Joy Anonymous Meetings are changing the tides for live music as they lay down the soundtrack to the reopening of the world.
It’s dusk in London, a pair of silhouettes are nestled in camping chairs on Thames beach. The sun sinks behind Blackfriars, St Paul’s Cathedral towers over the water and the Millenium Bridge frames the looming skyscrapers of the City, mirroring golden hour back onto the faces of sunset revellers. But the pair of beachgoers aren’t here for the view, they face towards the bank as an intimate crowd gathers. This is a Joy Anonymous Meeting. The mic is on and the music starts, “welcome to Joy Anonymous, we’re here for a long time”.
The 6-hour improvised set began with gentle hypnotic beats to bring the sun down and ease the crowd into the evening as ambient vibrations filled the air with anticipation. The music caught the ears of passing strangers and the meeting grew with a plethora of carousers flooding down the steps to settle onto the beach. The tempo escalated with the darkness until the whole crowd was on their feet, lured in closer by the Joy Anonymous “beacon” illuminating smiles as shadows danced with each other on the bank. The tide crept in and seconds before soggy socks, the meeting migrated upstairs to a dance floor enclosed by the colossal Tate Modern, imposing its brutalist tectonic energy onto the crowd. Not even the police were inclined to intervene the cosmic force of joy resonating through the meeting as they arrived at the scene, allowing the music to thump into the early hours of the morning.
The visceral atmosphere was magic, strangers became friends as Joy Anonymous transported the crowd through a sonic journey. Everyone You Know made an appearance on the bank for a performance of their anthem for the ages, “Just For The Times”, a sparkling collaboration with Joy Anonymous that yearns for the euphoria of summer. The mic was passed on to 18 year-old rising grime rapper SBK who has been skating down to the meetings since they began to turn up some serious heat with his slick ad lib bars. The highlight of the night was emerging artist Ellauro. It was hard to believe this was her first time on the mic as the instrumental to Deadmau5’s “I Remember” reverberated through the sound system and her ethereal freestyle vocals soared through extraordinary range.
Hen and Lou are the pair of musical masterminds nestled in those camping chairs but it is the community that forms around the meetings that embody Joy Anonymous, “everyone who has seen Joy Anonymous is part of Joy Anonymous”, Hen says. The idea of Joy Anonymous was born out of supporting friends who were going through the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Hen went to some of the meetings and discovered that “the most beautiful thing about those meetings was how people shared what they were going through; the more they shared the more others felt as if they could talk about their feelings and experiences. Each time they came back to the meetings people would share a little bit more and not feel alone in what they are going through”. Hen and Lou wanted to adopt the concept of AA and NA but bring joy to the heart of it, “we thought joy is the thing that people sometimes struggle to find in their life and if you show it to them, maybe they can find it”, Hen says, “Joy Anonymous is born”.
Initially the Joy Anonymous meetings were planned to be immersive live shows performed in the round. But due to lockdown Henry and Lou turned the South Bank into their stage as people joined real-life Joy Anonymous meetings week in, week out. “It was kinda overwhelming how much they became real”, says Hen, “people were coming down telling their stories and what they’ve been going through. We had NHS workers, grandparents to grandkids and people that were homeless too. South Bank is a real centre point for London and you have all walks of life coming through. People were coming in, speaking to each other and talking to us, it was a pretty mad time. We try to reflect that in the music we make, something that everyone feels very much invited to join and be a part of. That is exactly what Joy Anonymous is”. When asked to describe Joy Anonymous in three words Hen says, “being in feelings”. He goes on to talk about their name, “the reason we’re called Joy Anonymous (not happy or positive) is because we want people to know that joy comes from feeling all emotions and that you can find joy in both the sad or happy moments and all the emotions in between — it’s that feeling which causes joy”.
South Bank is the Joy Anonymous pilgrimage spot but the plan is to travel and spread their community across the globe. “We want to be the sound of the opening of the world”, Hen says, “over the next decade or so, we’ll have this feeling of being in post lockdown and that euphoric opening again. We want to be the movement behind it and the soundtrack to it, both in terms of production and live performance. That’s the core of what we do”. Last summer over 20 meetings took place; Hen and Lou realised that they had created something important which had only grown and evolved with time as people kept returning, joining in and jumping on the mic. The idea that Hen and Lou are seated immersed in the crowd is crucial to the theory behind Joy Anonymous, they want to be embedded within the nucleus of the energy which radiates from the music. Hen says, “we have this idea that if or when we headline Glastonbury we wanna play in the middle of the crowd and not on stage. DJ’s in the past are hidden in a booth, unseen, but we want to be in there sitting lower than everyone so that they are interacting with each other instead of feeling like they have to be looking up at a stage”.
When asked why the meetings are important to them Hen replies, “we are providing something for people, a relief. For Lou and I it’s very emotional, not only are we kinda getting into a meditative state playing for 6 hours a night, we’re also taking in a lot of emotions from the crowd, whether they’re telling us directly or through dancing, we express their feelings through our music. It affects us hugely, not only are we helping others feel joy but this is therapy for us too, we get immense joy from the meetings. We just love playing more than anyone in the world!”.
Joy Anonymous have made an album to document the wild journey of their meetings which will be coming out later this year. From Hen’s vocal hooks to strangers taking over the mic with their hidden talents, it’s an album based on the spontaneous sounds on the South Bank. For those with itchy dancing feet there is no need to wait, follow Joy Anonymous for announcements of the next meeting and join the movement to experience the sound of the world opening. Keep an eye on the tides…