Sofi Tukker Talk ‘Dancing on the People’ and Their Quest to Resuscitate the Nightclub Experience
If the life of the party could have a universal embodiment, it would likely be the dynamic duo of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern. Joining forces under the moniker Sofi Tukker, the two set out with the ambition to revitalize, rekindle, and spread positivity through both dancefloor vibes and giving back to charitable causes. With galvanizing beats and infectious tunes culled from virtually every strain of dance music, they invariably channel their energy into the neon, abandoned revelry of a raging dance party.
Based in New York, but with an international fanbase consistent with their inherently universal appeal, Sofi Tukker have churned out dancefloor mobilizers and bonafide bangers that exalt all the festive frivolity of EDM, reign free of stylistic confines, and draw inspiration from cultures all over the globe. Brazil has been particularly influential, with Hawley-Weld going so far to sing in Portuguese, and team up with Brazilian poet Chacal for a number of songs. Their aesthetic extends well beyond the music, with the duo’s live shows transporting the audience to a fantastical setting, at once tropical and futuristic, with a full, immersive experience.
Sofi Tukker’s latest EP “Dancing on the People” is an exciting next step from last year’s colorful debut album “Treehouse.” There are international sounds, including another Portuguese number and a collaboration with Colombia’s Bomba Estéreo, along with ventures into unprecedented avenues, and songs that perhaps hone in more effectively than anything before on the elusive, magical essence of the duo. As they set out to release their new record, and embark on their R.I.P. Shame World Tour, which will donate a dollar from every ticket sold to mental health initiatives, Hawley-Weld and Halpbern spoke with Entertainment Voice about their new music, inspirations, philanthropic undertakings, and more.
You wrote your new single “Purple Hat” after one of your “Animal Talk” parties, which you throw “to bring back the wild and inclusive dancing vibe to the nightclub experience.” When was the last era in which you think that was a distinctly bigger aspect of nightclub culture?
Tucker: I think the scene we had was kind of before our time. The scene in mind is sort of like the Studio 54 New York, kind of like weirdo, club kid kind of vibe, and I don’t think we really got to live that, so it’s more like what we’ve heard about it, and what we’ve sort of learned, and I just have some fascination with it. But I think from a personal experience, I guess since the age I’ve been old enough to be at clubs and stuff, it’s been definitely more of a pretty exclusive — either how good you look, or how much money you have — type of situation.
Why did you decide to call your upcoming tour the “R.I.P. Shame World Tour?” Are you referring mainly to inhibitions about dancing and being free-spirited, and is there ever a case to be made for truly awful dancing warranting shame?
Sophie: (Laughs) Absolutely.
Tucker: Definitely, it warrants getting shit for it. But you shouldn’t feel ashamed about it.
Sophie, your latest single “Swing,” like several of your songs, is in Portuguese, a language you’ve taken up primarily because it you love the way it sounds. How do native speakers typically react to your music?
Sophie: Actually, it’s been an incredible thing having this relationship with people who are supporting us in Brazil, because by and large, they’re just really, really supportive, and I think a lot of the times, they think that the lyrics are funny. I just saw a tweet this morning. They were like, “Where did you get those lyrics from?” We work with this Brazillian poet Chacal, so “Swing” is actually just a poem of his that I repeat. And so, he is like the brainchild of the weirdest words, which I love. He writes really cool tongue twisters and just sonically really interesting stuff. And also, I think the meaning is absurd, and I think Brazilians get a kick out of it.
Your song “Restless” stands out from the others on “Dancing on the People,” more understated and lyrically darker than the hyperactive, festive stylings that dominate the EP. What inspired this song, and what does it mean to you?
Sophie: (Laugs) This one, I haven’t figured out exactly how to talk about it yet, because I don’t want it to be too personal, I guess, to me, just to rewind, the most important line of the song is “I’m more than the worst thing I’ve ever done / I’m less than the best thing I’ve ever won,” and I think it’s kind of exploring some of the mistakes we’ve maybe made in our lives, or that I’ve maybe made in my life, and ways in which that doesn’t define me, and that should never define me, and there’s no shame in making mistakes, and moving beyond them.
Tucker: I feel like just saying that that’s the most important lyrics of the song, kind of, disregards the whole sort of intense, not love story, but anti-love story that the song is, because that little last section is a full “fuck off” and I think you can’t ingnore that when talking about the song.
Sophie: Yeah, that’s true. There’s a nice “fuck off” bit at the end, but I was saying there’s also an owning up to my part.
Tucker: But most of the song is saying, “fuck you.”
