Artist of the Month: RÜFÜS DU SOL
Artist of the Month: RÜFÜS DU SOLOctober 11, 2021
Harry Levin goes deep with Australian superstars RÜFÜS DU SOL on their most organic album yet, Surrender.
In many ways, the measure of the human race is defined by how the species has used technology to affect their environment. As humanity advances, technology plays a larger role in civilization, which in turn affects humanity’s relationship with nature, and with the world around them.
It is this relationship between technology and nature that fuels Tyrone Lindqvist, Jon George, and James Hunt of the Australian Grammy-nominated electronic band RÜFÜS DU SOL.
“At the heart of our music there is this appreciation for nature and the organic, and how that intersects with the electronic or the digital,” Hunt says. “There are countless ways that can be represented. For us, we’re mainly preoccupied with how to musically represent it.”
In their musical quest, the trio tap into that relationship on multiple levels, the most fundamental being their internal work environment as a group. Throughout their time together, all three have contributed to every part of the songwriting process.
What separates them from other groups who have ended contentiously over clashes for creative control is their equal commitment to developing communication skills and mutual respect along with their individual talents.
“I feel like that’s the beautiful thing. The ability to own that we’re different people, to communicate more openly with each other,” Lindqvist says. “There is always some healthy middle ground, whether it’s in a sound in a song or a lyric, or a choice that we make in terms of the live show. There is always a place where we can all be excited.”
The live show is one component of RÜFÜS DU SOL that all three members have always been hugely excited about, and it serves as another method of harnessing the dynamic between the organic and the technological. Hunt is the drummer, George handles keys and synths, and Lindqvist is the group’s vocalist and guitarist. Yet their style is built around club sounds of house music and breakbeat.
Together, they play music grounded in technology, but their honest storytelling and their organic chemistry as human beings allow them to truly connect with their listeners.
“There is something super exciting about letting the audience feel the realness of what we’re doing up there,” says George. “If we’re all in sync, the three of us, then a great show can evolve from that.”
The first time the three of them felt in sync came on a rainy day in Byron Beach, New South Wales, Australia over ten years ago; the first environment where they made music together.
All three members grew up in New South Wales. Lindqvist hails from a small inland town called Lightning Ridge. George came from Cronulla, a surfing town south of Sydney, and Hunt grew up in the suburbs just north of Sydney.
The three eventually connected through mutual friends and shared musical interests. Australian live dance music acts like Cut Copy and The Presets inspired their current live setup, but their shared fondness for groups with sophisticated sounds like Radiohead and Booka Shade guided their output in a more solemn and emotive direction.
“We had something else to offer with our sound,” says Hunt. “We were trying to add as much texture as we could that was real and organic.”
At this early stage of the project (when the band was known simply as RÜFÜS) there was also another very strong influence from their environment. Australia, geographically, is detached from much of the world, and that distance ignited a desire to explore that had been within them for a long time.
“I went to boarding school and when my parents would visit we would go to the airport for the weekend and get a coffee because it honestly felt like we got to consume everyone else’s excitement of leaving the country,” Lindqvist says with a laugh.
On their first EP together, 2011’s Rüfüs, songs like “We Left,” and “Paris Collides,” tell tales of departing home and visiting distant environments. Their debut album, 2014’s Atlas, was the culmination of their motivation for adventure, and they left on their first world tour surrounding the release.
Traveling to different environments while playing music satisfied their urge to explore, and filled them with a sense of elation and purpose. So much so that they decided to integrate the experience into their writing method moving forward.
“It’s always good in general for us before we write to pick up and start again fresh. For every record, we’ve written it somewhere different,” says George. “We always make this DIY studio and create this perfect haven for ourselves.”
For their second album, 2016’s Bloom, the band made a haven for themselves in Berlin, with the goal of absorbing a new culture thoroughly and comprehensively — walking the city, taking in the sights and sounds, embracing the organic side of their environment.
“We fell in love with the passion of the people in Berlin,” says George.
Musically, the primary influence from Berlin was the country’s treasure: techno, which arises through an overall sense of judiciousness and maturity in the production of Bloom. Especially on the closing track, “Innerbloom,” a nearly ten-minute suite, which is their ode to Berlin.
However, a sense of hope and brazen confidence also underpins Bloom, coming out in the form of soul singer collaborations and major key melodies.
“We didn’t have the fear of failure. There was nothing to lose. We had everything to gain,” says Lindqvist. “We could make money doing this. We were getting paid to do what we love. We didn’t have to feel guilty spending all of our time diving into making a record.”
Once the album was complete, the band fittingly bloomed into a new echelon, playing headlining tours with dozens of dates and major festivals like Coachella.
During this tour the group expanded their relationship with technology by bringing their music into a new environment: the arena. Specifically in support of ODESZA at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver in June of 2016. This show demonstrated the band’s singular capability of creating music that adapts to any venue.
