Equal parts synth-pop and guitar-based rock band, the Australian four-piece Cut Copy makes its Belly Up Aspen debut Wednesday night.
The Grammy-nominated dance-rock outfit began as front man Dan Whitford’s solo project in 2001, as the DJ started putting together tracks on his laptop (hence computer commands in the band name) and tooling around with a sampler.
Whitford was listening to a lot of U.K. DJs at the time, he said, and was intrigued by the way artists like DJ Shadow and Beck used samples.
“I was interested in people that linked in a lot of different styles and created their own thing,” he said.
The success of fellow Melbourne residents The Avalanches and their 2000 album “Since I Left You” breaking out worldwide, he said, offered him a boost of confidence.
“It was not only their sound but that a band that was actually from Melbourne and doing some weird, crazy ideas and it could actually do something overseas,” he said.
Whitford was also listening to a lot of lo-fi indie rock, and started recruiting live musicians. The current Cut Copy lineup came together in 2003, when guitarist Tim Hoey and drummer Mitchell Scott joined Whitford and bassist Ben Browning.
“You usually have to pick your genre or style and that’s what you do,” said Whitford. “So if you’re a DJ and you like house music, then that’s what you are — you play house music. Or if you like indie guitar stuff, then you’re in an indie band. But I had an equal affinity for both of those scenes, and other scenes as well.”
The band found the ability to navigate ‘80’s-tinged dance-driven electronic tracks as well as guitar-based rock songs — often combining the two — and broke out internationally with their second U.S. album, 2008’s “In Ghost Colours.”
Whitford’s studio background and Hoey’s guitar-driven preferences clash, but the result is songs with feet planted in both indie rock and dance.
“Having his aesthetic combined with my aesthetic, it creates an interesting tension musically and that’s remained a tension within our music over the course of the four records we’ve made,” Whitford said.
The band’s most recent album, 2013’s exuberant “Free Your Mind,” actively resists the single-driven, download and shuffle playlist culture of today’s pop music. Its songs can stand on their own, sure — the title track and “We Are Explorers” are club-ready singles. But it’s curated like a traditional album, best listened to from beginning to end. It includes an intro and short spoken word interlude tracks that help frame suites of songs. It also has a somewhat cohesive theme: freedom. It’s a somewhat radical approach for an electronic band today, but Whitford and his bandmates, he said, believe in the full-length album form and intend to stick with it.
“It’s something we felt forced to achieve, against the tide of people’s downloading habits, where singles seem to be doing a lot better than records these days,” he explained. “We’ve tried to stay true to the format of the album, which we feel is still a pretty awesome format to listen to music.”
The band’s live sets on its current tour tend to include “Free Your Mind” material mixed in with songs from Cut Copy’s whole catalog, along with some remixed and reworked tracks. As they get going, depending on the crowd’s response, Whitford said, they may push the set toward a dance party or a rock show.
The band comes to Belly Up after co-headlining Red Rocks alongside Chromeo on Tuesday, amidst a world tour that has them playing rooms much bigger than the Aspen club. Whitford said they relish the rare chance to play a small venue like Belly Up these days.
“When we first started out we played a lot of small clubs and bars — a lot tinier than anything we’d have the chance to play now,” he said. “So we like that intimate atmosphere. Things get hot and sweaty and a little bit cramped, but that’s part of the experience.”