“I don’t give a fuck about ‘They,’ ” Sofi Tukker’s Sophie Hawley-Weld sings in their newest single, “Fuck They.” The song is a fast-paced ode to defiance set over frenetic South American percussion and a synth line so full of minor chords that it gives the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” a run for its money, and it could have been a song-of-the-summer contender had it not been released halfway through July.
Hawley-Weld and her bandmate Tucker Halpern, Americans who met as students at Brown University, emerged last July with Soft Animals, a well-regarded EP that was steeped in Brazilian poetry. Its breakout jungle-pop single, “Drinkee,” has an instantly recognizable guitar lick that, combined with the sultriness of lyrics entirely in Portuguese, turned up in an Apple watch commercial and helped light a fire under them, commercially speaking. (It got nominated for a Grammy, for Best Dance Recording.)
July is what passes for the dead of winter in Brazil, but Sofi Tukker’s fortunes seem tethered to that month — or, at least, to high summer. It’s probably not a coincidence that their five-month tour in support of Odesza began July 29. Of course, it’s August now, yet when the New York dance-pop duo arrives at Outside Lands, they might expel the marine layer and establish a bubble of leopard- and floral-print bliss on the Twin Peaks stage for 50 minutes or so.
But, like even the most vibrant wallpaper, polished, outdoor-friendly music rooted in EDM risks fading into the background. What rescues Soft Animals from the limbo of becoming that gauzy clutch of songs you listen to while sipping rosé poolside is a certain punkish jaggedness. Listen closely, and you can hear a bit of Pussy Riot cutting across Sofi Tukker’s grain. At their set at Coachella, it lent just enough aggression to keep the crowd animated.
“Sophie didn’t grow up with punk at all, and I did,” Halpern tells SF Weekly by phone, speaking from somewhere in France or Monaco where the sound of crickets can be heard in the background. “It’s fun to see her on stage representing that vibe without even knowing it.”
“I know it now,” Hawley-Weld protests, adding that, “When we wrote one of our songs, ‘Greed,’ it was the first time that I really yelled, and now I get to yell every night.”
Her more direct lineage includes Americans like Stan Getz who went to Brazil and loved what they found. A jazz saxophonist, Getz almost singlehandedly brought bossa nova stateside by importing João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema.” It’s a song that’s almost a punchline — until its totalizing catchiness simply takes over you. Sofi Tukker isn’t corny, but there’s an unmistakable aural seduction to their music, one that the remix treatment can further accentuate. (Try commuting to work while listening to Frost’s version of Sofi Tukker’s “Moon Tattoo” without dancing in your BART seat a little.)
And, in an age where sensitivity around cultural appropriation has never been more acute, the fact that many of the lyrics come from contemporary Brazilian poets demonstrates that Hawley-Weld and Halpern understand and respect the source material.
One of the more prominent Brazilian rock acts of the 1960s was Os Mutantes, or The Mutants, a psychedelic band that was loosely part of the Tropicalia movement. Zany and prone to self-conscious nihilism — one of their songs translates to “My Refrigerator Isn’t Working,” and they reinterpreted Dante with an album called The Divine Comedy or I Am a Bit Disconnected — they’re goofier than Sofi Tukker by an order of magnitude, but the complex rhythms are common to both. Halpern isn’t immediately familiar with Os Mutantes until Hawley-Weld reminds him that Sofi Tukker covered one of their songs live (“Baby”) and that they saw a reunited version of the group play at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park two years ago.
Closer to the here and now, Sofi Tukker has worked with Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters — he was their special guest at Coachella, joining them for “Fuck They,” which he co-wrote with them. Onstage, they evince a love for each other that might not be as gooey-cute as Matt and Kim, but their chemistry is more infectious than acts who simply stare straight ahead (or down at their instruments).
“We do look at each other and think, ‘What the fuck?’ ” Halpern says. “Especially at Coachella, looking across the stage, like ‘This is pretty cool.’ The only way to describe it is we’re having so much fun.”
“I think we’re very privileged to be able to do what we do,” Hawley-Weld adds.
It almost didn’t happen, she says, as she was laid low immediately after college with a stress fracture that confined her to a wheelchair for four months. And years before that, Halpern taught himself to make music on his computer while he was sick for an entire year and couldn’t play college basketball. In other words, then, Sofi Tukker owes itself to two medical crises?
Sofi Tukker plays Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on the Twin Peaks stage.
Check out more coverage from our Outside Lands issue here:
Fleet Foxes Emerge from Hibernation
Robin Pecknold details the band’s new record and the six-year wait that preceded it.
Future Islands: Perfecting the Imperfect
Despite disparate musical backgrounds, the Baltimore trio make it work.
Solar Imperialism Conquers All
Empire of the Sun was too big for Coachella. Can Outside Lands do them justice?
Belle and Sebastian in Peacetime
Guitarist Stevie Jackson says the band’s best years are yet to come.
Warpaint’s Second Coming
With third album Heads Up!, the Los Angeles art rockers return from the brink.
The Original Noname
Her album Telefone calls and leaves a message with listeners.
Real Estate Lets Good Music Speak for Itself
Avoiding all drama, the band continues to churn out great tunes.
The She’s Take Control
The local surf-rock favorites are determined to build their own future.
There Will Never Be Another You, Lee Fields
The 65-year-old owns the stage with soulful love songs.