Cut Copy are gearing up to release their fourth album Free Your Mind, and they’ve shared another taste ahead of next month’s release. “We Are Explorers” is a clear-cut banger, packing the kind of punch that’s meant to hold up in a packed club. The quartet may be Australia’s masters of transcendental synth-pop, but here they stick close to the dancefloor with a thumping pulse and full-bodied production.
It’s hard to believe, but at this point Australian synth-pop group Cut Copy is more than ten years old. It’s only natural that they’d have evolved from indie-rock-leaning debut Bright Like Neon Love to full 1980s new wave splendor on In Ghost Colours and now, in both Zonoscope and the forthcoming Free Your Mind (out November 1), a kind of deep acid disco house trance thing? Come on, you know what I’m talking about here.
German producer/DJ Boys Noize, aka Alex Ridha, predates the ongoing EDMsplosion. He’s been a staple of the dance music scene for years, remixing everyone from N*E*R*D to Cut Copy. He’s also a tastemaker with his own label, Boysnoize Records, which just released Le1f and Boody’s Liquid EP. Last month, Ridha released his third album as Boys Noize, Out Of The Black, a collection of pulsing, simmering tracks to keep the dancefloor fresh. Snoop Dogg’s even along for the party, throwing a couple verses over the woozy bass of “Got It.”
I called Ridha at his home in Berlin to talk about his city, his album, and his North American tour that’s kicking off now.
What’s a normal day in Berlin like for you?
Normally, when I get up, I have to go out with the dog first, because she needs to go out. She has the most priority in the mornings. When I go back, I do a lot of my label stuff, working out the music we’re releasing and talking to all the artists on my label, figuring all of that out. Basically, I’m doing the whole creative side of Boysnoize Records. That’s a lot of fun for me. Then when the sun goes down, then I go to the studio, which is also at home. Then it depends. I’m not a guy who can go in the studio from 9 to 5, that’s why I have it at home so I can go in a moment, because you can’t really force creativity, not in my sense.
If you were meeting someone who had never been to Berlin before, what would you tell them is the first thing they should do or see?
Probably go to Kreuzberg and go through the streets and get a Turkish kebab, which is almost like the German traditional meal. It’s getting there. At night time, a lot of people come to Berlin to party, and I think you can do that really well because there’s a lot of illegal parties, there’s a lot of parties that start on Saturday and end up on Tuesday morning, so you have a lot of places like that, like the Berghain. Actually, you have to see the Berghain if you’re coming to Berlin for the first time, it’s probably one of the most amazing clubs in Berlin, it’s super techno and very dark. There’s no cameras allowed, you won’t get in if you have a camera on you. If you take a picture, you get thrown out as well. And then after that, you can eat a currywurst, that’s a traditional sausage, you know. And then there’s a lot of flea markets on Sunday. You should visit the wall as well, there’s still part of it in Berlin.
How is the way this record came together different from your previous albums?
The first two albums I pretty much produced while touring, during my DJ gigs. Most of the time, I’m away on the weekends, and during the week I’m back in my studio. On this record, it was different, because after the second record I did, I wanted to try out new things and work with other people, that’s why I got into productions for other people like Santigold and Spank Rock. I did a full album with Chilly Gonzales, who’s a piano player, and we did this really fun electronic piano [project]. After that time working with other people, I felt the urge of making my own music again. So basically for this album, I took some time off to be in the studio only, I didn’t do any festivals or club shows this year and just enjoyed being at my home and in my studio all the time to make this album.
Is there a particular track that you’re the most proud of?
It changes all the time. Right now, I’m pretty happy with the track I did with Snoop Dogg, it’s a pretty big honor for me to have him on my album. For me, it was kind of a statement to only have him on my album as a feature. For me, the most important thing was to make something fucking cool with him.
How did that collaboration come about?
I did an official remix for him in 2009, I think it was, for his track "Sensual Seduction." You know how it is, the big record label asked me to do the remix, so I didn’t know if he knew it, and when I discovered Twitter, I wrote him directly asking him if he knew the remix, and he replied right away, saying he loved it and I should send more beats. Ever since, we’ve kept in contact. I met last year in LA for the first time, and this year I met him again and he invited me to his place and we recorded two songs together. It was really, really cool to meet him, he’s such a nice dude.
