Alex Cameron
Words by Mitchell Duran

Sydney, Australia’s Alex Cameron holds himself like someone flirting with a cultural edge.

Be it on stage at one of his shows or watching one of his unique brand of music videos, one isn’t sure what to make of Cameron with his tight 505s and swiveling hips; his long, slicked-back, shoulder-length blonde hair flowing down a worn loose-fitting white tank top; his voice digging deep into a confident vibrato. It questions itself as it wavers, hesitates, and dips into a falsetto one second, switching into a late-Elvis swagger a second later.

His look and sound seem to be pulling from three or four different genres all at once at times. Throw in his unique brand of showmanship, andone can’t help feel there is an internal drive at work behind the Clint Eastwood-­esque squint as Alex Cameron performs. Call it intensity, focus, or commitment to self­-expression, as Cameron slides around with his second­hand-store leather boots, strumming his absurdist power ballads, he utterly believes in himself and his ability to entertain.

I saw him a couple years back. All a friend said in terms of prefacing him was that “He dances weird, he dances good.” He opened with “Studmuffin96,” and with an obligatory Evan Williams on ice and PBR in hand, I couldn’t help but start clicking my heels and toes following Cameron’s lead. “I’m here waiting for you, I’m here waiting for you” echoed around a careening guitar riff and subtle keyboard line.

Ed. note: Not safe for work.

The catchiness of his songs are undeniable. Besides his gangly, sporadic, hypnotic presence on stage, another thing that captivated me was his gaze. The look in his eyes was a mixture of stern focus bordering on the ironic. Was this guy serious or wasn’t he? There was a duality of anxiousness and jadedness that he displayed throughout, as if he had performed a million times before but was popping his cherry at the same time. As a viewer, I wasn’t sure what to expect, making the experience of Cameron as he danced in his own slowed down version of twist n’ shout, clad in his ragged obsidian-hued boots, exhilarating. What was this 28-­year­-old, who possessed the dance moves of a young Mick Jagger, the nonsensical lyrics of Highway 61 Revisited-era Dylan, and the brooding presence of James Dean, going to do? The answer: nobody knew.

That is where the power of Alex Cameron’s performances lies: in the unadulterated and unfiltered expression of how he sees the world and how he chooses to act in it. Maybe the tactic behind his mysteriousness is not so much to pay attention to his character per se, but to focus on his work.

This rings true in Cameron’s lyrics with lines like “They made a meme out of my legacy, darling” followed by intensely vulnerable moments ones like “I know you’re wondering why you wish you were dead / And there’s no solace in the fact that it’s all in your head.” With Alex Cameron’s stoicism, swagger, and hinted emotional fragility and underdog charm, there is no denying his talents are both rare as they are singular, alluding, perhaps, to the idea that he isn’t just in it for the likes or retweets.

Cameron’s 2nd album, Forced Witness, is a typhoon of contradictions, social bull­horns, and inspiration. You can’t help but sing and dance to “Stranger’s Kiss,” its antihero underpinnings coupled with a howling saxophone and ’80s synth as Cameron croons “In my dreams, I miss you.”

The complexity in Cameron’s line here is that he follows with, “…and it hurts, and it hurts, but I don’t want to talk about it.” The edge of what isn’t said here is a bridge between the artist and the listener, a point of connection that, coupled with the seamless duet he falls into with Angel Olsen, is a feat so often manufactured in modern music, but so rarely felt on the levels of that song.

Cameron’s music videos (see “Stranger’s Kiss” — he stars with Jemima Kirke, who also directed the video) subtly shows us that one can shuffle-slide their way into a deeper state of self­-realization, love, and joy. Pop culture name drops and hipster aesthetic aside, it’s still hard to deny the seriousness with which Cameron takes his music. Maybe it’s the futile look in his eyes that one can only possess after realizing that art was never going to complete him. Maybe it’s the “failed entertainer” persona he started out with, but can no longer play due to his real-life success. Maybe that mischievous grin that curls up his taut face, followed by a wink and a hair flip, is a nod to us, the audience, that he performs not for himself, but for us and only us. That without us, Cameron wouldn’t be able to do what he loves, and that is so obviously to sing and perform.

That kind of sacrifice, day in and day out, constantly pushing themselves in their own medium, is a rarity in these times of algorithms and diagnostics. Alex Cameron, with all of his energy, his brooding, his early ’80s New York vibes and shuffle-slides, doesn’t seem to have time or interest in that.

He came to create, he came to have fun, and he came to experiment.

Alex Cameron came to play.

Cameron performs Sunday on the Town stage at Treasure Island Music Festival.

Treasure Island Music Festival: Tame Impala, A$AP Rocky, Santigold and more
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park
October 13 + 14, 2018
12pm, $185

Mitchell Duran is a freelance writer of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction residing in San Francisco. Currently, he is a second-year graduate student at San Francisco State University studying fiction. He has been published in RiverLit, Penumbra Magazine, The Turks Head Review, The Bay Bridged, and