Marius Libman has one of the most recognizable sounds in Portland. Recording under the alias Copy, his hyperactive dance jams combine 8-bit video-game blips, stomping drum patterns and arpeggiated synth chords often played on a keytar. Copy's music is, to put it bluntly, really fun to dance to. But you wouldn't know that from listening to the first two minutes of "One Less Time," the slow-burning opener off his new record, Hard Dream. There are no drums. There is no bounce. And it will totally break your heart.
"It's a long wait before the payoff—two minutes of synth swells," Libman says about the song, trying to keep a straight face. "I was really nervous to open the album that way, but it just seemed like the right thing to do."
Copy's music has always balanced dance-floor grandeur with homemade bedroom-producer aesthetics, but Hard Dream—Libman's first full-length since 2007's Hair Guitar—is especially downcast and nostalgic. Hard Dream calls to mind a number of sounds, from Ratatat's hip-hop-infused electropop to the more somber Four Tet material, but overall the tone is darker and weirder.
"I think my music has always had a sort of duality between being melancholy but also really dancey and fun," he says. "I kind of wanted to take that to a head as much as I could with this record."
Nowhere is that more evident than on "One Less Time," which goes through at least three different structures over the course of its eight-minute run time. The song keeps Copy's distinctive style—there's still no singing or vocal loops—but tweaks it just enough to keep things new, adding layer-upon-layer of synthesizer and stretched-out chords. The closest sonic comparison is probably Daft Punk's much-loved Discovery (you'll recall the album featured the hit "One More Time"), only with more keytar and less robot suits.
Hard Dream is also less mechanical-sounding than his past work. Libman admits to wanting to up the fidelity this time around, and his involvement playing bass guitar—an instrument he hadn't picked up in nine years—for local dance bands Atole and Astrology helped to keep it human. "I have the same bass I got when I was 13 that I've been lugging around from house to house ever since," he says. "I'm happy that I finally get to use it, because it's never really had a place in a Copy song."
In the past three years, it seems like Libman has done anything but work on his own songs. Since Hair Guitar's release, he's gone on to join two new bands (Manny Reyes' Latin techno project Atole and Charlie Salas-Humara's post-Panther dance trio Astrology), DJ Rotture's monthly dance party Supernature, and attempt a series of Bay Area "hyphy" remixes that may never see a proper release. Instead, Libman tackled a new project in the past few months that proved to be a huge inspiration: remixing five R. Kelly songs—including "I'm a Flirt" and "Ignition"—for an exclusive EP, The Pied Piper of Electro.
Libman sees the EP as an extension of his new work, but it's much poppier and more silly than anything he's ever been involved with. The Pied Piper of Electro might be Libman's chance to move beyond Portland—something many local dance bands, including Starfucker and YACHT, have done in the time since Copy was the first (and only) electronic act to win Willamette Week's Best New Band poll in 2006.
"I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop and R&B, but it's never really come to the forefront of my music until now," Libman says. "Hard Dream is a little bit darker than my other stuff, so I wanted to lighten up a bit. You can't keep making the same recognizable sound forever."
Copy plays Friday, Sept. 17, at Rotture with Truckasauras, DJ E*Rock and DJ BJ. 9 pm. $5. 21+.