Sophie: (Laughs) That’s true.
Tucker, what are the roots of your distinctive, vaguely robotic, baritone style of rapping in songs like “Purple Hat?”
Tucker: I think it came from — I’m not comfortable singing normally. (Laughs) I have a low voice, and I can get it really low, and I think it kind of started with that shit, I guess. But actually it kind of started with singing “Drinkee” for years, because the low voice in “Drinkee” is Sophie’s voice pitched-down an octave, and then I started performing it, singing it over and over again, and we were like, “Jeez.” Sofi’s voice pitched-down an octave sounds exactly like my actual voice. And then, we started recording my actual voice in the songs, and we were like, “That’s hilarious. That totally works!” It’s literally just a fun thing that we do. We like how it sounds, and it’s sort of playing to what we’ve got.
Sophie: I mean, also to butt in on that answer, Tucker can totally sing too.
Tucker: Oh, thank you, but you know — (in signature singing voice) I’m better at the low voice. It kind of fits my personality too. I often bring a little ridiculous, comic relief vibe to the whole party, and it kind of definitely fits.
Having used your music to contribute to various causes, you’ve recently focused on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and are also raising money for Vancouver’s Urban Native Youth Association. Why do you find these particular organization and the issues that concern them particularly important now?
Sophie: For us, mental health is kind of the umbrella for this upcoming tour. It’s funny, we live in a time where there are a lot of really cool organizations, so it’s actually hard to just choose one. You’re like, “I also care about the environment.” (Laughs) Let’s just choose one thing, and we chose mental health. That’s something that’s super close to home for both of us. Also, there’s a lot of shame around, and there shouldn’t be, and there shouldn’t be that kind of stigma around a thing that I think most people experience, or at least secondhand experience.
And so, for individual cities, we work with an organization called Plus One, and they help us identify the organizations locally that are doing really good work. So per city, it’s actually different. It’s all under the umbrella of mental health, but we’re like ok, let’s go find the organization that’s doing some really great work in their local communities. How can we support them when we go play there? So that’s where that comes from.
Your song “Like This” features an especially memorable bit with a playful dialogue, during what sounds like a dance-off of sorts. Expand on this part, and whether you were actually engaged in a dance-off when you recorded it.
Sophie: (Laughs) Absolutely, absolutely. That’s exactly what it is.
Tucker: That’s literally what was happening. We were just live groovin’ out, and I was like, “Like this,” and she was like, “Like this?” and I was like, “No, no. Like this.”And then we were like, “Should we actually put that in the song?” and we were like, “Fuck it. Why not?”
Your new music videos for “Swing” and “Playa Grande” are both wild visual works featuring nature in exotic locales, and trippy, ravy costumes. Where did the inspiration for this come from?
Tucker: the inspiration for each of those really came from the song, I think, and the place that we were in. “Playa Grande,” we did it from where Bomba Estéreo is from, so we got to go to a little beach called Costeño Beach, outside Santa Marta, Columbia, and we basically were like, “Let’s go experience life the way you live it,” and we get to learn about this, and also make it this sort of magical, embellished experience, and we got to ride horses, and it was really pretty amazing. We had a really great time. And then “Swing,” we were in Mexico. The day before, I think we had done the “Fantasy” video, and we went to this amazing, sort of ancient ruins, called Centro Ceremonial, outside Mexico City, like high up in altitude, and it was such an amazing, epic place, and so we basically built the sort of epic battle idea off it. Also, the song always felt like a duel, and like a battle, when it goes from Sofi’s voice to my voice, and it’s sort of a dueling thing.
Sofi Tukker is a duo with a vision and aesthetic that go well beyond music, promoting positivity, liberation, universality, and youthful spirit. How did this all come to be, and where is it next headed?
Tucker: I think it became this way because we, sort of, started realizing, as we were doing this, what was important to us, and what we felt like it was important that we gave back to the world, and what the world needed, and we wanted to give to the world.
Sophie: And I also think that we identified that’s what makes us come alive, and that’s what we give to each other. We give it to each other, and it feels so good, and we’re so grateful for that, and we just want to pay it forward.
Tucker: Yeah, and that’s what music gives for us, and it’s what performance gives to us, and it’s that excitement, and we just kind of want to spread that, and let hopefully as many people experience that feeling as we can, because it would be selfish if we just experienced it alone all the time.
“Dancing on the People” is available Sept. 20 on Apple Music. Sofi Tukker’s North American tour runs from Oct. 2 through Oct. 23. Dates and tickets are available here.