RÜFÜS DU SOL | Chaos and Introspection in the Desert, Outback and Out Front
Above a limestone formation pierced by a network of underground rivers, grow mangroves inhabited by cool creatures like iguanas and coatis. It’s here in Tulum, Mexico, the site of one of the last great Mayan cities and some of the last great unspoiled Mexican jungle and beaches, that a trio of Aussie producers has arrived for some needed R n’ R.
Tyrone Lindqvist, Jon George and James Hunt make up RÜFÜS DU SOL, a textured electronic act on an incredible ascent. Coming off a grueling six-week tour of Australia and New Zealand, they can now bask in biodiversity, do yoga and go swimming. They’re trying to recharge before playing Odesza’s SUNDARA music festival. Then they’ll play Coachella as a top-billed act.
“We calculated a couple days off that we could just spend in Tulum—just to regroup and chill out,” explains Hunt, one of two members of the band who spoke with Flaunt. “We’ve been discovering more and more that a sense of balance is really important.”
For a group known to appreciate lush atmospherics, it seems they picked the right spot to touch down. “There’s something definitely magical about the forest life here,” George says. “We love it.” On their to-do list is exploring the local house music scene, which they were exposed to through Solomun’s memorable 2015 Boiler Room set.
They definitely deserve a breather. RÜFÜS DU SOL recently scored a Mixmag cover, and sold out shows at the O2 in London and Terminal 5 in New York. Their latest album, Solace, has racked up 50 million streams. Focusing on diet has become a key part of surviving the whirlwind, since gourmet salads aren’t always the easiest to source on the road. They’ve started gathering for sit-down meals following performances, in order to help process everything.
Their visual evolution has helped keep things on point, too. “We went through a few different stages, where we each had different streetwear vibes going on—or we might wear a glittery jacket on stage,” Hunt says, explaining their sartorial evolution to a classic rock n’ roll look, featuring black jeans, chinos, and longline tees. “All black has been the recent thing that we’ve been going for, which has kept it a bit more tight.” Practically, this makes it easier to consolidate your wardrobe, George chimes in. “It’s been really nice to not be focusing on ourselves so much,” he says, “but just be a part of this slick operation, delivering what we think is a world-class show to people around the world.”
Considering how easy it is to fall in love with RÜFÜS DU SOL’s pleasing sonics, it’s surprisingly difficult to put what they actually do into words. The songs are endlessly listenable, while retaining ample depth. Perhaps that’s why they’ve taken both audiences and the music industry by storm—their records have been in high rotation at the Apple Music corporate offices. Transplants from Australia leave you with the impression they’re in the running for National Treasure status down under.
Try to categorize their sound, though, and you’ll find yourself grasping at straws. I decided to crowdsource a better understanding of RÜFÜS DU SOL, speaking with both the uninitiated and the diehards, and playing selections from across the group’s three-album career. My goal was to chat with industry folks of different echelons and varying music departments. One person, donning a Balenciaga tee, described what they heard as hip-hop. A muscular dude sporting the ever-polarizing V-neck said it reminded them of Oceans 11, whatever that means. A Kiwi, looking ahead to a brunch with fellow New Zealander Zane Lowe, couldn’t help but exclaim, “How the fuck do they have so many streams?!” He quickly conceded that their driving rock ethos is top notch.
The general consensus: RÜFÜS DU SOL makes dance music that’s perfect for any party. They’ve managed to bottle a wide range of influences into an extremely thirst-quenching product, without losing any flavor in the process.
The pleasant and unpretentious mood that RÜFÜS DU SOL harbors mirrors their relaxed upbringing Down Under. “We’re beach people, essentially,” George says. “And we like to be near that for inspiration.” They’re the result of a musical milieu shaped by the Presets and Regurgitator, Australian bands that channeled the vitality of punk and the accessibility of dance. The guys first bonded over indie dance and electronica acts like Booka Shade, the Chemical Brothers and Röyksopp, but ended up putting their own spin on things.
“We’re all super into an underground clubbing culture, and more atonal, hypnotic music production,” George says. “But one thing we’ve always stayed true to is trying to juxtapose that with melodic songwriting capabilities.”
