Sofi Tukker, the Florida-based house duo composed of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, has had quite a year. Starting at the beginning of lockdown the group began live streaming daily sets for almost 200 days straight amassing a huge, devoted following and becoming the second most-streamed artist of 2020. Prior to their success with streaming, the group was nominated for Best/Dance Electronica Album at the 2017 Grammys for their debut album Treehouse. The group has brought their energetic brand of jungle-pop to remixes of songs such as Billie Elish’s “COPYCAT” and Lady Gaga’s “911,” as well as their own hit singles “Purple Hat” and “Drinkee.” The band spoke with mxdwn about their year of live streams, creating an online community with their audience and upcoming music.
mxdwn: Recently you celebrated the year anniversary of your extremely popular live stream series, how long did you expect these streams to last when you first started?
Sophie Hawley-Weld: I honestly think we had no expectation whatsoever, but Tucker said on the third day ‘We’re just gonna do this until everyone is out of lockdown.’And now we’re on day 370 today so…
Tucker Halpern: I thought it would be like a month!
mxdwn: When did you realize that it might be longer than just a few weeks?
SH: I mean, the whole year has been so up and down in terms of expectation setting. So I think we learned pretty soon to have low expectations and to become comfortable with uncertainty in a way that we definitely had never done before.
Photo Credit: Stephen Hoffmeister
mxdwn: Did you ever expect them to take off as they did?
SH: Not to the extent that they did. The thing that’s been the coolest is that a community has been created. The people in the Freak Fam, which is the name of the community that has built around the livestream, I think that the fact that they have now become such close friends and family with each other. It exists even beyond the 1pm set and it’s really a community that’s there for each other 24 hours a day and I think that piece of it is something that we never could have even dreamt up in our wildest imagination.
TH: They have like a 24/7 Zoom Room, that they started that has been going on for, I think almost the whole year now, and there’s like hundreds of people in there at any time, and people sleep on it sometimes. It’s just part of their life, this community because so many people were stuck alone or lost their jobs or were going through a separation from their family because of the pandemic. It was really needed for a lot of people and it was needed for us too, so it really became this amazing thing. It was never like a chore for us to play the shows every day, we were kind of excited to have something to wake up for and to anchor our days and to stay motivated.
mxdwn: What kind of influence did the response to the live streams have on you continuing on daily for an entire year?
SH: I mean it was a no-brainer for us. We did 212 days, every single day in a row and then we realized that we had to finish our album. We needed to carve out some days for that so we started like programming other artists on our page at the same time, at 1pm, so that the community could still gather but then we could have some time for really focusing in the studio. Once we started and once Tuck made that promise, we never wanted to stop. And even when we took a little bit of time off in December to do fewer streams I think that was the hardest month for us in the pandemic. We realized that the streams are a huge part of our own mental health and a huge part of our own sense of purpose and just like getting up in the morning and having something to anchor our day around like Tuck said. But also to give us a sense of purpose every day has been enormously helpful for us. So it’s been a no-brainer for us to keep going.
Photo Credit: Stephen Hoffmeister
mxdwn: You were named the second most live-streamed artists of 2020, what is it like to have seemingly mastered this new popular medium so early on?
TH: It was kind of crazy to us when we saw that we were blown away. We had basically been touring non-stop for the past four years since we started the band. So in a year where we didn’t tour at all, didn’t leave our house, to sort of build community all over the world and grow that much for us was just such a weird experience and it taught us a lot, I think, about everything. We never felt so close to the people who follow us and really got to know people. And the repetitive act of seeing people so consistently all the time and really being a part of each other’s lives on a very daily basis was such a different experience than playing once in their city once a year, where you have one great night and then there’s not that much more of a connection than that. So, it really just showed us a whole new way of connecting.
mxdwn: Do you have any advice for other artists trying to reach their audience through live streams?
SH: I guess the thing that probably has served us the most, number one is consistency and number two is it brings us a lot of joy. And I think that people can sense that and feel that. So the more that it gives to us and that it makes us come alive, I think the more other people can feel that and it’s a really contagious positive cycle.
TH: It’s also not just playing music. I think if you’re in a club, in that environment you’re DJing and you’re just playing music but on this medium, we ended up talking a lot. If we’re having a bad day we might talk about it or if something’s going on in the world, we’ll talk about it and you can’t really do that in a nightclub setting. So it’s sort of like it’s a whole different thing.
SH: Yeah, and if something’s happening in the Freak Fam community we’ll talk about it. It totally is anchored around the music but it really is a conversation.
