The Grammy-nominated duo Sofi Tukker have specific criteria for what makes a good song: If it’s good, it’ll make them dance.
Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern have been producing dance-worthy music since 2014, catching the attention of music magazines like Rolling Stone and companies like Apple, which used the duo’s song “Best Friend” for the release for its latest iPhone.
They both attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, though they didn’t necessarily study music. Halpern played basketball for the Ivy League school and actually planned on becoming a professional player. It wasn’t until he got sick about halfway through college and had to take time off from basketball and classes that he considered music.
“I was bedridden for seven or eight months. I didn’t really have the energy to do anything physical or even move around [but] I wanted to be productive,” Halpern said.
So he taught himself to DJ, spending hours learning how to remix. When he was healthy enough to return to school, he started studying music and became determined to make a career of it.
“I just started DJing every party ever,” Halpern said.
Meanwhile, Hawley-Weld was studying Portuguese at Brown.
“I had just spent time living in Brazil studying abroad,” Hawley-Weld said, “I came back and really missed it, so I started writing music in Portuguese in a bossa nova style.”
In late 2013, both were asked to perform at a gallery.
“I was playing my acoustic bossa nova songs and Halpern was DJing and he came early and saw me play. He ended up remixing one of my songs on the spot and that was pretty much it. We started working together that day and haven’t stopped,” Hawley-Weld said.
They come quite different musical backgrounds and inspirations, but Halpern said it’s what makes their music as stand out.
“We have very different [inspirations]. I think that’s what sort of makes our music unique is that we come from such different backgrounds in music,” Halpern said.
Growing up, he listened to rap and hip-hop, while she listened to Buena Vista Social Club and Feist. Together, one of their main influences is Stromae, a Belgian musician who blends hip-hop with electronic and rap.
They both come out in songs like “Drinkee,” in which they sing in Portuguese with an infectious beat and guitar licks that are easy to get stuck in your head. It also speaks to why they might have gained an international following quicker than a domestic one.
“We were an oddly international band. Our popularity grew outside of the U.S. first, with “Drinkee,” Halpern said, “We were popular in South America and in parts of Europe, specifically Italy, before anyone in the U.S. even knew who we were.”
But when Apple used “Best Friend” when unveiling the iPhone X in 2017, that changed. People who had never heard of them started playing the catchy song on repeat.
That was a pivotal moment for the duo, but it’s just one of many.
“There have been a couple of shows that have definitely surprised us. The first time we played in Mexico was really special. We had never been to Mexico before and we went not expecting anything. That was probably the first time that we played to many thousands of people and it was just an extremely special experience,” Hawley-Weld said.
While it was a major success in one way, it presented a challenge: how to reach everyone in an audience that large and make the show feel intimate.
“It’s a physical challenge. With a big stage and a big space, we have to use our bodies in a really extra way. So we run around the stage like crazy, we’re running up and down and through the audience and trying to use our bodies to take up space so that it really feels like we’re still intimate with people and [that] they can really feel us right there with them,” Hawley-Weld said.
While their concerts feel more like dance parties, during their last few tours they’ve also come with a purpose besides partying. On their last tour, they raised thousands of dollars for Planned Parenthood and this time around they’re raising money for the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that works to prevent suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
“We get to go to all these places all around the country and we’re going there in order to say something and spread a kind of spirit. I think a part of that spirit is caring about other people and making sure that we’re all taking care of each other,” Hawley-Weld said.
They also have Head Count, an organization that helps get people registered to vote, come to their shows.
At Jupiter Hall on Wednesday, they’ll be performing some of the songs from “Treehouse,” their album that came out in April. It’s an eclectic mix of bold lyrics and a sound like electronic champagne.
While the duo continues to perform around the world and while they’ve been nominated for a Grammy (for Best Dance Recording if you can believe it), they don’t necessarily feel like they’ve “made it” in the conventional sense.
“For us [‘making it’] is just being able to do this and continuing to do it,” Hawley-Weld said, “In some ways, we will never make it and in other ways, we will always be making it.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17
WHERE: Jupiter Hall, Albany
TICKETS: $15 in advance/$20 day of
MORE INFO: jupiterhallalbany.com