When you’re an artist, it’s easy to become preoccupied with what people know you for. It’s an all too familiar tale of one-hit wonders wishing people knew them for their back catalogue or musicians never shaking the connotation of the movie or commercial their song appeared in. After all, there’s a reason Radiohead rarely perform “Creep” live.
When it comes to house duo Sofi Tukker, they are far from a one-hit wonder, but I remember exactly how I found out about them. Their banger “Johny” was a standout track on the soundtrack of FIFA 17, a game I spent way too many hours playing. Later that year they dropped “Best Friend”, a collaboration with NERVO, the Knocks and Alisa Ueno, which reached 81 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains their only entry on that chart to this day.
As is the case with many commercial breakthroughs, “Best Friend” is a bit of an anomaly in their catalogue. Its shuffling, cowbell-tinged drop made it a perfect background for the iPhone X commercial in appeared in, but it doesn’t really reflect the versatile, worldly scope of Sofi Tukker’s music. “We had no idea that would be the one to blow up,” says Tucker Halpern, one half of the duo.
When I ask if it bothers them that this might be the only song many people know, Halpern is quick to shut me down. “You can never control what people know you for. Part of being an artist is accepting that,” says Halpern. “People might know us from Apple commercials, Grammy nominations, FIFA…whatever it is, it’s ok!”
So, ideally, what should people know them for?
Halpern doesn’t flinch: “Our live show.”
“To understand us, seeing the energy we bring and how we build off each other live is super important,” says Sophie Hawley-Weld, the duo’s other half. “Hearing our music live and listening to it in your headphones are two very different experiences. To truly know what we’re about, you have to experience both.”
This dedication to performance has led the duo to become EDM festival mainstays, causing them to tour so much it hurts…literally. While touring their debut album Treehouse last year, Hawley-Weld broke her foot onstage during a show in Australia. That led to Sofi Tukker canceling the remainder of the tour, allowing them to focus on a new set of tunes that were released as an EP called Dancing on the People earlier this year.
When asked if the injury was a blessing in disguise, Halpern laughs. “It’s definitely the reason we finished the EP on time.” Hawley-Weld echoes this sentiment. “It ended up being a really positive thing.”
The injury wasn’t a freak accident as much as it was a product of the physical toll touring the world can take on musicians, especially those struggling with a lingering foot injury. “It was bound to happen,” says Hawley Weld.
But did it happen for a reason? “Things happen for us, not to us,” she says. “It’s our responsibility to make them happen for a reason.” For Sofi Tukker, the reason was this EP.
This contagiously positive outlook makes sense when you consider the type of music that appears on Dancing for the People, with songs ranging from full-blown dancefloor fillers like “Purple Hat” to a collaboration with Colombian psychedelic-electro band Bomba Estéreo.
It also checks out when you consider the duo’s origin story. The two met at Brown University when Halpern saw Hayley-Weld performing and decided to recruit her into making music with him. Halpern was a basketball player with dreams of going pro while Hayley-Weld says she had aspirations of teaching dance yoga in Brazil.
But if you think such a physically-debilitating incident would put them off touring, think again. “I know how to take care of myself better,” says Hayley-Weld.
Halpern smirks. “You were crowd-surfing twice last night!”
“Yeah, but now I know how to stretch, I know how to ice…”
I stop her. “Ice? What do you mean?”
“We put a giant garbage bag of ice on our knees and feet after each show,” explains Halpern. “The cold takes out any inflammation.”
Oh, that makes sense! After all, when you’re so dedicated to going hard on stage every night, there needs to be an aspect of self-care involved, especially in the case of Halpern, who has a basketball player’s frame. “I’m six-foot-seven, and I’m way too tall to be on planes and be sleeping on tour buses all the time,” he says. “But, as people, I think we are built for it.”
As for the music, while it can exist independently from the live shows, the two settings certainly influence one another. “We are really inspired by our shows when we make music,” says Hayley-Weld. “Since our shows have gotten bigger, we wanted to make music that could take up more space and be played at bigger venues.”
While they’re not crossing their fingers for another on-tour injury, the two seem to have taken the incident as motivation to expand, to continue going as hard as they did before, albeit a bit more carefully.
I can attest that the explosive bounce of “Purple Hat” will thrive at these newer, bigger venues. As for Sofi Tukker, I hope it doesn’t take another broken foot to spawn the next set of bangers.