visible eye-roll from the stage, it’s a defiant riposte to music industry sexism, and a beacon of light for any other women who feel cut out of the male-heavy music industry.

It’s indicative of a wider culture change in punk-rock – one that’s finally embracing its audience, rather than kicking out childishly at everything in sight. Forever a genre that thrived on the fringes, it’s a new guise that fits – and one that, through Idles’ chart success, and Camp Cope’s eagerly-awaited worldwide tour, is clearly necessary.

Punk, at its heart, has always been about standing for something. In an increasingly fragmented world, it’s refreshing to see the genre remoulding before our eyes, and offering a blueprint for a more socially-inclusive world. While the gammons of the internet might love to piss and moan about how ‘guitar music is dead’ unless someone’s getting gobbed on, with bands like Camp Cope and Idles at the helm, punk-rock has never felt more alive.