During the UK’s first lockdown in 2020, Henry Counsell and Louis Curran grabbed the few pieces of portable music gear they had at home and headed down to the South Bank, a typically buzzing pocket of London next to the River Thames, to make music. It was an effort to bypass the boredom of being inside, and a hopeful attempt to bring a smile to the faces of passers-by. “People who were exercising stopped and told us it was nice to hear live music again, so we decided to keep doing it,” Henry tells Mixmag. “We did it every day for five days and then, just by word of mouth, there were about 200 people in a stone circle dancing and jumping on the mic.”
Joy Anonymous originally took from the concept of AA meetings, and between Henry and Louis, the pair were set to take their live setup around to care homes, schools, and other places in need of a pick-me-up as the UK weathered multiple lockdowns, before honing in on the concept of pop-up parties. “We looked at each other and were like, maybe this is what Joy Anonymous is,” Henry says. “People wanted to get up and share what they were going through. There were these beautiful happenings that occurred in these meetings, and as it developed, by the end of lockdown we’d done about 100 or 150 of them, and there’d be regulars who’d come back. We built a community and it’s something we still carry through with us now.”
From impromptu shows where strangers were offered the chance to jump on the mic over improvised beats, Joy Anonymous began to expand their setups and take their meetings overseas, onto festival stages and at sell-out tours, notably running alongside the likes of Fred again.., The Blessed Madonna, Kurupt FM, and Skrillex, all of whom can be added to the duo’s long list of collaborators.
In 2021, Joy Anonymous released their debut album, ‘Human Again’, featuring many of the people who had previously jumped on the mic at those early Joy Meetings — the resulting piece of work from a momentous year. As the pair step into life on the road, where they attempt to bring that same raw, unscripted energy to unusual locations around the world, they prepare to release a second record, an anthemic release merging uplifting house and vocal-led tracks in a project that promises a “bigger sound” than ever before.
We caught up with Joy Anonymous after a whirlwind year of touring to talk collaborations, how the outfit has grown, and what’s coming next. Check it out below.
The last time we caught up was about a year ago just before you headed on a world tour with Fred again.., how was that experience?
H: Loads has happened since then! We’ve visited places like São Paulo and New York - São Paulo was nuts, the music happening out there right now is so groundbreaking and otherworldly. We were out there working on Skrillex’s next album, it was just insane at that leg of it.
I know you’re both good friends with Fred and your worlds seem to collide quite a lot, has it been strange to see that huge come-up alongside him?
H: As with anything in the creative world, if you’re trying to build something, you want to be in rooms with people who push you and want to feel like you can be doing better and making music that’s affecting people. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of, the come-up has been crazy. Off the back of it, we’ve been doing mad shows and pop-ups. The last six months have been such a whirlwind.
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You’ve been smashing it recently - have there been any particular highlights from your shows or pop-ups?
L: We did one two weeks ago on a barge in Hackney for Save Our Scene. The turnout for that was incredible. It was so us with how it was on the water, we got straight off a flight from Iceland and went there so it was a hectic weekend. It was definitely a highlight, people had flares and confetti cannons out and it just looked absolutely crazy. There’s nothing like a London crowd!
H: Yeah, you really felt it after coming back from touring, we were like, ‘Ah, London still has it’. The people go harder, it’s amazing.
L: We were talking about how that’s evolutionary for Brits, raving is so embedded in us. Even in the US with loads of people, it’s incomparable. It’s just so deep-rooted in us when you hear that bassline in London, something happens to people.
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The Joy Anonymous project looks a lot different now than it did back at the start - how has it changed and grown in those years?
H: The number of people who come to the South Bank meetings, you can really feel the growth and the difference from those early days. We walked into already hundreds of people waiting there at our last show, and we ended up with about 1,000 people down on the South Bank. You kind of forget when you’re doing all these things, you think: ‘This is our little world’ but you don’t really see the impact until you come and step back in it.
L: The other side of that is that nothing has really changed, the values and the ethos are still exactly the same and we’re still doing the same thing with the same equipment. A lot of it is still the same, it’s just grown in size. Even musically, we’re still improvising and making up random lyrics over random combos.
You said before that you wanted to take your Joy Meetings worldwide and do them in obscure locations and different countries, how has that been going?
