After an Injury Forced Them to Cancel Their Tour, Sofi Tukker Took to the Studio -- We Meet Them There

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Xander Wright
Sofi Tukker at their home recording studio.

With a new EP out today and a major tour on the horizon, the Grammy-nominated duo is ready to relaunch into the neon-glow world they've created.

Tucker Halpern is assembling a basketball hoop on the floor of his foyer at 11:00 a.m. on a Monday -- a day famously maligned by nine-to-fivers but thoroughly enjoyed by the one time NCAA star-turned musician.

While Halpern's scantly furnished West LA home/studio is populated with little more than a dining room table, a couch and some large art pieces resting on easels, this freshly moved-in space already possesses the whimsical vibe exuded by its residents. The astro-turf throw rug, diaphanous rainbow drapes and curtain rods punctuated by soccer and basketballs help, but really, it's Halpern’s height (he’s 6-foot-8), personality and outfit assembled of busy patterns that fill the room. When Sophie Hawley-Weld pitter-patters in from her detached guest house, barefoot in highlighter-yellow pants, the ambience is complete.

Together as Sofi Tukker, Halpern and Hawley-Weld have been touring nonstop for three years, until about two months ago when Hawley-Weld broke her foot in Australia while dancing onstage -- a perhaps unsurprising turn of events, given the energetic live performances that have helped make the duo stars. Forced to cancel their tour during the climax of festival season, they hunkered down in this L.A. studio and made the best of their brief hiatus.

“Honestly it was a blessing,” Hawley-Weld recounts as she pours herself a cup of tea from a glass kettle. “I mean, I was doing eight hours of physiotherapy every day, so not so much that part. But we made a lot of music, and I think some of it is our best yet.”

Rested, sprightly and now sans foot cast, the two-time Grammy-nominated duo is ready to jump back into the whirlwind of tour life. Launching October 2 in Calgary, their “R.I.P. Shame World Tour 2019” sees dates in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Europe with support from artists such as LP Giobbi and Haiku Hands. They even teamed up with plus1, an organization that partners with musicians to donate a dollar from every concert ticket to a local charity in each city.

The tour comes on the heels of their six-track EP Dancing on the People, out today (September 20) via Ultra Records. The six-song EP was largely cultivated over a year ago, after an enchanting trip to the Dominican Republic, with four of its six songs already released.

Out earlier this month, the late-night dancefloor banger “Purple Hat” -- from which the EP’s name is derived -- was born from one of their Animal Talk parties, a Sofi Tukker appendage that also consists of a record label and burgeoning artist collective. Taking their intoxicating stage presence and playful design aesthetic, and scaling it down from a festival stage to a more intimate venue, Animal Talk throws immersive, inclusive and often debaucherous bacchanals worthy of the weird, wild and wonderful underground dance music community which it supports.

“The idea came from wanting something different from our concerts, because at a concert people are inherently standing and watching you perform,” Halpern explains. “As much as we try to make it an inclusive experience, it’s hard when you’re performing for a sea of people. With Animal Talk, we're building something empowering, uplifting and supportive -- a community where everyone shines at these crazy, fun, joyous parties.”

At one such party at San Francisco’s Audio Nightclub, after a particularly difficult week on tour (the details of which the duo does not volunteer), Sofi Tukker was ready to let it rip -- filling the roles of both performers and partygoers. The event unexpectedly sold out, opening its doors to an horde of outrageously adorned attendees. The venue was bedecked in neon jungle decor and the air was thick with fog and perspiration, which altogether commingled into an atmosphere reminiscent of the tropics. 

“We really let out our frustrations,” Halpern says of that evening. “It was the most unbelievable, crazy night. It was so packed that it felt like there were just people on top of people dancing on people—people crowd surfing and people on other people’s shoulders. We woke up the next day and were so inspired that we started writing.”

“And Tucker was wearing a purple hat and cheetah print that night,” Hawley-Weld interjects, providing the final piece of the song’s origin story -- its lyrics that rap “Purple hat, cheetah print/ Dancing on the people.”

While “Purple Hat” was inspired by a preternatural party experience, the EP track “Fantasy” has a more personal origin story. Despite being surrounded by a rotation of friends, fans, managers, agents, journalists and other touring artists, a common side effect of life in the entertainment biz is isolation. Though always together, even Sofi Tukker sometimes feel the sting of loneliness.

“On our own tour, we bring our community with us, but when we're on somebody else's tour, it's super different. It’s lonely," Hawley-Weld says, describing a particularly difficult experience as a supporting act. “Plus, I was having debilitating migraines, so I was in a dark room for most of the day, every day.”

Friends are easy to make while on tour, and even flings can briefly fill the void, but a romantic connection is difficult to maintain for a traveling musician. Hawley-Weld found solace and hope in an unlikely place, however, during a time when she'd given up on love.

“At one point I was like, on-purpose celibate,” she laughs. “And then eventually I got lonely and went on an app and started talking to somebody and created this whole fantasy in my head about who this person was. I think it's human nature to create stories for other people, even ones you know, but I got through this lonely time with this weird companionship -- a person I secretly hoped I’d never meet because I wanted to keep the fantasy alive, like it had kept me alive.”

Breezy and rhapsodic, “Fantasy” is a vulnerable tune that eases the heart rate down from the body-undulating beat of “Purple Hat.” Though these songs seem diametrically opposed, they both feel at home on Dancing on the People—with the project able to keep you gyrating all night before lulling you to sleep when you finally lay your head down at dawn.

The project also offers a taste of their aural arsenal, with the duo promising more new music in the near future. Though still in its nascency, this tucked-away nest here in this quiet West LA neighborhood will surely be a petri dish for ample creation. As lovers of bright decorations, jungle decor, animal prints, purple hats, things that glow and all things neon, the Sofi Tukker live show will also have some exciting new flavors for the senses to feast upon.

“We like to do ridiculous things to make people react and get them out of themselves,” Halpern says as he describes the future of their stage performance. “We want people to feel shocked and as excited as we are, but still somehow connected to us personally. We're not gonna hide behind big production. We like to be silly and playful and colorful, like we’re there with the people and not just performing for them.

“It’s a big world,” he continues, “and I think that through our show, we can make it feel a little more like we're all in it together.”

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