Do you have any dream collaborations for next time around?
It’s always difficult for me to have a feature on my own music, because although I’m making a lot of different kinds of music as a producer for other people, for my own music I have a very pure vision and I’m more a fan of robotic voices than real human voices. On my album, you can hear a lot of electronic voices and different kinds of robotic voices I’ve been studying. Another thing is that once I work with other people, like a singer or someone, then it turns too much to me into a song or it’s getting too poppy, then it doesn’t really reflect me as a DJ or a performer. I’m not someone who plays shitty house records with cheesy vocals on it. It’s fine for the radio, but for my own sets I like it when it’s more in your face and not too much like mainstream or commercial stuff. It also means that for my music, I can’t really do that, just because I’m not doing that for my own music. I’m open to everything as a producer for other people, but for my own music, I prefer my own robotic voices and stuff like that.
Can you talk about the album title a little bit?
I kind of started with the English thing almost immediately. I really liked the twist with the blue and the black, because out of the black doesn’t really mean anything. I liked that. It also kind of reflects me being in the studio at night. When the sun goes down, I can make some noise when everyone’s sleeping. I feel most relaxed at night as well, and most creative. The image sounded cool.
With this album, you’re finally going on your first full American tour. Would you say that has to do with the US finally catching up to the world of electronic music?
No, actually, I’ve been touring a lot in the US since 2006, even 2005. I’ve been playing a lot of gigs pretty much everywhere. This is the first time I’m playing live, which is a new challenge and it makes sense, now that I have three albums. So I will perform my own music only, like a punk rock kind of concert. I’m bringing a big production as well, there are going to be some crazy things going on. I have one element which is pretty big, but I can’t go into much detail about it. I’m pretty excited to do that, it’s a new way of touring as well, I’m going on a bus for six or seven weeks. It’s pretty rock ‘n’ roll, I’m looking forward to it.
What can we expect from your show?
I’ll be performing my own music only. I haven’t really done that, though a lot of people were wondering [how that would work out]. As a DJ, I do a lot of things in the moment, and a lot of things are spontaneous. I’m not mixing two records only, I do a lot of live remixing and live editing in the moment. This time, it’s my own music that I will tweak and remix live and have different variations on. I have a lot of controllers and effects units and a big production around it. There’s going to be one big element onstage, which is quite crazy. You should actually check it out, if you can.
Do you have any particular favorite places to go on tour?
In the US, there’s a lot of cool cities. I’m a big fan of San Francisco, of Chicago, New York, L.A. Montreal is also a great city. There’s a lot of cities this time around that I haven’t visited yet, especially in the middle of America, Texas and stuff. I haven’t hit those places, I’m curious.
Those are probably places where it has taken a little longer to build a dance music following.
Yeah, I feel like I’m on a mission, to be honest. Obviously, there’s the whole EDM thing, I guess I’m a big part of that as well. I think that’s a lot of music where it’s very functional, and I get to a lot of place where I hear the same music. It feels good to really be on a mission, to show different aspects of electronic music.
After having done this for years, I’m sure you know you’ve been ahead of the curve.
I wouldn’t say that to myself. (laughs) But it’s true, there’s a new generation in America that is totally into electronic music. I think it’s amazing, because it opens a lot of doors for me as well. But obviously, once something gets really big, it’s most of the time driven by the really mainstream stuff and the more popular stuff. In the end, it’s just a new way of pop music. I think a lot of people that have just discovered it that like that, they will eventually move on to what’s after David Guetta and that kind of music. Once that happens, all those people will be discovered, especially in electronic music, there’s so much. I’ve been buying records, I have 15,000 vinyl records at home, and I still discover amazing electronic music every day, I’m buying new music every day, I’m finding old tracks, I rediscover them. So me as a total nerd in that, discovering new music, imagine someone who’s just discovered electronic music. There’s just so much to look out for after the mainstream stuff.
Who are some new artists you’re currently excited about?
