The Funky Foliage of Sofi Tukker
The EDM duo discuss experimentation in live shows, festival must-haves, and their famous book tree.
FROM: New York, New York
SEE: Austin City Limits, Voodoo
A bass-heavy banger peppered with cowbells and bongo drums, Sofi Tukker’s “Drinkee” was the unlikeliest hit of 2016. But the offbeat number became a streaming sensation and went on to earn the duo, comprised of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, a Grammy nomination. The song is a perfect distillation of their anything-goes approach to music.
“We just made it because we loved it and thought it was cool,” says the six-foot-eight Halpern, who discovered a love of production after a fatigue-inducing virus ended his college basketball career. “We never thought it would be what it ended up being at all.” That willingness to experiment still shapes the duo’s sound, which bounces from oddball jungle-dance, complete with bird and elephant sounds, to the Top 40–friendly pop of radio hit “Best Friend.”
The experimentation also informs their live performances. “We end up writing a lot of our music while we are on the road and then test it out in the live show before we finish the songs,” Hawley-Weld, who met Halpern at Brown University, explains. “As a result, the music and the live show have become more and more intertwined. It’s a really fun challenge since we are only two people.” They overcome that limitation with spontaneity and a most unusual prop.
“We try to make sure there is a raw, live element to the way we perform a song,” she says of their high-energy set, which often combines crowd surfing, choreography, and…a book tree. “We have this big sculpture in the middle of the stage—we call it the book tree,” Halpern says. “It’s an eight-foot-tall thing with books around it. There are little contact microphones inside of the books and when you hit them with drumsticks, it plays different samples.”
“We came up with it gradually over time,” Hawley-Weld, perhaps preempting confusion, elaborates. “At first it was a little stump. It was made up of fruits and vegetables, but then the fruit got saggy, so we connected the contact microphones to books of poetry that we were using in our songs. We like that there is a physical center point to our stage and that it is something both natural and man-made.”
Sofi Tukker and their book tree have become festival staples, performing at Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Outside Lands in 2017. This year, they’re bringing the party to Life Is Beautiful, Austin City Limits, and Voodoo Fest. To find them, just follow the people smeared in glitter and face paint. “We have people dressing up as us,” Hawley-Weld enthuses, “or people just dressing up as jungle creatures or foliage. It’s so fun! We always feel really flattered.” That sentiment is shared by her collaborator. “We have a cool audience,” Halpern confirms.
As festival regulars, they have plenty of advice for partygoers. “I would say hydrate and bring a phone charger backup,” Halpern muses. “That’s key. Phones always die and then you can’t find your friends and it’s annoying. Plan out the day, because I always get bummed when I plan on seeing certain bands and just screw up and miss them.” And one last thing: “Definitely don’t miss the Sofi Tukker show.” FL
This article appears in the 2018 FLOOD Festival Guide, presented by SiriusXM and Toyota. You can check out the rest of the magazine here.