First published in The Collective magazine, April 2016.
Lightning Ridge, a New South Wales mining town known for forty-degree weather and the world’s highest percentage of black opals, feels a galaxy away from the dancefloors of Sydney or the nightclubs of Berlin. But for Tyrone Lindqvist, the lead singer of RÜFÜS, the Australian trio whose lush brand of indie-electronica could spark instant euphoria in the most bass-averse among us, an isolated hometown can be a musical initiation.
“Dad’s from Sweden and he flipped a coin to either go searching for gold in South America or for opals in Australia and the opals won out,” grins Tyrone, over an iced coffee near Studio 301, the Sydney recording studio where RÜFÜS are putting the finishing touches on their wildly anticipated second album Bloom. “All of our electricity was transmitted via a generator and when I got home from school, I didn’t watch TV because it wouldn’t be on. Instead, I headed for our crappy, little upright piano and lost two to three hours each day – not playing anything grand or spectacular – just tapping away at the chords. It would get loud and soft, loud and soft. It was my love.”
These days, it’s fashionable to comment on a musician’s refreshing lack of ego but in the case of Tyrone, who started RÜFÜS with keyboardist Jon George on a night in Byron Bay back in 2010, it’s actually true. He’s warm and unguarded, prone to lively digressions and boyish bursts of enthusiasm. At one point, he demonstrates the way he improvises in the studio by singing me a lyric, oblivious to people sitting around us. Critics sometimes attribute RÜFÜS’ off-the-chart success to instincts that are overly commercial. They forget that – like talent and vision – few assets in the music world are as powerful as the ability to make listeners feel good.
“I wasn’t so big on electronic music growing up but listening to The Presets and Cut Copy – the way they combined electronic music with live bands and guitars –made me open up,” says Tyrone, adding that the trio put out their first self-titled EP themselves in 2011, following up with a second in 2012. “At the time, I was dabbling in a bit of songwriting and Jon[George] – who’s the older brother of my best friend – was studying sound engineering at SAE in Byron Bay. We were visiting him one weekend, decided to stay in rather than go out and started talking about how much we loved [Danish multi-instrumentalist] Trentemoller and [German house duo] Booka Shade. That was the first time we started writing a song together, which became the foundation for our first single ‘We Left.’ We came back to Sydney, wrote a few more and got James [Hunt] onboard as our drummer. We didn’t have any plans – all we wanted to do was get into the studio – or as it was at the time – our bedrooms. I think our first gig may have been in Sydney’s Gaelic Club, in a small 180-person room. It ended up being much better than we imagined.”
Although RÜFÜS – who spent 2012 playing the national festival circuit – had their sights set on releasing their first album, saving money to spend three weeks writing tracks in a makeshift studio in coastal Berry, the response from the industry was lukewarm at best. It wasn’t until their demo landed on the desk of Adrian Thomas, better known as DJ Ajax of Bang Gang DJs, the troupe whose freewheeling parties trained the world’s eyes on the Australian electronic music scene in the early noughties, that their luck began to change.
“We were trying to shop the demos to anyone who would be interested, Future Classic, Modular, the bigger labels, the smaller labels, but found it really hard to find anyone who wanted to work with us – everyone was like ‘yeah, it’s pretty good’ but the passion wasn’t there,” he recalls. “Ajax was the first person we met who was like: ‘I love this, I believe in this – I want to take this as far as I can.’ There are ups and downs writing a record and sometimes it’s just a matter of personal satisfaction. He is a really enthusiastic person and would give us such constructive feedback – like ‘when I heard this song, I cried’ or ‘I think the record should have an instrumental track.’ It was so exciting to have an electronic artist that we’d looked up to growing up believe in us. We signed to his label Sweat It Out and it motivated us to push what we were doing for the last two months. We were on the biggest high.”
In August 2013, a week before RÜFÜS planned to release ‘Take Me’ – in which Tyrone’s vocals soar over irresistible, synth-heavy melodies – the trio received the news that Ajax had been killed in a collision with a truck. The tragedy sparked an outpouring of grief from all corners of the music community but for RÜFÜS – who had yet to finalise their paperwork – Ajax’s death was compounded by their newly uncertain future.
“We were really worried and sad and scared like everybody but were also wary of what would happen next,” says Tyrone, who is preparing for a headline Australian tour, performances in London, Paris and Barcelona and will play at landmark US festival Coachella next year. “But at the funeral, we realised that the team at Sweat It Out were going to champion what we doing, almost as a tribute to Ajax, to finish off what he had started. The whole team had to work really hard and I don’t know what it would have been like for the label or his friends and family. The album, Atlas, was dedicated to him.”
The trio’s worries were proven unfounded when Atlas, which has since achieved gold status, debuted at number one on the ARIA charts. “Lucky timing – Justin Bieber could have put out a record that week but the stars aligned,” Tyrone deadpans. By the summer of 2013, singles such as ‘Desert Night’ and ‘Sundream’ – the latter a shapeshifting anthem that begs to be put on repeat – became the sound of friendships, parties and late-night summer adventures. The band spent 2014 on playing sold-out shows around the country, touring America and Europe and clocking up performances at the likes of South by Southwest.
Tyrone says that RÜFÜS’ new record, Bloom – which was recorded in an Airbnb apartment in Berlin at the end of 2014 – that nods to the serendipity that’s guided their creative journey and proves how much they’ve evolved.
“We stayed at this place in Freidrichshain, set up some analogue syths and would work into the night because we were so hungry to write,” smiles Tyrone, who says the band came full circle after a chance Berlin encounter with Booka Shade. “A lot of the percussion is influenced by the minimal techno that was playing at Berlin clubs and the lyrics are a lot more personal. It’s not that we’re afraid of our audiences or ignore what people enjoy but we just follow our intuition until we’re happy and satisfied. Ajax told us that our first album would get us on the map in Australia and the second recognised globally.” He pauses for a minute and it’s easy to recall the boy in Lightning Ridge playing the piano after school. “When we were mastering the record, driving from Detroit to Chicago in the snow, the weight of that conversation suddenly hit really hard.”