When they play DJ sets in small clubs, dancers move without restriction. When they perform in massive arenas, spectators bask in the combined sensory experience of their live iterations and intricate stage production. Such fluidity in scope is a result of their production process.
“Certain parts of the production are based on referencing. If we hear a drumbeat or a breakbeat that we love then we reference that sonically, so it’s very club influenced in some areas of the songwriting,” says Hunt. “But in other areas, we are referencing songs from our favorite bands, like Radiohead.”
The realization that their music had such breadth was symbolic of the band’s ascending status. Everything was happening for them and they were enjoying every moment of their journey upward. Reveling in touring life, they were leaning more and more into technology.
“We were filling our own bucket with whatever we wanted whether it was healthy or not,” says Lindqvist. “We relocated to LA to write the next record, and we bought a whole array of numerous synths that we loved that were on our wishlist that we couldn’t afford for Bloom.” Eventually, that lifestyle hit a breaking point as is common after a band’s first major tour. They lost balance with their partners, their families, and each other.
They lost balance with the organic, and from this mindset of recovery, they wrote their third LP, 2018’s SOLACE, in Venice Beach, California. This was the first time they had settled in the LA area, and they were determined to engage with the city and the industry it contains: staying up all night writing (or going out), but also approaching musical ideation with a grounded attitude towards being a high-status artist. These reciprocal inclinations led to an intriguing contrast on Solace. Songs of introspection like “Lost In My Mind” are laid against serenades of a brighter future like “New Sky.”
SOLACE was a statement that the band was past the glitz and glamour. They were assured that music was their driving force, and with that driving force, RÜFÜS DU SOL became superstars. They were headlining for crowds of over 20,000 people, and curated a full remix album for SOLACE featuring 18 tracks from various impressive artists like the Dutch multi-instrumentalist Eelke Kleijn, Brazil’s TERR, Italian techno duo Mathame, and house music star Hot Since 82.
Most notably, SOLACE earned two Grammy nominations. One for “Best Dance/Electronic Album,” and the other for “Best Dance Recording” via “Underwater.” Following that successful albeit frenetic period, it was time for the band to travel to another new environment to begin writing the next album, Surrender.
This excursion was meant to be more than a writing session, though. It was meant to be a wellness retreat; a reconnection with themselves. So they left human civilization behind and headed into the desert of Joshua Tree, California.
“Joshua Tree brought us back to Earth,” says Hunt. “There was a level of self-care that we didn’t really have before so it was a really nice healing time where we were listening to each other, seeing where everyone was at. Checking in with each other.”
Every morning the band started the day with a group meditation at 8 AM. They would then work out together before setting their intentions for the day and writing music on a strict daily schedule. The routine was new for them, but being in sync with each other yielded many creative gems.
Originally, the band intended to spend two weeks in Joshua Tree before returning to LA to finish writing the new album, but then pandemic took over, putting LA into full lockdown. The trip then became four weeks, then eight weeks, and the entire time the band was maintaining their routine, connecting with nature, connecting with each other.
For the first time in years, the band fully embraced their fascination with the organic elements of humanity. Paired with the existential discomfort of the pandemic, the music that resulted from this period is more relatable than any of their previous work.
“On this last record, [Lindqvist] really took charge and dove into the wormhole, figuring out the identity of the songs,” Hunt says. “What they’re about lyrically and melodically.”
Lead singles from Surrender like “Next To Me” use incomplex hooks to iterate a familiar feeling: “When my time runs out/I want to feel you standing next to me.”
Now with replenished bonds to each other and their surroundings, the band is once again integrating their music into technology, and for the music of Surrender they are traversing uncharted territory.
The music video for “Next To Me” is an AI-driven piece by Osk who have done visual work for musicians like Kanye West and Beck. In the video, cities, forests, mountains, tundra, all moving through one another to the music; a distinct representation of the relationship between nature and technology, and also an unintentional ode to the desires of humanity to see the world — something we’ve been prevented from doing for nearly two years.
“That wasn’t necessarily a conscious intention,” says Hunt. “On [Surrender] there are definitely feelings of wanting to see people again. I think that visually that feeling just happens. It presents itself.”
RÜFÜS DU SOL will soon be in a live environment once again, including their largest shows to date at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles where they will perform in front of 70,000 fans from November 12-14 with an entirely new production rig.
Through technology, they are creating a new environment in which their music can exist, but the true measure of the show comes from the organic experience RÜFÜS DU SOL will share with their fellow human beings.
RÜFÜS DU SOL’s new album Surrender is out now via Rose Avenue Recordings. Listen to it below.
Harry Levin is a freelance journalist living in Los Angeles, connect with him on Linkedin.