Dance-Pop Duo Sofi Tukker Prefers Moving Bodies to Playing Instruments

Tucker Halpern and Sophie Hawley-Weld form the duo Sofi Tukker.EXPAND
Tucker Halpern and Sophie Hawley-Weld form the duo Sofi Tukker.
Shervin Lainez
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Sofi Tukker's insidiously catchy single "Best Friend" has become a major hit since it was featured in a commercial for the iPhone X. The track reached number one on Billboard's dance chart last month.

The duo behind the song — Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern — often blurs the lines between live and recorded sounds during performances. They sing live and play bass and guitar onstage, but the rest of the sounds are programmed, and some sections of their sets are reserved for choreographed dance routines.

"At first, we tried to do everything," Hawley-Weld says, "trying to trigger every beat and play every part. But we realized that's not really the point. There's a performance art and interactive element that also really matters to us: It's bringing the music to life, trying to embody the music through movement, and really focusing on connecting with the people who showed up."

In other words, they care more about shared experiences than wowing with their motor-function skills.

"Yeah, I don't know if I'd call myself a musician," Halpern says. "I'd definitely call myself an artist and a performer and a puzzle-piecer. When we're making music, I have ideas, and I just sort of make them happen. I don't sit down at a piano and play some beautiful classical stuff."

Speaking with New Times from Copenhagen in advance of Sofi Tukker's set at Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival Sunday, March 4, the two say they met several years ago at an art show while they were attending Brown University. They began touring about two years ago and have maintained a steady upward trajectory, having played most major U.S. music festivals last summer. So it's not as if their success has come out of left field. Their pseudo-tribal club banger "Drinkee," on which Hawley-Weld sings in Portuguese, became a big hit in Italy, Australia, Cyprus, Hungary, and Turkey. The song racked up millions of streams and earned Sofi Tukker a Grammy for Best Dance Recording last year.

Then "Best Friends" dropped, and seemingly overnight, the song has become inescapable — even for the pair.

"All of a sudden, it's become this thing we can't avoid anywhere," she says. "It's always trippy to hear that cowbell and my voice comes in, and then Tucker's voice comes in. We're always like, 'Wait, wait, wait. Why is this happening?'"

The song's swinging, two-note bass line was the product of Halpern noodling around in the studio. As for his vocal contribution — the refrain "Do you wanna..." — it might sound almost robotic, but they didn't mess with the pitch of his voice or use any significant studio trickery. His voice really is that deep. 

Hawley-Weld's movement is particularly expressive. "Dancing is a big part of how I experience and make and think about music," she says. "I was in a West African dance troupe in college. I'm not a virtuoso musician by any means, but I use whatever tools I do have to follow my instincts."

Sofi Tukker's form of performance art is perhaps best represented by the self-made, eight-foot-fall stage contraption called the "book tree," which acts as both a percussion instrument and a visual cue for the audience.

"We wanted to have something we can hit and be physical with," Halpern says. "We tried a bunch of different things, and we ended up with the book tree. We cut out the pages in the books and put contact microphones in the books. When you hit them, they each play a different sample. It's just how we play horns or drums or piano, and it's a more visual way to do it."

Sofi Tukker. 4:15 to 5:15 p.m. Sunday, March 4, at Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, 12517 NE 91st Ave., Okeechobee. Four-day passes cost $299 via okeechobeefest.com.

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