In many ways, Melbourne has always been Australia’s epicenter for music. On a statistically average Saturday night, around 97,000 punters turn out to see 900 musicians and 740 DJs do their thing in any of the city’s 460 clubs, pubs, theaters or cozy, hole-in-the-wall venues dotting its iconic, street-art plastered alleyways. Proudly contributing to each of these healthy figures pertaining to the state of live Australian music is Dan Whitford – the nucleus of beloved electro outfit Cut Copy. Fresh on the heels of the band’s fourth LP Free Your Mind last year, Whitford was out clubbing with a friend in the Victorian capital and remarked that the city’s dance scene had really upped its game in the last few years. He went on to note that somebody really should document how far it’s come and rather than waiting for someone else to do so, his D.I.Y. ethic (no doubt inspired by the city’s ubiquitous musical culture) kicked in and Whitford himself rose to the challenge.
Oceans Apart is a 19-track collection comprising some of the finest electronica present-day Melbourne has to offer. Presented as a contiguous 80-minute DJ set, it ties together everything from funk-infused disco to earthy, tribal trance and virtually everything in between. It’s a little daunting at times; purely by virtue of the vastly different types of electronic exploration that wash over you from one track to the next, but they’re assembled in such a way that once the groove is established – you’re locked in for the journey whether you intend to be or not.
Kicking off with Knighlife’s bubbly Don’t Stop, you’re immediately dropped into a world of flittering synths, crushing bass and a relentless house beat that stretches throughout the entire set. It’s largely an instrumental affair so the few lyrical hooks that materialize every now and then definitely stick out, chiefly on Andras and Oscar’s Music Is My Life which counterpoints its jittery, over-caffeinated clavinet with varying synth lines straight from 1992 and airy, Prince-esque vocals.
The record is edited so well that it’s difficult to tell where one track ends and another begins. Obviously this is the goal for a DJ set, and one that is expertly achieved on Oceans Apart. One minute you’re hearing classic 808 hi-hats under stabby, reverbed out chord hits on Michael Ozone’s Oxygen and the next you’re drowning in dub-delayed shrieks and football whistles transitioning you into the percussive smorgasbord of Statue’s eponymous Statue Theme which in turn flows seamlessly into Overboard by Turkish Prison.
Dynamically, the peaks and troughs arrive with a precision that mirrors the trajectory of a night out clubbing: There are explosive moments of pure dancefloor rapture (NO ZU’s Raw Vis Vision is a prime example and does this with the most glorious use of ‘80s soul samples) offset with chillout tracks for when your body just can’t handle any more movement like Ara Koufax’s Brenda. The Coober Pedy University Band’s Kookaburra makes it abundantly clear that this is an Australian release. It deftly cuts the sound that wakes up anyone living near Aussie bushland into a rhythmic trance over swelling didgeridoo and an ominous loop that segues into A+O’s early-‘90s minimalism on Take Me perfectly.
The last quarter of the set brings the tempo down a little to help you regain your bearings with Bell Towers’ aptly named After Party at Jackson’s House before the Outskirts dub remix of Feel City by indie darlings World’s End Press grinds along at just the right pace. The closing pair of tracks – Roland Tings’ Swimmer and Austral Aura by Sleep D – rounds out Oceans Apart perfectly with down-tempo, squelchy bass and glitchy drum programming before abruptly fading out, leaving you in something of a post-coital stupor stumbling around the city, craving Lord of the Fries and looking for a tram with any of the 96,999 punters in the same boat.
Whitford and his Cut Copy crew have done a pretty fantastic job curating a collection of tunes that showcase just one of Melbourne’s thriving musical subcultures and distilling it into an almost-digestible set. There’s a bit of a too-much-of-a-good-thing vibe throughout that will leave you a little hungover from the sheer volume of music here, but this is just more evidence that as far as Australian music is concerned, Melbourne is where it’s at.