There are a lot of new artists that I love. There’s one guy I just found for Boysnoize Records, his name is SCNTST, he just turned 18 and he’s a very talented producer. We just put out an EP from him, there’s another one coming this fall, I’m very excited about him. You know how it is when you start off something and you don’t really know what to do, there’s a lot of magic happening in this moment. He’s really good. There’s another guy called Strip Steve who’s really more into the indie disco kind of thing, which I love. I’m going on tour with Spank Rock, who’s a rapper from Baltimore signed to my label, he’s super amazing. I produced his new album, which just got out as well.
Any other up-and-coming rappers you’re excited about, too?
Yeah, there’s this guy Le1f, we’re putting out an EP he did as well. He’s part of this up-and-coming gay rap scene. He’s also a producer, he makes a lot of amazing beats as well. He also produced "Nasty” on that Spank Rock album. We just signed him, going to put out his EP with his friend Boody very soon on Boysnoize Records.
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Hey, so, I had a rainy day mix planned out for you guys because it’s been sort of gross in New York all week, but then I walked outside my apartment (I do that sometimes) this morning and it was sunny! So this is what you get instead.
The Bewitched Hands – “Boss”
Can there ever be enough melodic indie pop loaded with vocal harmonies? The answer is no, and the Bewitched Hands are more than happy to oblige.
Fort Lean – “Sunsick”
Stark, bare bones rock from some guys in Brooklyn. Some days, you just need a little help.
This Many Boyfriends – “Number One”
This Many Boyfriends make the kind of smart, wistful guitar pop that sounds pretty good when you have zero boyfriends.
Chad Valley – “Tell All Your Friends”
Is Chad Valley’s Young Hunger one of your most anticipated albums of the year? It should be, at least if you’re into R&B-inflected electro-pop that wears its heart on its sleeve.
Darkstar – “Timeaway”
The latest act to sign to the ever-reliable Warp Records, Darkstar’s going to be on our radars. “Timeaway” is lush and layered, with reverb-drenched vocals. Take it easy.
Cut Copy – “Saturdays”
Enter the semi-nostalgic part of the playlist. The Australian electro-poppers have been delivering the good stuff for years, and here’s a memory of what first made us fall in love.
The Long Blondes – “Swallow Tattoo”
Is it okay to still be mourning the loss of The Long Blondes? The English indie rock outfit was fairly prolific for the short time that it lasted, and Kate Jackson’s persona as the retro-chic woman wronged is worth revisiting over and over again.
Belle & Sebastian – “Asleep On A Sunbeam”
This is what we all need in our lives all of the time.
Jens Lekman – “You Can Call Me Al” (Paul Simon cover)
This cover could be worthy of Nick from New Girl’s sex mix.
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It’s been a good year for the Cut Copy boys, who’ve been spending much of 2011 touring in support of their latest album, Zonoscope. Their travelling roadshow brought the Aussies to Brooklyn last night, where they closed out the Celebrate Brooklyn! Summer concert series with a sold out show at the Prospect Park Bandshell. We caught up with lead singer Dan Whitford before the band’s set to talk about their success, New York City, and plans for the future.
Cut Copy’s popularity has undoubtedly surged over the last four years. What factors do you credit for this? Hopefully it’s because we’re making music that people love. And we’ve done a lot of touring to reach as many parts of the globe as we can. We really enjoy performing live, and I think this enthusiasm is infectious for people who come to our shows. Wherever there are Cut Copy fans, we’ll make it there eventually.
What have been some of your most rewarding live performances? This year’s show at Coachella was a bit of a highlight. We had such a great show the previous time we played it that it was really exhilarating to return in a much later timeslot and see our crowd had grown by thousands of people!
How did you recruit and expand the group? After beginning as a solo act in 2001? It was a pretty natural process. I never had an ambition to start a band in the beginning. I just loved all sorts of music. So I bought some gear and started trying to write songs that combined all the things I liked, which at the time was stuff like instrumental hip-hop, new wave, krautrock, and house. I think after a while I felt a bit limited by the fact I didn’t play guitar, so I started collaborating with a few people, one of whom was Tim [Hoey] who on the back of a few jam sessions became part of the project. Then his housemate, Mitchell [Scott] joined us along with an old friend of mine, Bennett [Foddy], and we finally had enough people to actually sound like a band. We wanted to sound like Fleetwood Mac, but it sounded more like a really remedial version of early New Order.
