Sofi Tukker and the art of being together, apart.
“Soph, is this camera on?” comes the unmistakable deep drawl of Tucker Halpern from the other side of the laptop screen. It’s 10:00 in Miami, the adopted home of New York house-pop duo Sofi Tukker and once their camera comes into focus, they’re bathed in late morning sunlight looking languorous and impossibly cool. When we sat down to speak with them last month, their latest single Sun Came Up with Chicago producer John Summit had just started bubbling its way up the charts. Now, just a few weeks later, the song has already cracked the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot Dance / Electronic Songs chart, dethroning Elton John, Dua Lipa and PNAU’s seemingly immovable Cold Heart. It was inevitable. Sun Came Up is the sort of glistening house anthem that conjures the irresistible atmosphere of late summers and evenings spent dancing on the beach in the company of your best people. From Sophie Hawley-Weld’s gentle sing-speak melody to a somewhat melancholic, somewhat desperately romantic guitar hook, Sun Came Up is a markedly introspective turn for the duo best known for purple hats and cheetah print. For Tucker, it comes down to a simple concept: connection. In a sky blue tie-dye hoodie and oversized grape soda tinged shades, his chilled out demeanour is pointedly on brand. “Sun Came Up really represented what we were longing for, what we missed and what we wanted to do as soon as we could possibly do it safely.” He’s talking about being together on a dancefloor of course, an experience that disappeared on a global scale in the face of the pandemic.
Togetherness, it turns out, is essential to the school of Sofi Tukker. Since 2016, this duo has been putting out music designed to start the party and make the people move. It’s easy to identify a Sofi Tukker track. They’ve formulated a distinct brand of jungle house that clashes ideas from across styles; there’s touches of trance, bass, and tech woven in. But then there’s also the inescapable pop sensibilities and affinity for killer hooks. Some of their lyrics are sung in Portuguese. Sometimes there’s a plucked guitar motif to add a tropical coolness. Sometimes Tucker sounds like the Terminator. Every aesthetic device is a choice made in service of their music’s key function; to be impossibly fun and impossible not to dance to. And then there’s their palpable chemistry. Watching the way Sophie and Tucker love and explore music together is infectiously joyous, their best friend dynamic at once relatable and effervescent. It’s this approach to their performance (which is really just them in real life) that has amassed a community they lovingly call ‘The Freak Fam’, a group unified by Sofi Tukker’s potent party formula. But while this sort of following is usually established on the grounds of festivals or the dancefloors of raves, things happened a bit differently for Sofi Tukker at a point in their career where it mattered the most. The onset of the pandemic in the midst of their rising popularity meant that touring was impossible, and live shows would have to be put on pause. By chance, Sofi Tukker found a new stage on which to present themselves to the world, one which instantly exceeded the levels of exposure a tour would have afforded them anyway. Instagram Live. “I mean, the truth is the first day was.. Tucker was DJ’ing while I was working out. And then we live-streamed it… and then we were like, that was fun. Let’s do it tomorrow. And then we did it the next day. I was working out so much, my butt was sore because I was overextending myself so I just started DJ’ing with Tucker, then on day three Tucker said, ‘let’s do this everyday.’”
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She’s not exaggerating. Over the course of the pandemic, Sofi Tukker has played a live DJ set on Instagram every single day for the duration of hard lockdown and beyond. To date, they have live-streamed some 619 sets, sometimes watched by over 100 thousand viewers. “We thought it was going to be a month,” Tucker chuckles. When asked how they found the stamina for this feat when most of us couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed, he clarifies, “We knew how much it meant to people, and to have something stable in the day to look forward to when they had lost their job or sense of routine. We knew showing up was helping so many people, and because of that we had to show up which helped us so much.” “It got us through so much too,” Sophie adds. “‘I’m telling you, it’s because of people who were watching. We had to show up because they were expecting us to show up. It was the most amazing virtuous cycle where we were really giving to each other. It was so mutual.” For many, Sofi Tukker became the soundtrack to a time where fantasy, escape and straight up euphoria was more essential than ever to make it through the day. And their sound, while designed for the dancefloor, happened to be the perfect form of escapism. “For us, it was a moment in the day to enjoy music and move our bodies,” says Sophie. “We even spoke about things like… dance and electronic music.. Are people not going to be listening to much of that when clubs are shut down? And it turned out that people wanted to listen to it, maybe even more, because it’s something to give them that jolt of joy.” Their popularity surged to massive new heights globally, and as more people tuned in, this daily ritual became about more than just entertainment. It became about community. Unlike Club Quarantine or Twitch live-streams, Sofi Tukker’s experience wasn’t insular. “We actually feel like, in the live-streaming, in certain ways we were much closer to people. We put a TV in front of us, so we were literally reading comments, we were recognising people’s usernames and we felt like some of the sets were conversations.” Tucker explains. “We actually felt that people got to know us deeper, you could hear us talk and think. We even had some really difficult conversations, like when the George Floyd stuff was happening. We just talked. It was intimate.” This sort of new artist / audience interaction happened to perfectly align with the band’s manifesto, and in giving fans the opportunity to actually interact with them in real time, somehow Sofi Tukker had found a way to be together while apart.
