Cut Copy Interview: "If you're getting drops all the way through a set I would get bored."
Cut Copy are back and better than ever on new album, Haiku From Zero.
The year is 2017 and a decade on from when the Australian electronic music scene really started taking off thanks to acts like Cut Copy and The Presets, it's coming full circle. The latter is recording new music and playing big festivals, while the former has just released their fifth studio album, Haiku From Zero, ahead of some Australian festival appearances of their own later in the year. They join acts like PNAU and Bag Raiders also from that era, coming back into the collective conscious with new music and national tours. And rightly so - in many ways they - as part of the "Modular Era" - set the scene for live electronic music in Australia to become a globally recognised force, and paved the way for current artists like Flume, RÜFÜS, Client Liaison to dominate radiowaves and festival lineups in the years since.
While those acts have been doing so, Cut Copy's presence hasn't been as felt on Australian shores as strongly as in the past, with the band spending the majority of their time overseas, playing even bigger festivals, and as I found out in the below interview with frontman Dan Whitford, rediscovering their passion for live performance. And with a renewed focus on Australia, that passion for live performance couldn't come at a better time. Punters are getting tired of the solo "live set" - no matter how impressive the lighting show - and it feels like now is the time to strike. Take for instance their much-loved performance at Splendour In The Grass earlier this year - a set that featured four dudes, rocking out an absolute belter 45 minute set of pure, euphoric dance music. The set ebbed and flowed, with peaks and troughs, making the big moments more special, and the gentler moments more appreciated.
We touch on the idea of live sets as not just drops on drops on drop in the interview, along with where Cut Copy sits in our current digital music landscape, and crafting perhaps their most "bandy" sounding album ever. Check it out below, grab Haiku From Zero HERE, and catch them live at Beyond The Valley and Lost Paradise festivals over New Year's in Australia (and keep your eyes peeled for some more Oz show announcements hopefully soon).
On the writing process going into Haiku From Zero:
With every album we’ll have a chat at the start of the writing process and say let’s not do it anything like the last album that we did... In the couple of years writing this album, I think we tried lots of different things but the thing I kept coming back to was this sense of excitement and inspiration from the live instrumentation, almost harking back to when we started as a band. In a rudimentary way with our four instruments, a sampler and some electronics, jamming out stuff. That idea of the band perhaps has become almost for me really exciting again.
I think the landscape of electronic music in 2017 feels a lot more focused on a guy and a laptop and maybe a midi keyboard if you’re lucky. And I think for me, a lot of the excitement both historically for music and for the music that we make comes out of that live instrumentation. That vibe of playing together with bandmates, which was a big inspiration for the writing... There’s so much energy to our live shows that our fans really appreciate and is a signature to our sound, and perhaps in some ways we felt like we never really captured that perfectly in our recordings. So that was something that we were thinking about.
On how live sets have changed over time:
Probably when we started people would get booed off stage if they perform just with a laptop by themselves. Whereas now people don’t bat an eyelid, you could perform on an iPhone and people would be like yeah that’s cool. I think sadly with embracing of technology you just lose part of what’s really special and impressive about live performance. Ultimately you’re not gonna be swinging around your laptop or rolling on broken glass, doing the Iggy Pop thing with that kind of music. For me the tradition of live music, bands playing music, is a lot more interesting. I think even objectively it’s more interesting to watch and experience live. I think for us, while we could go full laptop mode, it’s just more interesting playing live. So we’re gonna explore the thing we’re more interested by, which is performing live and using live instruments and doing it that way.
On creating live sets that flow:
I think maybe at times we’ve felt the pressure… Like I was saying some of the music these days is almost such high energy that the kind of peak moments 10 years ago have been taken and extended out for a whole set. So it’s just drop after drop after drop after drop, which is probably affecting but I don’t think it’s as satisfying – you’ve gotta really miss something before you get it back. So if you’re just getting drops all the way through a set I would get just as bored as having no drops. I think for us we probably realised we’re playing live music and you can have a song or a section of the set that goes a bit more mellow, but if people are really into what you’re doing they’ll go with it. Certainly touring over the last few months both in the states and back in Australia, people just wanna hear these songs whether they’re bangers or more mellow moments. You can paint a more compelling story when you have both those high and low moments, segueing together.
On working with producer Ben Allen (Deer Hunter, Animal Collective):
He just came to us with his thoughts on the album and was really excited about the demos and just really hear the way forward with it, and had a vision for that. He was like, 'I don’t know if this is what you guys are thinking but I can hear this in the music, and maybe if you feel the same way we can push the limits on this and make something really special'. I think he really had a love for the songs and a really strong idea of what he wanted to do, which for us is appealing. We don’t want someone to come in and say I’ll do whatever you want to do. He had his own point of view and that was something we perhaps needed at that point, just a strong direction outside that we could agree or disagree with but either way we’d be moving forward.
He was excellent to work with and the biggest thing he brought to this was this really amazing recording craft, almost the traditional style of recording an album. Which might sound strange but we’ve actually probably never done that with one of our albums, we’ve always done it weird, like DIY bits in warehouses and things like that, always in an upside down, topsy turvy way to experiment, rather than just get the best possible sound out of things. And for everyone of us, everything sounds better than any of our other records, which is definitely down to Ben.
On where Cut Copy sit in 2017:
We do what we do. We don’t do what Flume does. We don’t do what Skrillex does or something... I think that’s almost like, we’ve come to this conclusion that our fans aren’t going to disappear for some reason. They just wanna hear more of our music. It’s almost like we have this comfortable position having been around for such a length of time so most people know if they want something that sounds like Cut Copy in their life or on their stereo or whatever, they come to us to get it, they don’t go somewhere else to get it. We sort of exist in our own little bubble these days I think. Rather than being part of a movement or trend
I guess the cool thing about music now is that can happen a lot easier. People can have access to basically anything that was more or less ever recorded at any given moment on Spotify or other streaming services. So in some ways we have a better chance these days, because if people want to hear a Cut Copy song they can get it they don’t even need to buy it. We feel comfortable in a strange way, even though in some weird way we’re going against the trend of perhaps what current dance music is doing. But we have a bit more longevity because of that.
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