If people didn’t have an instinctual need to summarise, condense, or collect, you probably wouldn’t be reading this (or anything else, either). The music industry ultimately whittles down to the primary creators, their consumers, and an enormous bubble of people interested in the process itself – documentary makers, media men, tech hobbyists, an increasing number of researchers. Cut Copy’s Dan Whitford has spent most of his career at the forefront of Australian music production, but he’s letting his archivist side of himself take over for Cut Copy’s Melbourne dance compilation, Oceans Apart. ZOE KILBOURN chats to the musician turned curator.
Cut Copy don’t usually DJ, but Oceans Apart is a mix with a purpose. After four albums of original material – the latest, 2013’s acid house homage Free Your Mind – the band have collected, whittled down and mixed music from a scene close to their heart.
“Pretty much all of these people we’ve featured I know or I’ve come across at some point in my travels through Melbourne clubland,” says Whitford. “The idea was originally only to feature new and exclusive unreleased tracks in this compilation, and I don’t know if they’ve all turned out like that, but certainly the vast majority are new and unreleased things.. It doesn’t use everything I’d liked to include, but it does give you a bit of a cross-section of this point in time. That was really important – not something that said too much, but a fairly objective document of what is happening now. In five years time, if people are asking, ‘What was it like back then, before all these artists became huge?’ – well, this was it. I had that sort of gut feeling about this point in time.”
That scene is Melbourne’s DIY dance movement, the house music heard in archetypal coffee dens and queer clubs and warehouses. While the Timmy Trumpets and Will Sparks and Joel Fletchers occupy the East Coast’s EDM megaclubs, there’s almost a co-op of producers, DJs and partiers who reference music of the PLUR days with renewed respect and ironic distance.
“Not to take anything away from the Melbourne bounce thing or whatever it is, but it’s a bit of a joke to us, it’s not something we’re really connected with,” says Whitford. “We sort of think it’s this weird bizarre thing that’s happening in another world to the one we live in. The music we like is amongst the realm of grassroots artists and music and parties, doing your own thing and putting it together. After a while it sort of becomes this little ecosystem where you have all these different artists feeding off each other, and a regular audience, a scene that happens around that. People go out to these parties in the middle of nowhere just to be part of the communities that love this music. In some ways it’s kind of an old-fashioned concept in dance music, but for me it gets down to the essence of the movement.
“The actual compilation itself came about from I guess just being a fan of the kind of music that comes out of Melbourne,” he continues. “These days we’d probably spend most of our time travelling around, touring and doing shows. We play a lot more overseas, far more than we do at home. Coming home and seeing things that were equally inspiring to me – if not more so – came as an epiphany. I don’t think I was looking through rose-coloured glasses at what was happening. It actually was incredible, and it was something that needed to be documented somehow.
“The means that was come up with was maybe doing a DJ mix or a compilation that obviously Cut Copy was involved with, and using our profile and stuff, obviously we can get a much wider exposure for this sort of music than maybe each individual artist could in their own right. It sort of felt like a perfect fit in that sort of way.”
Whitford cut his teeth in the late ‘90s rave scene before founding Cut Copy in 2001. He was immediately intrigued by the sense of community, the secrecy, and the sense of alternative rave reality.
“When I first got into this music, I didn’t necessarily know much about it, but I had an open mind and wanted to know more,” says Whitford. “Maybe some of the music was pretty intensely out-there, seriously banging trance vibes, and I don’t think that in itself is necessarily reflected in this music, but I certainly noticed in the way people go out to things now, there’s this revival in people wanting to go to bushdoofs and that kind of thing.
“It’s definitely had a renaissance in the last couple of years. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe there’s this weird connection between dance music and the Australian environment. In some of this music, you can hear it – I mean, like the Coober Pedy University track. That music’s obviously meant to be heard at Meredith Music Festival or the outdoor raves.”
Coober Pedy University Band’s Kookaburra is wedged somewhere near the Golden Moment of Oceans Apart. It’s acid Australiana stripped back to its rawest elements: a hi hat-heavy percussion line, a sampled kookaburra call, and a bassline that directly competes with an organically wobbly didgeridoo. It falls somewhere between a Yothu Yindi club mix and an Ansett ad, and given the flourishing of bands like Client Liaison, Emu Xperts and Mining Tax, it’s hard to know how tongue in cheek it really is.
“That track’s not just a one-off thing,” says Whitford. “I think there’s a lot of artists who want to express a kind of Australianness when, in the past, maybe people were just too embarrassed being Aussie and making dance music. It was more about doing something like the UK, or not having a sense of Australian identity. I think that’s come about more in the last three or four, five years. Even seven or eight years ago, it wouldn’t have entered my mind, but it’s sort of become this movement in the underground. I think that’s representative of people in that scene or even that age group have.”
“Basically, I’m amazingly nostalgic for different eras of music, particularly the ones I never quite lived through or quite managed to take in myself. I loved reading about the disco era or documentaries on the birth of acid house or the punk movement, new wave and stuff. I guess one thing I noticed was often these movements weren’t even identified until someone went in and said, ‘OK, let’s do a compilation of the state of things,’ and people start to recognise there’s a scene happening. It’s almost like someone’s got to go in and document, whether it’s a film or a book or a compilation. Whatever it is, people don’t actually join the dots until someone’s done it for them. Hopefully for some people, this is what this compilation will do this for them.”
Oceans Apart is out now.