In the 1980s, some strange shit was happening in Manchester, England. New Order were increasingly incorporating electronics and house music into their new wave and cutting dance 12-inches, Factory records was backing the wildly out-of-control nightclub the Hacienda, some mates of the Happy Mondays were importing ecstasy into the city en masse—the punks were getting turned on to club culture and its attendant chemical pleasures.
From an ocean away, it's tempting to imagine something similar going down right now in Melbourne, Australia—only with better beaches and less postindustrial gloom.
There's Modular Recordings (a label whose name echoes Factory's industrial, assembly-line moniker), a hive of club-friendly, rock-ready activity that is home to such electro acts as Van She, the Presets, New Young Pony Club, Muscles, as well as the Avalanches and Wolfmother.
There's that old meme Corey Delaney, the Australian party boy who made the YouTube rounds a couple months ago after getting busted for throwing what sounded like a rager of a house party while his parents were away. He was shirtless, bleach-haired, and dazedly, brazenly rebuffing the local news show's talking head, refusing to take off his "famous shades." If that kid hasn't gobbled Hacienda levels of powerful MDMA and 4/4 thump, I'll drink my glow stick.
Most of all, there's Modular Records' star band of the moment, Cut Copy, whose fairly brilliant sophomore album, In Ghost Colours, debuted at number one on the Australian charts.
"I don't think we've ever thought of ourselves as a charting kind of band," says multi-instrumentalist Tim Hoey, on the phone from Sweden. "I guess that maybe says a lot about what's happening in Australia at the moment. I think maybe the lines have been blurred between dance culture and indie-rock scenes. Certainly in Melbourne, you've got rock kids coming to dance clubs and dance kids going to rock shows. It's only been the last couple of years that our kind of music, that scene, has really taken off. It's always been dominated by really middle-of-the-road, boring classic-rock music—the Vines and Jet were the big charting bands when we started out."
Four years ago, around the release of their debut album, Bright Like Neon Love, Cut Copy, then the solo studio project of singer Dan Whitford, were barely a band at all, let alone a charting one.
"None of us really knew how to play," says Hoey. "But as [Whitford] was writing the songs for Bright Like Neon Love, we started doing these sort of garage-band interpretations of the songs. He took the record to Paris to mix it, and when he came back we started playing shows, and the whole thing snowballed from there. We just kind of became a band."
Bright Like Neon Love was a promising record, but it showed audible traces of its bedroom origins. For In Ghost Colours, the now-well-established band went to New York to record with DFA producer Tim Goldsworthy, and the result is bigger and brighter.
"It was perfect," says Hoey. "We wanted something that could match not only the dance aspect of the record but the psychedelic pop stuff we were listening to. And the stuff Tim was working on at the time—his Loving Hand remixes and the DFA mixes—were like these 10-minute epic tracks that went into all these weird territories and had all this psychedelic, weird synthesizer stuff."
Before recording, the band and producer listened to ELO's Time, the first Eurythmics record, My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen 3, and "a lot of old disco" while making the record, but the record sounds like nothing so much as New Order during their mid-'80s peak.
There are the glittering synth arpeggios and acid-squelch breakdown on "Out There on the Ice" (the arpeggios recur throughout); the upper-fret bass melodies on "Unforgettable Season" and other songs; there are the vocal house stabs on "Hearts on Fire"; there are the guitars, faint when they feature into the picture at all, often processed and effected into gentle washes of sound. There's Whitford's cool, restrained monotone on lead single "Lights & Music" and his soft, reaching croon on "So Haunted" and elsewhere (also like New Order's Bernard Sumner, Whitford has a knack for lyrics that can look inane or just opaque on paper, but which sound sincerely sublime when intoned over bittersweet Balearic beats, dilated at the discotheque). There's the album's alternating rushes of euphoric bliss and burned-out melancholia.
Of course, plenty of bands have followed New Order's route from the stage to the dance floor, but none in recent memory have done so quite so faithfully and favorably—while still eking out a sound of their own— as Cut Copy.