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Interestingly, it was this batshit (sorry, we had to) experiment that led to them connecting with Summit. “We were DJ’ing a lot of his songs in our sets, and we started DM’ing. Turns out we’re fans of each other so we were like, let’s make something together.” explains Sophie. They began working on a remix of Sophie Tukker’s first single, the iconic Drinkee alongside Brazilian producer and mutual friend Vintage Culture. “He was really the one who linked us,” says Tucker. We digress from Sun Came Up for a moment, curious to find out why they felt now was the time to re-release Drinkee, which was recently given a string of remixes including one by techno legend Carl Cox. “Holy shit, Carl Cox.” exclaims Tucker when we mention it, still feeling the aftershocks of having worked with one the foremost figures in electronic music. “It will always be time for another Drinkee,” chimes Sophie. “I think clubs are reopening and people are excited to go out, so having a familiar song that can live in that setting was cool. But we really love that song, it’s the first song we put out as a band and it kind of feels like our origin. I hope that we keep recycling it over and over again throughout our career.” Sun Came Up happened simultaneously to Summit’s work on Drinkee, “We had the sketch of [Sun Came Up] and we had the vocal and the guitar, and we couldn’t figure out what final ingredient it needed. So we sent it to John to see what he thought, and within 24 hours he had something back. He was really passionate and excited,” says Sophie. Tucker in particular found that he was beginning to write about the things he had been missing, or rather craving, since being in lockdown. “I was just dreaming of it, I wanted it so bad,” he says. You can see it reflected in the music video. Fairly simple, the visual sees the duo throw a party on a yacht in a bay outside their home in Miami. “It was so simple. This song is about being together and dancing until the sun comes up, let’s just do that in Miami,” explains Sophie. “We just wanted to have fun.”
It’s unsurprising that the track would surge to the top of the charts at this point in our global crisis. Increased vaccinations and general lockdown fatigue has left people craving connection like never before, a lust for a simpler time when we were able to share spaces and experiences together without fear. Sun Came Up not only expresses this longing, but provides the ideal soundtrack for the moment of its eventual reprieve. Imagine the catharsis of hearing it at sunset amidst a bustling festival crowd? Those lyrics would transcend from melody to mass therapy. For Sofi Tukker, that opportunity eventually came in July when the duo played their first live show in over a year at LA festival Day Trip. We ask them how it felt to be confronted by an actual audience instead of a comments section for the first time in ages. “The experience of getting that energy thrown back at us is something we forgot about. And I had forgotten how much joy and excitement and energy we receive… It was such a huge jolt of energy,” says Tucker. Most fascinating of all is how the comment section sort of came to life. “I feel a lot more intimate with people who are at our shows. I mean. People even show up with their usernames on name tags, or the yellow chain Tucker wore during the streams. And I recognised so many people who I feel very connected to because we went through this really hard thing together,” says Sophie. It would be safe to say that the impact of their live-stream magnum opus has become a culture. They have also recently launched a new radio show, Freak Fam Radio which continues the community based spirit of the live-streams on the airwaves. The duo will continue to tour in the new year, and it’s a certainty that the Sofi Tukker movement will continue to grow with them, changing the way fans consume art and shifting the discourse on the boundaries between artist and audience.
Before leaving them, we ask about what comes next. On the topic of dream collaborators, Sophie is quick to answer, “Stromae, please. He’s one of those people we went to see before we started the band.” “At Madison Square Garden,” Tucker elaborates. “It was just one of the most inspiring things we’ve ever seen. He’s one of those people who have reached the point of what a superior performer looks like. Also the music. The way he meshes electronic music and French music.. The androgyny of it all. It’s the coolest.” When asked what they’d say if the French singer-songwriter called them up right that minute to propose collaborating, it elicits only a sequel of delight from Sophie. As for new solo music, they promise there’s a tsunami coming but can’t share details of when or how. “We’re not allowed, but that’s only because it’s very exciting,” Tucker assures us. The world is in a weird space right now. We’re in a slippery limbo where things are likely to continue shifting before settling into our new ‘normal.’ Sofi Tukker have become the unlikely symbol of human perseverance through in our most prescient time of uncertainty. They’re a reminder that isolation doesn’t have to mean being alone, and their immense passion and love for their “freak fam” has pushed them to literally revolutionise live performance and the possibilities for fans to experience their music. We couldn’t leave without thanking them, not just for their time, but for literally connecting the world and giving countless people a reason to wake up in the morning when the future felt like a cycle of futility. It’s best summed up in Sun Came Up when Sophie sings about a dreamscape that in many ways, she and Tucker have turned into a dazzling reality: “I think I’m nearly back where we were / When the sun came up, and we’re still dancing together.”
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