What makes Melbourne such an accommodating environment for turning out great electronic dance acts? For me it’s that the weather is colder than the rest of Australia. People stay inside, so you’ve gotta keep occupied somehow. I think this is the reason there seem to be so many artists, filmmakers, musicians, etc. that get started here. I’d never be tempted to cancel band practice and go to the beach, because there aren’t any. Also I think (at least in relation to the electronic music scene) that once one interesting artist gets some recognition, there’s a flow on effect and all of a sudden you’ve got a thriving scene happening. I feel like Cut Copy wouldn’t have happened without The Avalanches a few years before, and it’s probably the same with some acts now without us making interesting records.
While in New York, what are you favorite places to eat? To drink and be social? Seeing as we’re complete coffee snobs, we’re always at Stumptown and Gimme! Coffee whenever we’re in Manhattan. The first time we visited NY, we were dubious about the coffee, but in the last five years it’s become one of the artisan coffee hubs of the world. It always amazes me how fast New Yorkers act on social trends like this.
What upsets you most about New York City? It upsets me that I don’t live there. I spend so much time thinking about it when I’m at home, I really should just bite the bullet and move already! I think if anything I miss the laid back nature of Australian cities when I’m overseas, but then again, you don’t hang out in one of the biggest and fastest moving cities in the world, like New York, to relax. It’s all about sensory overload.
What do you enjoy about performing? What makes New York audiences unique? Supposedly New York audiences are standoffish, but we’ve never found this to be the case. I guess our music throws down a bit of a challenge to people, seeing as it combines so many styles, instruments and influences. But I think this works in a big, fashionable city, because music lovers seem to be open minded having been exposed to all types of music. At the end of the day, you know when you’ve won a crowd over, because there’s a physical reaction. People dance.
What are some of Cut Copy’s goals in the next few years? I’d like to start on our next record later this year. Touring is a lot like being on a research expedition when you’re not actually playing a show. And we’ve bought truckloads of records, seen plenty of great acts and generally absorbed some pretty interesting influences to channel into something new. We’ve crammed a lot of touring into a short space of time this year, so some studio time will be a welcome change!
What are your plans for the rest of the summer and autumn? Anything exciting on deck? We’re doing another tour of the US and some shows in Europe. In the meantime, I’m working on some new releases for artists on our own boutique label Cutters Records. It’s exciting being able to work on some music with other artists and launch some interesting music into the world!
Photo by Mike Braid.
If Roland Emmerich’s 2012 and Christopher Nolan’s Inception had a baby—and supposing that baby was born as an album cover—it would be the artwork for pop four-piece Cut Copy’s Zonoscope. Created by the late Japanese artist Tsunehisa Kimura, the surreal photo-montage depicts a New York skyline ravaged by a menacing, Brobdingnagian, end-of-days-y waterfall. “The image relates back to this world we’ve been playing with on Zonoscope, which is a dreamlike combination of something familiar—New York City—and something faraway and imagined,” says Cut Copy’s lead singer Dan Whitford, who spent considerable time and energy securing the rights to the piece for their third album.
Whitford, who, along with the band’s other members—guitarist Tim Hoey, drummer Mitchell Scott, and bassist Ben Browning, Cut Copy’s newest addition—hails from Melbourne, Australia, studied graphic design in college, and went on to co-found Alter, a design studio based in his hometown. The shaggy-haired entrepreneur also launched Cutters Records in 2006, for which he creates party and show invites, as well as album covers. Understandably, with all of the attention Cut Copy’s soaring, euphoric sound has been getting, design has become “increasingly difficult to focus on,” so Whitford gets his fix by overseeing the artwork that accompanies his band’s releases.
For Zonoscope, the group has re-imagined the Cut Copy soundscape, emphasizing percussion and repetition to hypnotic effect. “There are so many terms used to define our sound, but when we’re asked to describe our own music, it’s just art,” says Scott. “People call it ’80s pop or synth-pop, but it doesn’t have to be as specific as five terms strung together to form a genre.” Whitford adds, “Whether it’s called electro-pop, electro-pop-rock, or any of those other weird, made-up genres, we’ve always considered our music to be pop.”