Their first album, Atlas, was assembled on the coast of New South Wales; much of Bloom, their follow-up, was written in Alexandria, a neighborhood in Sydney. Tapping into environmental inputs helped take their music into new territory. They went for synth tones “that sounded like ocean swells and waves and underwater sea creatures,” Hunt says. “On Solace, we reference deep space, and feeling the abyss.”
Sometimes meeting in the middle isn’t about compromise, it’s about impact. And RÜFÜS DU SOL has that in spades. “That’s probably been my favorite part of the way that we work,” Hunt says. “We draw on such a range of influences that it keeps us on our toes.” These days, when dipping their bucket in the inspiration well, they’re more likely to call upon electronic muses like Moderat or alternative-rock gods like Radiohead.
The group’s collaborative process has led to constant growth. Nothing typifies the way a RÜFÜS DU SOL track comes together better than how “Innerbloom” was born. It’s a song that coalesced in the afterglow of a four-month stint in Berlin’s revered club scene. The electronics provide far more than a backdrop for the rousing refrain: If you want me / If you need me / I’m yours.
They started by jamming on some chords. Next came the beat and the bassline. The crackling noise, a sample of a match strike, was an ingenious twist. “It sounded really interesting, because you can hear the phosphorus squealing,” Hunt says. “It kind of sounds like an alien life form.” They incorporated elements of emotive Pachanga Boys track “Time,” and removed writing constraints, like song length. “From there it happened really organically,” Hunt says. “We didn’t have to rethink anything.”
When they’d finished, it was just the beginning. One Aussie I spoke to gushed about a monumental sunrise moment he’d experienced in Black Rock City, when “Innerbloom” began to play from the speakers at Burning Man. That was exactly what they’d been going for, George explains. “One of the biggest sentiments of that song for us was putting ourselves in the mindset of, like, what song would we want to hear played in the desert as the sun came up?” The Sasha remix won Record of the Year at the 2017 Electronic Music Awards. In 2018, Zeds Dead dropped the Two Lanes remix during an energetic set at EDC Las Vegas.
House and trance producers’ eagerness to refashion RÜFÜS DU SOL’s output is only rising, and RSK, Cassian, and Yotto remixes have recently landed in their inbox. “All these different artists get to put their spin on our original take,” George says. “That’s something really special for us.”
In my quest to come to terms with the emotional trip charted by RÜFÜS DU SOL, I found myself in the exurbs east of LA, where the city melts away and the desert begins to take hold. That’s where I met the person with the most perceptive view of the group’s music, by far.
A girl in worn mall-goth attire told me she had synesthesia, a neurological condition that causes some people to perceive sounds as colors and shapes. I played her part of the group’s BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix, asking her what she saw.
It was a pretty picture, apparently. A work of abstract expressionism. There was an overall blue haze, with waves of green. Bright stars salted the canvas, she said. And there were light circles, dotted throughout. But there were also these interesting dabs of yellow, and splotches of orange, and as the clarity of a keyboard began to gently course through the buildup, purifying the scene with white stabs, the canvass morphs, becoming tinged with violet.
The assessment isn’t that different from how the RÜFÜS DU SOL guys describe their own music. George likes to imagine they’re in a no-gravity zone while composing. The desert environment around LA, via a recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park, actually helped forge their current psychic character. “If you were going to try and describe our sound as something, it would look like the desolate landscape of Joshua Tree,” he suggests. “It looks like these big moon craters, and rocks and boulders. Maybe chuck a lagoon in there, as well.”
Hunt’s been focused on the desert, too, creating visuals to go with expanded versions of the tracks from Solace for Coachella. “I’ve recently been having these underwater deep-sea images,” he says. “It’s been more washy, oceany, blue-black, semi-purple, neon phosphorescent.”
However you see their music, one thing’s for sure: RÜFÜS DU SOL is committed to existing in the space between pop and underground spheres, taking audiences on lyrical journeys that channel something real—no matter what palette they decide to draw from next.