Cut Copy’s Dan Whitford on The Underground Dance Scene in Melbourne and What’s Next for the GroupMusic Features Cut Copy
From the outer limits of the universe, Cut Copy has been sent here to make us dance. And by “outer limits of the universe,” we mean Melbourne, Australia, a city that’s been busy cultivating its underground dance music scene for the past few years, drawing from international influences and its own distinct culture. (Where else might a dance track sampling a kookaburra’s laugh, or the primal reverberation of a didgeridoo, possibly be conceived?)
Frontman Dan Whitford, who just returned to his hometown after the band’s 12-month tour promoting 2013’s Free Your Mind LP, says that Melbourne’s dance music scene is “coming of age.” With the release of a 19-track compilation album (on the group’s label, Cutters Records), Cut Copy Presents: Oceans Apart, like proud big brothers, they spotlight Melbourne’s independent up-and-coming musicians and DJs. Accompanied by an eponymous 12-minute documentary, the album shares the city’s best-kept secrets, and that’s worth dancing to.
Paste: In the Oceans Apart documentary, there’s a mention of the “fucked-up evolution” in the animal kingdom of Australia that is reflected in the music scene, too. Can you elaborate on this?
Dan Whitford: Certainly. When I first started making music, it was uncommon for Australian artists to have awareness overseas—we sort of had our own little scene that the world wouldn’t find out about…That’s changed a little bit over time with the Internet, and a lot of artists can have careers where they travel, and in terms of our music, we managed to break through and get heard in other parts of the world, [but] there’s always been this idea that Australia is sort of its own little world, musically and creatively—the idea of being this island continent that’s isolated. Obviously, it’s true in the way that some of our species have evolved and in terms of the music scene. People are likely to stay here and draw influences from the local scene. So when weird ideas start forming, and that’s what’s been happening over the last five years as far as the dance music scene—it really has this strange evolutionary effect…The actual sound has evolved in a very interesting way. That aesthetic is very “out there,” and the fascination with unique music, and transposing this with “Australian-ness” has led to people seeking out weird samples. I think people are looking locally for some sense of Australian-ness…Some of the music is really coming of age and finding its own identity.
Paste: It seems like you guys have revolutionized that in the last decade, but who were your influences?
Whitford: A lot of the biggest influences on our music were overseas artists, purely because electronic music didn’t have a strong history here, so it wasn’t like there were 10 or 20 years’ worth of incredible records coming out of here…At a certain point in the 2000s, The Avalanches [also from Melbourne] came out of nowhere, and now people consider it this absolute classic. That was something that gave me a lot of confidence—that maybe as an Australian artist, I can follow my own ideas and get heard by people in other parts of the world; that it would carry on beyond this scene. There was a lot of confidence that came from the success from that record.
Paste: So far, how has Oceans Apart been received?
Whitford: It’s been really interesting. The idea just popped into my head, and it’s one of those things where it’s a weird idea, and you follow it through with the hope that people will listen to it and they’ll like it…It has transcended that. It’s had amazing responses from people in all parts of the world. I wasn’t sure if what goes on here in Melbourne translates—like whether it was just me, or if other people would get something out of this. On a commercial level, fans are interested, and music critics and tastemaker-types have been intrigued by it and have been keen to know more about it. That’s one of the encouraging things about watching it grow.
Paste: You guys have a well-earned break now, but what’s next? What have you been doing?
Whitford: I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and a lot of housework. That’ll get boring after a while. [laughs] A new record is definitely on the horizon. After having worked on this compilation as an artist—I worked on it as a DJ mix—it got me excited about working on different things. We’re going to do a new Cut Copy record, but maybe some collaborations and new interesting releases. In this climate where the full-length record is becoming less of a force, it’s better to just be doing interesting things all the time. We all feel like that in the band: Trying new things is the way to go. We hope to keep people guessing in the next year or so.
Paste: Your music and your performances are so incredibly high-energy…How do you harness that energy for a performance? Where does it come from?
Whitford: Sometimes, I’m not sure. It’s almost become hard-wired for us. We’ve come to associate playing our music with jumping around and being physically expressive. When we first started [performing] we were a bit of a fish out of water. There were no other [electronic] acts playing locally…We were playing with a lot of punk bands, hardcore bands, acts that had very energetic live shows. Our music was different than that, but we had some sense of energy…Obviously, we didn’t wanna look like our show wasn’t exciting! It was just sort of inherited from playing with all these hardcore bands.
Paste: How have you seen yourself evolve?
Whitford: With each record that we make, and every time we come back from touring and want to make some new music, it’s a new challenge…Our taste always changes over time. That’s hopefully what everyone does as an artist. We’re not just a three-piece act with instruments with a palette, sonically speaking…You know, sometimes there are tracks where we’re trying out new instruments or a synthesizer or a new percussion, so we have a lot of potential for our sound to change. We’re happy to try new things.
Paste: Walk me through the process of writing a song, if that’s possible.
Whitford: I work on something in my home studio—like some sort of groove or rhythmic or vocal and build it up into a demo of a track, and then we work on it collectively, whether that’s re-recording parts or scrapping what I’ve done and starting from scratch. That’s when the Cut Copy identity gets imprinted on what it is. Some tracks change dramatically. Some just get enhanced. But once it’s come out of the filter of all four of us, that’s usually when we’ve got a fairly good idea of what the track is.
Paste: Is there a big difference you’ve noticed between the audiences in the United States vs. Australia?
Whitford: I think there’s a similarity: We want people to dance. If they are enjoying the music, we want them to express themselves. American crowds are a lot more open-minded about the music they enjoy. There’s a little less chin-stroking. Australians can be their own harshest critics. Americans just want to enjoy the music and have a good time, which is what the music should be about. You guys [Americans] have got that down.
Paste: How do you feel knowing that there is a space-themed dance team of about 50 people in New Orleans that choreographs dance routines to your music for Mardi Gras parades?
Whitford: I would love to see footage of that!