The last twelve months have been a whirlwind for Henry Counsell and Louis Curran, the men who make up Joy (Anonymous). Having established themselves during the Covid-19 era by playing impromptu meet-ups on London’s South Bank, they have graduated to bigger venues, travelled to far-flung locales and recorded their second album, Cult Classics, while maintaining the spontaneous energy and irrepressible joy that made their name. Their music revels in the euphoria of being alive and all the feelings, good or bad, that come with it. It invites us into a community, draws us close and promises the night of our lives.
Recorded over the course of a year, the blueprint for Cult Classics was laid down over a two-week span at Imogen Heap’s Round House in east London. Joy (Anonymous) invited friends old and new to visit - they’d record live instruments in jam sessions upstairs and then retreat to a second room to flip and loop and generally mess with the sounds, moulding them into sizzling dance tracks. “Loads of people were coming up to me like ‘I thought this was going to be a dance record?’” Louis says, remembering the quietly beautiful music they’d be recording. “I’d be like, don’t worry about that, just keep playing.” He’d send it back to people later and they’d be floored - “That was my bit and you’ve made it... jungle!”
It was an organic and creatively fulfilling approach, one that didn’t allow any of the music to get stale or stagnate. As they built the tracks from the sounds they’d collected, Joy (Anonymous) would weave the new songs into their famously improvised live sets, testing them, refining them, taking note of the audiences’ reactions. In a year punctuated by a lot of travel, they’d also incorporate the voices of people they met along the way - “Beazley’s Poem”, which opens the record, features the words of a man who was working security at a Fred Again show at New York’s Terminal Five. “He was basically doing the opposite of his job and being a hype man, climbing on the fence and ramping up the crowd - we ended up hanging out with him - like, who’s this legend?” Louis explains. “He just speaks really amazingly about his life, all these amazing thoughts and opinions - he started jumping on the mic when we were playing, preaching these amazing messages to the crowd, like that we all need to be nicer to each other. The first time we played the record in its entirety, he introduced us and that’s the recording we’ve used.”
Joy (Anonymous) remain dedicated to the spirit of spontaneity. They shut a street down with a surprise waterside party in New York. On a trip to Copenhagen they played an impromptu set in a cafe, which turned into a house party and a night-long good time. In Lithuania, they ended up playing in a decommissioned prison. It’s harder, perhaps, to keep that spirit alive now that they are operating more within the confines of the music industry but they will keep lugging their kit to wherever the party calls for as long as they can. “I think if we lose that, we’ve kind of lost what makes us us,” Henry says.
Bursting with multi-genre reference points and disparate influences, Cult Classics is very much a dance album. The samples we made ourselves or we took from music that is quite different to dance music, but we definitely wanted to shout out a lot of the dance influences that we love,” Henry says. They listened to a lot of Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx as well as The Prodigy (“more rage stuff”), taking songwriting tips from their dance forebears, but also recording bits that felt more like jazz and motown (see: A Place I Belong and the lovely album closer, You’re In Or You’re Out). Emir Taha’s gentle classical guitar runs like a thread throughout Cult Classics, washing into the undertones of the record, tying it all together.
The album follows the beat of a night out, from frenetic, sweaty movement to the gentler winding down as the dawn breaks. At times it is euphoric, celebratory and pure, whirling fun, at others it seeks the joy in the darker emotions that life throws our way. 404 is designed to encapsulate everything about the Joy (Anonymous) journey so far. Skittering beats and ghostly vocals give way to vibrating house chords: sirens blare as we approach a dubstep drop. It’s dramatic and wild, ratcheting up, seeming to settle then hitting you with an intense and frantic breakdown before the ghostly vocal returns to lull us back into the world. It has the feel of a hungry cat playing with a mouse, toying with it before letting it get away.
What sounds like someone playing the spoons on playful, housey How We End Up Here is actually Louis’ restless habit of clicking his rings on everything, one of a myriad of calling cards and easter eggs that day one fans will recognise. They rework Miley Cyrus and Swae Lee’s Party Up The Street into a French-electro-inspired future classic, adding a note of melancholy to a tune that you can imagine hearing blaring from every car on a summer drive. The lyrics on Cult Classic are generally reassuring, inspirational, originally drawn from Henry in stream-of-consciousness freestyles. You’re fine the way you are, they seem to say - the repeated “No need to try” of A Place I Belong, the assurance that “It’s in me all the time” on In Me All The Time. Even the summery but regretful Did You Wrong hints at the growth that is possible from less than ideal behaviour. For Joy (Anonymous), joy isn’t about just being “happy” all the time - it’s about relishing every element of your being.
The name ‘Joy (Anonymous)’ is taken from the work Henry did with Alcoholics Anonymous groups: it is a way to build a community around sharing joy. Their impromptu live sets are known as ‘meetings’; they encourage fans to share moments of joy to their website. They care deeply about the scene they’ve come up in and are determined not to leave it behind. Every show is another chance to reach out and connect with people who love to come together and revel in music as loud as it can go.
Support slots for Fred Again and The Streets, wild B2Bs with Fred and Skrillex, and a set at Four Tet’s Finsbury Park all-dayer this summer have given the duo the opportunity to live out childhood dreams and introduced their infectious live shows to new audiences at huge venues.
With an album as assured and joyful as Cult Classics on the horizon (and a killer collab with The Blessed Madonna coming up), they’re only going to reach higher heights. But the essence of Joy (Anonymous) remains on the South Bank. Between shows at Ally Pally in September, they dragged their camping chairs and gear back down to the banks of the Thames: and it just felt right.
1. (JOY) Beezley’s Poem
2. JOY (404)
3. (JOY) In Me All The Time
4. (JOY) Up The Street
5. (JOY) A Place I Belong
6. (JOY) How We End Up Here
7. (JOY) Head To The Sky
8. (JOY) Make Some Noise
9. (JOY) I Did You Wrong
10. (JOY) Sea Bird
11. (JOY) Breathe Into Me
12. (JOY) Weight Wings
13. (JOY) Now That It’s Over
14. (JOY) You’re In Or You’re Out