Meet JoyCut: the sonic innovators shaping prog's electronic future

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The existential mood music forged by Italian, progressive three-piece JoyCut has connected with audiences worldwide, with performances on three continents and in 74 countries and 216 cities. But the band have struggled to connect in the same way in the UK – until recently, that is, when that place became Meltdown festival, where the band were personally selected to play by The Cure’s Robert Smith. 

Having peddled their soundtrack to the ‘discomfort of civilisation’ for over a decade, with three albums under their belts, the Cure legend gave the band the platform to finally break the UK in the way they have the rest of the world. Following this set, vocalist/keyboardist Pasco Pezzillo took time for a deeply philosophical chat with Louder about what this means for the band.

Pezzillo sets the scene, with the kind of deep, poetic narrative that informs our entire conversation, the language barrier making the tales all the more intriguing.

“We took a lot of care preparing for it, and that was worthwhile," Pezzillo tells Louder. "We were ready to offer a special show, and we feel it was one. The entire day from waking up, our journey to the Southbank and within the marvellous Purcell Room, we lived as if we were carried by a hot-air balloon – weightless and enveloped by a special mood, cradled by an aurora thick with stars. A curious serenity mixed with severe concentration, silence and determination. We were where we always wished we would be: one step from the Moon."

“We realised right away that in those conditions, with our audience and that magic, the night was going to be unforgettable.”

Pezillo, armed with an array of various synths, laptops and gadgetry, is joined by the powerhouse dual-drum assault of Gael Califano and Christian Montanarella, who help bring their blinding live shows to life: a head-on collision of prog, dark wave, electronica and post-rock.

JoyCut revel in the live music ‘experience’, with their work regularly expanding beyond the realms of simple musical performance. Following a successful TedX performance in Verona inspired by recent travels in the East, the band played a sold-out Venice Biennale show debuting a six-act ‘visual opera’ called Komorebi, in tribute to Japan. 

The Meltdown show was equally as ambitious, spanning two distinct sets over 107 minutes. The first part included favourites from 2013’s PiecesOfUsWereLeftOnTheGround album, Deus from 2011’s GhostTreesWhereToDisappear and as yet unreleased track SAUN. The second set delved into the Komorebi opera, adding new compositions to complete that work.

This is a band with ideas and ambitions as big as their sound, and it's easy to see why they get tagged as prog, even if their music doesn’t fit the bill in the traditional sense. The band forge aural manifestos out of electronics, industrial percussion from dual drum-kits, and surging guitar lines. 

With the strong prog lineage of their Italian homeland, it is inevitable that the sonic ideas of the genre would manifest in Joycut's sound. As Pezzillo explained, “This is so curious and interesting at the same time. We are often described as a “prog-rock” band, which, despite all, is a sort of incredible and honourable thing for us, coming from a culture that still places a high value on it."

"Italy has a deep tradition highlighted by a series of seminal bands in this genre. We grew up soundtracked by our families listening to bands like Le Orme, Gli Area with that amazing masterpiece Arbeit Macht Frei, La Premiata Forneria Marconi, Gli UNO, Gli Osanna, Il Rovescio della Medaglia, I Goblin in their way, I New Trolls, The Trip, Il Banco del Mutuo Soccorso. This was 'the' sound constantly present, so vivid, in our growth path. Franco Battiato’s dystopian album “Pollution” from 1972 is still one of my favourite picks. This childhood imprint impressed in our subconscious like images on film forever. It’s probably not a coincidence if ours are concept albums with long and massive instrumental tracks.”

“During 44 shows in 44 days, across 18,000 km Andrew our tour manager played us, every single 10-hour-day, in the van, his prog archive, all the time," Pezzillo continues. "Sometimes it was too much even for us, but I still associate sensitive memories to that long journey where music and the 'all around' were entirely in line: Genesis, Frank Zappa, Gong, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Ruins, Yes, Can, Happy the Man, Electric Light Orchestra… the perfect soundtrack across boundless landscapes.”

Clearly the product of their location and heritage, JoyCut are also an international (maybe outernational) act, singing in English and making music that does not represent Italy, its music scene or heritage. Where the scene moves into the commercial, with art coming second to fame, JoyCut are the pure-art antithesis to this development.

But their art also reaches into real-world themes and concepts, with activism forming a huge part of what JoyCut are about. In this case it’s their passion for environmental issues. They espouse a green philosophy and it reaches further than just the music they make, with them partaking in a number of green sustainability projects. They even recorded the green anthem Clean Planet.

Pezzillo explains the environmental foe they are fighting as such: “The land is the undefended and unheard victim of the violent abuse of oil companies, who are dedicated to relentless drilling, violating and raping a natural heritage like no other."

So, they are a band with a line to prog rock lineage but also a foot in the future, a band with artistic integrity and also a social message? It’s easy to see why Robert Smith would include them in his stellar Meltdown line-up. In true JoyCut fashion, they were even an anomaly when it came to the bands at the festival.

“We are a totally independent band; from all of the artists invited to the Meltdown, maybe the only one without a record label," says Pezzillo. "So far, we have had the strength not to clasp at 'agreements' that were not authentic. We feel the need to extend our vision to grow a 'team' of trust and shared visions. This total freedom has a remarkable importance: It reduces our 'possibilities' in doing business, extremely so; It 'opens us' necessarily, to a continuous search for solutions, that has lead us away from any kind of market stylistic hindrance, away from social media, away from superstructures that often determine even 'artistic' values."

And all this lead to a Meltdown success, with critical acclaim and a standing ovation following the epic proceedings. But does Pezzillo think that this rare opportunity, and endorsement, will finally get the mass attention of British audience?

“This is always so hard to say. It always happens that after a great concert in a full room, someone new will support you. 

“It also always happens that if you don’t come back, if you don’t test yourself and the trust placed in you again, you don’t improve, people don’t need to see you again," he says. "The wish is to continue to consolidate the band with all of the people that have discovered us thanks to Meltdown and Robert Smith. The fanbase of The Cure is attentive and spread out. It's not only London, it’s people from Argentina and Mexico. They participate with Robert, and some have connected to us. We would really love to jump soon into their arms, to give back the affection they provided us.”

Contemplating what this means for their fate in the UK, he adds: “Unfortunately, we cannot hope something happens on its own just because we were part of such a prestigious festival. On the contrary, in order to evaluate the importance and to thank those who took a risk in checking us out this year and before, we must continue to work with increased dedication. Our profile? The audience decides. In Autumn, we will be in London for our first post-Meltdown concert.”

It remains to be seen if Meltdown has given JoyCut the boost they needed, but regardless, they will continue to spread their fiercely independent, sonic manifestos throughout the world.