There’s no way to overstate the importance of crossover acts. They combine their influences into a digestible, usually pop package that provides listeners the context, permission, and imagination to dive more deeply into the vast and bottomless pool that is music geekery. Just as David Bowie turned people on to the works of Jacques Brel and Robert Fripp, the voracious sampling of hip-hop madman Kanye West has long made younger listeners unlikely fans of artists such as Steely Dan and, uh, Robert Fripp.
For nearly 15 years, Australian quartet Cut Copy has been one of dance music’s premier crossover acts.
Begun in 2001 as the solo project of lead singer Dan Whitford, Cut Copy has moved past its relatively humble origins in Melbourne as a lo-fi, sample-oriented act to become a full-fledged synth-pop band with an enviable discography and a devoted worldwide following.
Both Whitford and band bassist Ben Browning say Cut Copy’s breakthrough coincided with a moment where once-established demarcations, like geographical location and genre boundaries, became increasingly blurred.
"Pop music — in a classic sense — didn't really connect to what club music was doing," Whitford says of the mid-2000s pop landscape. "We've certainly always had more interests than just one particular genre, and we've tried to feature all those things on our records in different combinations. People don't bat an eyelid when music crosses over in that kind of way, when you have elements of '70s kind of yacht-rock stuff combining with '90s house stuff, that makes perfect sense to people now. But I think when we started, that was much more of an unusual thing.”
Since the release of 2004’s Bright Like Neon Love, Cut Copy’s debut LP, the band's sound has branched out in dozens of directions, including the blog-house symphony of 2008’s In Ghost Colours and 2013’s acid-house-indebted, Primal Scream-circa-Screamadelica-styled album Free Your Mind. Last year, the band took a turn for the sparse with the ambient instrumental record January Tape, itself a prelude to their new proper album, September’s Haiku From Zero. Recorded last fall in Atlanta with acclaimed producer Ben H. Allen, Haiku From Zero emphasizes Cut Copy’s strengths as a band, with interlocking parts and rich production flourishes that reveal themselves upon repeat listens.
“[Recording Haiku From Zero] was about trying to focus on each of these songs as songs, making the absolute best recording of them, and also just focusing on us performing together, which I think over time has become a really strong part of the identity of Cut Copy," Whitford says. He adds that the multimember band is "probably a little bit more unique in the current climate of dance music,” where solo DJ/producers are abundant.
“On the previous two albums I'd worked on — Zonoscope and Free Your Mind — we were in Melbourne and we were home and pretty comfortable,” Browning adds. “It was easy for us to go take a morning off, or go get a coffee, or to sort of maybe not focus in on the album quite as intensely as we did on this one... I think this was a really good exercise in discipline this time around.”
When Cut Copy brings the tour behind Haiku From Zero to the North Beach Bandshell December 6, it will be the latest in a long series of Miami visits from the band. In addition to making several appearances at Ultra Music Festival, Cut Copy has also played the much-missed venue Grand Central, where it performed a two-night stint in 2011 before returning in 2014.
“We’ve had a lot of awesome times in Miami. For whatever reason, we’ve finished up our tours a few times in Miami — or at least certainly [performed in the city] towards the end of runs — so I guess that's always made our experiences feel a little bit more festive,” Whitford says. He cites a karaoke session spent belting the Smiths “at some ungodly hour of the morning” as one memorable example.
With the North American leg of the tour wrapping up before a series of dates in their native Australia early next year, the band is likely to remain primarily concerned with Haiku From Zero and performing through the end of 2017. Besides offering the excitement of life on the road, 2018 also marks a milestone for Cut Copy, as it will be the tenth anniversary of the band’s second record In Ghost Colours. The album was both the band’s breakthrough and a watershed moment in the revitalization of synth-pop and dance music as veritable forces within indie circles.
“I think we came at a time when, initially, the dance-music thing and guitar-based music didn't really intermingle at all,” Whitford observes, adding that he and the band had no sense that that creative period would prove as fruitful as it did. Mentioning American artists such as onetime tour mates Classixx, along with fellow electronically inclined Aussies like Tornado Wallace and Mall Grab, Whitford says “it’s kind of strange” to have played a formative role in other musicians' lives, whether that be as an artistic influence, or in the case of he and the band’s fellow countrymen, helping to open up a musical dialogue between Australia and the rest of the world.
"One of the big shifts that's happened is just how global music's become, it's almost like we exist in a scene that isn't geographically based anymore,” he says. “I don't have a sense of directly enabling these people; it's probably a bit more organic than that. I'm just glad that it's a lot easier for people to emerge from Australia — which is about as isolated geographically as you can get from the rest of the world — and actually have long careers and be really successful all around the world.”
As for Cut Copy's own success, Whitford says he's amenable to revisiting the band's early years, especially in light of all the changes the band has undergone in the intervening decade.
“I think it would be pretty awesome to do something to commemorate the ten years since [In Ghost Colours] came out, and certainly with a bit of perspective on it,” Whitford says. “I think we've somehow managed to keep the same, you know, fearlessness, even if we're probably a little less naive than we were in the beginning.”
Cut Copy. With Palmbomen II. 6 p.m. Wednesday, December 6, at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672 5202; northbeachbandshell.com. Tickets cost $25 to $30 via ticketfly.com.