The Middle Way of a Radical Moderate

Drinking rosé and living the revolution: confessions of a terror group groupie.

By Steve Korver, 11-09-2004, cover feature,  Amsterdam Weekly

 terror red
‘Rosé  is a good thing. It’s not red wine. It’s not white. It’s right in the middle. Right where we like it.’ Self-styled terrorist Richard Cameron speaks with the assurance of a true zealot. And I can certainly lend support to a radicalism that comes tempered with moderation. Throw some free booze — no matter the shade — into the equation, and you can then count on me to be a dogmatic disciple forever ready to fight the good fight.

I can also appreciate the revolution if it comes with the stunning vista of Amsterdam from the vantage point of the dressing room of Amsterdam’s most happening club, Eleven, on the top floor of the old TPG building. The bird’s eye view, that is. Let the extremists grovel in their caves.

Terrorism? Moderate radicalism?  Rosé zealots? Like the centuries that preceded it, the 21st century will probably be defined by ‘contradictions’.

Cameron’s group, Berlin-based Terrorgruppe Schwarzenraben, is performing at Eleven, and I am there to investigate what they mean by their rather cavalier use of the word ‘terror’. That is, I have also gotten into the spirit of things and gotten medium drunk. Meanwhile, the Terrorgruppe are joyously playing — or rather playbacking — their seven-minute set, complete with synchronized dance moves, in front of hundreds of appreciative clubbers.

Besides Mr. Cameron’s much better half and the band’s only other constant, ‘bassist’ Mrs. Karin Cameron, tonight’s line-up features Joe, with a very large but tasteful Gracias Madre (‘Thanks Mom!’) tattoo on his arm, as ‘singer’ and Ruud van der Peijl, the renowned photographer, as ‘keyboardist’. Folks may recognise Ruud as the ‘King of Style’ and as one of the reminiscing pundits on The Eighties TV show. The band has taken Ruud’s advice and wetted their hair to give themselves that good ol’ fashioned 1970s unkempt and oh-so-sweaty-terrorist look. Are they perhaps just nostalgic for those less complicated days, before 9/11?

The demand for an encore stretches their set to a whopping nine and half minutes. The perfect revolution for those with limited attention spans. This is another reason why this is really my kind of revolution. The chicken wire fence that separates them from the audience turns out to be another purely aesthetic device, not a defensive one.

Later, backstage, I seek insight into the inner workings of a terrorless terrorist by asking Cameron if he found it weird to play at a club called Eleven — as in September Eleven.

‘Oh I didn’t notice.’ It was of course irresponsible of him to not take tactical advantage of the conspiracy-friendly coincidence, but he covered his ass by adding: ‘but we did notice it was Friday 13th…’


After a decade as a semi-successful singer-songwriter, in 1995 Cameron and his much better organised half, Mrs. Cameron, established themselves as the organizers of the now legendary Easy Tune parties in Amsterdam’s Roxy nightclub. Their parties brought about a lounge and funky cocktail dress renaissance in these parts. With another collaborator from that period, Gerry Arling, Cameron went on to form the band Arling&Cameron that became less lounge and more ‘post-eclectic’ as time went on. Their 1997 debut, All-In, made them particularly famous in Japan.

The duo took their increasingly conceptual approach to music, art and life to particularly obsessive lengths with Music for Imaginary Films, a CD made in 2000. This series of songs from non-existent films and TV series came complete with an irony-saturated universe hinted at in a set of profound liner notes (OK, I confess: written by yours truly) and meticulously rendered fake movie posters created by some of nation’s most respected designers, including Joost Swarte, Linda van Deursen, Piet Schreuders and Jan Bons. Besides global acclaim, this album and the accompanying tour — which featured a spectacular video collage synchronised to the music — won the gruppe the prestigious Popprijs, an annual award that recognises each year’s most influential Dutch band.

Indeed, the duo even became briefly world famous in their homeland — if only for the fact that when they climbed on stage to accept their award they had to protect themselves with umbrellas from the hurled drinks of radically disappointed Kane and Krezip fans. Where’s that chicken wire stage fencing when you really need it?

Ironically, soon after the Imaginary Films album, Arling&Cameron’s music began to actually appear in many commercials and TV shows, including The Sopranos. Cameron was even asked to write and produce scores for real films, among them Oesters van Nam Kee. It’s truly strange and wonderful when life begins to imitate conceptual art.

But then the bad luck arrived. During a tour of Spain in November 2001 to promote Arling&Cameron’s third album, We are A&C, their tour van crashed and Richard broke his back. He was able to recover after extensive rest and physiotherapy. However, his new sense of his own and the world’s mortality made him existentially heavier. A certain chubby ennui descended upon him.

He recorded a solo album’s worth of introspective, but essentially life-affirming and decidedly non-ironic, songs, backed by Belgian band Das Pop. The resulting CD, Back, has achieved the grudging approval so far of his friends, who like it because it is only ‘singer-songwriter’ in non-annoying ways.


‘But what do all these events in your life have to do with forming a terror group?’ I asked Cameron, as we sat on a semi-sunny terrace, indulging in some moderate drinking a few days after the Eleven gig.

‘Well, the album does have eleven tracks!’ he answered jovially, ever sensitive to my eternal quest for good copy and happy coincidence.

But I already had my link. ‘Was forming the Terrorgruppe just your way of purging yourself of your requirements for irony — an irony enema of sorts — so you could be more straightforward and serious about your solo project?’ I asked, persisting in my role as a hard-hitting journalistic truth-seeker.

‘Of course, on some level. But we are also very serious about our message.’

