When the rising N.Y.-based dance duo Sofi Tukker of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern first met at Brown University, it was a union of dissimilarities. She was studying Portuguese poetry, bossa nova, and the slow flow of kundalini yoga; he was studying house music production. “I thought her songs were slow and boring,” laughed Halpern.
But something — a karmic chemistry — drew them together, and out of this melding arose a fusion of driven beats and samba inflections, feminine empowerment and delicious lyrical lock-grooves. With their Soft Animals EP soon to drop this summer and a tour with M83 on the way, the duo — who play Velvet Jones tonight, Thursday, June 9, at 8:30 p.m. — arrive to town on the momentum of a pounding polyrhythmic sound that’s raising eyebrows and pulses with its fiery verve and meditative spirit-chant heartsease.
“What has been exciting about how we’ve been received is that we don’t really fit in anywhere. It’s this own weird unique thing that’s not really competing with anything else — it exists on its own, and I think that’s exciting, and we’re really happy with that,” Halpern said.
One of their more attention-grabbing songs is their first single, “Drinkee,” which immediately stands out as curious for its Portuguese verses, culled directly from the words of Brazilian poet Chacal. “It’s a completely different form of communication, because it isn’t about the meaning of the words so much as the sound, the consonants and vowels together. That grants me a lot of freedom,” said Hawley-Weld.
The two maintain their love of literature and an appreciation for the more tactile qualities of words by bringing percussive verbiage onstage in the form of an invented instrument: the book tree. The book tree is essentially a grand drum pad, with each book containing a MIDI converter triggered by contact mikes. With 11-12 books on hand, mostly poetry compilations (including many by Chacal), they have a veritable sound library to beat into oblivion.
With Hawley-Weld’s yogic background and the duo’s shared solace in the ego-dissolving promise of dance music, there’s certainly a spiritual undercurrent to their music, too. “House music … it’s a spiritual thing; it’s a body thing,” Halpern said, quoting Eddie Amador’s “House Music (Robosonic Remix).” “With ‘Drinkee’ and some of our other songs that are housier and more repetitive, it really does lock you in, and it has a lot to do with yoga chants, getting in a rhythm and just being.”
On their song “Hey Lion,” Hawley-Weld takes direct aim at the proud egoism of many spiritual practitioners, or more generally, people or systems in power. Through her spiritual practice and music alike, she says, she has come to solidify a sense of self in a realm that attracts many false idols. “Part of the process of me growing up in this generation and time and era is me discovering that I don’t need somebody in order to feel my power,” she said. “I don’t need someone to pray to me or worship me or tell me I’m fill-in-the-blank-here; I can embody those things.” She admits the song is as much a chant toward herself as it is to others.
In their songs of identity and spiritual self-definition, Sofi Tukker feels like a very ‘now’ act, one that manages to capture the spirit of the times. As house music captured the combined freedom, hope, and despair of ousted communities in the ’80s, Sofi Tukker resists easy definition and makes music of liberation, liberation from outdated regimes, patriarchies, or categories. “I have never really known where I fit in, but of course, no one fits in,” Hawley-Weld said. “Everyone is their own person, and that’s the most exciting thing ever. If we can all be our most unique selves, then there’s really room for everyone.”
Sofi Tukker, Kauf, and T.O.L.D. play Velvet Jones (423 State St.) Thursday, June 9, at 8:30 p.m. For more information, call (805) 965-8676 or visit velvet-jones.com.