One of the wonderful things about music is its manifold significances. There’s no ultimate meaning to a song; the desired sensation that comes from listening differs between individuals. Of course, music can’t simply be manipulated to stand for whatever the listener chooses. The intentions of the composer largely frame the listening experience and these intentions also vary widely. For instance, some songs may seek to be calming or energising, while others look to spread a message or commit sonic violence. Sydney’s RÜFÜS purposefully cultivate their springy dance-pop to captivate attention and remove circumstantial distractions.
“It’s all based on a feeling, which hopefully can help you to escape,” says keyboardist Jon George. “We’re just trying to make ourselves feel good and escape what we’re in. I think that’s always been the idea with our music and will continue to be the idea with our music.”
On the group’s debut LP Atlas (released last August), George and his bandmates – vocalist/guitarist Tyrone Lindqvist and drummer James Hunt – displayed affection for Trentemøller’s dark electro and infused it with a melodic sensibility akin to radio favourites Foster The People. The overriding objective throughout was to construct a corridor of escape portals. “When we were in the studio making the album we were trying to come up with this idea, via the audio, of taking people to different places,” George says.
This conceptual agenda didn’t get the better of them; the record’s mass appeal basically catalysed an aural exodus. Atlas resonated all the way to the top of the ARIA charts and early this year the singles ‘Take Me’, ‘Desert Night’ and ‘Tonight’all made it into triple j’s Hottest 100 (at numbers 21, 34 and 91 respectively).
“That was so surreal for all that to happen,” says George incredulously. “It happened so quickly – [number one] within a week – and we were getting so much good feedback. Fast-forward to now and we just found out our album went gold, and we’ve been signed in a bunch of different territories around the globe. I never thought any of this stuff would happen. It’s awesome that the hard work is paying off.”
The hard work hasn’t ceased for the trio, either. Atlas’ ongoing success now gives them the opportunity to develop a large-scale, ambitious live show. In May and June the aptly titled Worlds Within Worlds tour visits a number of Australia’s classiest music halls (including two shows at the Enmore Theatre), and they’re planning to apply a third dimension to the record’s sonic escapades.
“We’ve been working with a bunch of different teams on different multimedia. What we were envisioning in the studio is finally going to be translated to the fullest degree. That’s why we chose a lot of these venues, to be able to use these big spaces and trying to fill out these regal venues and do something creative with them, and definitely take people to some different places whilst they’re watching the show.”
Although George refrains from giving away too many production details, the shows clearly won’t be a modest undertaking. “We’re definitely working hard on it and we’re excited for people to see it,” he says. “I think we want to prove that we’re of an international quality too. We want to be able to finish these shows in Australia and end our album tour run [with] everyone knowing what we’re capable of.”
The Worlds Within Worlds tour wraps up the album cycle, but that doesn’t mean RÜFÜS are slowing down. Following the tour, the trio will relocate to Berlin and get stuck into album number two. In line with the emphasis on escapism, the band favours creating music away from its regular surroundings.
“When we first started writing Atlas,” says George, “we relocated to the south coast of New South Wales, locked ourselves away and we wrote extremely constantly that way, being away from civilisation. I think the conclusion is you don’t really need to be up from 9am until 5pm working. We were working right through the night and it was almost like shift work. Someone would go to bed and two people would keep writing and then the other dude would get up and take over for another eight hours or something.
“I think that if we were in the middle of suburbia or the city it’s a little bit shameful coming up onto the street at six AM – you don’t feel like you’re really contributing to society. So we’ve always tried to buck that. I think Berlin’s perfect for that. We spent a bit of time there in December and fell in love with the place. I think that it’s perfect for what we want to do and it’s cheap and we can lock ourselves away.”
George and co. are no strangers to the Northern Hemisphere; at present they’re midway through a run across the US and select parts of Europe. Legal worries enforced a name alteration in the States, but the Sydneysiders are starting to make an impression on the world’s biggest market.
“We’ve signed with Columbia [in the US] and we’ve changed our name to RÜFÜS DU SOL, [so] we’re sort of starting afresh,” George says. “Particularly now that we’ve gone from A to B in Australia, we just want to do the same in other territories. I think that’s sort of exciting too, the fact that we’ve just got to work our way up again with intimate venues and settings – and we’ll get there.”
Despite this enthusiasm to begin the crowd-building campaign again, their time playing for sparse audiences looks limited. RÜFÜS were hotly praised at SXSW last month, while the group’s easygoing electro is already packing out rooms in the UK.
“I think it’s all starting to roll out there quicker than it is in America at the moment,” George says. “We’re getting some good play on [BBC] Radio 1 and [electronic music presenter] Pete Tong’s been saying our name, so that’s all pretty exciting.”
It seems inevitable that the band’s infiltration of the global music consciousness will influence its next record. George can’t precisely predict what path RÜFÜS will take with Atlas’ follow-up, but the intensified experiences since that record’s release certainly gives them plenty to draw from.
“We’re writing individually, in transit at the moment, [and] a lot of the ideas we’ve been sharing seem to be very similar in nature. I think that’s because of all these crazy highs – and [the] lows as well that come with touring – that we’ve been experiencing together.”
The success of Atlas makes RÜFÜS the subjects of keen public observation, which could very well impose a weight of expectation on the band’s next move. However, George isn’t particularly concerned.
“I think that it’s more exciting really, because we’ve actually got an audience – a substantially larger audience than we had ready to listen to the first album – that will be ready to listen to the next album. I feel a bit more creative freedom because we don’t need to be winning anyone over. We can do something and then an audience will be there to listen to it. Then it’s up to them whether they like it or not, but at least we’ll be trying stuff.”
Atlas out now through Sweat It Out/Sony.