Like all good revolutionary messages, Terrorgruppe Schwarzenraben’s manifesto comes equipped with some major flaws of logic. But the message is a noble one, if a tad controversial for a self-titled terrorist cell: it preaches against extremism and radicalism in all forms. It’s a revolution of the middle path. ‘It’s the velvet revolutions of the past that have lasted and have been the most successful,’ says Cameron. ‘Radicalism always ends in tears. Moderate behaviour is the ultimate revolutionary stance in today’s political climate. Like Jesus, who was non-violent in the most violent of times.’

Oh Christ, I thought, a Christ complex. Cameron’s near-death experience came too close.

Besides that, though, their manifesto certainly covers their collective musical ass: ‘It’s our goal to reach the masses with reasonably good music.’ (That’s right: ‘reasonably good…’) The only thing Terrorgruppe Schwarzenraben has done that is remotely illegal is their extreme theft of samples for their recent single ‘Revolution/I’m OK, You’re OK’.


I myself have appreciated the middle way ever since I visited Thailand, where it’s not uncommon to see orange-robed monks wearing mirrored shades, smoking Marlboros and driving scooters. A certain eccentric statistician I know can mathematically prove, within a reasonable margin of error, that there is only one true middle path to reality: ‘All is maybe’. Hey, I might well agree.

It was certainly heavy-handed of the German composer Karl-Heinz Stockhausen to call the attack on the Twin Towers ‘the greatest work of art ever’ — and this within days of the atrocity. Both at the time and with hindsight, it cannot be denied that the event was a statement of irrevocable effect. But it was not an aesthetic statement; it was an act of terror. One can also point out that while Osama certainly instilled a sense of terror into the global consciousness, George W Bush also continues to feed the fear factor with an absurdly vague colour-coded warning system that works, among other things, to help ensure his own re-election.

At any rate, Cameron’s rather cavalier use of the word ‘terror’ is part of larger trend. And perhaps a certain light-footedness may be just what is needed to rise above ‘terrorism burnout’. It’s certainly a more proactive response than the usual result of burnout — apathy.

While we must never forget any tragedy, whether it be personal like a loss in the family or universal like 9/11, three years have passed since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Surely we, and particularly artists, can now — and must — start feeling free to approach the subject of terrorism from other angles than those of fear or paranoia. Maybe, anyway, it would be more effective to focus less on the ‘war on terror’ and more on the fundamental problems of poverty, violence and ignorance.


The Terrorgruppe played Mysteryland, with its 50,000 pill-popping elf-loving dance kids, this year too. While there, I tried to find out the reason for the band’s terrifying name. Let’s face it: a band called ‘Terror Group Black Raven’ can’t exactly be the nice kids next door.

But the wet-haired post-show Cameron was ready for me. ‘Ah yes, but in a true revolution everything is permitted. But I only mean that when it comes to the marketing. The name certainly got us plenty of attention. We have played everywhere from Barcelona to New York City. And in New York, we were even accused of not being revolutionary enough. Wimps like us will never get rid of a Bush or an Osama.’

And certainly the band’s origins are about as terrifying as their message. They named themselves after their favourite bar-restaurant in Berlin, where Mr and Mrs Cameron have been living for the last couple of years. The restaurant, the Schwarzenraben, is a nice place, really nice even, located in Mitte, the hip and happening trendy hood in former East Berlin, but it’s hardly revolutionary. One night they sat up late with chef Ollie and waiter Joe, talking about how people could still ‘make a difference in this crazy, mixed-up, contradictory world’, and the idea was born: form a pop group.

Now you know everything: it all snowballed out of one moderately drunken conversation.


Berlin, of course, is, or once was, a famously, or infamously radical city — the theatre of action of the Red Brigade, for instance. Was the city an influence on the aspiring non-terrorist terrorists?

‘For us it was,’ said Cameron. ‘We could finally afford to rent a luxury penthouse. We could never have been able to live so comfortably in Amsterdam. But there is also a much richer and complex relationship with terrorism and radicalism in Germany. I remember living in a squat in Kreuzberg in 1983, and EVERYONE was radical. And now they are all nice little homeowners. Just look at Joska Fischer. We are big fans of his. Here is someone who would be defined as a terrorist today, since there are those pictures of him as a youthful radical leftist beating up a cop. Yet he evolved to become Germany’s minister of foreign affairs.

‘There is much more nuance in the discussions taking place [in Berlin], especially since they were already seriously dealing with terrorism back in the 1970s,’ he continued. ‘That was a very heavy time. The front pages were covered with vague passport shots of desperate-looking characters. Paranoia was also consciously created by the government. In retrospect it was a paranoia that wasn’t really warranted.’

My goodness. I let this all sink in. Can we learn something from the Germans? Of course we can. We have a lot to learn from everyone. That is in fact the solution to our woes.

‘And of course, the word “terrorgruppe” just sounds great in German — almost nostalgic,’ the ever-conceptual Cameron continued. ‘It just sounds a lot harder and more real in Dutch or English. It just wouldn’t work to call us the Black Raven Terror Cell. It would sound too intimidating.’

So it was all about how things looked, or sounded, after all. I had been beginning to suspect that Cameron was a mere salon terrorist or terror dilettante. Ah, to be a conceptual artist in Berlin. Nice work if you can get it.

‘Hey get this: there’s no money in the terror game,’ said Cameron seriously. ‘We’re really doing this for world peace.’

Wouldn’t be nice if life imitated conceptual art more? After all, it’s known to happen sometimes already. Perhaps this is all worth meditating about over a nice fruity glass of  rosé.

Which sure beats boring old apathy.

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