During the first COVID-19 lockdown, when spontaneity and community were in short supply, Joy Anonymous popped up on London’s South Bank offering plenty of both. Speaking to NME last year, the DJ and producer duo (Henry Counsell and Louis Curran) described the impromptu raves they hosted during this period as “an act of public service,” designed to bring people together in a time of uncertainty.
2021 debut ‘Human Again’ perfectly captured the Joy Anonymous sound – a feel-good, blend of house and disco that conjures visions of late, glowing city sunsets – and propelled them into a new stratosphere. Festival main stage appearances including Glastonbury followed, and a world tour with super-producer Fred Again.. (a close friend of the group) helped transform the group from a riverside pop-up act to fast-rising dance phenomenon.
As the autumn nights start to draw in, ‘Cult Classics’ offers fans a much-needed dose of summer energy, lifting soulful vocal samples from classic pop records, ratcheting up the tempo and adding grubbier basses and stomping kicks. Counsell and Curran stick to the format of their debut, with each track titled ‘JOY’ (plus a suffix in brackets), but the sound is heavier: the climax of the breakbeat-heavy ‘JOY (404)’ is unexpectedly ferocious, for example. ‘JOY (In Me All The Time)’, meanwhile, clings onto a thick, whomping bassline that transports you to a bunker dancefloor (and explains why the duo was chosen to support The Streets this autumn).
Perhaps it’s the ramped-up bass that makes mellower moments of ‘Cult Classics’ a little underwhelming. The intro of ‘JOY (Breathe Into Me)’ looks to capture the present-mindedness of a Joy Anonymous performance, with sweeping pads and a punter’s recorded voice saying “just find a moment in chaos”, but ultimately it comes off like a guided meditation. And while acoustic album closer ‘JOY (You’re In Or Out)’ ends things smoothly, its box room-esque vocals are arguably a little too lo-fi-sounding when compared with the rest of the record’s tight, upbeat club sound.
Still, it seems harsh to knock the honest experimentations of a group founded and developed with the purest of intentions: spreading joy. It’s difficult capturing on wax the DIY sound that caused Londoners to flock to Joy Anonymous’ shows during lockdown, but by contrasting more bass with moments of softness, and adding field recordings from recent performances and travels, Counsell and Curran accomplish just that.
Release date: November 3
Record label: Island
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