In the final legs of its most recent world tour, Empire of the Sun will bring its bombastic mix of EDM, new wave, indie rock, and pop to the Santa Barbara Bowl next Saturday, June 10. The band’s music oozes with coastal, sun-drenched bounciness that’s only magnified by danceable synth lines reminiscent of The Killers but with an EDM twinge. Its sound reflects the moment in which it rose to prominence, alongside other electronic indie groups such as Phoenix and MGMT.
The group’s newest album, last year’s Two Vines, continues in the same vein but with electronics that have a more spaced-out, even numb quality. To record it, they crossed the Pacific from Sydney, Australia, to Hawai‘i, settling on the northern shore of Oahu. In a conversation with The Santa Barbara Independent, singer Luke Steele expressed that he felt “so good. I’d surf in the North Shore in the morning, pick up some seafood and drive around the bay, and then roll into the studio.”
Steele’s creative juices flow best “when you just feel free and there’s not a worry. Y’know, you wanna create. You just feel good about what you’re doing, and you wanna explore.”
Empire of the Sun’s stage show is an embodiment of its eagerness to cross boundaries of the norm, all while wielding a budget that is almost equally larger than life. The stage is adorned with screens that engulf the audience in landscapes that range from lush forestation to meta computerized renderings of people and environments. As for the band itself, Steele and Nick Littlemore don campy robes, looking like wizard kings of an alien planet, with Steele sporting a headpiece with large prongs whose jagged inversions look like a cross between elk antlers and sun rays. In Steele’s words, “We’ve always loved, like, really big statement bands, like Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and Michael Jackson. There’s always been this kind of cacophony of different eras and artists that we try to throw into this big, giant LSD future sandwich, y’know? And we sort of just ended up with Empire.” The show is always accompanied by dancers, whose costumes, roles, and arrangement are ever-changing and dizzying.
The choreography and video elements of the show also add a theatrical element, which has been a unique component of Empire’s concerts from the start. Steele said he “originally built the show to seem basically like a movie in real time. It would have three different acts, and throughout the different acts different characters would enter and leave.”
On the East Coast leg of the tour, the band was lucky enough to play a show with hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash at Brooklyn’s Terminal 5. “Just watching Grandmaster Flash, how he works turntables, how he understands beats, and how he all fits it together, isn’t something you see these days, y’know?” Steele opined. “Also, the way he could work a crowd was just a sight to see y’know? Five minutes into a set, the place is on fire. When we left, he was like, ‘You got my number. Call me up.’” It was an uplifting nod from one of the two absolute legends they played with on that leg of the tour, the other being Lee “Scratch” Perry at Echostage in Washington D.C., who went on “one of my second mics, and started entering this monologue about the universe and the people coming together.”
Empire of the Sun will be joined by Bishop Briggs, Judah & the Lion, and Soul Majestic for the 13th annual KJEE Summer Round-Up at the S.B. Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) on Saturday, June 10, 5:30 p.m. See sbbowl.com.