Pictured top: Whitford (second from left) with the Alter design team.
Cut Copy knows how to drop a beat. Their live sets are spotted with moments when the bass fades and the drums become a light tap, leaving a melodic synth riff and a textured guitar that can’t quite overtake it. As lead singer Dan Whitford raises a hand in the air and points it to the sky, the other on the keys, the crowd—adrenaline rising—knows what comes next. The band so seamlessly brings a house vibe into their rock sound, it defies expectation and even explanation. While critics try to define the Cut Copy sound, the lads from Down Under just let it be. Their uncanny melding of dance and rock music comes naturally, they say. They just play the music they like.
BLACKBOOK: Did it surprise you how many people were singing along to your lyrics at the New York shows?
DAN WHITFORD: It’s always a sign of a good show, when people are singing and dancing. It doesn’t happen every show, but we haven’t toured the States in two years, so I think people are excited to see us.
BB: Your music is being described as everything from electro-pop, to dance-rock, to sounding like INXS and Daft Punk being trapped in an elevator together. How would you put it?
DW: Um, I would describe it as sounding like a bunch of guys who can’t play their instruments properly.
BB: But you really have nailed the perfect balance between dance music and rock music.
DW: It’s kind of like a shifting thing, I guess. It’s a hard thing to define. We like both kinds of music, but so often when they’re combined together it can be kind of terrible, so we hope it doesn’t sound like that.
BB: Do you set out to make your songs ridiculously catchy?
DW: We just really like catchy music. It isn’t our goal to write pop music, that’s just what ends up happening. We’re actually into some fairly obscure stuff, Krautrock stuff, or the Animal Collective, things that aren’t as straightforward.
BB: With this record, you said that you had achieved the sound you had been aiming for. Is this the pinnacle, or can you take it any further?
DW: I think it would be weird to ever think you’ve reached the pinnacle of anything.
BB: When you listen to the record again, are you satisfied with it?
DW: I don’t think I’d change it. If there are any flaws in the tracks, then they reflect the way you made the album. Eventually, you have to say, “This is it,” otherwise you’ll never finish the record.
BB: Before your album was released, all of its tracks were posted on your MySpace page.
DW: That was our label’s idea, and if they’re up for it, then so are we. We just want people to hear our music. We don’t care about record sales. If someone buys our record for 10 bucks, we don’t see any of that money. Of course it’s important that our label does well, but we just want people to hear our music.
Last night, when Australian dance rock outfit Cut Copy took the stage just after 11 p.m. at Studio B in Greenpoint, we found ourselves front row, center. Such is the pleasure of going to a concert alone—criss-crossing through the masses to get up front ain’t no thang when you’re a loner. Their album In Ghost Colours is a dance-rock sensation. The crowd ecstatically shouting all the lyrics can attest to that fact—it was U2 for club kids. With our buzz decreasing and our bladder increasing, we waited for a lull in the band’s set (never came) to drain and refill.
Colt .45 tall boy in hand (we love you Studio B), we went to reclaim our spot up front, but realized this show is just as good from afar. Now there was a view of the crowd, and when a Cut Copy beat drops, hundreds of arms rising simultaneously slams home the point. “This is your last chance to dance with us,” Cut Copy mastermind Dan Whitford said before their last song. Not true, Dan. We’re seeing you again at the Bowery Ballroom tonight, front and center—until we need to pee.
If blending indie-rock and electronica is to the second half of this decade what mashing up metal and hip-hop was to the first, then consider Australia’s Cut Copy the new Limp Bizkit. Er, that was supposed to be a compliment…
What we’re trying to say is, Cut Copy’s new album In Ghost Colours will catapult them to the frontlines of the indie dance-rock army. The record (which is available for streaming on the band’s MySpace page) is full of music made for the iPod generation. But this isn’t the familiar bass/beat/riff/howl/synth of dance-rock beloved by the skinny-jeaned throngs. The songs are complex, melodic, and above all, earnest. If music is intended to provide a natural high, then expect one brutal comedown. Album is out March 22nd.