H: We always try to write in other places to kick off the year, so this year we started in Athens and did a couple of pop-ups and markets there, but quite quickly after that we went to Lithuania and did a pop-up, but the next day someone told us that we could do another in this converted prison - I say converted, they just put speakers into it! It was a fully working prison about two years ago but it shut during lockdown, you can still go into all the cells. It was such a mad experience, it’s probably the craziest place we’ve played.
L: We did a couple in New York on the Brooklyn side of the river which was really nice, that felt a lot like a South Bank meeting. It’s nice to see that it has the same impact wherever we go, we did another in Paris recently and people gathered, it seems to have the same magic wherever we go.
Have you collaborated with any of the strangers who have previously jumped on the mic ad-lib at your pop-ups?
H: On our first album, we did. All the features on ‘Human Again’ were people who would come to our South Bank meetings which was a really lovely experience. At this next stage on the next album, we’re coming at it with a different approach. We went away to this studio called Hideaway at Imogen Heap’s house but with a similar ethos, we invited a bunch of musicians to come and improvised a bunch of stuff. It was the start of this next album, we’re continuing that ethos.
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You just dropped a new single, ‘Head To The Sky’, can you tell us a bit about it? What was the process behind this one?
L: The process kind of started with our friend Barney Lister who we collaborated with on the aforementioned writing camp. He came with the sample ‘Optimistic’ by Sounds of Blackness and he played with that a little and came up with a starting point, and then we just wrote it out from there. It happened really quickly that song, it really encapsulated what we wanted the album to sound like and how we wanted Joy to feel, uplifting, positive dance music.
What can we expect to hear from your next album?
H: It definitely has the same heart as the first album, but it’s a much bigger sound. The first album was more a document of that time we were in, whereas this one feels like the anthems for Joy Anonymous, the songs people want to hear at meetings. There’s a lot of uplifting messages, it’s a bigger sound, but it feels like a progression as opposed to a different lane from the last album.
L: ‘Human Again’ was quite introspective for its time, whereas we’re out of those times now so it’s about getting together and having fun.
What’s next for Joy Anonymous?
H: We have a few more festivals at the end of the summer, and we’re now back in plans for touring looking at some dates in Australia and the US.
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Can you tell us about your In Session mix?
L: We wanted to tease our new album, but there are elements of new songs in there with new context combined with other tracks, mixing a lot of our own stems together. We stemmed everything out and started with that, there’s plenty of mash-ups and edits. We’ve been doing more production mixes recently and wanted it to feel like that. We set a pretty frantic pace, there are lots of quick transitions - I remember when we were making it we felt like we’d done loads, but it was only about 10 minutes in!
'Head to the Sky' is out now, get it here
Gemma Ross is Mixmag's Assistant Editor, follow her on Twitter
Joy Anonymous - Beezley’s Poem
Julio Bashmore - Knockin Boots
Joy Anonymous - Overcome (Brothers Counsell Remix)
The 1975 - Frail State Of Mind
Daft Punk - Highlife
The Streets - Who Dares Wins
Sault - Wildfires
Joy Anonymous - Meet Me in My Dreams
Joy Anonymous - Don’t It Make You Feel
Joy Anonymous - Where I Wanna Be
Joy Anonymous - Loves Not Real
Joy Anonymous - In Me All the Time
Jorja Smith - Little Things (Brothers Counsell Remix)
Tessela - Rough 2
Joy Anonymous - 404
Joy Anonymous - Breathe Into Me
lo0uj ft Jazzi Sirius - Kill em In the Morning
Joy Anonymous - Seabird
Little Simz - Angel (Joy Anonymous Edit)
Joy Anoymous - A Place I Belong
Joy Anonymous - Make Some Noise For Yourselves
Joy Anonymous ft ?? - Hold On To Our Love
Joy Anonymous - Party Up The Street
lo0uj ft Oldboy - London Bridge Dub
DB - Boulevard (lo0uj edit)
Joy Anonymous X Blessed Madonna X Danielle Ponder - Carry Me Higher
Various Artists - Untitled
Sugababes - Push The Button ft, Killa P (Joy Anonymous Edit)
Sault - Son Shine
The Streets - Let's Push Things Forward
Joy Anonymous - I Did You Wrong
Joy Anonymous - Weight Wings
Mr Oizo - JO
Joy Anonymous - How Did We End Up Here
Joy Anonymous - Fairground Edit
Romathony - Let Me Show You Love
Joy Anonymous - Head to The Sky