TH: Yeah, it’s a real connection and if someone thinks they’re just gonna go up and play music and that’s it then that’s not exactly, at least from our experience, that’s not all it is. I think there’s a lot of people who do live streams like that, but I think there are less people who really make it like a community and conversation in a way.
Photo Credit: Stephen Hoffmeister
mxdwn: Now that you’ve built this community and have all these people who you are connected with on a personal level, are you excited to eventually go and meet them in person when live events return?
SH: Oh my God excited is such an understatement. We’ve talked about it so much among ourselves in the community about just what its gonna look like. We even have a plan for what we’re going to do from afar when we recognize each other out in the public, out in the real world. There are already like meetups planned, one is for October actually in San Francisco and we’re starting to dream about being able to plan more of them and just create a lot of different opportunities for all the people around the world because it’s not city-specific. It’s not just a community in one place, it’s so global. So I think we’re just trying to figure out what are the ways that we can bring everybody to one place so that people can meet the people that have supported them through some of the hardest times of their lives.
TH: Yeah because we don’t feel like it’s just about us meeting everyone like that’s gonna be great but it’s also about everyone else meeting everyone else.
mxdwn: Part of the benefits of these live shows seems to be the ability to improvise and test unreleased material, have you enjoyed opening up part of your creative process to a live audience?
SH: Yeah, so we’ve been finishing our album throughout this past year and it’s been really cool to be able to try out a song. Like literally we’ll be in the studio in the morning and we’re trying out a certain thing on a song, and then we get to test it out with the Freak Fam and just sense how it feels to play and what the reactions are. That’s been really helpful for us with finishing stuff and making it feel like they are a big part of the creation of the music itself.
Photo Credit: Stephen Hoffmeister
mxdwn: This March the stream features artists such as Icona Pop, UNIIQU3, HANA among others, what have been some of your favorite guests or moments from them so far?
SH: It’s a really hard question because we’ve had so many amazing artists on the stream. Two days ago we had Mahmut Orhan who’s one of our favorite DJs and producers out of Turkey, he was just amazing. There’s a band called BOII who we actually have a song with that’s going to be coming out this year, and they did a live stream but they are a band of two people and they were in different places and they managed to do this really beautiful production, just really high-level stuff that is hard to do with two people in two different locations. Of course like LP Giobbi has been doing stuff, both on our stream and then also we write into her on Twitch so she’ll play after us. And she’s one of our best friends and has been opening for us for a long time. Her career is really taking off and she has a super infectious set that I think a lot of the Freak Fam has really connected with.
TH: Yeah also ELOHIM, who’s a good friend of ours out of LA, she was the first one to bring her full live show, like her touring live show. And so rather than DJ and interact, she was actually like performing just to the Freak Fam which was really cool and a unique experience. And then we had a friend of ours in this newer group called Rocket Penguin who did a live show last week from Milan. And he really went all out with the production and went into a studio and had crazy screens and stuff. So people are really excited to sort of introducing themselves to this community of people that have built around our streams, because it’s such a positive, supportive group of people and they really enjoy supporting other artists, especially ones that we sort of vouch for. It’s been a really cool branching out experience with all that.
mxdwn: What do you look for when choosing these guests?
SH: Just artists that we really like, artists who we admire and think they’re doing really cool stuff and that we think that the Freak Fam would feel the same way about.
TH: Yeah, we’ve gotten a lot of people in the Freak Fam who started DJing throughout the pandemic and we will usually have a couple of them and give them some days to sort of showcase. And that’s been really fun. A lot of people are also constantly recommending other like Twitch-based DJs.
SH: We just had a really cool DJ Dipha Barus who was DJing in the rice fields in Bali. It’s crazy!
TH: Anabel Englund has done a couple too, she’s a good friend of ours. It’s cool, it’s like a mixture, we kind of always work with friends and people we have a good vibe with when we’re making music too. So it’s kind of something that is an extension of our community and people we love.
Photo Credit: Stephen Hoffmeister
mxdwn: This past October you released “Spa” a collaboration with ICONA POP, what was it like working the duo on the track? Also, the music video, which is so great, features both groups along with Mia Khalifa and Jordan Firstman, what was your experience like filming a music video during COVID?
SH: Well working with ICONA POP was just so fun because we all had giant friend crushes on each other and really wanted to hang out and make music ever since we first met in an elevator one time. And then when we got in the studio, we were just goofing around and having fun and I think we were talking about spas and talking about clubs and how we like to go to the spa after the club and just wrote that song. The music video was amazing to get Mia Khalifa and Jordan Firstman because we’re such big fans of both of them. So we were really honored that they were down to do that and we just ended up filming some stuff in our house and I do wish that we could have all like been together for that I think it would have been really fun but we’ve been in lockdown for more than a year, so yeah, we do what we’ve got to do.
mxdwn: The Sofi Tukker remix of Kaela’s “Spiral” came out on March 19th, what did you hope to bring to the track and what did you hope to enhance from the original?
TH: So that one is sort of exactly like I was talking about, Kaela has been a friend of ours for a while. The second tour we ever did, we went on tour with M83 and she was the keyboardist for them at the time, and we just had such a great time on that tour and we all stayed in touch. And then sometime during the pandemic she basically got in touch and she was like ‘Hey I have new music I’ve been working on, my solo stuff.’ She sent it over and I thought this one song “Spiral” was so beautiful but I really felt like we could make it better or at least like more of my taste type of thing because she’s really good at incredible harmonies and ethereal vibes. So, basically, I was like I’d love to do a remix of this song and it came so fast. I remember she sent over the stems and I was so excited about it, it was sort of one of these moments in the pandemic where I just was excited to have something new to work on and one day just came really fast.
SH: It’s been one of those songs that we’ve played in the stream probably hundreds of times now, it’s a favorite.
mxdwn: In the past, you’ve put out some great remixes as well. Of songs like Billie Eilish’s “COPYCAT” and “Small Talk” by Katy Perry, do you have any other Sofi Tukker remixes planned for the future?
TH: Yeah, we’re kind of always remixing there’s one—I don’t know if we can announce them since they’re not public yet but we have a ton that I’m really excited about that are just fun. We always are hearing new music and finding stuff, especially for our DJ sets, we’re constantly going through music. Sometimes we find something that we just love by an artist we’ve never heard of and they might be a really small artist and then it’s really fun to say ‘Hey can we remix this?’ because a lot of the time they’re like ‘hell yeah!’
mxdwn: You’ve also mentioned the new album a few times now, what are you excited for when that eventually comes out?
SH: I can’t say exactly when it’s coming out but we’re gonna start dropping singles in the next few months. I think it’s our best music we’ve ever made. We had the time to finish songs, in the past sometimes we would get a song to 85% or 90% done, and then call it done. Whereas I think in the pandemic it really forced us to do the final 10% and make it exactly what our vision is. That part of the song process is probably the hardest and takes the most time and we actually had time to really do that so I just feel really excited to be able to share these things that we’ve really poured everything into.
mxdwn: The track “House Arrest” was named one of mxdwn’s top 50 songs of 2020 and the music video was made in collaboration with the Freak Fam, what was it like to create that with the community you’ve made?
SH: First of all, thank you that’s awesome! That song was crazy because it was just serendipitous. We had that chorus already written and then we were literally in a moment where the entire world was basically under house arrest and we’re like, ‘Oh my god it’s so relevant, how does this happen? But it was so cool to make that video together with the Freak Fam, that was one of the first things that we collaborated on in that way, seeing people in their living rooms and we watched hundreds and hundreds of those videos and the freakiness and enthusiasm really blew us away. There’s a lot of creativity and really cool people in the Freak Fam and since then we had a design contest where people in the Freak Fam were designing T-shirts and we were going through hundreds of designs that we were just completely blown away by. Being able to feel like co-creators with the community is just so cool.
mxdwn: After having such a close relationship with the community, do you plan to keep the live stream series going until the pandemic is officially over? And do you think you will continue to do them after live music returns?
SH: That’s a very good question and really we don’t know is the truthful answer. I think it’ll be a little tricky to understand what it means when the pandemic is officially over. I imagine it will be a little blurry and not that clear but eventually we’re going to have to shoot music videos and do photo shoots and leave our house and I’m going to see my family after a year. So I think there will be a period where we’ll have to stop for a period of time but I think that live streaming will be a part of our lives forever now because it is just a totally different form of connection and it’s proved to be really meaningful.
TH: We will definitely find ways to feed this community and to connect with them consistently and constantly because they’ve become such an important part of everything we do. It’s such a cool unique thing that we have, so we definitely are going to always find ways to engage it and even if we have to take some time off from streaming maybe we’ll keep programming other artists. We’ll see how it goes!
Featured Image Photo Credit: Stephen Hoffmeister